Is Life A Paradox?

R2 in the middle of a Paradox Experiment! :-)

Is my life a paradox? I remember attending a meeting many years ago and a speaker at the meeting asked: “Would all extroverts please raise their hands.” I didn’t raise my hand and my friends around me asked: “Ron, why didn’t you raise your hand?” I said: “Because I’m an introvert.” They all said, in unison: “You are?” They thought the opposite. I immediately came to the realization that there is a contradiction between what I think and others think about me. You see, I now realize that I’m an introvert that’s an extrovert! Well, that’s a paradox, isn’t it? Now, don’t get this mixed-up with two doctors – a pair-of-docs! :-)

A vase or a “pair of docs?”

Ok, so what is a paradox? Here are some definitions from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

a: a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true

b: a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true

c: an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises

d: one (as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases

Let’s summarize these different aspects of a paradox into one statement. For this discussion, a paradox is something that at least appears contradictory, unbelievable or doesn’t make sense, but is likely true. My statement that I’m an introvert that’s an extrovert appears contradictory, but is likely true. In my mind, I think I’m an introvert, but many others think I’m an extrovert. I’m an introverted extrovert – a paradox!

Of course, there are many other paradoxes besides me. :-) Consider something as simple as: “Please ignore this sentence.” Or, this one: “I try hard to be lazy.”

How about this paradox that proves R2 exists? :-)

We can make the idea behind the preceding paradox even simpler, by stating what is often called the Liar’s Paradox: THIS SENTENCE IS FALSE! Think about it – if it is true, then it is false and if it is false, then it is true. Wow! There are more paradoxes that have similar contradictions, but let’s move on to some different types of contradictions that get closer to answering the question: “Is my life a paradox?”

Visually, we can have paradoxes. Sometimes, they are called optical illusions. Consider the following.

Penrose or “Impossible” Triangle

“Drawing Hands” by M C Escher

“Waterfall” by M C Escher

The first picture is called the Penrose Triangle, named after Roger Penrose. The other two were created by M C Escher. There are many more “visual contradictions” that act as paradoxes. These types of visual drawings are sometimes called, “impossible constructions.”

The next two pictures help to show how the “impossible can be possible!” :-)

Impossible Triangle sculpture, East Perth, Australia. The structure is actually disjointed, and was photographed from one of the two spots that it was designed to be seen from.

The Penrose triangles in Waterfall by M. C. Escher

I took the following two pictures last year, while in Washington DC .

Sculpture Park “3D” view of the house

Sculpture Park “2D” View of House

The two above pictures are of the same house, just different points of view. The “sculpture” is about 6″ thick with a length of about 10′ and height of 6′. Visual paradox?

“Up or Down” the up and down stairs!

I remember a friend of mine, after returning from a conference about improving the quality of teaching, telling me that the main idea of the conference was, “Less is more! I think his main idea statement meant that by doing less, we can actually accomplish more. In this case, I think the statement referred to the problem of a crowded curriculum and that by teaching less topics, but having the students learn them better, actually results in more learning. But, doesn’t that present a paradox? Doesn’t it, at least on first inspection, appear to be contradictory or absurd, but may, in fact, be true?

I think in so many ways, life does appear to be a paradox. This is especially true when looking at life’s complexities from only one point of view. Here are five examples.

A friend of mine has a most wonderful and gentle spouse, from my point of view, but he is inconsiderate and mean when behind closed doors.

Another person is shy and reserved, yet loves speaking in front of people.

There are many among us who have more leisure time, but less fun.

There are more couples with two incomes, but we also have more divorces.

We have more and faster ways of communication, but less communication.

Is it a “duck” or a “rabbit?”

Then, there are paradoxes about life itself.

Being born is a death sentence.

We have been able to add many years to our life, but hardly any life to our years.

We have learned how to make a living, but not how to make a life.

If you want to succeed in life, then you must increase your failure rate.

Too often a couple will pass up a “close” moment for fear of rejection.

Most of the paradoxes I have listed are not original. If life is a paradox and all of us are alive, then I think it will be difficult to find paradoxes that are unique to any individual. Having stated that, let me finish this post with some examples of paradoxes, as I see it, from my own life.

My obsessive-compulsive behavior causes me to feel comfortable with responsibility. (It gives me the confidence that I will follow through and complete whatever I take responsibility for.)

I have a strong desire to be in a state of not wanting.

Sometimes, I like to have disrupting noise and visuals (i.e. television) when I want to go to sleep.

I often do my better thinking when I’m distracted.

I like completing projects, but I don’t want to be without something to do.

I like change and I like routine.

I want to live somewhere else and I want the comfort of having a long history in the place where I’m living.

See if these circles move when you know they are not moving! Note: if you click on the picture you will see a larger version.

I like long drives and I like to get there quickly.

I like to exercise, but I don’t like to sweat.

I have a lot of confidence and I have a lot of doubt.

I like my hair short and I like long hair.

I want a new car, but I like driving an old car.

I want to know if I have any health problems, but I don’t want to find out if I do.

I like being a liberal and a conservative.

In the Summer, I prefer the Winter and in the Winter, I prefer the Summer.


So, is life a paradox? At least some of my life is paradoxical! How about yours?

7 Comments on “Is Life A Paradox?”

  1. This was an extremely intresting read! Thank you for this :D ‘Being born is a death sentence’, that is very clever yet extremely depressing.


  2. “Being born is a death sentence.” is depressing from one point of view, but understanding it and using it as an incentive for being “present in the present,” can be uplifting. Thanks for your comment.


  3. We have more and faster ways of communication, but less communication….v thought proving and inspiring…thaank u friend


  4. ” It was awfully good.” Another paradoxical statement – oxymoronic! :-) Thanks for the compliment, Bill


  5. I always believed my life is a vicious circle of paradoxes.


  6. The fact that you are “introverted extroverted” at the same time is not a paradox, just a different interpretation from other’s people perspective. You probably just are ambiverted, that is a balance of these two concepts. For example, you could be very open while talking to stranger peoples in a party, but after that it makes you tired, or you are rather social, but don’t like speaking in front of a large public. You behavior just depends on the situation, it’s not paradoxal.
    That logic applies to other examples of the article that aren’t paradox in fact.
    Anyway, in overall, this is a nice text.


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