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The Barber Paradox Solved

The Barber Paradox Solved

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Published by Ian Thorpe
The Barber Paradox, one of the most famous thought experiments of 20th century philosophy usually attributed to Nobel prize winning British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell demonstrates how mathematical logic is often illogical. Russell asks us to consider a hypothetical situation: A certain village has only one barber. He shaves all the people who does not shave themselves, but no one else. The question we must answer is "Who shaves the barber?"
The Barber Paradox, one of the most famous thought experiments of 20th century philosophy usually attributed to Nobel prize winning British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell demonstrates how mathematical logic is often illogical. Russell asks us to consider a hypothetical situation: A certain village has only one barber. He shaves all the people who does not shave themselves, but no one else. The question we must answer is "Who shaves the barber?"

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Published by: Ian Thorpe on Feb 23, 2013
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The Barber Paradox and The Irrationality of Logic

People are often surprised to learn I avoid mathematics exercises and puzzles like plague. Simply because I worked for nearly 30 years in the computer business everyone assumes I am a mathematics wizard. I'm actually very good with arithmetic and logic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus you can forget, I just can't be arsed. It's a myth that computer programmers have to be good at maths, for many branches of business programming it can actually be a drawback. Learn from The Barber Paradox, one of the most famous thought experiments of 20th century philosophy usually attributed to Nobel prize winning British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell demonstrates how mathematical logic is often illogical. The Barber paradox highlights a fundamental problem in mathematics, exposing an inconsistency in the basic principles on which mathematics is founded. It seems strange to many that Russell, a thinker who devoted most of his early career to finding mathematical truths that provided answers to the great philosophical question like "Where did we come from?" “how did human consciousness develop?” "Is there a God?" "Does life have any meaning?" and "Who put the bang in wallah wallah bing bang?" should then turn to demonstrating the absurdities of mathematical thinking. In the latter part of his life however, Russell's quest for truth took him in another

are impossible. which is nonsense. the barber can neither shave himself thus belonging to the group that shave themselves and those who are shaved by the barber . The barber shaves only men who do not shave themselves. so if he shaves himself then he doesn’t shave himself. Many students try a clever escape by saying that the barber is a woman. then she either shaves herself (and so is one of the people not shaved by the barber). but no one else. wording that creates a paradox rather than expressing the question in a straightforward way to avoid ambiguity. Note here that the paradox depends on very precise wording in the problem statement. so if he doesn’t shave himself then he shaves himself.direction and one of the results of this is the crazy logic of The Barber Paradox. which is again a logical absurdity.) You may note here a typical mathematician's irrationality creeping in. This still does not answer the paradox according to mathematical logic. then. Seeing the problem from too narrow a perspective rather than taking a broad view is often an obstacle to finding a good solution. The question we must answer is "Who shaves the barber?" However we attempt to answer this question . Both cases. or does not shave herself (and so is one of the people shaved by the barber. If the barber is a woman. He shaves all the people who does not shave themselves. Trying to escape by saying that the barber does not Who shaves the barber? shave himself but is shaved by the barber only gets us into a new set of problems. mathematical logic comes up against a logic barrier and gets into trouble. Russell's paradox asks us to consider a hypothetical situation: A certain village has only one barber. a woman (unless she is from southern Europe) does not need to shave her face and thus cannot be part of the logic problem. Suggest the barber shaves himself and we hit the barrier. The barber shaves everyone who does not shave himself.

So there's the answer. the paradox is a problem that has no relevance in the real world. Are all the men in the village clean shaven? Not necessarily. Like so much of modern "science" that only exists in theory or imagination. "You see but you do not observe. that fact is even turned into an absurd trap to block an escape route from the paradox. Like most thought experiments those obsessed with mathematics try to pass off as "science" it only becomes unanswerable if ridiculously limiting parameters are imposed in other words the problem can only exist hypothetically. When exposed to the harsh light of critical analysis in the real world the question is simply nonsensical. The question ‘Who shaves the barber?’ is in fact not unanswerable. waste no more time on it ." The whole question is based on the assumption that everybody shaves but we have already seen that women do not need to shave.nor not shave himself. Again observe the rigidity of the mathematical mind set. Let's apply a little more reality to dismissing this particular absurdity of The Barber Paradox so the mathematically minded can chill out. the kind of illogical assumption those who claim to be scientists are always accusing their critics of making. neither do a certain category of men. Does the barber look like this. It is. As Sherlock Holmes said to Watson. Are all the people in the village men? Unlikely. Stuck in pedantic mathematical perspectives on the logic they fail to see the absudity of the problem. is it not. an irrational to assume the barber does not have a beard. a bearded barber. And when it comes to women not shaving.

try this. poet. My wife and I had two children so one of my roles is a father. bathroom tenor. the undiscovered opera star. At other times he might be a husband or lover. in another he is only actively the barber when his shop is open for business or he is engaged in barbering related activities. Mathematical minds will complain here that I cheated. my car will not start. he did create this paradox to demonstrate the limits of logic to students who were beginning to believe at that time they could find answers to all the great questions of humanity by mathematical reasoning. In life we take on many roles but cannot give our attention to all simultaneously. while fulfilling the provider part of a father's role I was principally an Information Technology consultant. I am not a mechanic but I have tools and know how to strip down and rebuild an engine. a father. when I was at work. mountain biker. All these titles we could give him are not mutually exclusive. I fitted the role of consultant and the role of hands on Dad around each other. doing the best I can in the role of grandad. Likewise the barber in the conundrum. Am I going to obey a rule set by the mechanics' guild that says only the mechanic can fix a car or am I going to fix my car and raise a finger in salute as I drive by the mechanics' guild office? To be fair to Bertrand Russell. Only in the warped world of theoretical science could the kids Dad. There is either no mechanic available or I'm too tight fisted to pay. While in one sense the barber is always the barber. I am still knowledgeable on some aspects of information technology though I am no longer actively a consultant and fill my time as an internet content creator. The Barber paradox is only unanswerable to mathematicians whose addiction to . OK.and concentrate on holding down jobs as shelf stackers and burger flippers. and so on. shave himself while he is not engaged in being the barber. Although I have been my children's father at all time from their birth. Now my children are 37 and 33 my father role has receded into the background and I'm just a guy well past the first flush of middle age who no longer works and sees his children occasionally. then go off and open the shop thus becoming the barber for the day.

Many people believe with great certainty that our spiritual being. What actually happened before Big Bang .we all know the words mad and scientists go together like apple and pie. Is It Time To Ban Maths In Schools? What is the point of teaching differential calculus to kids who can do simple addition Science can damage your sanity . in nature there are very few absolutes. String theory unravelled . we only live on as memories. We cannot even settle the question of whether death is absolute (Scientific evidence for life after death).another thought experiment in theoretical physics fails to stand up to critical analysis.order requires that everything is put in a neat little box with a label on it. believe death is the end of us as individuals. An example of the uncertainty is described in my article Quantum Metaphysics which explores a theory that turns on its head all current scientific thinking about the nature of life and being. Others. myself included though I am not as pedantic about it as a lot of people. continues in some way after death. the soul. We cannot however be absolutely certain that one or other view is absolutely What if our understanding of the nature of being is wrong. RELATED POSTS: Mathematics and Reality More on logical paradoxes Set theory and mathematical mysteries Bertrand Russell quotes: Some pearls of wisdom and one liners from the philosopher. This is because mathematics must deal in absolutes and in life.

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