Steve and the Egg that Did Not Break

Steve’s wisdom was not always greeted openly by the people who heard it. Indeed, I am sorry to say that there were many who hated and attacked him for it. I record here one of the first of these incidents, when the Elders of our village challenged and criticized Steve’s wisdom before us all. Let us begin:

One day when Steve was deep in thought, the Elders of our village came to challenge his teaching. There were six of them in the group: five Elders and the Chief Elder, and the Chief Elder carried an egg in his hands. It was early in the morning, and many of us had not yet risen from bed, but Steve’s favorite disciple greeted them at the door and brought them before him.

Arriving before Steve, – who, as was his custom, was beginning his day with meditation – one of the Elders boldly stepped forward to put their case before him. “Look at this egg we have brought with us today. If we throw this egg at the wall it will break and make a mess. If you are so wise, can you stop this egg from breaking using your wisdom alone?” They asked him this to test him and to prove his wisdom false.

Steve looked up from his pondering, unfazed, and asked them, “Can you do nothing to save the egg?” The Elders replied, “No, of course not. Every time we throw the egg, no matter what we say or do, it breaks when it hits the wall.”

Steve nodded sagely and said, “Is it easier to say something wise or to stop an egg from breaking? Foolish Elders! In order that you may see wisdom, I tell you that I will prevent this egg from being broken.” The Elders were amazed by Steve’s claims and began to mutter against him amongst themselves.

Eager to see Steve fail, the Chief Elder moved forward and handed him the egg. Suddenly, Steve stood up and walked into the middle of the room. The Elders were confused and turned to follow him.

Steve stopped in the very centre of the room, where there was a small rug, and said, “Stand in a line stretching from this rug to the wall and I will stop this egg from breaking.” The Elders moved to do as he said and stretched themselves out, beginning with the Chief Elder, in a line running between the rug and the wall.

Steve then looked at the Elders and said, “Now I must move you so the line will be right.” And he did this: the first Elder he placed halfway between the Chief Elder and the wall; the second halfway between the first and the wall; the third halfway between the second and the wall; and so on.

Steve, smiling happily to himself at his work, then turned to the Elders and exclaimed, “So, now you see that the egg will not break!” The Elders stared at Steve, eyes bulging, utterly gobsmacked by this totally bizarre assertion. Eventually, the fourth Elder found the courage to admit his lack of understanding and said, “Steve… I’m not sure I see that at all!”

Steve nodded wisely and patiently explained what he had meant. “Imagine that the Chief Elder threw the egg. The egg would fly through the air towards the wall. After a time, it would pass by the first Elder, who is halfway between the Chief Elder and the wall. At this moment the egg would be halfway between its previous point – that is, the Chief Elder – and the wall.” The Elders all nodded in agreement. “Then,  after another time, the egg would pass by the second Elder, who is halfway between the first Elder and the wall. And at this moment the egg would again be halfway between its previous point – the first Elder – and the wall.” The Elders pondered this point for a moment and then nodded agreement again. “The same is true of the third Elder; when the egg passes him by it will be halfway between its previous point – the second Elder – and the wall.”

The Chief Elder then spoke up, starting to get irritable at Steve’s seemingly meandering explanation, “This is all well and good Steve, but how does this have anything to do with stopping the egg from breaking?” “Well”, Steve replied, “Are we all agreed that the same thing will be true when the egg passes the other Elders? That when it passes each Elder, the egg will be halfway between each previous Elder and the wall?” The Elders all waved their hands impatiently and agreed, “Yes, yes!”

Steve seated himself meditatively on the floor and looked at each Elder in turn, then said, “I tell you then that the egg will never be able to hit the wall. Consider this: as the egg flies, it will always be halfway between its previous point and the wall – we have been using your fine selves to demonstrate this point. Therefore, this being the case, the egg can never hit the wall because it will always be only halfway between where it was and where the wall is. If it is only halfway then it is not there! I tell you again: the egg will never hit the wall.”

The Elders’ mouths fell open in shock. They looked between the Chief Elder and the wall, working through each step of Steve’s explanation, and they were astounded by what had been said. Steve stretched out his hand to them as if to give them the egg, so that they might throw it at the wall to see for themselves. The Elders stared at the egg in Steve’s hand and they were afraid; and they ran from Steve’s temple, leaving everything behind.

When the Elders reached the safety of their village they were angry at how Steve had made them look foolish, and they began to conspire amongst themselves, plotting how they might be rid of him for good.

Back in the temple, Steve’s disciples were all waiting to see what he would say next. But Steve said nothing more that morning, or for the three days that followed. Instead, when the Elders had all fled, he slowly stood up and walked to the kitchen.

And truly I tell you, on that morning Steve enjoyed a delicious breakfast of hard-boiled egg and toast.

Thus ends the tale of Steve and the Egg that Did Not Break. Great is his wisdom! Now it is known.

3 thoughts on “Steve and the Egg that Did Not Break

  1. For those who are interested, Steve’s trick in this story was based on some of Aristotle’s paradoxes, particularly the dichotomy paradox and the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise. See: It was also inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin’s presentation of these paradoxes in her novel ‘The Dispossessed’ (which is an excellent read!).

    I’m sorry to say that this paradox also means that you can never catch the bus. Which, now that I think of it, actually makes a lot of sense 😛

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