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A Pragmatic Philosophy of Paradox

  1. Apr 14, 2003 #1
    Over the last several centuries scholastic philosophers have steadily whittled away at the metaphysical and logical underpinnings of their craft until today many are resigned to using extremely questionable historical arguments and ones that merely negate those of alternative philosophies rather than supporting their own positions. It is my intention to buck this long-standing trend and address the philosophical foundations of the sciences directly using empirical evidence and irreducible holistic arguments spanning several disciplines. The pragmatic philosophy of paradox I present here is a quasi-metaphysical extrapolation of Philosophical Taoism, a form of mysticism that is over two thousand years old and formed the basis of the original Chinese sciences in addition to a plethora of religions.

    For many contemporary academics and mystics alike the idea of reconciling their disparate schools of thought into a modern branch of the formal academic philosophies and sciences is anathema. The entire history of the western sciences has been a struggle to distance and distinguish themselves from the more mystical theologies, philosophies, and sciences that preceded them. Likewise, many mystics prefer to think of their practice as an intensely personal spiritual endeavor rather than an impersonal and formulaic academic one. Nonetheless, reconciliation to a significant extent is inevitable in my opinion and a distinctive branch of the formal pragmatic philosophies is about to assume a prominent position in the scholarly world and is already gaining momentum in a renewed interest among academia in the ancient science of paradox.

    As a direct result of the more mystically oriented philosophies being understandably abhorrent to many scholars, academia as a whole has itself become as conservative, stylized, and rigid in its affect and posture as the very same religions and mysticisms it has struggled to distance itself from. Consequently, reconciling the scholarly world with a philosophy of paradox requires a great deal of patience and willingness to meet them on their own terms. Towards this end Taoism is exceptional because of it’s tremendous flexibility and proclivity to be much more descriptive than prescriptive, dogmatic, dramatic, or otherwise overtly stylistic in regard to the subject.

    Besides their uses in mystical practices, Taoist writings can also be thought of as the Chinese civilization’s more concise, lucid, and comprehensive reformulation of prehistoric Shamanistic knowledge and wisdom concerning paradox. As such they present an enormous opportunity for the entire civilized world to reclaim and expand upon much of what has been lost to antiquity over the eons. There exist countless philosophies, theologies, and other schools of thought on the subject of paradox, which can also trace their origins to antiquity. Each no doubt presents its own distinctive advantages, but my intention here is to reduce to a bare minimum the intrinsically broad scope of these holistic arguments as well as avoid the more mystical connotations of the subject in the interest of promoting a science of paradox.

    By applying a rudimentary demystified, rational, and quasi-metaphysical approach to paradox I hope to meet academia on its own terms using a posteriori synthetic arguments. Other closely related scientific philosophies have been developed over the last century or so, but most if not all skirt the central issue of paradox rather than addressing it directly. What is required is a new paradigm that encompasses all of these efforts and brings them together as an orderly and productive community. Whether science is currently ready or willing to address the issue is irrelevant, change is inevitable. Progress and the increasing lack of viable alternatives are thrusting the scientific community inexorably in this direction.

    A philosophy of paradox is along the lines of Existentialism and other schools of thought sometimes referred to as Absurdism. Unlike Existentialism, however, Taoism is not rife with angst. Nor does it assume any ethical positions or limit itself as Contextualism does. At its best, it is merely descriptive of the paradox of existence we all share. Whether we call this paradox an absurdity or something altogether different is, perhaps, merely a question of personal and cultural bias. In the final analysis the paradox of existence may well be ineffable.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 14, 2003 #2
    Wu Li, are you trying to boost your post count? Is anyone else having dejavu, when reading one of these "new" paradox threads?
  4. Apr 14, 2003 #3
    Post counts hahahahahahahah......... what a laugh. What do I win if I boost my post count...... a cuppie doll? I couldn't care less about such things and cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would. I am an anarchistic amoral taoist living on a secular commune. My only concern here, as always, is in furthering my own understanding of my own philosophy and science.

    I've reposted several of my old posts from PF2 here because I keep updating them and the old forum's archives are no longer available online. This is truly something I'm just making up as I go along, a watered down version of philosophical taoism for the skeptical western mind that I invented at this website. Its turned out so nice I've just decided to pursue it further. Critics of it such as yourself have proven to be invaluable sources of inspiration.

