Zeno’s paradoxes are a set of philosophical problems generally thought to have been devised by famed Greek philosopher, Zeno of Elea (c. 490–430 BC). Zeno developed these paradoxes (a logical statement that seems to contradict itself) to support Parmenides’ doctrine, another pre-Soctractic titan of philosophy, that contrary to the evidence of one’s senses, the belief in plurality and change is mistaken, and in particular that motion is nothing but an illusion.
Based on Plato’s Parmenides, it is widely believed that Zeno took on the project of creating these paradoxes because other protagonists from the pantheon of philosophical thinking had promulgated paradoxes against his philosobro’s (Parmenides) view. Thus Plato has Zeno stating that the purpose of his paradoxes “is to highlight the hypothesis that existences are many, if properly followed up, leads to still more absurd results than the hypothesis that they are one.”
Zeno’s nine surviving paradoxes are essentially equivalent to one another. They were preserved by Plato’s famous student; Aristotle in his book Physics. The following is some quick background before we get a bit more philosophical about the future of mankind:
Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox
That which is in locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal
— as recounted by Aristotle, Physics VI:9, 239b10
Suppose the bard Homer wishes to sprint to the end of a short 10-meter path. But before he can run all the way to the end, he must first get halfway there. And before he can get halfway there, he must first run a quarter of the way there. And before traveling a quarter, he must run one-eighth; and so on, essentially setting up an infinite set of suicide sprints.
As a dichotomy:
This dichotomy requires one to complete an infinite number of tasks, which Zeno (and anybody with half a brain) maintains is impossible. However, Homer could also easily complete the short entire distance in one full sprint. This is what makes it a paradox. The argument is called “the Dichotomy” because it involves repeatedly splitting a distance into two parts. It is also known as the Race Course paradox.
Achilles and the Tortoise
In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.
— as recounted by Aristotle, Physics VI:9, 239b15
In the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, our favorite Iliad demigod is in a footrace with a tortoise. Imagine that Achilles allows the tortoise a head start of 100 meters. Now, suppose that each racer starts running at some constant speed, one faster than the other. After some finite time, Achilles will have completed the 100 meters, bringing him to the tortoise’s starting point. During this same period of time, the tortoise has run a much shorter distance, say two meters. It will then take Achilles some further time to run that distance, by which time the tortoise will have advanced farther; and then more time still to reach this third point, while the tortoise moves ahead. Thus, whenever Achilles arrives somewhere the tortoise has been, he still has some distance to go before he can even reach the tortoise. It is a paradox because Achilles is obviously faster than the tortoise, yet he is never able to (philosophically) surpass the tortoise. As Aristotle goes on to note, this Achillean argument is essentially similar to Zeno’s Dichotomy. It lacks, however, the apparent conclusion of motionlessness.
Science fiction frequently offers work as the way out of the self-serving fantasies of solipsism, even simple labor proving life science therapeutics. It seems that lately, for every two steps we take forward towards the singularity, we take a step back in terms of ethico-moral dillydallying. The case of fallen Chinese science star, He Jiankui, a somber case in point. Professor Jiankui broke the sacred code of primum non nocere this time last year by going behind the backs of his patient’s parents to cripple the CCR5 gene in two twin girls. The CCR5 gene produces a protein on immune cells that HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) uses as a springboard to infect cells and spread across the body, decimating the patient's immune system.
So stopping HIV from ever entering the cells of babies is a bad thing?
Yes! Recent research has highlighted that Professor Jiankui’s unapproved CRISPR-Cas 9 gene editing resulted in up to 40 unpredictable “off-target” changes elsewhere in the girls’ genomes, changes that could even one-day cause cancer.
In earlier experiments, conducted by famed Immunologist Philip Murphy who helped discover the role of CCR5 in HIV infection back in 1996, the CCR5 was shown to promote the cytokine based trafficking of important immune cells to the brain during infection with West Nile Virus. CCR5 is a genetic double edge sword.
Humans of the Future
We start life off as binary biological beings and for the past 70,000 years of human civilization, we have continued to barely survive. Yes, the philosophy of germline editing in humans is far from a binary black and white issue, but to use a philosophical argument to stymie scientific advancement is just as ridiculous as expecting that Achilles will never catch a tortoise with a 100m head start. It will take a mix of benevolent gene editing and supercharged singularity for us to eventually thrive as a self-sustaining (and insha Allah interstellar) species, especially once the world’s population is pushed past the point of no return. Our collective Achillean action must surpass the morose and myopic tortoise of materialism. Otherwise, we may as well enjoy a motionless life like poor Homer, paralyzed by our own Zenoific paradox.
Science is the only solution to ensuring a stable population of 12 billion in the year 2100 (almost double our current global population). Philosophical paradoxes aside, science must lead the way for us to avoid an inevitable demographic doomsday.
Back to Zeno’s (false) paradox. It is said, according to Simplicius, that Diogenes the Cynic said nothing upon hearing Zeno’s arguments, but simply stood up and walked, in order to demonstrate the falsity of Zeno’s conclusions. Such a great personification of solvitur ambulando.
Scientists of today (and tomorrow) should simply stand up and walk towards the Year 2100, in that way, we just might slowly evolve from our basic biology into digital demigods.