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Date: 05/07/2001 at 17:31:55
From: Ariel Klugman
Subject: Paradox

What is a paradox? How does it work? Is it right?

Date: 05/08/2001 at 14:33:33
From: Doctor Twe
Subject: Re: Paradox

Hi Ariel - thanks for writing to Dr. Math.

According to the Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary at:


a paradox is:

   1:  a tenet contrary to received opinion

   2a: 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

   3:  one that possesses seemingly contradictory qualities or phases

In math, we usually use the term in the context of definition 2a. The 
key is that a paradox *seems* to be contradictory, but is in fact true 
or valid. 

Here is an entry from our Ask Dr. Math archives that discusses the 
difference between a paradox and a fallacy:

   Paradox and Fallacy

Some famous math paradoxes include:

   Russell's Paradox

   Zeno's Paradox

   The Infinity Hotel Paradox

   The Unexpected Exam Paradox

   Bertrand's Paradox

I hope this helps. If you have any more questions, write back.

- Doctor TWE, The Math Forum
Associated Topics:
High School Logic

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