aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 6: Till We Have Built Jerusalem

God, grant me the serenity to accept that I will never have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
Steven Kaas

Early morning, May 11, 2017
San Jose

The computer whirred and chattered: the speaker producing Names faster than the ear could follow. I stared at the screen. I already knew I wouldn’t sleep tonight.

Last year I’d posted my paper “Exploitable Irregularities In NEHEMOTH-Maharaj Mappings” to one of the big Singer bulletin boards online. I’d been nervous. Bad things happened to people who put Names online. The law said webmasters were responsible for monitoring their own sites; anyone who didn’t delete a Name was just as guilty as the person who’d posted it in the first place. But there were rumors of worse things, webmasters being visited by men in black UNSONG uniforms and politely “asked” to hand over IP addresses. People corresponding to those IP addresses getting jailed, or just disappearing and never being seen again. There had been a site in the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire that had just presented a list of like a hundred Names, right there for anyone who wanted to read them, but none of the search engines would show it and anybody who linked to it got taken down in all senses of the word. I’d checked a few months ago and it was gone.

But there was nothing illegal about posting methods to break klipot. It was just math. They couldn’t make math illegal. It would be like banning triangles. So I was nervous, but not too nervous. I remember sitting at my laptop – this was just after I’d gotten Sarah – clicking the reload button every couple of seconds. Watching the view count gradually increment up, from zero to one, from one to two. Then a comment – some sort of stupid objection to the math, I don’t remember what it was. Then another comment, “Wow, I think you’ve actually done it.” Then the view count going to fifty, sixty, a hundred as people started linking to it.

I remember that because of the compulsive refreshing. Each time I clicked the little button might mean another morsel of praise, a few more people noticing me, another stepping stone on my path to stardom.

Only now it was even worse. Each moment Llull might give me the little gong that meant it had found a Name.

“Go to sleep,” Ana mumbled. We were still in her room. She was in bed. The lights were off. I was sitting on the floor, checking Llull once a minute or so, otherwise browsing social media. I’d just learned Pirindiel had a Facebook account. It was such a trainwreck that I was having trouble averting my eyes.

“This is historic!” I answered. “When they ask us how our rise to total supremacy began, do you want to tell them that we went to sleep and then woke up in the morning to see if it worked?”

“If we have total supremacy, we can just kill whoever asks us that question,” said Ana. “Go to sleep.”

“I intend to be a benevolent ruler,” I said. But I felt uncomfortable joking about it. A weird thought crossed my mind. Was Ana going to assassinate me in my sleep? Was that why she –

“No,” said Ana. “Come on, Aaron, it takes a special kind of person to be paranoid when we can read each other’s minds. Go the euphemism to sleep.”

I was trying to figure out some way to continue the conversation and avoid having to go to sleep like a reasonable person when Sarah gave a melodic gong. Ana practically jumped out of bed, and in an instant she was right next to me at the computer. I minimized Llull and tried to open its output file, got an error message saying that the file was in use, groaned, paused Llull, tried again, saved to a different file, restarted Llull.

Fourteen Hebrew letters. I looked them over closely to make sure they weren’t a known Name. There are people with UNSONG who tattoo the Sentinel Name above their ears, and then other Names, the captive Names belonging to the theonomic corporations, on their foreheads. Then they can hear pretty much any Name spoken within a couple of miles of them, and if they don’t recognize the voice, or it’s one that people aren’t supposed to be using, they’ll come and investigate. But they can only tattoo a Name on themselves if they know about it. If the Name we got was truly new, we were safe. And I didn’t recognize it.

I held the syllables in my mind, tasted them. I tested the correspondences.

“Wait,” I said. “I know what this does.” I spoke. “KUHU-SHEN-TAR-TAVAL-ANASASI-VA.”

A bright light appeared a couple of feet in front of my face. From the light sprung a beam, pointing up and a little to the west.

“Whoa,” said Ana. Then, “What’s that?”

