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Crocodile Dilemma
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Analyzing The Crocodile Paradox

By James Donahue

The Crocodile Paradox presents the same dilemma as the liar and card paradoxes reviewed in earlier stories. In this case, the crocodile seizes a child that wanders too close to the swamp. The father pleads with the crocodile to return his child unharmed.

The wily crocodile promises the father that the child will be returned if, and only if he an correctly predict whether or not the crocodile will really return the child. Thus the father finds himself in an unsolvable dilemma. If he guesses that the child will be returned, and the crocodile has no intention of returning the child, then the child is lost. But if he guesses that the child will not be returned, and his guess is correct, then the father violates the terms of the agreement and the child cannot be returned.

No matter how the father guesses, his predictions are automatically falsified and the child will not be be returned. Thus the actions of the crocodile are paradoxical because there is no justifiable solution.

This is another in the string of paradox situations explored by the ancient Greek philosophers to demonstrate something contemporary scholars call "meta-knowledge." That is knowledge about a preselected knowledge. The answer is not necessarily included in meta-knowledge.

In this paradox there can be no correct answer that will save the child. No matter which answer the father offers, the results are contradictory.