Paradoxes, Avoidable and Unavoidable 

If a person believes something is true and untrue that is a paradox, but not one he necessarily needs to lose sleep over.  So for example the Sorites paradox could lead you to believe both that

I)a man with a hundred hairs is bald


2)a man with a hundred hairs is not bald.

(Cf Wikipedia on the Sorites  — they are doing it with heaps of sand but it works just as well with bald man and hairs)

Paradox of the heap

The word “sorites” derives from the Greek word for heap. The paradox is so named because of its original characterization, attributed to Eubulides of Miletus.[6] The paradox goes as follows: consider a heap of sand from which grains are individually removed. One might construct the argument, using premises, as follows:[5]

1000000 grains of sand is a heap of sand (Premise 1)
A heap of sand minus one grain is still a heap. (Premise 2)

Repeated applications of Premise 2 (each time starting with one fewer grain) eventually forces one to accept the conclusion that a heap may be composed of just one grain of sand (and consequently, if one grain of sand is still a heap, then removing that one grain of sand to leave no grains at all still leaves a heap of sand; indeed a negative number of grains must also form a heap[7]). Read (1995) observes that “the argument is itself a heap, or sorites, of steps of modus ponens“:[8]

1000000 grains is a heap.

If 1000000 grains is a heap then 999999 grains is a heap.

So 999999 grains is a heap.

If 999999 grains is a heap then 999998 grains is a heap.

So 999998 grains is a heap.

If …

… So 1 grain is a heap.

But if you don’t need to do anything that depends on that question it doesn’t matter.  If you avoid thinking about the issue, you avoid the paradox.

On the other hand if you want and don’t want something, say another cigarette, that is a more uncomfortable paradox.  In the face of a cigarette you can’t just not think about it : you either smoke or don’t.

Nevertheless if you move somewhere with no cigarettes you avoid it.

The maximally uncomfortable paradox is one that you can’t avoid. So if you find life intolerable but view suicide as wrong, you are in a difficult situation.

Perhaps we are all in this situation.


9 thoughts on “Paradoxes, Avoidable and Unavoidable 

  1. N.S. Palmer says:

    I think suicide is permissible (if not always wise), but life is a hoot. So I’m good.

    You did remind me of one of my favorite movie lines, from “Dead Again:”

    “Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that. If you’re a nonsmoker, you’ll know. People who say they’re ‘trying to quit’ are just pussies who can’t commit.”

    — Cozy Carlisle (Robin Williams)

  2. Ghost Serpent of the Apocalypse says:

    Suicide is perceived as wrong because such perception has been disseminated by those who have morally tyrannized over us. The mass hallucination of “ghosts” is a component of their abominable mechanism; (barely) visible proof of the afterlife (which comprises judgement, etc). It would be much easier to commit suicide after attempting something contrary to their order, were it safe to obliterate oneself upon failure, prior to their “earthly” judgements. Being thusly deprived of revenge is assumed to be infuriating.

    “I say stay long enough to repay all who cause strife”
    Alice in Chains, Sludge Factory

  3. Ghost Serpent of the Apocalypse says:

    Differing ends call for differing means…

    Such herdsmen already have herds of sufficient size to afford sacrificing a percentage of the members; something they do gleefully, I assume. It is pleasing on a number of levels:

    1. the power of successfully instilling beliefs in others,
    2. the power of having others act (to such extremes) upon the instilled beliefs,
    3. the consequences of their actions.

    Islam is an aggressively proliferating exploitation mechanism, as opposed to a “maintain status quo” approach seen in cultures wherein a certain level of contentment exists; herein the mechanism may be toggled between modes in case of war. The Islamist’s war is perpetual; it ends when no infidels remain.

    The key word here is pleasure: in maintaining the order or expanding the kingdom.

  4. Ghost Serpent of the Apocalypse says:


    Not that Islam is a terrorist breeding mechanism or that all Muslims are terrorists or all terrorists Muslims. Not that all Islamists are terrorists or all terrorists Islamists. As has been with other philosophies, Islam has been highjacked by certain of the tyrants spoken of here and used to “expand the kingdom” in the name of Islam. I feel for sincere, peace loving Muslims who must endure being associated with atrocities attributed to terrorists (not to mention the victims of terrorism). While some Islamist or terrorist operatives at different levels are sincere Muslims, we’re looking at the people who are leading these movements – they are sociopathic hypocrites. There is a distinct line between the two. People with consciences can’t imagine the mind of a sociopath, but they do exist. They are devoid of conscience. They rise to the upper echelons of governmental and religious institutions. They look just like you and I.

    A paradox from which one as a human cannot escape: a species which includes members who cynically and cruelly exploit, control, surveil, torture and even murder en masse other members of their own species, simply for the pleasure of it. One has only one option: avoid potential consequences of the actions of such individuals and their enablers, and procreate so that the species may persist — and maybe one day a new species will evolve from the old in a world where the abominations of today have been relegated to history.

  5. Mikey says:

    Another paradox which people live with all the time is the compliment paradox:

    “You look nice today” is a compliment.
    It is also a comparison of your looks with your looks on other days.
    So it is equivalent to saying “You looked worse yesterday than you do today”
    But “You looked worse yesterday than you do today” is an insult.

    A fun game I like to play is to try to turn every compliment into an insult in my head (doing it out loud alienates me a little I’ve found) and also turning every insult into a compliment.

    “You’re a stupid ugly moron with no redeeming features” is an insult.
    But to say it implies “I feel I can talk to you honestly”
    “I feel I can talk to you honestly” is a compliment.

    • I feel like there are only two options — either what the insulter/complimenter says is true, in which case fine, or it isn’t in which case who cares. But I am a bit of a loner — in group situations you may feel that it is a good idea to show dominance by being surrounded by people complimenting you, and that it is a threat to your authority if someone insults you and is not punished.

      • Mikey says:

        I don’t think the truth of a compliment is relevant at all. How much of a loner you are is definitely relevant because complimentation is a social grooming ritual. If you say “Oh wow, I love that dress, where did you get it?” you aren’t saying anything about the dress, about your thoughts on the dress or about where it was bought. You are just saying “I value you as a person”. Obviously it matters whether that is true or not, but it might matter less if you’re more of a loner. Other relevant factors are: your social standing; their social standing; how many people are present; which other people are present. There’s a lot more to consider than just whether someone is saying they like your dress!

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