Misunderestimating Contradiction

Jan 13, 2015 · 7 min read

Contradiction is in shatters,
Contradiction is thriving on.

And it is also one of the most misunderstood concepts in history; our lack of clarity on it is costing us very deeply.

There is a beautiful story attributed to the late British Philosopher & Logician, Bertrand Russell, which will help us understand why.

Whilst at a dinner party one evening Bertrand Russell whimsically claimed he could prove anything given that 1 + 1 = 1.
“Ok. Prove that you’re the Pope!”, quipped one of the guests.
He thought for a while and proceeded,
“I am one. The Pope is one. Therefore, the Pope and I are one.”

And this is the point about contradiction, what is note worthy here is not that contradiction shows you what is false. This of course is important, but what make contradiction a truly important concept is that,

by a curious inversion, it makes everything TRUE.

And this is shattering or at least it should be, if you can see it. Unfortunately, what we see today, in our multicultural and absolute-relativistic world (whereby relativism is declared truly absolute) is an embrace, a proud embrace on the contradictory stance. Consistency is looked upon with suspicion, consistence is to be reviled. It sets limits upon us… keeps us in check, and nothing should do that… especially if you are a slimey politician.

It should be intolerable and people should be asking how it possible to run the world in the embrace of the absurd. Yet it is not.

I think there two main reasons for this:

  1. a gross misunderestimation of contradiction, to borrow some words of a certain US president who was a master of it, and
  2. its usefulness in controlling people

These two reasons when combined, I think, make contradiction one of the most dangerous, misunderstood and misused ideas in existence.

We will analyse these reasons closely soon enough but first we need to get the idea of what contradiction is and its consequences clearly into the public eye. We need to be able to spot it and the correct for it. Please pass this document on. Share it. Rewrite it. Do what you have to. Just get the message out. We are now running a planetary civilisation with planet changing technologies, we simple don’t have time for schoolboy mistakes.

So, What is a Contradiction?

Contradictions only make sense in the context of systems which are composed of and built upon beliefs. Almost all worthwhile human systems and institutions come under this category. For example,

Mathematics: is built up of axioms and inference rules. Axioms are statements which are taken to be true and inference rules tell us how to compose and build new beliefs out of old ones.

Science: similar to mathematics. Science is based up hypothesises (unverified beliefs) and theorems (verified beliefs). Theorems are then used to make new hypothesises which need to tested by experiment to develop new theories.

Religion: Most religions have a book or some text that makes some claims that need to be believed based on a mixture of evidence, plain faith and personal revelation. The application and combination of these beliefs and what follows them, then forms the corpus of the Religion.

Government: most governments are based on some founding text such as a constitution. The constitution which is taken as true (read belief) is then applied as a system that forms the Goverment and its imposition of order.

Law: The law is also a system based up a plethora of principles and system of torts, the basic assumption is that this system is true. However like science, most good legal systems also try and adpat their ‘theories’ and beliefs with the times.

First thing to notice about any system is that one can make statements within a system. Statements are generally sentences that

  1. make sense, and
  2. we can check validity of.

Importantly we should be able to check whether statements are true or not.

For example, in mathematics “1 + 1 = 2”, is a statement which we can check for truth. In this instance it is true.

“1 + 1 = 1” is a statement we can check and it is false.

In Law, one could say that “Theft is a crime” is a statement. We could apply the jurisdiction’s legal system to in fact check whether theft really was a crime.

In Science we could say “what goes up, must come down” is a statement. We can verify it. We could also conclude that this statement is not always true. In fact we could call it false (or contingently true) as it is not true under all circumstances. Throw a ball hard enough and it won’t come down. Even worse. We could say the sentence doesn’t make sense in all circumstances because there is no ‘up’ or ‘down’ in space.

What we can learn from these examples are that firstly it is very important to check that any statement made actually makes sense and then to check if the sentence is valid.

There are 3 interesting situations that can arise with meaningful statements,

  1. They can always be True regardless of situation.
  2. They can always be False regardless of situation or
  3. They can sometimes be true and sometimes be false.

For example, I can make the statement, “Bachelors are unmarried men.”, which is always true.

I could say, “Horses are a type of fish”, which is always false.

or I could say, “It is raining outside”, which may or may not be true for you today.

Statements that are always true are often definitions of some sort. These are also called tuatologies. Triangles do have three sides always. It is how they are defined. Anyone can free define all kinds of truths.

Statements that are always false are often called contradictions. These are simple contradictions. Almost like straight out lies. They are static. Kind of anti-definitions. Again lying straight out is not difficult. We will explore a slightly more fancy type of contradiction soon.

Statements that are sometimes true and some times false are called Theorems. These are often the most interesting kinds of things. We need to go out into the world can verify them.

Even more interestingly we can make statements about imaginary situations and how we consider the sense or truth of these statements is crucial. I could claim for example that “Snow White loved white lace shoes”. One could have great scholarly debates on the validity of that statement. Perhaps some scholars would have early Snow White texts, others would talk about visions or dreams they had of Snow White telling them what she liked or perhaps a discussion with Grumpy, etc… I am sure you can think of contemporary situations like the one above with heated real world consequences.

Anyway, getting back to the point on what contradictions are and how to spot them. A system with a contradiction is a system in which we can make statements which is simultaneously true and false. This is the kind of contradiction which we are interested in.

Now this may not sound fatal at first inspection, but the truth is that it is utterly devastating or enabling depending on your point of view. Just like declaring yourself as pope may suit some people and not others.. A system with a contradiction becomes a system in which anything is possible. Why?

We are saying False = True = False.

If false things can be true and true things can be false. Everything that is true or false or in between is True!

If we could accept that “it is raining outside” is true and not true. A single contradiction. Then it is wet outside is true and it is dry outside are both true. Then the roads are wet and dry are both true. Then there are more accidents and less accidents are also both true. Which leads to more dead people and alive people. Then we need bigger hospitals and smaller hospitals which means we need bigger taxes and lower taxes

Things are endlessly possibly.

Such things have dramatic consequences. We can rightfully end up with situations such as Sustainable Development coexisting with Business as Usual. Endless resource usage of finite resources. Why not! True is false. While were at it why not support war and oppose abortions. Life does not have to equal life. Or kill in the name of peace. How about Free Speech that needs to pass censorship laws. Why not, anything is possible!


Yes it is. But the danger is misunderestimated. Why? By now you should know. What is Dangerous is not Dangerous. It makes perfect sense with this logic. At the same time everything is dangerous, especially socialists and liberals.

And its useful. Why? Again for the same reasons, because literally anything can be justified. We can have good torture, good pollution, gainfully employment under bondage, legitimate white collar crime, fiat currency and stable-prudent economic regimes that boom and bust.

Overestimating Consistency

I guess there is a corollary to ‘misunderestimating contradiction’ that readers must beware of, and that is ‘over estimating consistency’. This is almost as famous a mistake, if not more. Just as our scholars above could wax lyrical about Snow White’s shoes, we can have very time consumings distractions and over confidence about the validity of ideas that are fantasies. I am sure finding real world examples of this kind is not a stretch to your imagination.

At any case why should I care. This article will be famously unread, my sins are virtues and contradiction will remain in shatters while thriving on.


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