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Today's Word



Jul 2, 2019
This week’s theme
Whose what?

This week’s words
cat's pajamas
Zeno's paradox
Godwin's law
child's play
Plato's cave

Image: 3eHOH/Wikimedia

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with Anu Garg

Zeno’s paradox

(ZEE-noz PAR-uh-doks)

1. Any of various paradoxes proposed by Zeno, dealing with change and motion.
2. The appearance of getting closer and closer to a goal, but never reaching there.

After the Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea (c. 490-430 BCE) who proposed a number of paradoxes as defense of the doctrine of his teacher Parmenides.

The best-known among Zeno’s paradoxes is that of a race between Achilles and a tortoise. Achilles runs faster, but the tortoise has a headstart. By the time Achilles reaches the tortoise’s starting position, the tortoise has moved forward. By the time he reaches the tortoise’s new position, the tortoise has moved farther, even though the gap is now smaller.

According to the paradox, Achilles would never catch up with the tortoise because the tortoise would always be a little ahead, no matter how small the gap. Yet, we know Achilles does catch up with the tortoise (he is Achilles, not a hare). How does he do it? By not dozing off in his high school calculus and understanding the concept of limits: if you add up that infinite sequence of increasing smaller spans he traveled, you get a finite distance.

“It sounds like biography writing as Zeno’s paradox -- getting infinitesimally closer to the end without ever reaching it.”
Jennifer Szalai; Robert Caro’s Path to Literary Power; The New York Times; Apr 11, 2019.

A man who is 'ill-adjusted' to the world is always on the verge of finding himself. One who is adjusted to the world never finds himself, but gets to be a cabinet minister. -Hermann Hesse, novelist, poet, Nobel laureate (2 Jul 1877-1962)

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