Irresistible force paradox

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The irresistible force paradox, also called the unstoppable force paradox or shield and spear paradox, is a classic paradox formulated as "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?" This paradox is a form of the omnipotence paradox, which is a simple demonstration that challenges omnipotence: "Can God create a stone so heavy that not even God is strong enough to lift it?" The immovable object and the irresistible force are both implicitly assumed to be indestructible, or else the question would have a trivial resolution ("it destroys it"). Furthermore, it is assumed that they are two separate entities, since an irresistible force is implicitly an immovable object, and vice versa.

The paradox arises because it rests on two premises—that there exist such things as irresistible forces and immovable objects—which cannot both be true at once. If there exists an irresistible force, it follows logically that there cannot be any such thing as an immovable object, and vice versa.


An example of this paradox in non-western thought can be found in the origin of the Chinese word for paradox (Chinese: 矛盾; pinyin: máodùn; literally: "Spear-Shield"). This term originates from a story (see the Kanbun example) in the 3rd century BC philosophical book Han Feizi.[1] In the story, a man was trying to sell a spear and a shield. When asked how good his spear was, he said that his spear could pierce any shield. Then, when asked how good his shield was, he said that it could defend from all spear attacks. Then one person asked him what would happen if he were to take his spear to strike his shield; the seller could not answer. This led to the idiom of "zìxīang máodùn" (自相矛盾), or "self-contradictory". Another ancient and mythological example illustrating this theme can be found in the story of the Teumessian fox, who can never be caught, and the hound Laelaps, who never misses what it hunts. Realizing the paradox, Zeus turns both creatures into static stars.


The problems associated with this paradox can be applied to any other conflict between two abstractly defined extremes that are opposite. For example, if God is all-knowing (including being aware of all things past, present, and future) then he can't be all-powerful (able to manipulate and change all things). For if God truly knows the future then he is powerless to change it, but if he has the power to change it then he can't be said to know it.

In Popular Culture[edit]

  • Iain Banks refers to the irresistible force paradox extensively in the novel Walking on Glass, and provides an alternative answer.
  • In the story arc All-Star Superman, Superman gives a simple answer to the paradox: That the object and the force both surrender.
  • In the 2008 film The Dark Knight, The Joker, portrayed by Heath Ledger tells Batman, at the end of their climax, that their climax is the answer to the irresistible force paradox.
  • In the Season 1 Episode "Trust Doesn't Rust" of Knight Rider, KITT correlates the upcoming confrontation with KARR with Zenos Paradox (What happens when an irrisitable force meets an immoveable object).
  • In season 1 episode 26 of Avengers Assemble (TV series) Red Skull uses this quote, when he uses power of Tesseract against Captain America's shield.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Han Feizi (韓非子), chapter 36, Nanyi (難一 "Collection of Difficulties, No. 1")'.