    Frankly, I've been amazed at where its taken me. Its been really weird, for example, to find out philosophical taoism is now under intense scrutiny by the defense department of the US for its application to AI, QM, and psychology to name just a few things. Its a bit like finding out Quaker philosophy is suddenly of national importance to military programs. ;^)
  5. Apr 16, 2003 #4
    Well, I do admire/approve of your dedication to furthering your idea. And I think that it deserves recognition. However, I think that there should perhaps be one thread devoted to this.

    Also, I hope that you will, in future, listen to the counter-arguments that I (and others) put forth - instead of just using them as inspiration, as you put it. I, for one, do not agree with the fact that you apply the paradox of limitlessness to infinity. I do not think that you have even made a note-worthy attempt at justifying your view - that this paradox is applicable.
  6. Apr 16, 2003 #5
    Oh, and perhaps one thread devoted to infinity and eternity as well. I think not. Next you'll be arguing pigs have wings and that's why we shouldn't discuss paradox.

    Oh, I take your counter arguments seriously, when they merit serious thought. Most them, unfortunately, don't imo. I have used historical and scholastic arguments from the present day to antiquity to support my position while you have presented nothing but trivial beliefs. Before attempting to give advice, you should take it yourself first.
  7. Apr 17, 2003 #6
    And that's the difference between you and I. I think that all arguments merit seious thought. Your pride doesn't seem to let you even consider that I might be right. And you still have yet to prove the link between the PoL (Paradox of Limitlessness) and infinity.

    No you haven't. You have used the fact that there have been arguments on the matter, to prove that the issue is not yet decided. That is not the same thing.

    I have presented a thread (see the first post of https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=102&highlight=Infinity+is+not+paradoxical) that showed why I disagreed with the application of the PoL to infinity. Rather simply, it is that mathematical and physical infinities are not (and are not considered) limitless. This is not a "trivial belief", it is a fact, and unless you can prove it wrong, the PoL doesn't apply to infinity.
  8. Apr 17, 2003 #7
    You should read News of the Weird if you believe that. Recently a college professor refused to pay a traffic fine for running a stop sign arguing that the word "stop" was not precise enough.

    Nobody ever lost money underestimating the average intelligence of the american public.

    P. T. Barnum

    LOLOLOLOLOLOL, that is precisely the point. When you start asserting things as established scientific facts I will call you to the mat.

    No, it semantic nonsense as I have repeatedly pointed out to you. To claim that infinity does mean "without limit" is nonsensical. I have repeatedly told you that to say something like "my love is infinite but nothing else is" is a meaningless statement from a logical point of view. Sure, it has personal meaning, but scientifically and logically it is rubbish. Poetry it may be, but logical or scientific it is not.
  9. Apr 19, 2003 #8
    I didn't say it was an established scientific fact. In fact, "scientific fact" is kind of an oxymoron. I'm just saying that it is a concept that is being used by the scientific community in a very different way than you describe.

    Don't you realize that words (sounds that I make with my mouth, or symbols on paper/a computer screen) have no meaning on their own? They are assigned meaning. "Infinity" is not assigned the same meaning as "limitless" by the mathematic/logistic/scientific community. In these fields, "infinity" means "continuing forever in a certain direction". Thus, when I refer to "infinite time", I am not saying that time is also a chicken (which I would be implying if I said that it was limitless (which is paradoxical anyway)). I am merely saying that it continues in one direction forever.
  10. Apr 19, 2003 #9


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    Your first post is an interesting preface for talking about a "science of paradox". What woudl that be? what kind of things would it allow/describe that mainstream science cannot?

    You may know that I do not give much credit to the concept of paradox, much less to its power as a descriptive tool.

    IMO, it is just natural that many ancient civilizations gave attention to paradoxes for two reasons:

    1. Many concepts/phenomena were still poorly understood, which resulted in many descriptions that had the flavor of paradox (Zeno paradoxes, some probability paradoxes and puzzles about infinity come to mind), and

    2. Because of the awe they produce. In an era when words were regarded not as mere descriptors (or behaviors associated with specific sets of stimulae), but as powerful tools related invariably with immaterial essences, paradoxes surely tasted as deep mysteries about nature or the divine.

