memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘paradoxes’

Who the heck was Zeno when he was at home?

Who the heck was Zeno when he was at home?

All I know for sure is that he was the ancient Greek philosopher who was famous for his paradoxes and that his very name is redolent of an esoteric and all-embracing knowledge and wisdom.

Let’s wiki him, shall we? (to wiki, to google, to blog … I never thought the day would arrive when I used those verbs … mind you, in our day we had to hoover, to zerox, to fax and to DHL …) Ah, here we are:
ZENO of Elea (ca. 490 BC?) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of Southern Italy, a member of The Eleatic School which was founded by Parminedes. Aristotle called him the inventor of the Dialectic. He was best known for his Paradoxes, which Bertrand Russell has described as «immeasurably subtle and profound».

Zeno’s arguments were the first examples of a method of proof called reductio ad absurbum. This form of argument soon became known as the epicheirema. In Book VII of his Topica, Aristotle says that an epicheirema is a dialectical syllogism …

But let’s not go down there because it’s late and I’m going to call it a day.

Oh well, at least I now know who the heck Zeno was when he was at home!

The mysterious case of the uneatable pears

A brilliant book (for my generation at least) was CATCH 22. Wicked and hilarious this book with brilliant wordplay brings paradox to an inevitable  Zeno-like absurdity. Published in 1957 it dazzled our generations and spread across the Anglophonic world like a wildfire. (Now, of course, we have spawned a generation which, not only has not read CATCH 22 but also hasn’t read much else either – poor them, so many lost conceits, so much lost irony).

Anyway there is a scene in the book where everyone is issued with a pill «to throw away into the bushes». So it is in this place; sometimes we are distributed with green pears so hard and unripe that those of us who still have our own teeth, should we actually attempt to bite into them … but not to worry the pears are not to be eaten but to be put into our pockets or bags and consumed in a couple of days.


That same impulse, the same força de vontade, which is so good for my physical improvement, impels me to make a noise about the pear situation. In pursuant of my policy of withdrawal from the life of the Home in silent protest against the way one or two of the staff shout at some of the old people, I enter the dining room for dinner at 7.00 sharp and notice the rock-like green projectile – what’s this, I think, are we going to have a window-breaking contest after dinner or have some of us been distributed with uneatable pears again:

–          Excuse me, I don’t want this fruit because it’s not ripe, is it? I’ll have the fruit pap, please.

–          There is no more fruit pap.

–          No more fruit pap!

–          You have to warn us in advance if you want fruit pap instead of a green pear.

I’m entering The Twilight Zone again.

–          Can’t you just assume that I will prefer fruit pap to unripe fruit …

Meanwhile someone else has tactfully produced one of the apples that they keep in the kitchen in reserve for difficult cases like mine.

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