Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Achilles, tortoises and pensions


The Tavern's own Pa Peachum, physicist and philosopher, could not bear to read Noddy books and loathed Dr Seuss; instead he regaled his sleepy offspring with stories he found interesting, including the less gruesome Greek myths.

And when he had exhausted the potential of Icarus, Theseus and Bellerophon, he started on philosophy. Thus it was that Xeno's paradoxes formed part of my earliest education.

For anyone who missed out on this one, the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise states that if Achilles races against a tortoise and gives it a head start, he will never catch up with it; in the time he takes to move to a point on the track occupied by the tortoise, the tortoise will have moved from that point to another further on, and so on.

There's more than a touch of this asymptotic relationship in today's news that the pension age is to be increased; for those of us in our forties, this is something we may see again and again, racing like Achilles to catch something that is constantly slipping further into the future.

Perhaps Pa Peachum's choice of bedtime story was good preparation for what lies ahead.

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