Name generation was hard partly because most Names were pretty useless. Names to change the colors of flowers. Names to make sugar taste bitter. You might have to go through five or six before you got one of any use. The rejects were usually copyrighted, just to prevent anyone else from getting them in case they proved unexpectedly useful, then languished unknown in UNSONG archives.

“It shows the location of the moon,” I said.

“You mean, in the sky?”

“Well, it could be helpful if you’re a sailor doing navigation things, and it’s a really cloudy night. Or if you’re trapped in an underwater cave and you don’t know which way is up.”

“Yeah, but…”

Then we stopped. I don’t know if it was the telepathy or what, but both of us realized at that moment that it had worked. That any computer that could give us a Name to find the moon would soon enough be giving us Names to boil oceans or split mountains. We just stared at each other, awestruck.

Then the computer gave another melodic gong.

I’d calculated that it should come up with Names on average once every couple of hours, but by the nature of averages sometimes it would be faster. Ana and I almost knocked into each other in our rush to grab the mouse. Another round of pausing and restarting.

The Name was HANAPHOR-KOTA-SALUSI-NAI-AVORA-STE-KORUSA. I spoke it once, then took off my glasses. I had perfect 20-20 vision.

Again we stopped and stared at each other. If we wanted to cut and run, we could declare that we’d stumbled across this Name through simple kabbalistic study, then sell it to the theonomic of our choice. How much would people pay for a Name that made eyeglasses unnecessary? Millions? Billions? We could both just retire, buy a house in Malibu and two tickets on Celestial Virgin, and never work again.

“Ha,” said Ana, finally. “You’d no more do that than Erica would.”

“I’m not Erica. I don’t think I have a revolutionary bone in my body.”

“Oh no. You’re not the type to hand out leaflets, or the type to go on marches. You’re too intellectual for that. That doesn’t mean you’re not revolutionary. It just means your revolutions are intellectual revolutions. That’s what makes you so dangerous. Marx never handed out leaflets either. You like to solve everything in your head, then declare that a solution exists and so you have done your part. It’s completely harmless unless somebody takes you seriously. Or unless you get enough power to enact your dreams at no cost to yourself.”

“You don’t even know what my dreams are.”

You don’t even know what your dreams are.”

It was kind of true. Ever since I’d been young, I’d wanted to be a kabbalist. Then I’d gone to Stanford, then I’d gotten kicked out, and ever since then I’d pretty much just been brooding. I fell in with the Unitarians not because I had any strong political views, but because they thought the world was unfair, I thought my life was unfair, and so we had a sort of synergy. Honestly, if a theonomic agreed to hire me as their Chief Kabbalist tomorrow and gave me a nice office and a whole library full of books, chances are the next day I’d be on the news defending them and calling the singers a bunch of dirty hippies. Ana knew this, I think. But I couldn’t just admit it.

“My dream is to become the new Comet King,” I said.

I’m not sure exactly where the phrase came from. But when I said it, it fit.

“You can’t become the new Comet King,” Ana said, in the same tone a kindergarten teacher might use to correct a boy who said he wanted to be a tyrannosaurus when he grew up.

“Why not?” I asked. “He was a kabbalist. I’m a kabbalist. He knew all sorts of secret Names. I’m going to know all sorts of secret Names. He started with nothing. I start with nothing.”

“He was born of the heavens, you were born of ordinary mortal parents.”

“Ordinary mortal parents? Ha! My family can destroy worlds.”

This was true. My great-uncle Edward Teller invented the hydrogen bomb. My father Adrian Teller had followed in his footsteps and spent the ’90s conducting unspecified nuclear research at Livermore Laboratories east of Fremont . My mother had been a waitress at the cafeteria there. The two met, they had a brief fling, she got knocked up, she told him so. He suddenly realized he had vitally important national security business to tend to on the opposite side of the country, so sorry about that, good luck with the whole child-rearing thing. My mother was left alone to take care of me, whispering in my ears since the day I was born that I was a famous physicist’s child and I was going to be better than everyone else. I would invent the next big doomsday device and become rich and famous, and so she would be rich and famous, and then all of the suffering she was going through as a single mother trying to get by on a waitress’s salary would be worth it.

