Zen and the Contest of the Two Teams

In which Achilles and the Tortoise engage in a new paradox.

An AI-generated painting in traditional Japanese style depicting Achilles and the Tortoise talking to a Buddhist Master.
Achilles, the Tortoise and the Master. Image generated with AI by DALL-E.

It was a beautiful morning when Achilles and the Tortoise came to see the Master.

“My, this is an honour,” said the Master. “The famous heroes of my friend Zeno’s paradox! What brings you to Japan?”

“The honour is all ours, Master,” said Achilles. “My friend the Tortoise and I have decided to engage in a contest, and we were hoping that you be our referee.”

“Another contest?” asked the Master. “Even though the previous one was never concluded?”

“Well Master, this contest is different,” said the Tortoise. “We would like to know who is the fastest to get through a labyrinth. Each one of us has two assistants. Achilles here is accompanied by his comrades-in-arms Ajax and Teucer, whereas my humble friends the Snail and the Starfish have kindly agreed to assist me.”

“Well, well,” said the Master. “This is going to be one for the Annals of History. I’ll be happy to be your referee. Come with me to the Enchanted Forest, which is most suitable for our purpose.”

“Why is it called the Enchanted Forest?”, Achilles asked.

“Because it magically creates pathways into infinity when you take a wrong turn,” said the Master.

“I see,” said Achilles, after a moment of pause.

They went to the Enchanted Forest, where they waited for the assistants. Ajax and Teucer arrived within minutes, the Snail and the Starfish a few hours later.

“Why don’t you take the entrance on the left, Mighty Achilles, while you Cunning Tortoise, take the one on the right,” said the Master. “The first company that gets through the labyrinth whole, wins. I’ll go around and wait on the other side. May Ebisu be with you. Ready? Go!”

Achilles and his companians ran off, while the Master, the Tortoise and his assistants followed them with their eyes.

“Poor Achilles,” said the Master. “There he goes, getting himself stranded in infinity all over again.”

“Yes Master,” said the Tortoise. “This contest is not about velocity; it is about knowing where to go.” He looked to his friends. “Are you both ready?”

Then, they calmly set off into the myriad pathways of the Enchanted Forest.

Further Reading

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