Hilbert’s Hotel


It was a raw and drizzly night in the city. I was walking along a deserted street at 2 A.M.when a sudden shift in the wind blew some cold rain in my face, putting out the Gauloise dangling from my lips. Cursing the elements, I coughed the butt out of my mouth. That’s when this thought went through my brain: “It’s time to give them up anyway.” That thought, coming in a cadence so unlike mine, startled me. “Did someone spike my cigs with hash?” a thought definitely mine.
gauloise
“Hey kid, you gotta help me out.” That intruder again. The thought was a register deeper and slower than my thoughts. Naw, it couldn’t be. It must be indigestion from that goat cheese fondue I ate earlier; it didn’t quite taste right – it smelled like a day at the petting zoo. “Gotta stop going out with college girls with portable stoves in their dorm rooms.” My thought again, so reassuring. “Or else go out to eat more.” Not me. I stopped short. A squall breezed through my unzipped jacket, making me shiver … or so it seemed. I doubled my pace.

Back in my room, I was struggling to warm up. “Sorry to startle you like that, son, but it hasn’t been easy finding someone with your wavelength.” For a moment I wondered how I could change my wavelength. Then I tried to recall all the events of the evening before. Had I taken some Kool Ade from anyone I didn’t know?”

“Look, kid, I’m not normally so aggressive, but this is important to me.” It was a moment of decision to me. Should I answer back? I mean, if no one was around to see that I was crazy, would I really be crazy? (I always resorted to philosophical conundrums when the world made no sense.)

Reassuring myself that the room was not bugged, I answered back. “What can I do for you?”

“I was contemplating Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel. You remember about the innkeeper with an infinite number of rooms that happened to be all filled up? I’m wondering what he would do when another guest showed up.”

I was now glad I had my own room, since I was getting sleepy. “Why is that a problem?”

“Hilbert’s solution is to move the guest in room 1 to room 2, the guest in room 2 to room 3, and so on. Then room 1 would be freed up for the new guest and all the other guests would still have a room.”

The thought of having to get up and move to the apartment next door sounded annoying to me. “Sounds reasonable to me.”

“But wouldn’t it take a long time to shift all those guests?”

“About as long as it took to fill the hotel up in the first place.”

“That’s what I’m talking about. How would you handle it?”

“I would have filled up all the odd numbered rooms. That would accommodate an infinite number of guests and I would still have an infinite number of even numbered rooms for any new guest!”

“Thanks, kid. I knew you were the right one to contact.”

Suddenly relieved, I demanded, “Now will you leave me alone?”

“Alone?” The voice sounded surprised. “I thought you were alone – who else is with you?”


One thought on “Hilbert’s Hotel

  1. An acquaintance told me
    that the great sage
    Nisargadatta Maharaj
    once offered him a cigarette,
    “Thank you, sir, but I don’t smoke.”
    “Don’t smoke?” said the master,
    “What’s life for?”

    (from a poem by Leonard Cohen)

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