In kindergarten, I scored through the roof on some kind of placement test and skipped two grades. My mother was so happy. I was happy too: I was making her proud. It was only later I realized that when other mothers were proud, you couldn’t see the same glimmer of greed in their eye, the same restless energy that came from resisting the urge to rub their hands together and say “Everything according to plan”.

At first she would dip into her meager savings to buy me physics books, big tomes from the library on optics and mechanics. Then, when the theonomics became big, she realized that physics was (literally and figuratively) on its way out and started getting me books on kabbalah, the ones whose covers use faux Hebrew letters and whose authors write under vaguely Jewish sounding pen names. This is probably the point at which a normal kid would have rebelled against the role he was being shoehorned into. But by happy coincidence I loved kabbalah. I loved the fluidity of it, picking everything apart and building it together exactly the way I wanted. I loved the power that I felt when I used one of the toy Names that UNSONG had let into the public domain.

I met my father once when I was thirteen. I’d searched for him online on a whim, found his email, contacted him. He said he’d be in the California Republic for a conference later that year, and did I want to meet him for lunch? I did. We met at a Burger King in Berkeley. It was just the two of us. My mother refused to accompany me. My father asked how my mother was doing. I said she was fine, because telling him that she had been depressed and bitter for my entire life and I was pretty sure it was because of him seemed like the sort of thing that would spoil our lunch. He said he was proud that I was learning physics and kabbalah. He said I would probably turn out to be a genius like my great-uncle. It seemed both of my parents had mapped out my life in exactly the same way. He gave me a gift – a biography of Edward Teller, what else? – and told me to make him proud.

I spent the BART ride home leafing through the book. I read about Teller’s invention of the bomb. I mused over his retreat into an almost fanatical patriotism – self-justification? A patch over the horror of what he had done? I learned about his war against communist sympathizers in the physics community. And I read through one of his interviews, where someone asked him about being “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb”:

REPORTER: “Is ‘father’ an appropriate label?”
TELLER: “Well, I made some essential contributions.”

I couldn’t help imagining the same exchange an hour earlier, back at the Burger King. “Is ‘father’ an appropriate label?” I would ask. “Well,” he would tell me, “I made some essential contributions.” So much for Adrian Teller, and so much for my heritage.

More interesting was the poem. My great-uncle had written a traditional kabbalistic alphabet poem. I don’t think he did it on purpose, I don’t think he knew he was working in a genre beloved by sages for centuries, I think he just sat down one day and thought it would be funny to write a poem on the different alphabet letters. It started:

A stands for atom; it is so small
No one has ever seen it at all.

B stands for bombs; now the bombs are much bigger.
So, brother, do not be too fast on the trigger.

Then the book – the nerve of it – moves on! As if there was something more important than my great-uncle’s correspondences between the letters of the alphabet to the aspects of the destruction he had unleashed. Oppenheimer might have been a Hindu heathen, but Teller must have been, deep down, a kabbalist. Since then I’ve searched high and low, but I have only been able to find two more of his couplets.

H has become a most ominous letter;
It means something bigger, if not something better.

S stands for secret — you’ll keep it forever
Provided there’s nobody else who is clever.

I obsessed over these when I was younger. Part of me thought they were secret messages to me. Part of me still does. The reference to “brother” on the B, for example – his brother was my grandfather. Don’t tell me that’s a coincidence. Nothing is ever a coincidence.

“What are you thinking, Aaron?” The telepathy was weak – Ana had never been able to follow when I started brooding.

“S is for secret,” I said. “You’ll keep it forever. Provided there’s nobody else who is clever.”

