A C++ Koan

April 30, 2013

A master and his apprentice were sparring in a dojo. The apprentice, curious about the ways of the universe, asked the master a question that had been burning in his mind: “Master, if I were to take the largest number one can imagine, and add to it one more, what would be the result?” The master was quick with his reply: “That depends, young one, do we allow for negative numbers?” The apprentice was taken aback, perplexed as to how this could be relevant. “If we do not?” he ventured. “Then the answer is zero of course,” the master replied. “And if we do?” the apprentice whispered. “Then the answer cannot be known, and we leave our fate to the gods.”

The apprentice was deeply disturbed: “Master, your answers are counter to all of the math I have ever learned!” “This is how mathematics is performed in my dojo,” the master retorted. The apprentice pleaded, “But master, can I be warned if I perform an operation that results in an unknowable answer?” “Of course,” said the master, and taught his apprentice an ancient incantation.

Some time later the apprentice was preparing to add some large numbers. He cautiously uttered the incantation. Nothing seemed to happen, so he proceeded with his mathematical operations. Suddenly his master appeared. Without a word, he simultaneously drew his sword and struck a match. He then proceeded to commit harakiri while burning his dojo to the ground. As the apprentice fled for his life, he was enlightened.