Do you ever feel like you're caught between a rock and a hard place? That, no matter what you choose, you're not going to get the outcome you desire? You're in a catch-22 situation. With these simple catch-22 examples, you'll gain a better understanding of the term and how it applies to everyday situations.
What Is a Catch-22?
A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation with no apparent way out because of how conflicting or contradictory factors or rules keep you trapped in it. In some ways, a catch-22 is like a "chicken-and-egg" situation. It's a logical conundrum where the circumstances feed into each other, and you always end up back at square one.
What Does the 22 in Catch-22 Mean?
The term "catch-22" comes from a 1961 book of the same name by Joseph Heller. In the book, an Air Force pilot named John Yossarian wants to get out of flying dangerous missions.
In the book:
- If a pilot is deemed insane, they don't have to fly.
- To be deemed insane, a pilot must request to be evaluated.
- If a pilot requests to be evaluated, this demonstrates that he must be sane.
- Therefore, no pilot can ever be deemed insane, and no pilot can get out of flying.
That's the "Catch-22" from the book's title.
According to Heller, there is no real significance to the number 22, aside from the duplicated digits, referring to the deja vu moments in the story. Over the course of the novel's development, alternate suggested titles included Catch-18, Catch-11, Catch-17 and Catch-14, all of which were rejected for various reasons.
Catch-22 Examples at Work
You can observe a number of simple catch-22 examples in your daily life.
Can't Get a Job
You can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job.
Even if you spend the time putting together an exceptional resume and a creative cover letter, you may not get hired due to lack of experience. But, how can you get that experience if you never get hired in the first place?
The office printer is out of toner. You need to fill out a requisition form to request more toner. You don't have any toner to print out the requisition form.
Here's another example of a catch-22 from the workplace. How can you request more toner for the printer if you can't print out the form to request more toner?
If you go back to work after having a baby, you'll have to deal with prohibitively expensive childcare costs. If you decide to stay home after having a baby, you won't have the income to cover other everyday expenses.
This is an increasingly common conundrum among modern families facing the rising cost of living. Whether you decide to go back to work or stay home, you're left in a disadvantaged position.
Catch-22 Examples in Science
As rigorous as the scientific method may be, the world of science can fall victim to problems of logic too.
In quantum computing, you must observe a particle in order to determine its location. However, the very act of observation affects the quantum behavior (and location) of particles.
You want to know where the particle is, but you can't actually "look" at it directly without impacting where it is.
You want to know whether the majority of internet users desire a higher level of privacy. In order to do this, you must collect data about the users.
Collecting user data, even if it is anonymous, is inherently at odds with providing a higher level of privacy. But, if you don't collect that data, you can't know whether users actually want more privacy.
Life Is Full of Catch-22s
You can look to almost any aspect of your regular life to find even more catch-22 examples:
- You are locked outside your house. The key is on the dresser in your bedroom. You have to open the front door in order to get the key, but you need the key to do that.
- You haven't been receiving any mail. You call the postal service to ask why. They say they mailed you a letter indicating a suspension in service. You never received the letter, because you're not getting any mail.
- You get into a car accident with a cyclist. The judge asks you if you saw the cyclist. If you say you did, the judge says you should have avoided them then, and you're liable for damages. If you say you didn't, the judge says you were negligent, and you're liable for damages.
- The income assistance you receive from the government is insufficient to pay for your needs. You consider getting a job, but doing so would put your income above the level where you are eligible for income assistance.
- You lost your eyeglasses, so you have to find them. To look for them, you need your eyeglasses.
- You want to apply for a loan at the bank. The bank requires a credit history. You can't have a credit history without first having a loan.
A Logical Problem You Can't Solve
It's true that you can get caught in a catch-22 through no fault of your own. These examples of common catch-22 situations clearly illustrate that. However, you can avoid making errors in logic and reasoning if you educate yourself on these types of invalid arguments. Read up on the various Types of Logical Fallacies to learn more.