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28 November 2002

Oh, joy. I've just tested and proved Zeno's paradox, thirty-five years after a teacher first introduced me to it.

You do too remember; this is the one about the tortoise. If it has a head start and I'm moving twice as fast, I can never catch it up. By the time I've got to where it starts from, it's moved on another 50% of that distance. By the time I've covered that 50%, it's gained another 25%. And so on, in ever-reducing numbers. I will just never quite tag its tail. Allegedly.

So there I am in the kitchen, with left-over ground almonds and a jar. The volume of the almonds is significantly greater than the volume of the jar. So I pour the one into the other until the jar is full, and then I tamp the almonds down, which creates 50% more space. So I repeat the pouring, and do the tamping, and have 25% of the space still available. And pour, and tamp, and it is a matter of ever-diminishing increments but it must be obvious even to the poorest intellect that actually the jar can never quite be completely full, there must always be a tampability; and so it proved, and so I got all my almonds into the jar, and I feel that I should probably donate it to the Science Museum or nearest local equivalent (I guess that would be the Hancock, here in Newcastle, but actually I don't like the Hancock. Hush, speak it softly, but it's a disappointment to me. I have a friend who enjoys herself backstage with mummified heads, but that's another matter).

All this playing with paradoxes (I kind of want the plural to be paradoces, but it ain't; however, checking that, I find that there's a civet-like carnivore in Asia known as a paradoxure, as is the palm-cat of India. No trip into a dictionary is ever wasted) reminds me of a pair of boxes I used to own, the one inside the other. You could take out the one, and put the other inside it. Spooky, huh?

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.