Thursday, August 06, 2015

Contradiction vs. Paradox

I affirm a metaphysics of paradox. Anyone who has read enough of my works -- academic, popular, and blogs -- knows I affirm paradox. But what is a paradox?

First, a paradox is absolutely not a contradiction. If anything, paradox and contradiction are complete opposites.

The word "paradox" comes from the ancient Greek para-, meaning "contrary to", and doxa, meaning "opinion." A paradoxon is thus a statement contrary to opinion. This, at least, is its etymological meaning. Doxa comes from dokein, meaning "to appear, seem, think." Thus, a paradox is contrary to appearance. For example, we think that something is either attractive or repulsive, when in fact there are processes which are simultaneously attractive and repulsive (like strange attractors).

The word "contradiction" comes from the Latin contra, meaning "against", and dicere, meaning "to speak." Thus, a contradiction is literally "to speak against." To contradict something is to speak against it. If two things are in contradiction, that means they are mutually opposed to each other. In a sense, each speaks against the other. For example, a shirt of a single color cannot be both red and blue at the same time -- it must be either red or blue.

A good example of a paradox is the relationship between competition and cooperation. Many think of these two things as being in opposition -- as even being contradictory. That is why so many who favor cooperation vilify competition. Yet, these two are not at all in opposition, except in extreme cases, such as, say, golf or tennis. And even then, both parties have to cooperate on when to play and where. With the vast majority of sports, you not only have this level of cooperation, but you have to have cooperation within the team itself in order for there to be competition between the teams. Cooperation between the teams (or the individuals) in regards to the game play itself would be considered corruption of the game itself. Cooperation cannot enter into what is the proper realm of competition without there being corruption, and competition cannot enter into what is the proper realm of cooperation without the possibility of game play itself being rendered impossible.

This may begin to point to why it is that corruption exists. If we have cooperation where there should not be cooperation, and should in fact probably be competition, you get corruption. Corruption exists where businesses and governments cooperate. Corruption exists where businesses that ought to be competing with each other are cooperating (typically because the playing field has been made more conducive to this kind of cooperation by the rule-makers, i.e., government).

The word "corrupt" comes from the Latin cor-, meaning "altogether", and rumpere, meaning "to break," meaning that to corrupt is to break altogether. This suggests the breaking or breaking down of a system, to break it altogether. Those who thus favor cooperation-only favor corruption. The presence of competition prevents or at least reduces corruption.

The elimination of paradox simplifies the system in question, making it far less interesting. A game in which the two teams are cooperating to create a given outcome will not be interesting to the viewers. They will rightly feel cheated when they find out that the game was rigged. They will realize that the outcome was not in fact unpredictable, and unpredictable outcomes are a feature of all complex systems. Predictable outcomes are a consequences of simple systems. But simple systems cannot create wealth or interest or freedom; only complex systems can create wealth or interest or freedom. Paradox creates complexity, and complexity results in creativity and wealth.

All of this is, of course, contrary to opinion. Yet, it is true.

One can also imagine a contradictory proposition. Can one simultaneously be an anarchist -- in opposition to someone ruling -- and also favor a more expansive government? The anarchist speaks against government, and government speaks against anarchy. You cannot be a big government anarchist. That is a contradiction.

So don't confuse contradiction and paradox. They are opposite things, even if they appear to be the same. Contradictions are truly incompatible, while paradoxes only appear to be so, unless you understand the true relations between the parts.
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