September 03, 2003

The Meaning of mu


1. The 12th letter of the Greek alphabet.

2. The country code for Mauritius.

3. /micro/ prefix denoting division by 10^6, e.g. mu m
(micrometre, a millionth part of a metre). Sometimes written
as a 'u', the ASCII character nearest in appearance.

4. /myoo/ In the theory of functions, mu x . E
denotes the least value of x for which E = x, i.e. the least
fixed point of the function \ x . E. The recursive
function mu f . H f satisfies (and is defined by) the equation

mu f . H f = H (mu f . H f)

An alternative notation for the same function is

fix H = H (fix H)

See fixed point combinator.

5. multiple value.
6. /moo/ The correct answer to the classic trick
question "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?". Assuming
that you have no wife or you have never beaten your wife, the
answer "yes" is wrong because it implies that you used to beat
your wife and then stopped, but "no" is worse because it
suggests that you have one and are still beating her.
According to various Discordians and Douglas Hofstadter the
correct answer is usually "mu", a Japanese word alleged to
mean "Your question cannot be answered because it depends on
incorrect assumptions".

Hackers tend to be sensitive to logical inadequacies in
language, and many have adopted this suggestion with
enthusiasm. The word "mu" is actually from Chinese, meaning
"nothing"; it is used in mainstream Japanese in that sense,
but native speakers do not recognise the Discordian
question-denying use. It almost certainly derives from
overgeneralisation of the answer in the following well-known
Rinzei Zen teaching riddle:

A monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have the Buddha nature?"
Joshu retorted, "Mu!"

7. Another name for the mythical continent of Lemuria. Lemuria was originally hypothesized to explain the distribution of fossilized lemurs, before the discovery of plate tectonics validated of the theory of continental drift.

Posted by Pixy Misa at September 3, 2003 04:31 PM | TrackBack

Wow! Cool!

Posted by: Susie at September 3, 2003 05:07 PM

REGARDS Item 3: That would be 10^(-6). You've got the decimal going in the wrong direction.

Posted by: victor at September 3, 2003 05:38 PM

Nup. Division by 10^6.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at September 3, 2003 11:33 PM

Dude, you rock!

Posted by: Ted at September 4, 2003 02:07 AM


Posted by: Rachael at September 4, 2003 02:34 AM

Okay, you just scared the bubbly jeebus out of me. I am very math-impressed.

Posted by: LeeAnn at September 5, 2003 01:30 PM

Oh. Division. See, math was my strong point, and not reading.

OK, I admit, I just wanted to sound smart. Shame on me.

Posted by: victor at September 5, 2003 05:04 PM

About the koan:
I also remember having read that 'mu' is also the chinese onomatopoetic for a dog bark..

Posted by: Javier at September 7, 2003 07:17 PM
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