I got myself into a big mess with the students at the faculty of Nuclear Sciences the day I explained to them that the paradoxes of reason were not resolved.
“The nonsense of sleepless philosophers!” they thought. “So Achilles can’t catch up with a turtle!” and they went on in search of their text book where it was explained how an infinitesimal calculation had solved many of these problems, especially the paradoxes of movement put forward by Zeno*.
Of course they didn’t believe me, and my reputation — which already wasn’t very good — was never the same. No one will believe that dogmatism is not plentiful among scientists and the projects of scientists.
Be reasonable, don’t go crazy!
Common sense opposes the reasoning of the insane, and it associates the first one with restraint in comparison to rage. “Sonny, think about things before doing them,” a grandmother would tell to her impulsive little grandson. Few people today know that reason has clay feet.
I’ll give a simple example to make what I’m talking about clearer: How could we judge if reason is guiding us along the right path? Would we have to look for an evaluator who was beyond reason, or are we going to let reason evaluate and congratulate itself?!
No, for real, that would be fraudulent, but beyond reason there is only unreasonableness. Can we guide ourselves by unreasonableness to judge the work of reason? Even the question sounds absurd.
These little things have scientific, human and civilizational consequences that are delicate and deep. How much cruelty has been committed and justified in the name of reason; and how much blood has been spilt in the name of its cousin, progress?
Figuring out the paradoxes of reason, that’s to say the limits of reason, is to lean out over an abyss (one that doesn’t give you vertigo because you still haven’t made it to the edge). They are able to undermine all of our certainties, to paralyze us and make us distressed… We would probably have to look for a way out.
One solution is to understand that thought itself, which leads to paradoxes, is paradoxical. This doesn’t solve a whole lot because this thought that allowed us to understand the paradoxical character of the paradoxes is also paradoxical, and so on ad infinitum.
Another way out could be to integrate reason and life, as was attempted by several Spanish philosophers of the last century. Let’s not trick ourselves with words, life here is synonymous with irrational; so to integrate reason and life is the same thing as integrating the rational with the irrational. It sounds as poetic as it is impossible.
My individual solution has been to forget the matter and to keep movin’ on without bogging myself down, but when I try to use truth and justice for guides, the problem returns.
If someone knows how to get me out of this mess, please don’t make me beg for your help.
(*) Zeno: a Greek philosopher who put forward a group of paradoxes that derived from paying attention to the senses; for example, believing that movement is possible. If movement were not possible then Achilles, who was a fast runner, would never have been able to catch up with a turtle, no matter how fast he ran. For Zeno, paradoxes still did not come from reason; on the contrary, with the guidance of reason we could avoid them. Later we discover that paradoxes are innate to reason itself and everything is very confused.