counting Waclaw Sierpinski


During a class of calculus my lecturer suddenly checked himself and stared intently at the table in front of him for a while. Then he looked up at us and explained that he thought he had brought six piles of papers with him, but "no matter how he counted" there was only five on the table. Then he became silent for a while again and then told the following story:
When I was young in Poland I met the great mathematician Waclaw Sierpinski. He was old already then and rather absent-minded. Once he had to move to a new place for some reason. His wife didn't trust him very much, so once they were down on the street waiting with all their things, she said: "Now, you stand here and watch our ten trunks, while I go and get a taxi."

She went off and left him there, eyes somewhat glazed and humming absently. Some minutes later she returned, presumably having called for a taxi.

Said Mr. Sierpinski (possibly with a glint in his eye): "I thought you said there were ten trunks, but I've only counted to nine."

"No, they're TEN!"

"No, count them: 0, 1, 2, 3, ..."


Kai-Mikael, Royal Inst. of Technology, Stockholm, SWEDEN