The Deadly Paradox
Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 11:02PM
Katy in discussion, paradox timetravel

Science likes paradoxes. Science fiction loves them even more. In the world of science fiction, a paradox can even destroy a big evil computer. Personally I've always felt that was a bit of a cop-out. You must have seen one of those episodes of Star Trek where an evil super computer is about to kill everyone on the Enterprise and then Captain Kirk rolls out an amazing paradox like..."So, you are going to destroy us because you are Godlike? But ... isn't God Love? So how can killing everyone be an act of a Godlike creature?" and then the machine goes into a recursive loop until blue white sparks fly out of its console, everyone staggers from side to side a bit and the whole thing blows up. The Enterprise, saved by the power of paradox, once again!

Aagh, the paradox!

Science reporting also loves paradox. You will often see a paradox breathlessly reported in the media - they are particularly popular when it comes to health issues. So we have the French paradox, which is something like, oh steak is unhealthy, oil is unhealthy, wine is unhealthy, but the French live loads longer than the English and they love that stuff, what the HELL is going on? Run! It's a PARADOX!

What this kind of thing generally points out is not that there is some kerazy paradox going on but that one of your initial assumptions is false, and the arrival of a paraDOX reveals the need for you to change your paraDIGM. It can be easier to demonstrate with an obviously (for most of us) fictional example- such as - "Girls are too stupid to bother sending them to school. But the ones who do go to school get better grades than boys. It's the Female Education paradox!" Pretty easy to see the flaws there ( I hope).

In scifi time travel is a very popular source of paradox and people travelling back in time are frequently warned not to create a paradox - so, don’t screw your mother or you could end up being your own father and that’s a PARADOX, or she might fall in love with you instead of your father and then you will disappear because of the PARADOX (thanks Marty McFly).

But how can you create a paradox? Isn't a paradox, by its very nature, something that can't exist? So if that paradox can exist, it seems to me that we should re-examine whatever underlying beliefs are making us think this is a paradox in the first place (phew). So in the time travel example, if you are able to go back and have your mother fall in love with you instead of your father, what this surely means is not that you are going to disappear (gradually fading away whilst playing a rocking guitar solo... nooo) but that if this possibility of your mother falling in love with you is available, that shows time is not linear and perhaps cause and effect does not work quite how we thought.

SO if it is possible to do something paradoxical it surely shows that you were making some incorrect assumptions in the first place. Maybe time doesn’t work how you think. Maybe steak and red wine aren't that bad after all, and it's something else that kills off us Brits. Where you see a touted paradox, look for any underlying false beliefs- it can be revealing.

Article originally appeared on RobotSquid (
See website for complete article licensing information.