Is Change An Illusion? Zeno’s Paradoxes

Press Start for “Is Change an Illusion?” by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.

Episode 6: Is Change An Illusion? | (Zeno’s Paradoxes)
Written & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon

Is Change An Illusion? (Zeno)
8-Bit Philosophy

Is change merely an illusion?

In the Fifth Century BC, Greek philosopher Parmnides proposed that the universe was not made of “many” things, but rather, is a single, indivisible substance- an eternal “now” that encompasses all time and all entities.

And if the universe is one- then change is impossible. For the very idea of change suggests something transforming from one state to another. But since according to Parmenides, all states occur simultaneously, and thus, change is impossible.

After receiving heavy criticism from his contemporaries, Parmenides’s student Zeno of Elea came to his defense by creating a series of paradoxes that seek to prove that time and change are, in fact, utter nonsense.

Consider a situation in which a motorcyclist races a man on foot. Let’s assume the man is given a 50 meter head start. By the time the motorcyclist reaches the 50 meter mark, the man will have moved a small distance forward. And when the motorcyclist catches up the ensuing spot, the man will have moved further still. If there are an infinite number of measurable distances between any two points, the man will always stay a minute distance ahead of the biker. This, then, will go on indefinitely, and the biker will never catch the man. But this is absurd.

For our perceptions tell us the motorcyclist would quickly overtake the man. Therefore, Zeno’s paradox tells us that our perceptions are flawed and that a change in distance is preposterous.

In another of his paradoxes, Zeno talks of an arrow being shot at a target. If it takes the arrow 1 second to travel 60 feet, it would .5 seconds a second to travel half that distance, a quarter second to travel half THAT distance and so on. If this process continues, we will eventually reach a unit of time during which the arrow will occupy a space at complete rest. Let’s call this unit of duration- less time a “moment.” If the arrow’s trajectory is the sum of these stationary “moments’, then how will the arrow ever reach its target? And thus, motion is nonsensical.

Zeno’s paradoxes have challenged scholars, philosophers, and mathematicians for over 2500 years. And if nothing else, they force us to continuously reconsider our reasoning about the nature of space and time.

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