Paradoxes 101: What is a paradox?

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When practicing Vipassana meditation you essentially practice to see things as they really are. This requires your way of looking to change quite a bit from the ordinary. And when looking in this altered way, paradoxes emerge.

Following is a list of paradoxes that I intend to delve into in upcoming posts:

- Time: On one hand time seems to be an inherent part of our reality, 
but on the other, we have never experienced anything but now. Even 
our memories of the past, that we may hold as proof of time having 
passed, are only in our thoughts now. The ideas we have of the future 
are also only in our minds now. Where is this proof of time having
passed, really? Can we experience it directly or do we simply have to
believe in it?

- Inner/Outer Reality: On the one hand it seems as if a world and a
universe surrounds us, independent of us observing it. On the other, 
we know for certain that all we ever have experienced have occurred 
only inside of our minds. This is a conventionally accepted 

- Egotism Vs. Altruism: We know that it is possible for people to do 
good for others in order to benefit themselves. They may donate
money for a charity only to better their image in the public eye.
We also know that some couldn't care less about their image but
only would like to see good deeds carried out by their chosen
organization of charity. But then they may be motivated by a
pleasant feeling that they get, perhaps one of pride or simply
a satisfaction of seeing the good deeds carried out - is this
not also selfishly motivated, although it is considered to be 
more noble? Can true altruism even exist when looking at is this
way, and what is it?

These are by no means all the paradoxes that I have come across, but just a few examples, of which I may be able to write something meaningful about.

But before I get into elaborating on these I will dedicate this post by itself to explain what paradoxes are and why they come into existence.

A paradox emerges when two or more different conclusions can be drawn from the knowledge and experience one has at a given moment. All paradoxes seize to exist once a fuller understanding has emerged. 

An example of a paradox and the resolve of one can be given by the famous twin paradox, [YouTube video by Minutephysics]. It builds on the special theory of relativity, which basically predicts that time moves slower when moving faster.

The paradox goes something like this: A set of twins may say goodbye to each other, as the one is going away into space for a space cruise at nearly the speed of light. The other will wait back on earth for his twin to return.

From the perspective of the earth bound twin, the space travelling twin is the one moving away and coming back, and therefore he will argue the his space-twin has experienced time go slower while cruising through space, and thus comes back younger!

On the other hand, the twin going into space may argue that his twin on earth is the one going away, moving together with the whole earth at once, and coming back – thus the space-twin may argue that his earth-twin is now younger.

Who’s right?!

If this is all the knowledge we have of special relativity and the scenario described, we are at a loss when we try to make a definite conclusion. Both twins have sound logic based on their level of knowledge concerning special relativity. The key to resolving the paradox is, of course: More knowledge!

By also incorporating knowledge of the acceleration experienced by each of the twins, the paradox seizes to be a paradox: The space twin will be younger upon reunion because he is the one accelerating into space and back again!

This is an empirical fact, by the way. It has been observed countless times in real-life situations. Cool, huh? But anyway…

Some of the paradoxes that I will be writing about in upcoming posts have taken me years to figure out and are definitely not all too easy, like this one with special relativity is. But the experience I have with paradoxes now has allowed me to see the following is true of paradoxes:

Paradoxes are fundamentally illusory. They emerge from siding with one or the other ideology or belief of reality that is not completely true! Such beliefs give rise to a type of logical system that conflicts with itself when it meets new phenomena that have not yet been included in the given logical system.

We have tons of ideologies and beliefs about reality – more than we could ever come to keep track of! We create these belief systems and ideologies subliminally and we may be conscious of some of them, but not necessarily any at all.

None of these belief systems or ideologies are ultimately true, but just partially true!

Partially true ideas about how the world works, are mostly good enough, really. Because we don’t need to know everything in order to make some practical conclusions about how life works, in order to get around quite well most of the time – but we are at risk of running into paradoxes from time to time. And after all, this is a risk most of us can accept.

The paradoxes to be explored in the future on this site are ones that emerge from a conflict between a view of reality based on conceptual, and more conventional, understanding and direct, meditative observation.

The question arises: How to understand reality? As you experience it directly in each moment? With your own eyes, ears and senses?

Or do we stick to what we think and believe of the world, based on what we have experienced so far, and what we have heard from others?

Whenever there is a difference between what we believe of the world and what we are seeing with our own two eyes – the world will seem to be paradoxical to us.

But not to worry, the definition of a paradox from the beginning of this text still stands – which means that paradoxes can be resolved as we grow wiser. And that is what I’m trying to do! And hopefully, we’ll have a look at some paradoxes in the near future together. I’ve found that it is just wonderful when that Eurika moment happens, and the paradox from our conflicted understanding of reality resolves. Stay tuned for that!

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