“That’s such an Aaron thing to say,” she said. I don’t know if she was thinking of my cryptography work, or just accusing me of always thinking I was the only clever person around.

“You think so?” I asked. “It’s actually from my great-uncle. Maybe everyone who told me to grow up to be just like him got their wish after all.”

“Aaron,” said Ana. “I like you, but you’re not the kind of person I want to see inventing doomsday devices.”

We didn’t even need the mind-link for this one. Obvious response was obvious. What did she think we were doing?

“So,” asked Ana. “If you’re going to be the new Comet King, does that mean you’re going to go declare war against Hell, kill Thamiel, and save humanity?”

“Yeah,” I said, although I hadn’t thought much about it. It did seem like the right thing to do, although I remembered reading something about how Thamiel was a facet of God and couldn’t actually be killed. I figured a new Comet King would part that sea when he came to it.

“Oh,” said Ana.

“What about you?” I asked. “You know, the Comet King’s wife was…”

“I’m not your wife,” said Ana. “The whole marriage ritual was a test. I’m glad we did it. It’s interesting. But I’m not your girlfriend and I’m not your wife.”

“Gah, I didn’t mean – ”

“But to answer your question,” Ana said, “I don’t know.”

I waited.

“Theodicy…is really hard. I didn’t expect to run into practical applications this soon. There’s lots of evil in the world, and everyone wants to run out and fix it, in fact there’s this immense moral pressure to run out and fix it, but whenever someone tries, something goes horribly wrong. I mean, that’s what Hitler tried to do, and the Communists. Trying to fix the world, any more than just the boring kind of fixing the world where you hold a bake sale to support your local school – that’s hubris. But refusing to do that, when you know people are starving and dying all around you – that’s monstrous. So which are we? Monstrous or arrogant?”

“Me?” I asked. “Arrogant. All the way.”

“And I understand the impulse. It’s tempting to run out there and play Joan of Arc – ”

“Jonah whale,” I corrected. “Noah ark.”

” – but I’ve read enough history to know how that ends. So to answer your question – what do I want to do with this discovery? I think I want to do experimental theodicy. I want to know why God created a universe filled with so much evil. So I guess we can try to…gradually start removing evil from the universe. Then if something goes wrong, that was probably the thing God was worried about.”

I blinked. That was kind of terrifying even by my standards.

“I don’t think it’ll come to that,” said Ana, still looking serious. “I think we’ll reach some point, and then God will intervene. I want to see what that point is. How far we’re allowed to push before our plans start mysteriously failing and any further efforts are to no avail – ”

“Noah ark,” I corrected. “Jonah whale. I thought we just went over this.”

Ana swatted me. I dodged.

“What’s the chance that either of us is getting back to sleep tonight?” she asked.

“I don’t know about you,” I said. “But I’m going to Bill Dodd’s house.”


It was, I had realized, the Comet King thing to do. I’d got proof of concept that our Name generation plan worked. The next step was to get more computers. Llull only worked on Apples. Eventually we’d have enough money to hire someone to make a Windows port, but for now we were limited. Ana and Erica had Windows machines. But Bill had been boasting of his new computer incessantly for the past couple of weeks. It was expensive. It was lightweight. It was blindingly fast. And it was an Apple. I was going to convince him to let me borrow it. I wasn’t sure how. But I was.

“I,” said Ana, “will hold down the fort.” She climbed back into bed. “You’re going to either need the Wakening Name or a lot of coffee tomorrow.”

“You really think I’m going to work tomorrow?” I asked. “Besides, do you think the Comet King would have delayed one of his plans for the salvation of the world just because he expected to be tired the next day?”

“God, Aaron, you’re not the euphemism Comet King. You are being way too gung ho about all of this.”