    Nowadays, however, I do not think that a "science of paradox" would do much for science or philosophy. Could you provide any examples in which the concept of paradox solves any issue, instead of just providing a nice-sounding description, better suited to the taste of some?
  11. Apr 20, 2003 #10
    Paradox is not something only primitive people use by any stetch of the imagination. Paradox or the absurd is the foundation of logic and today there are many distinct kinds of logic which modify classical Aristotelian logic. Like the concept of infinity in calculus, we can approach paradox without ever quite reaching it.

    This is what quantum mechanics does with the Uncertainty Principle, it works around the central paradox and makes paraconsistent statistical predictions. Existence itself may be utterly paradoxical, but nature is evidently not and apparently there exists some kind of statistical heirarchy we can descern from the absurd to the mundane. This is something a paradoxical theory of everything might be capable of providing, at least in a rough outline or approximation.

    In addition, paradox can be analyzed qualitatively and contextually. For example, the famous Cretan or Liar's paradox of "Everything I say is a lie" makes perfect sense if spoken by a compulsive liar. Today paradoxes are widely used in experiential psychology for their reflective properties. The Tao Te Ching and other ancient paradoxical poetry are being intensely studied as a result.

    In the case of the TTC, it is written in such a way as to encourage people to argue with the text if they just happen to have an argumentative disposition. If they don't have a particularly argumentative disposition, they may interpret the the text as just so much pretty poetry and totally agree with it. Precisely because it is so paradoxical and because Taoist writing tend to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, we can interpret it how we want within the many distinct contexts it provides.

    The chinese are rather found of paradoxes for just this reason and hang them on their walls the way we hang mirrors. Instead of a mirror for grooming your appearance, it is one for grooming your mind. Just as you can use mirrors for looking at your back side which you normally can't see, paradoxes can make available those aspects of our personalities, thoughts, and feelings we normally might not see.

    There's a great deal more on the subject, these are just two examples.
  12. Apr 20, 2003 #11
    Words have different meanings in different contexts. As usual you are attempting to impose the mathematical abstraction of infinity to reality and its just a no-go. Even the mathematicians themselves don't agree that this definition of infinity is real in any sense of the word.
  13. Apr 20, 2003 #12
    Mentat, maybe I will like the way you make sounds with you mouth because you are singing (fe. I like , no love ...Portuguese Fado songs but don't understand a single word Portuguese).
    Symbols on a paper or graffiti on walls can be beautiful and give me visual pleasure..

    We call that ART.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2003
  14. Apr 20, 2003 #13


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    Can you substantiate that? In what sense?
    I hope the answer is not "only when confronted with the absurd is that logic can be developed" or a similar statement (since that would not be described as "the foundation of", but just "related to" or "motivated in part by").

    Yes, but none of them are "based" on "paradox". Each of them looks at paradoxes mainly as examples of faulty reasoning with which to work.

    why/in what sense?
    ("approach" in calculus is very well defined; in this case, on the other hand, it makes a nice-sounding phrase but I don't think it has any further use, or even a clear meaning)

    Paraconsistent logic applies to sets of statements in which you have contradictions. On the other hand, the predictions made by QM are never based on the phrases you like to cite as "contradictions allowed by QM" (cats dead and alive and the like). Predictions are obtained from the formal theory, which has no internal contradictions.

    "statistical hierarchy"?

    May be, but can you produce an example of what you are talking aboout? (a "paradoxical argument" that makes sense and that somehow makes something clearer than its non-paradoxical counterpart)

    Just because in that moment he is telling the truth about the rest of his statements. No paradox there.
  15. Apr 20, 2003 #14
    "Everything I say is a lie" makes perfect sense if spoken by a compulsive liar. said Wu.

    Still paradoxe because in that case he lies stating that he lies while speaking the truth.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2003
  16. Apr 20, 2003 #15
    It was by applying Zeno’s backdoor approach of reductio ad absurdum to the subject of logic itself, that Aristotle proved unless we assume whatever we are talking about is either true or false, the result would always lead to contradictions and paradoxes. This was the first formal logic ever invented and also the first rigorous argument for what does not constitute a paradox. Zeno of Elias, was the first to dramatically demonstrate that whatever explanation one put forward for existence led to a paradox.

