Thursday, September 4, 2008

Zeno's Paradox



“Of course, there are stories.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Like?”

“Some people say she couldn’t stop looking to her past. And eventually froze like that.”

“Kind of like Lot’s wife.”

“Except bronze, not salt.”

“What else?”

“There’s the one where she’s gazing toward her lost love. Waiting until he comes for her. Waiting to become flesh again.”

“I like that one better. Sad, though.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think that’s it.”

They stretched out on the bench, watching some squirrels gather nuts.

“Here’s what I think.”

“Please.”

“Have you heard of Zeno’s Paradox?”

“It sounds familiar, but . . . ”

“Well, Zeno’s Paradox is the mathematical equivalent of paralysis. It’s the idea that there are an infinite number of fractions between Point A and Point B. So imagine reaching the halfway mark between the two points. But then there's a halfway mark of the distance still remaining, and another halfway mark beyond that . . . and so on. Creating new infinities with every step, you see.”

“Geez.”

“So the cruel joke, of course, is that you can never get to Point B in a finite amount of time—say, a lifetime—because when looking out over the road to travel, you face an infinite number of these infinities. In fact—”

“What?”

A squirrel zipped up a tree, shaking the leaves.

“You can never even take the first step.”

“Huh.”

They gathered their backpacks and threw the remnants of their lunches into the trashcan.

“You want to grab some coffee or something before class starts?”

“Sure.”

The bricks marked their steps as they strode down the campus walkway.



[Photo of David Hostetler's The American Woman,
on the Ohio University campus. The sculpture's
plaque reads: Art is Long and Life is Brief.]

14 comments:

Sheri said...

Hey Sarah! That picture is a little creepy, but very cool. Oh and you’re showing your mathness again! 8) I loved it. I love your easy, breezy conversation you always have between characters. It comes so naturally to you. Awesome!

Aine said...

Great dialogue! I miss those college days-- sitting on a bench discussing the mysteries of life. (sigh)
:)

“You can never even take the first step.”

I don't understand the reasoning behind that part. Isn't the halfway point very real, tangible?

Naturally, I smiled widely upon reading this. Future orientation can create problems.... I think it is sometimes best to take a step on instinct without thinking through the possible outcomes. Otherwise, one can become too paralyzed to step, or too frustrated if the result is not what they expected. In other words, trust yourself and others. (Easier said than done!)
;)

strugglingwriter said...

He! I like this a lot. Makes me think.

I like the photo. It reminds me of a gentle alien.

Have you ever heard of the comedian Emo Philips? I heard him on XM yesterday and he had a joke that went like this:

"I wanted to get from 4th street to 8th... Then I remembered Einstein postulating that parallel lines eventually meet. They're dredging my car from Lake Michigan as we speak."

This piece reminded me of that joke.

jason evans said...

What a dialog! Loved it!!

I never heard of that paradox, but something hit me immediately. What a strange concept that the two end points are finite, such as the numbers 1 and 2, but the divisions between them are infinite. The space is known, but the measure of the space is endless. (Actually, this is too much for my brain this early in the morning.)

Life really is like that. Great analogy. We know we're born and will die. Two people can look at each other and see the physical reality of their presence, yet drown in the infinity in between.

Here's to the path makers who lay the stones across infinities.

Sarah Hina said...

Sheri, this one was truly the easiest piece I've ever written. Usually, it's not so natural and effortless. ;) Thanks so much!

Aine, I thought you'd get a kick out of this one. :)

The logic (or illogic) behind not being able to even take a first step is that the infinities run in the counter direction, too. So you can never get to the halfway mark without getting to the quarter...and the eighth, etc. Hence, there is no definitive, first point that you can move to.

God, I'm getting a headache. ;)

Paul, ha! I love the joke. :) I'm glad this made you think.

I do enjoy considering these sorts of logical paradoxes. But yeah, sometimes thinking too much, and looking too far ahead, can be counter-productive. This is the ultimate extreme, I guess.

Common sense dictates that we just put one foot in front of the other. Or that we make a right turn. ;)

Jason, amen. :)

And here's to the artists who extend those bridges, too. I liked the plaque's message here. Art is long and life is brief. It's only through our relationships, and the work we leave behind, that we can arrive at some end point, and feel like a part of us will stretch toward new infinites to come.

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

Maybe the effort taken was less,but this is again another gem from your trove :)

Took me back to those college lunch sessions.Math was your major eh? ;)

Sarah Hina said...

Sameera, math was not my major (thank God!), but I remembered this paradox from the calculus class I had to take. It always struck me as a wonderful contrast between the theoretical and the reality.

And thanks for the lovely compliment! :)

Vinz aka Vinu said...

interesting..!!
~~The bricks marked their steps as they strode down the campus walkway.~~

Nice framed sentence

:)

Hotwire said...

that paradox is amazing - i'd never heard of it, but as a fine arts major i don't suppose that's a surprise!

great story, as ususal!

Sarah Hina said...

Vinz, thanks for stopping by! And for the kind words. :)

Hotwire, I wish I retained more from my college courses. This was one of those random pieces of information that popped up when I needed it.

Thanks! :)

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

Lol ok!I dropped Math after tenth grade,had never heard of this term till yesterday.Your Fair Verona post had a math angle to it as well,so just asked ;)

Have a lovely weekend!

Sarah Hina said...

No problem, Sameera! I can see how you would surmise that. But math was usually a chore for me, too.

Hope your weekend was grand! :)

Scott said...

This should have been two stoney's talking! What a pleasure to read. And I got it about the first step--how about that?

Vesper said...

Excellent piece, Sarah! Great dialogue!

Fascinating how Zeno's paradoxes challenge the coherence of the concepts of motion and time.