Koerner’s Camel Story

John and I were talking with Henry Blackburn about catalysts and certain chemical reactions. A catalyst enables or assists a reaction without adding to or subtracting from the reaction and remains unchanged while doing so. John reminded us of this alleged Sufi tale of the sheik and his bequest to his three sons:

The sheik owns 17 camels and has 3 sons. Upon his death, he wishes to distribute the camels to them in this ratio: 1/2; 1/3 and 1/9. When he can’t figure out how to do this, he calls in the wise man, the catalyst. The wise man tells the sheik he’ll loan him a camel during the bequest so the estate will temporarily have 18 camels.

The first son gets 1/2 of 18, or 9 camels;

the second son gets 1/3 of 18, or 6 camels;

the third son gets 1/9 of 18 or 2 camels.

The estate has distributed 9 + 6 + 2 or 17 camels. The wise man takes back his camel; the sons are endowed and the estate is zeroed.