You’ve probably heard of Epimenides’ Paradox. Epimenides was a Cretan, and the paradox that bears his name goes like so :
“All Cretans are liars.”
Of course, if the statement is true, then Epimenides is a liar, and thus the statement is false. If it’s false…well you can see where that one’s going. The same paradox is manifest if you say “I am lying” or “This statement is false”.
This is simpleminded stuff, the kind of thing that was intellectually thrilling when we were ten years old. I know. The self-referential frisson. Bear with me.
Let’s stretch out old Epimenides a bit into something that’s also very familiar :
The following sentence is false.
The preceding sentence is true.
Taken separately, each of these sentences is perfectly fine, potentially useful, unremarkable. Taken as a unit, though, we’re back at the bar with old Epimenides, swilling wine and scratching at our verminous beards in bemusement, back in Paradox City, Arizona.
It would be possible, of course, to build a group of 3 or 4 or more sentences, each of which in isolation is perfectly acceptable, but which as a group leads us into botheration again. The way in which these sentences point to one another spawns the whirling core of chaos from which the paradox emerges. The way in which they refer to one another generates all the heat.
There’s a quote, or just a bit of homespun wisdom, I’m not sure which, that surfaces from time to time, one that I seem to recall deploying here sometime in the last year or so, in relation to something or other. It’s also something most of us have experienced at least once, which is why it’s juicy. It goes like so :
If you point at something, a dog will look at your finger, rather than the thing at which you’re pointing.
I used this, as I think most do, to poke fun at people who ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ or ‘can’t see past their own noses’, or just to make myself feel clever. I don’t recall, exactly.
But I’ve been thinking this morning about Epimenides, and my growing dissatisfaction with a whole range of things in my life, and I realized that I’ve been completely wrong all this time.
You see, the dog is right.
It’s the act of pointing that deserves the attention. The actor, who by pointing, attaches significance to that at which he points. It’s the relationship between the pointer and the pointee, if you will, and the fact that the pointee is frequently pointing back – this is where the Good Stuff comes from.
Now that I’ve gotten out of the bathtub and written this down, I realize that what I’ve been saying here applies in good measure to this weblogging stuff as well.
I really was only thinking about my own life, as I tend to do. Your results may vary.