Thompson’s Lamp Paradox As A Philosophical Puzzle

Since the beginning of time, paradoxes have fascinated both scientists and laypeople, igniting debate. Some have not yet been resolved or cannot be resolved in general, while others appear paradoxical because the solutions defy logic. In science, the emergence of any new field of understanding often starts with discovering previously overlooked paradoxes. Similarly, the “moving observers” paradox inspired Einstein to develop the theory of relativity, while the “ultraviolet catastrophe” paradox inspired Max Planck to develop quantum physics. One such paradox is the Thompson Lamp, coined by the 20th-century British philosopher James F. Thompson.

Thompson’s lamp paradox refers to the class of supertasks, infinite sequences that arise in a particular order of actions over a finite period. Imagine a table lamp with power off button. Consider turning on the lamp for a minute, turning it off for 30 seconds, turning it back on for 15 seconds, and so on, reducing the length of time each time. The question is, will the lamp be on or off after 2 minutes? It is difficult to provide a solution to this dilemma because if we use the experiment’s precise logic, we will have to keep turning the bulb on and off indefinitely, never arriving at the designated time.

This contradiction has captured my attention since it challenges our current understanding of space and time. The contemporary understanding of space and time was the foundation for many theories and ideas. But what if our current understanding of time and space is flawed? So all of the contemporary science-based claims are false?