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The Absurd

There’s a famous paradox according to which Achilles will always lose a race against a tortoise, if the tortoise has a head start.…By Michael Segal

There’s a famous paradox according to which Achilles will always lose a race against a tortoise, if the tortoise has a head start. For Achilles to win, the reasoning goes, he’d first need to catch up to where the tortoise had been. But by then, the tortoise would have moved on.

It took about a century to find the flaw in the argument, conceived of by Zeno of Elea. The paradox was also one of the first examples of proof by contradiction, which today is at the core of mathematics. And, together with Zeno’s other paradoxes, it helped shape the Socratic method and Western education more broadly.

Not bad for a discussion of the absurd. But maybe not so unusual.

The absurd has a way of crystallizing our thinking. Satire spurs social change. Studies have shown reading Kafka boosts pattern recognition ability. Extreme coincidences in the fundamental constants of physics challenge us to reconsider our metaphysics.

We got where we are with the help of the absurd. Without it, life would be strange indeed.

Welcome to “The Absurd.”


Original images from Biwa Studio / Getty Images and Pexels

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