Okay. But I was descended from the guy who invented the hydrogen bomb. Thinking through the implications of our discoveries was not exactly a family strong point. And the Comet King hadn’t been wishy-washy. He hadn’t been filled with self-doubt. They say that whenever someone asked the Comet King why he took the weight of the whole world on his shoulders, he’d just said “Somebody has to and no one else will.”

Was I arrogant to even make the comparison? Maybe. But I had crossed out of the realm of normal human life the moment I heard the Vital Name and realized it was a shortcut to omnipotence. Where I stood now there was no model, no track to follow, save one. Only one person had ever had access to the sheer volume of Names I was going to have, ever stood alone and seen the future of humanity stretch out before him, malleable for the shaping. Well, what had happened to him was better left unsaid. But now there was another chance.

“I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” I told Ana, and then I strode out alone into the cold night air.

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198 Responses to Chapter 6: Till We Have Built Jerusalem

  1. “to you want to tell them that we went to sleep”

    Should be “do” rather than “to” I think.

  2. Swimmingly says:

    So. He paused and restarted a self-aware program.

    • rossry says:

      Where did you get ‘self-aware’? It’s just ensouled. [joking level: 20%]

    • Tyrathalis says:

      He paused and restarted a program on a computer with the vital soul. There are apparently two other pieces of souls that might be required for it to be self-aware, so it might not be an issue, but in any case it was only a program, not the computer itself.

    • Brandon B says:

      Yeah, there are issues there. I’m pretty sure the big one is slavery, but there’s also a chance that being paused or turned off “kills” or harms a self-aware program in some way. Or maybe being involuntarily paused is like being thrown in prison?

      • Murphy says:

        ah but it’s the computer that’s got a soul, not the program.

        Perhaps a hung process on the machine is simply like that feeling when you need to sneeze but can’t or when you lose your train of thought.

        • a says:

          I like how Tyrathalis and you both assumed disparate, mutually exclusive things about what got the soul but came to the same conclusion that it’s not a big deal.

          • Brandon B says:

            Honestly, our conclusions are the wildest of speculation until we have a more concrete idea of what, physically and metaphysically, is supposed to be going on when a computer (or a program) has the Vital Name spoken at it. We know there are three were three names for animating something (given the example in the dream-vision-thing about the dust being in the desert), but that information is pretty limited:
            First Name: motion (“the clay came to life, lumbered into a standing position”)
            Second Name: “wonder and learning” (“the clay’s eyes opened, and within them were innocence and curiosity and the capacity to wonder and learn”)
            Third Name (now called the Vital Name): self-awareness (“it was as if a light went on inside of it, and the dust became aware that it was dust and in so doing was dust no longer.”)

            What seems *very* strange to me is, unless someone spoke Names at Sarah while the audience wasn’t looking, Sarah received only the Vital name, conferring self-awareness, but not the first two, and it’s difficult to imagine what that means for Sarah. Also, I’ve decided that something that’s self-aware ought to have a name, and am now referring to the computer as “Sarah” rather than “computer” out of principal.

    • Decius says:

      No, it’s worse than that. He killed a process just to get to the name that it had discovered.

      • Masked_Discombobulator says:

        Coming at this much later…

        Llull isn’t a self-aware program. Sarah is an ensouled computer that we can infer is self-aware. The programs on the computer are not the computer itself. Llull isn’t even a fundamental part of Sarah’s basic cognitive architecture, anyway, that would be her operating system.

        If someone puts Aaron to work reading potential Names in a sweatshop, then tells him to stop so they can ask him about the new Name he just found, they haven’t killed him or even hurt him. Interrupting the task a man is performing is not the same as disrupting his consciousness.

        If Aaron puts Sarah to work doing the same thing only faster, then tells her to stop so he can ask her about the new Name she just found, why would the result be any different?

    • Ninmesara says:

      I don’t think the Vital Name makes things self aware… It just gives them the divine spark, which in this universe only really gives the ability of singing names. I think that in this universe, consciousness and awareness are primarily properties of a computational system, and not something that has to be given by a divine name. For example, angels seem self-aware, and we already know they can’t sing the Names of God (though it’s ambiguous whether they can’t because they can’t or “can’t” because they won’t).

