Zeno, Ants, And How I Am Paralyzed In Life

This ant got stuck in amber. I know how she feels.
(Original source: Anders L. Damgaard; CC BY-SA 3.0 / Desaturated from original)

Parmenides was one of the great first philosophers. Ironically, for someone who preached immobility in his conclusions, he has pushed philosophy forward with his premisses. But I think of his conclusions now, when I look at my life. I wonder if the world — at least, my world — isn’t motionless, after all.

Parmenides had a great defender — Zeno, of Elea — who created a series of paradoxes to “prove” him right. One of the most famous shows that we can’t cross a room. To reach any distance, we first need to reach half of that distance. But to do so we first need to reach half of that “half-distance”. And so on, indefinitely. Therefore, if we have to cross an infinite amount of decreasing distances, the truth is: we can’t move. How stupid, right?

Although contrary to common sense, it took Aristotle and a proper theory of infinity to prove Zeno wrong. But I won’t dwell on that now. All I want is to say that I live Zeno’s paradox today — just different.

I envy those who choose a path and simply walk it. They trace a straight line linking where they are to where they want to be, and they just go. Obstacles inevitably appear, which might necessitate some going around, but they always get back to the right path — and they continue.

I was one day like that. I am not anymore.

What happens to me is the following. I decide on a path. I make the first steps toward it. Then, the going gets tough. “Coincidently”, new possible paths appear on my mind. One of them looks more inviting. I concoct perfectly rational explanations why I should follow it instead. I even convince my wife. Then I change directions. I repeat that indefinitely.

When you imagine a three-dimensional space like the one we live at, you think I am making at least some progress in all directions. I mean, unless my path follows one axis exactly, I am moving at least a little bit in X-Y-Z; that way I am never relinquishing all my development in the other directions. Well, that is only slightly true.

What if there were not only three dimensions, but infinite? What if we could find infinite directions that were completely orthogonal to our previous one?

That’s the Zeno-like paradox I live in. I go everywhere, and I produce nothing.

I have always used the metaphor that we are all born as little ants. We see this vast empty space ahead of us and follow the obvious direction. But not me! I had been born farther away from that empty space, and from that viewpoint I could see that we were actually facing a giant open door. More than that: there were endless doors side by side, stretching indefinitely to both sides. And I’ve been testing those doors ever since.

When I was younger, that explained my eclecticism; today, that explains my paralysis in life, stuck at the very same point, even when always moving.

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