Discover What The Geeks Know That You May Not
In 1939, a first year Berkeley doctoral student, George Dantzig, arrived late for statistics class taught by Professor Jerzy Neyman. On the board, Professor Neyman had written two problems which Dantzig mistakenly assumed had been assigned for homework. After struggling with the two problems for a few days, Dantzig went to Neyman’s office where he apologized for taking so long with the homework. Dantzig asked Professor Neyman if he still wanted the work. Neyman told him to throw the homework on the desk. The desk was covered with so many paper that Dantzig reluctantly complied, but feared his homework would be lost.
About six weeks later, at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Dantzig was awakened by Neyman banging on his front door. Neyman excitedly proclaimed, "I have just written an introduction to one of your papers. Read it so I can send it out right away for publication.” Neyman also suggested Dantzig submit his answers to the "homework" problems as his doctoral dissertation. - Adapted from Snopes
Similarly to Dantzig’s pursuit of an advanced degree in mathematics, koan study initially relies on the intellect. However, true mastery of koans, or unsolved questions, only comes through introspection. In the Buddhist tradition, one sits with the koan and must let go of trying to solve or understand it. In order for Dantzig to solve the problems, it required he approach the impossible from a new perspective. Not burdened by label of impossible, Dantzig’s pursuit had already torn apart the preconceived worldview. Then, he rebuilt it.