In the Crocodile Paradox, a woman is crossing a bridge over a swamp when she trips and drops her baby into the water. The titular crocodile, hungry and mean, grabs the baby and climbs onto the bridge. The woman freezes in terror, and she nearly faints when she hears the croc speak. It says, in a low, gravely voice, “You know what, lady? I’m feeling nice today. I’m willing to give you your baby back. However,” and here he grins with an insane number of teeth, “I’m also willing to eat it, really chow down. I know you’re shocked, so I’m gonna make this real easy on you. Take a guess on what I’ll do, and if you get it right, I’ll return your little child. What do you think- will I return the baby, or eat it?”

Now, the woman has two choices. She could be hopeful and say, “You’ll give me my baby back, you nasty thing!”

If she said that, then… listen carefully, this is really tricky… he would give it back and swim away. She said he would, she was right, so he did. That’s it.

Wait a second, you’re probably thinking, that’s not a paradox at all! That’s just a simple chain of events!

Well, you’re right. If the woman says she’ll get her baby back, there is no paradox here. Just a completely normal, everyday story with a talking reptile. The paradox only arises if she is feeling pessimistic, staring into the muddy, evil jaws of the crocodile, as her baby cries helplessly.

So let’s follow a different scenario. What happens if, as she starts to cry, the woman says, “You won’t give her back. You’re going to eat her!”

The crocodile hesitates, confused. Has she gotten it right? Because if he eats the child now, that would make the woman correct, so he’d be obliged to give the child back. But if he returns the child, then the woman would’ve guessed wrong, and so, by his word, he’d have to eat it. He’s stuck in a bind- should he eat the squirming thing, breaking his word, or should he return it, still breaking his word? He is a highly respected member of the swamp’s philosophy club, and they’d never let him live it down if he didn’t find a way out of this.

He stands there for ten solid seconds, thinking. Could he take a third option, maybe put the child down where the woman could see it, and leave? No, that would still count as giving it back, right? Or what if he eats the baby, then gives it to her? No, he didn’t think she’d count that as still her baby after he was done with it. Maybe if he gives her the baby, then eats it? Yes, that’ll work.

He shoves the baby into the mother’s arms. She sobs in relief and starts to bounce the baby, shushing it. Now he’s done what he’d say he’d do if she was right, so to prevent a paradox, he must make her correct. In a flash, he dives for the baby, pushing the mother into the water as well. He eats the baby, savoring every bite, then looks around for the mother, proud of his solution. She, however, has been eaten by piranhas. The moral of the story is, if a talking crocodile shows up, just run. Run and never look back.

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