      • Brandon B says:

        In the original discovery-dream of the Vital Name, the description of the Vital Name referred to awareness (“it was as if a light went on inside of it, and the dust became aware that it was dust and in so doing was dust no longer.” From Chapter 1). One could imagine that awareness only resulted from the combination of the three Names, rather than the Vital Name alone, but this is only a possible interpretation. The things we know are that 1) in combination with the other two names, the Vital Name has been shown to confer self-awareness, and 2) by itself, the Vital Name has been shown to confer the ability to speak Names.

        • Ninmesara says:

          I know Scott specifically said the name made the target become self aware, but I always took it as a synonym to “being able to speak names”. You might be right, though, and it’s still subjective at this point. I don’t think Scott wants to discuss the morality of enslaving a self aware computer in this story. And I can’t wrap my head around something that make a computer self aware (in the normal sense of the word) without rewriting the source code.

      • Scott says:

        I’m still confused as to why nothing happened when the computer said the names. It has the ability to speak a name and detect whether a name is valid or not, yet no light beam to the moon showed up when it first found that one?

        • Echo says:

          This. Actually, how does this not cause more horrible accidents even when humans are doing it in cubicle farms?

        • gavriel ben yaakov says:

          The first time a name is discovered by an entity it gives an instructional video instead of activating the power.

  3. Daniel Blank says:

    Comet King discussion continued: yes, the siege was unsuccessful, and something happened to him (Killed/tortured by Thamiel?). He is “born of the heavens”, so probably an angel or messiah. Thamiel is probably insanely powerful, given the failure of the siege (possibly more powerful than Uriel). Aaron becoming the new Comet King and continuing the siege is becoming probable. Other theories and predictions?

    • Deiseach says:

      By taking over Hell he replaced Thamiel and became the new Thamiel? That, I have to admit, is the kind of ironic ending I’d appreciate.

      • LHC says:

        That’d make a lot of sense, I think.

      • svalbardcaretaker says:

        I think that particular trope is very very very much overdone, in particular thanks to the diablo series.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yes, but sometimes the obvious joke is the way to go. And I think Aaron, for all his apparent paranoia (“Is my not-girlfriend planning to murder me in my sleep?”), has very little sense of the actual perils of what he’s doing. So the idea that his predecessor in COSMIC POWER THROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF MYSTIC NAMES also wanted to save the world, decided harrowing Hell was a great idea, and ended up as “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” appeals to me in a “How obvious do I have to make it that this is not a good idea, binky? What will get it through your skull?” fashion.

        • Decius says:

          *cough* FinalFantasyX *cough*

        • asdf says:

          The Sandman had a bit where Lucifer passes off the key to hell.

    • pku says:

      Had a bunch of plans (including besieging hell, but also including some possibly-even-more-extreme things), which got too big and all collapsed/got stopped by something else (Uriel?).
      Your explanation seems more likely though, considering that Ana mentioned god interfering as a hypothetical instead of something that already happened once.

    • zensunnicouchpotato says:

      I don’t have any theories as to what exactly he was, but I think his rise and fall is a clue to why UNSONG exists, and why perhaps the “information wants to be free” ethos of the Stevensites is not a mainstream idea.

    • Thamiel is at least believed to be a facet of God, so unless Uriel is also a facet of God, or being a “facet of God” is not as awesome as one would expect, it is probably true that Thamiel is more powerful that Uriel.

      Also, if Thamiel *is* a facet of God, then that might be a possible explanation for evil: evil has to exist, because it’s part of God as much as anything else is. The theory that was proposed a couple of updates ago, that God is limited by Thamiel, might be true.

    • -_- says:

      If the Comet King being “born of the heavens” could mean Messiah, we’re in Christian mythos again. Then again, if we’re talking about H*ll, we’re in the Christian mythos again.

