I read this probably about 7? years ago but it was probably published earlier than that. It was in the back of a book of short stories. I don't remember anything about the title or the cover, just that I found the book in one of my friend's room and glanced through it while he was gone. I think he had gotten it from the library.

It was a pretty short story about a society of humans that were obsessed with the purity of truth. They sought truth in everything they did and were kind of assholes to everyone else about it. They might have lived in the mountains or maybe just on the steppe. The main character was a "truth-seeker" which was revealed to mean that he was a mathematician/physicist. They never called it "math" or "physics", though. The main character's job was to "extend the fundamental truths" which meant he studied the basic truths of the world, the axioms from which everything else is built, and developed theories from them.

Now having more years of math under my belt I think the main character was talking about basic topology in an abstract way-- saying something like "the truth of structures are that many are the same", playing on the coffee cup/doughnut trope. Also could have had something to do with Boolean algebra and lambda calculus, in the way that everything can be built from a binary code of yes/no.

Thanks for your help!

edit, because it's late and I forgot to include this info:

The main character is a young ish man who's trained most of his life for the "truth-seeker" position. There are other normal jobs in the society, but "truth-seeker" is considered above all else. The title of "truth-seeker" can also apply to artists and other types of scientists. Religion is considered the worst of all lies. The story was about the main character's questions about spirituality and who and what created the axioms that he studies.

  • Sounds like it could have been a Stanislaw Lem story maybe? Do you reckon it was originally in English, or could have been translated?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 11:59
  • I think it was originally in English, but I'm not 100% sure. Commented May 3, 2020 at 19:10

1 Answer 1


This sounds like part of Greg Egan's Diaspora which has a main character who is a member of a society devoted to math and science. Working on mathematics is sometimes called working in "The Truth Mines."

One portion of Diaspora is "Orphanogenesis", another is "Wang's Carpets"

Here's a couple of excerpts to give a flavor:

“Spatial curvature. I still don’t understand where it comes from.” Yatima created a translucent blob, floating between ver and Radiya at chest height, with half a dozen black triangles embedded in it. “If you start out with a manifold, shouldn’t you be able to impose any geometry you like on it?” A manifold was a space with nothing but dimension and topology; no angles, no distances, no parallel lines. As ve spoke, the blob stretched and bent, and the sides of the triangles swayed and undulated. “I thought curvature existed on a whole new level, a new set of rules you could write any way you liked. So you could choose zero curvature everywhere, if that’s what you wanted.” Ve straightened all the triangles into rigid, planar figures. “Now I’m not so sure. There are some simple two-dimensional manifolds, like a sphere, where I can’t see how to flatten the geometry. But I can’t prove that it’s impossible, either.”

Radiya said, “What about a torus? Can you give a torus Euclidean geometry?”

“I couldn’t at first. But then I found a way.”

“Show me.”

Yatima banished the blob and created a torus, one delta wide and a quarter of a delta high, its white surface gridded with red meridians and blue circles of latitude. Ve’d found a standard tool in the library for treating the surface of any object as a scape; it rescaled everything appropriately, forced notional light rays to follow the surface’s geodesics, and added a slight thickness so there was no need to become two-dimensional yourself. Politely offering the address so Radiya could follow, Yatima jumped into the torus’s scape.

In one sense, the Truth Mines were just another indexscape. Hundreds of thousands of specialized selections of the library’s contents were accessible in similar ways – and Yatima had climbed the Evolutionary Tree, hopscotched the Periodic Table, walked the avenue-like Timelines for the histories of fleshers, gleisners and citizens. Half a megatau before, ve’d swum through the Eukaryotic Cell; every protein, every nucleotide, every carbohydrate drifting through the cytoplasm had broadcast gestalt tags with references to everything the library had to say about the molecule in question.

In the Truth Mines, though, the tags weren’t just references; they included complete statements of the particular definitions, axioms, or theorems the objects represented. The Mines were self-contained: every mathematical result that fleshers and their descendants had ever proven was on display in its entirety. The library’s exegesis was helpful – but the truths themselves were all here.

  • I'm a bit confused. This is set in some advanced future civilization, right? But when they talk about "giving a Euclidean geometry to the 2-sphere," that sounds like something that would require it to be diffeomorphic to Euclidean space. But it isn't. It isn't even homeomorphic, and there are easy and well-known proofs of that. So what are they talking about?
    – Adamant
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 3:43
  • Whereas on the other hand, if they are talking about being locally Euclidean, the sphere certainly is that (or can be, with an appropriate atlas). But again, that is easy to prove.
    – Adamant
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 3:47
  • The character is a young student working things out for himself, so it takes him a little effort to come up with his own proof - but he does do so
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 16:26

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