    Later philosophers and mathematicians like Kurt Godel proved that any system is ultimately founded at least in part on faith. In the case of logic, it is founded on faith that some things are simply absurd. This faith provides the very definition of the words logic and absurdity. Like any other words, no matter how detailed our definitions they ultimately only have meaning when people agree to those meanings.

    Sorry, but this question is open to debate. Neutrosophic logic is based on the neutral or indeterminate, which can also be described as paradoxical. An offshoot of Neutrosophy is known as Paradoxism. This, of course, does not include all the asian logics based on paradox. And, again, the foundations of logic are based on the absurd which, of course, includes the paradoxical.

    Paradox has different meanings for different people depending upon the context in which we use the word. Broadly it refers to the irrational, inexplicable, self-referential and self-contradictory, or merely contradictory but somehow true. Unfortunately people also have different ideas about exactly what is reason and truth which makes defining paradox all that much more difficult. It may be that, despite numerous definitions and widespread use of the term, paradox is ultimately ineffable. Thousands of years ago in ancient Greece formal logic and mathematics were first developed and, when this occurred, it began a heated conflict over paradox that is still going on to this day.

    Prove it. This contradicts everything I've ever read on the subject. The predictions QM makes may not be paradoxical, but the theory itself is riddled with contradictions. Your statement that it is not sounds absurd in light of these facts.

    Yes, just as quantum mechanics is justified by its statistical predictions, a heirarchy of paradoxical concepts might also be established on a statistical basis. These may range from the merely contradictory yet apparently true to the self-contradictory and self-referential paradoxes of logicians. It may well be that this statistical heirarchy is precisely what formal logic approximates just as newtonian mechanics can be considered an approximation of Quantum Mechanics.

    The example I've already given of Neutrosophic logic is one possibility. It is being applied to Quantum Mechanics, but the application of nested matricies is proving difficult to develop. It may be that less paradoxical approaches may be required before a comprehensive TOE can be developed using this principle.

    Exactly, Relativity says the same essential thing. To speak of something without also speaking of someplace and sometime is an oxymoron.
  17. Apr 20, 2003 #16
    They don't have to agree about infinity is a concept altogether. I'm not concerned with that right now. When you presented your idea of the Paradox of Existence, you said that people have tried to use infinity to resolve it, but that infinity is paradoxical because... and then went on to explain the PoL. However, I'm saying that an infinite amount of time, is an infinite line, in just two directions, and thus the PoL doesn't apply.
  18. Apr 20, 2003 #17
    I was merely making the point that one could say that "infinity" means anything they want it to mean, and they would be - techinically - right, no matter what they made it mean. This is because words (such as "infinity") have no meaning on their own. They are assigned meaning, and then it becomes commonly held to be what that particular symbol/verbal sound means.
  19. Apr 20, 2003 #18
    I understand the concept of eternity, that isn't in question here. The question is whether it obeys formal logic. Bottom line, it isn't clear that it does or it wouldn't have remained so contested after two thousand years. Thus it joins the ranks of so many other concepts that are considered indeterminate, abiguous, and even down right absurd. For logic to make any sense whatsoever, especially considering its irrational roots, making such divisions whenever clearly possible is not only expedient, but necessary.
  20. Apr 20, 2003 #19
    I see. Well, can you see a reason why the concept of infinity should be so contraversial?
  21. Apr 20, 2003 #20
    OK Wu Li, lets starts.
    Mentat and Ahrkron are deliberately holding you up with semantics because they fear the power behind your idea. Even they use tricks to upset you.


    1. Do you have some basic links (not more than 5000 links please!)
    2. Set up the frame work you want us to follow.
    3. Suggestion: when we post a paradox we must include the reference and source. If we create it self we put our name.
    4. Let there be fun!

    Here some trails:
    1.The ineffable name of GOD can be pronounced without speaking His Name. (Pelastration, 2003)
    2. Infinity is zero, you can see it. (Pelastration, 2003)
    3. Mentat and Ahrkron are the powers of revolving emptiness (Pelastration, 2003)
    4. The Game of Paradox shows the fluidness of the Stone (Pelastration, 2003)
    5. The weight of Time is instant. (Pelastration, 2003)


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