Indescribable numbers: The theorem that made me fall in love with math
Let me open this blog post by quoting a Zen koan from Mumonkan, along with the comments and poem that Zen master Mumon added to it:
Koan:A monk asked Zen master Nansen, “Is there any teaching no master has ever taught before?”
Nansen replied, “Yes, there is.”
“What is it?” asked the monk.
Nansen answered, “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things.”
Mumon’s comments about the koan:Being asked a question, old Nansen gave away his treasure words. He must have been greatly upset.
Mumon’s poem about the koan:Nansen was too kind and lost his treasure,
Clearly words have no power.
Even though the mountain becomes the sea,
Words cannot open another’s mind.
Now that I’ve put you in the mood, I’d like to tell you the story of my theorem about “indescribable numbers”. I can’t believe I didn’t write about this thing years ago. This theorem was one of the most exciting episodes in my love affair with math, and it’s a tale worth telling.