The Impossible

I keep running across writings about things that strike me as impossible or very nearly. They sound well and good upon utterance yet either the minute they are said or the minute they are understood and adopted by someone they negate themselves.

There are a lot of these kinds of contradictions and paradoxes around. A lot more than most of us would like to admit.

Some of these fall under the category of platitude ” n. A trite or banal remark or statement, especially one expressed as if it were original or significant”. A particular category of these can be called  Thought-terminating clichés.

Their purpose is to react to a situation with what seems like an obvious and final truth but they are more like a wall to end discussion.  They are often a way to silence cognitive dissonance. That is where what is going on in our heads is not borne out in reality yet we do not wish to question our own thoughts. By expressing something that on the surface seems definitive and that “feels right” in terms of satisfying any doubt, provided we don’t examine it too closely, we can attach ourselves to this false certainty and carry on.

Here’s a few general examples:

  • Think for yourself.
  • Don’t judge.
  • Nothing can be known.
  • Don’t blindly obey.

In the same kind of vein

  • This sentence is false.
  • I know that I know nothing at all. (Socrates)
  • There is an exception to every rule.
  • Practice moderation in all things. Including moderation
  • If all truths are knowable, then all truths must in fact be known.
  • This page is intentionally left blank

Sometimes these are quite humorous. [They remind me of some of the entries on the website Oddly Specific where things make their own peculiar kind of sense] They can run us around in circles, not unlike a hamster on a wheel as we chase their meanings. But because of the nature of many of the more cliché type as truisms or apparent truisms, mostly the latter, they rarely do get questioned to any degree.

Maybe truthiness is a better word for them. Truthiness means:

“In satire, truthiness is a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.” 

Thanks Stephen Colbert!.

They can rather uncomfortable to deal with especially when used as the basis for debate in a non-satirical setting.   There’s a lot of truthiness in the blog world. I came across an article that somewhat relates to that.  The Difference Between Blogging and Journalism outlines some of the current problems in what is becoming a more hybrid world of media information.

Not all information is created equal. Most bloggers don’t sit with the Reuter’s Handbook of Journalism open in their browsers checking every line they write. [Nobody’s paying most of us to do that.]

And increasingly many journalistic sources are turning to bloggers and opinion writers to pass off articles that seem like news.

Many sites have a news format yet the writers have no journalistic credentials nor do they apply principles of journalism to what they write. That makes it kind of hard to sort fact from truthiness.

And sometimes it’s almost impossible.

Some related matters I came across while strolling through Wikipedia:

Self-refuting idea



Liar Paradox

List of Paradoxes

Performative contradiction


Mu (negative)


2 comments on “The Impossible

  1. Avidly scanning my ‘blog for platitudes – but it’s all platitudes, well that’s consistent at least!

    Maybe some people are afraid of trying to communicate (at least in that one-to-how-many way entailed of ‘blog entry) if without communicating through platitudes. Experience might seem to have proved, to some – myself included – that people can understand platitudes, but would raise an eyebrow at nearly anything else. Nearly anything else.

    Great to hear the word, platitude, though – and of all places, in a web-log…. Perhaps human ingenuity is (provably) not self-nullifying, after all……

  2. Pingback: Just the links: more stuff I’ve been reading 28/04/10 « Urocyon's Meanderings

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