‘The Coffee-House Of Surat’ by Leo Tolstoy

The Coffee-House Of Surat by Leo Tolstoy, 1893

The magic trick:

Using symmetry to make a point about religion

This one conjures math in my head. Not numbers but geometry. The question of God’s existence – or more specifically, which religion is correct about God’s existence – leads to a series of theories. I saw it as a group of triangles aligned along a descending curve. I don’t know why. But I did. Then we get a potential answer from a man. But his solution only produces another series of examples – another group of triangles parallel to the previous descending curve.

The symmetry is perfect, and the story’s point is made. And that’s quite a trick on Tolstoy’s part.

The selection:

“The light of the sun is not a liquid; for if it were a liquid it would be possible to pour it from one vessel into another, and it would be moved, like water, by the wind. Neither is it fire; for if it were fire, water would extinguish it. Neither is light a spirit, for it is seen by the eye; nor is it matter, for it cannot be moved. Therefore, as the light of the sun is neither liquid, nor fire, nor spirit, nor matter, it is – nothing!”


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