Archimedes's Fables #1: The Jug
Written 1 December 1998
There once was a shipwreck nearby a small uninhabited island. When the sun rose the next day, it revealed three of the ship's crew washed up on the island's shore, as well as, by some miracle, a single uncontaminated jug of fresh water. The three explored the island and discovered that, unfortunately, there was no other source of the life-giving liquid, and they decided that they would divide it up equally amongst themselves and would try to make the water last as long as possible.
That night one of the men reasoned as follows:
"It's unlikely that anyone will rescue us anytime soon--it's only barely possible that we'd be able to hold out long enough if there were only two of us sharing the jug, but dividing it amongst three it's impossible!"
Convinced that he was acting for the best, therefore, he killed one of his companions and threw him to the sharks.
The next day the remaining two men searched the island for their companion, but to no avail. They both expressed bafflement as to what could have happened to him. But towards the end of the search the one who had killed caught a glance from the other and fancied he saw a touch of suspicion in it. Quickly, the following thoughts ran through his mind:
"Really, it's almost as unlikely that two of us will make it as if there were still three; it could be ages before another ship comes by. Besides, I think he suspects me, and perhaps he'll attack me if his suspicions grow any further. But the real issue is that if we divide the water among the two of us, survival is nearly impossible."
Having convinced himself of this, he immediately attacked his friend and vanquished him, but unfortunately he received a mortal wound himself during the combat. He expired as he struggled to get back to the jug of water, cursing his fate.
The jug of water stayed on the island many years, never being used by, or of use to, anyone, until finally it was covered by sand and silt and faded beyond the ken of man forever.
Moral: It is impossible to divide by zero.