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The great Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea (born sometime between 495 and 480 B.C.) proposed
four paradoxes in an effort to challenge
the accepted notions of space and time that he encountered in various philosophical circles. His
paradoxes confounded mathematicians for centuries, and it wasn't until Cantor's development (in the 1860's and
1870's) of the
theory of infinite
sets that the paradoxes could be fully resolved.
Zeno's paradoxes focus on the relation of the discrete to the continuous, an issue that is at the
very heart of mathematics. Here we will present the first of his famous four paradoxes.
Paradox 1: The Motionless Runner
A runner wants to run a certain distance - let us say 100 meters - in a finite time. But to reach the 100-meter mark, the runner must first reach the 50-meter mark, and to reach that, the runner must first run 25 meters. But to do that, he or she must first run 12.5 meters.
Since space is infinitely divisible, we can repeat these 'requirements' forever. Thus the runner has to reach an infinite number of 'midpoints' in a finite time. This is impossible, so the runner can never reach his goal. In general, anyone who wants to move from one point to another must meet these requirements, and so motion is impossible, and what we perceive as motion is merely an illusion.
Where does the argument break down? Why?
This runner is clearly disappointed that
he won't be going anywhere.
Find out more about all four paradoxes and their solutions.
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