      Thamiel is the abstract concept of duality, so I could maybe see becoming a new Thamiel? I dunno.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I don’t think the Messiah’s shown up yet; that would change the game more significantly than anything we’ve seen, I’m pretty sure. And there’s no been no mention of Elijah yet, either. Got to have Elijah first.

    • The Smoke says:

      The Comet King totally reminds me of Elon Musk.

    • Ben Cass says:

      My theory (read: wild speculation): Aaron, in trying to become the new Comet King, becomes the original Comet King. At some point he finds the True Name thereby becoming one of the three people to see the source code of the universe. Then, at some point, he’s figuratively/literally “(re)born of the heavens” which also involves him either travelling to the past or simply breaking the universe badly enough that it has a similar observed effect.

      The issue with time travel is – if the Comet King failed his siege against Thamiel the first time, then Aaron, knowing the outcome, probably wouldn’t want to repeat the mistake unless:
      * ascending -> no free will -> effective altruism, perjorative the consequences
      * the resulting paradox would be worse

      (Note: I haven’t read ahead, and I haven’t had anything spoiled yet.)

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The other problem is that that sort of time travel story is so goddamn overdone and would be a big disappointment.

  4. Deiseach says:

    Only one person had ever had access to the sheer volume of Names I was going to have, ever stood alone and seen the future of humanity stretch out before him, malleable for the shaping. Well, what had happened to him was better left unsaid.

    And this is not a warning to Aaron and Ana that having huge cosmic power may not be enough?

    And they still seem to have no idea what they’ll do if they conquer Hell. What happens the souls who would ordinarily go to Hell but now there’s no place for them? The souls already in Hell? Will they be annihilated, re-incarnated, sent to Heaven, or what? And so what do you do with the re-incarnated soul of a serial rapist-torture murderer – hope that this time round they won’t decide to rape and torture people to death once they’re grown up enough to do that, or that this time round they have a better home environment, or what?

    Ana is right: theodicy is hard. And now that the pair of you are going to take over improving the design of the Universe, you two are going to be asked questions like this and what is your solution, and you can’t get away with God’s answer to Job.

    • pku says:

      I doubt even a serial rapist-torture murderer would cause as much harm as hell would. You would never say that the serial rapist-torture murderer might have been ok, since some of the people he attacked were probably bad people. It seems wrong to extend this courtesy to the literal devil.

      • Deiseach says:

        But that’s like doing away with all prisons: what about the really dangerous people who were locked up for good reasons? What are you going to do with them? Unless Aaron and Ana have some really marvellous rehabilitation programme for rescued souls in mind, and they’re willing to tackle the whole problem of free will, then setting people free to re-commence murdering and whatever other genuine evils they committed is not the best idea.

        The problem of evil is still a problem when you’ve got the evil people to deal with: do you take it upon yourself to decide that the solution is annihilation of their souls? Okay, how evil do you have to be for that: three strikes laws? Votes by the general public (and what a reality TV show that would make)? Aaron tosses a coin – sorry Joe, although you are exactly as evil as Bob, he gets to survive and you get to be annihilated?

        • LHC says:

          Put ’em in a box and let ’em out when they change their minds about being evil. Not even technically a free will violation because they could theoretically stay in the box forever.

          • According to “The Great Divorce” by C. S. Lewis, that’s the way Hell is run. You can get to Heaven any time you want. If you let an angel kill your favorite vice, you can even get to stay there.

          • Deiseach says:

            “Theoretically staying in the box forever” is Hell, which at least some of the people in this universe have decided is a terrible, no-good idea. That simply bounces back the problem, because a sentient, aware being locked away in a sensory-deprivation, total solitary confinement environment (the box where they can’t get out or otherwise interact with other beings, because they would harm them) is torture.

