Friday, May 18, 2012

I probably should be more philosophical about this

I’ve been listening to Anthony Gottlieb’s The Dream of Reason as I walk (Paul’s away cosmopolizing again) and clank away on my !@#$% TotalGym. It’s a history of philosophy, and yesterday I got to Zeno, who remains famous for his paradoxes. This reminded me that somewhere late in high school, we had learned about his “Achilles and the Tortoise” paradox, which basically says you’ll never catch up to someone running ahead of you, because you must first reach the point where he was when you began your chase. So you keep getting to where he was, and you never get to where he is.

The whole Zeno deal really tickled me as a high school runner. My favorite was a related paradox, which held that you could never reach the finish line. You just keep reaching half-way points. The distance to run keeps diminishing, but you still just keep reaching half-ways, right down to the infinitesimal, but never the tape. Lots of my races certainly felt that way, I’d cackle. Old Zeno gave me lots of laughs.

But when I go out these days to try and shuffle around the roads of Woodbury, I realize that the philosopher wasn’t just trying to set up his dialectic or make a metaphysical point. He was describing old age. I haven’t actually made it to the finish of a run in close to a month, thereby proving his paradox to my own satisfaction. Knees, achilles (how fitting that it was “swift Achilles” who played the runner’s part in the paradoxes), metatarsals, you name it.

Screw you, Zeno.

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