Ambrosius and the Three Hermits

Saint Ambrosius was having his monks row him along the shores of Lake Baikal. Wherever he saw the smoke from a cottage, or a fisherman's nets hanging out, he would have his monks put in to shore so that he could teach people the metric system.

"You must respect God, my children, for he is the maker of the heavens, and 299 792 458 is one of his numbers. It is the speed of light." And Ambrosius would tell them about how light was flashing from star to star, always traveling 299 792 458 meters per second.

"You must know God's numbers," he told them, "and knowing them you will work great wonders." The saint would teach the people the other fundamental constants too: the constant of gravity and the h-bar that tells, among much else, how energy comes bundled in light. Then he would have his monks row further down the shore to find other people to whom he could teach the metric system.

One day Ambrosius found three hermits to teach. These hermits, dwelling on the shore of Lake Baikal in harmony with nature, had no books (for they did not read or write), but they were reverent men and eager to be taught the proportions according to which God had fashioned the world. They repeated the fundamental numbers over and over until they knew them by heart. When Ambrosius was sure he had deepened the hermits' awe and understanding of the universe, he gave them his blessing and departed.

Several hours later the saint's rowboat encountered a stiff headwind and the monks found it hard to make progress. The lake grew choppy so that one monk always had to bail while the others pulled at the oars. Ambrosius was standing in the stern looking for a sheltered cove when, to his surprise and alarm, he caught sight of the three hermits running across the waves towards the boat.

The three hermits stood alongside the boat and bowed respectfully, their feet barely wet and their long hair whipping in the wind. "Holy father," they said, "teach us again about the speed of light. We have forgotten one of God's numbers and cannot remember if it is 299 792 458 or 299 792 459."


Copyright © 2002 Leonard Cottrell. All rights reserved.
Table of contents for the New Metric Fables