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Paradox Examples

Some Amusing Examples of Paradox to Bowl Your Mind

A paradox is used in literature to bring wit and insight to a statement. Read more on paradox to know some famous self-contradictory sentences.
Pushpa Duddukuri
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
A paradox is a sentence which defies logic and embraces absurdity, while holding on to truth and compelling one to think. In fact, paradoxes have become a part and parcel of English Language now. A paradoxical statement is self contradicting, still possibly true. It takes you a while to get a grip on such statements, even though it stares right at you. 'I always lie' is one of the classic examples because if I always lie, then I would be lying now too. If we are considering the above sentence untrue, then it implies that I don't always lie, which mean if this statement is in fact true, then it's probably false. Confused? Well, take another example which would make your head spin. Suppose, you are a psychopathic grandma killer who managed to grab hold of a functional time machine and, turned on your grandma for your next prey. Does the statement, 'time traveling grandma killer' makes fun of logic besides being hypothetical and ridiculous? Let us find out.
Step 1: You travel to some seventy years back with the help of a time machine, to find your ever nagging grandmother who was just a toddler then and strangle her in sleep.
Step 2: That means one of your parent was never born since his/her mother died in her childhood.
Step 3: Which means you never existed.
Step 4: When you never existed, you never got to do time traveling or grandma killing.
Step 5: Thus, making your grandma alive. Also, your mom/dad got to live because of it and so do you.
Step 6: Which means you can go back to time and kill her. Thus, paradox continues as it does in every time traveling story.
Simple Paradoxes
  • This is the beginning of the end.
  • Mozambique is a rich country of poor people.
  • The following sentence is true.
    The above sentence is a lie.
  • Please ignore the notice.
  • The day of hanging will be a surprise. So, it can't happen at all.
  • The man who wrote such a stupid sentence cannot write at all.
  • A man drowned in the fountain of eternal life.
  • Advertisement: If you are illiterate, then write to us and we will send you a free of charge instruction booklet on how to read.
  • Answer truthfully (yes or no) to the following question: Will the next word you say be 'no'?
  • They must go to war to make peace.
  • To believe with certainty we must begin with doubting. - King Stanislaw II.
  • I can resist anything except temptation.
  • Freedom is not doing what you want, freedom is wanting to do what you have to do... this kind of freedom is always rooted in practiced habit. - Northrop Frye.
  • Deep down, he's really shallow.
Paradox in Literature
Paradox is a kind of irony which is profoundly true, though at the face value it might sound quite ludicrous. Authors from different genres use this element to force the reader dig deeper and search for a meaning which is not visible in plain sight. Often, paradox is confused with irony as both display hidden truths. However, a paradox is much more complex than irony and sometimes dependent on the other to serve its purpose. This illogical statement works as a puzzle and contains a philosophical or symbolic meaning which the author intends the reader to find. By making the readers think and work to get to the real meaning, the author cleverly disposes of boredom. Let us discuss the age-old question: What came first, the chicken or the egg? Even though a cliche, it surely catches the essence of a paradox. Oscar Wilde, Barnard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, G. K. Chesterton were some of the gifted authors who were adept in spinning up fine paradoxes in their works.
"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
"You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
"Nobody asked your opinion," said Alice.
"Who's making personal remarks now?" the Hatter asked triumphantly. - Lewis Caroll in "Alice in Wonderland"
Confused? Well, literature is full of such confusing examples. Here are some more.
  • War is peace./ Freedom is slavery./ Ignorance is strength. - George Orwell.
  • I must be cruel to be kind. - Shakespeare in "Hamlet".
  • An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. - G K Chesterton.
  • The silence of midnight, to speak truly, though apparently a paradox, rung in my ears. - Mary Shelley.
  • All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. - George Orwell.
  • A dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased and wag my tail when I'm angry. - The Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".
  • There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. - Joseph Heller in "Catch-22".
  • If you wish to preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness. - Alexander Smith.
  • One short sleep past, we wake eternally,/ And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die - John Donne.
Paradox for Kids
  • I know that I know nothing." Knowing "know nothing" is knowing something thus cannot be "know nothing". This statement is self-contradictory, but one does find out that they know nothing.
  • When the traveling twin returns, he's younger and older than his brother who stayed put.
  • Nobody goes to that restaurant, it's too crowded.
  • Don't go near water until you've learned to swim.
  • If you get this message, call me; if you don't, then don't worry about it.
  • Which is better, eternal happiness or a ham sandwich? It would appear that eternal happiness is better, but this is really not so! After all, nothing is better than eternal happiness, and a ham sandwich is certainly better than nothing. Therefore, a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness.
  • Everyone is afraid of Dracula. Dracula is afraid of only me. Therefore I am Dracula. (Explanation: If everyone is scared of Dracula, that means everyone would include Dracula himself. Since Dracula is afraid of no one except Dracula and Me, then Dracula must be me.)
  • It's raining but I don't believe it.
  • Is it possible to give what we don't have? Yes, greedy man gives his cash with sorrow. However, he doesn't have the cash with sorrow, so he gives what he doesn't have.
  • In a country where a ruthless king ruled, there were stringent rules and regulations including the rule which banned the villagers from hunting on the King's premises. Anyone who violated rules was to be condemned to death. When the courtiers, approached the King in this matter, he softened and decreed that the culprit can decide whether he wants to die through beheading or hanging. One clever tramp rescued himself from this fate by requesting that if his statement is true, he should be beheaded but if it is false, he should be hanged. His statement was "I shall be hanged". This baffled the King and the court as they did not know if they hang him, rendering his statement true, that means he ought to be beheaded and thus breaking the law. If he is to be beheaded, making his statement false, then he should be hanged. Paradox never gets solved and the poacher goes scot-free.
All the above simple or literary paradoxes reveal a truth, though at first they might look contradictory or even absurd. Some say if you try to hold it tight, it eludes you, but when you let go, it holds on to you, such is the paradox of life.