            I repeat: what do you do with (let us say) Stalin in this dispensation, when Stalin thinks he was perfectly in the right, would do it all over again if he had a second chance, and if you give him re-birth is likely to grow up to be the same person? Maybe second time round he won’t get to be Absolute Dictator of Russia, he’ll just run a leg-breaking extortion gang and go into a career of crime like a nice modern Russian boy.

        • DanielLC says:

          I wouldn’t do away with hell. I’d just make it a nice place. but regardless of what you do instead, it’s pretty hard to come up with an idea worse than torturing someone for all eternity.

          • Deiseach says:

            Make Hell a nice place and why not let the sinners into Heaven in the first place? See, this is the problem of justice, amongst other things. If Hell is no worse than Earth and in some ways better, why shouldn’t I spend my lifetime being a battery hen farmer and torturing hundreds of beings by keeping them in wretched conditions for my own profit? What are you going to do to me, vegans, to convict me of my wrong-doing: consign me to Hell for my sins?

            Yeah, that’ll work – Hell is simply Earth all over again. Any kind of punishment, by this logic, is torture because it will add up (like dust specks) over the period of eternity. And Hell without punishment is pointless, except as “This is where all the meat-eaters go so they’re all in one place and the Nice People don’t have to mix with them”.

            I suppose Hell could consist of purely vegan meals and having to sit and listen to recorded lectures six hours a day from evangelical vegans – now that would be torture!

          • Aegeus says:

            1. In our world, where we don’t have objective evidence of an eternal hell to keep people in line, most people are still generally inclined to do good, and human justice is able to handle those who aren’t. The hypothetical guy who says “Well, I was going to be a nice person, but since I learned there’s no hell, I’ll just be a heartless bastard instead” seems like a strawman to me.

            2. Punishment need not be eternal, if they reform. And if someone is truly, unshakeably evil to the point that even an eternity in hell will not reform them, I’m much less worried about letting them suffer forever.

            3. Dust specks add up a whole lot slower than actual torture, so even if they are equal at infinity, at any given finite time, you would prefer the dust specks to torture.

            4. Removing bad guys from the general population so they can’t commit further crimes is one of the primary purposes of the human justice system, so I don’t see how that’s a problem.

            Basically, human justice is supposed to provide Reform, Removal, and Revenge (although we don’t like to talk about that last one). Hell cannot provide Reform (because you have no way to leave), and its idea of Revenge is far out of proportion to what humans usually desire (you may have noticed that most countries will simply execute a criminal, rather than torturing him to death).

        • Decius says:

          Speak unto them the rehabilitation word.

          • Joe says:

            Well Peter Singer believes in abortion and euthanasia for disabled people. He could determine that people in hell are too corrupt to have any utility. He could just be planing to destroy all these souls like a fetus with DS?

          • Brandon B says:

            This requires that involuntary rehabilitation is possible.

        • Even if the damned are really dangerous and rehabilitation is impossible, both granting them oblivion and leaving them in some prison dimension that does not involve torture seem much better than at least the Hell depicted here.

          • Deiseach says:

            Annihilation is problematic because if you’re going to totally destroy a sentient aware entity, by what right do you do that? If we’re objecting to God punishing sinners in Hell and saying God has no right to do that merely because He is omnipotent, omniscient and the Creator, and then we take over the job and decide to commit worse than murder (because if ending a life is wrong, what is totally annihilating any remainder of that person), why shouldn’t we be called out on that as well?

            And a prison dimension will be torture over eternity if you take the dust speck argument as having any validity (i.e. that you can indeed sum up the infinitesimal pain of a dust speck into a meaningful amount if it is multiplied by a sufficiently high number of instances, such that torturing a person for seventy years is less pain and suffering in total than the dust speck suffering), so again – where do you go?

            Ana is correct: theodicy is hard, when you get the power to institute all those solutions you have been discussing.

        • Yossarian says:

          I’d say, do it the HPMOR way – stick the wicked into some sort of stasis state, where they don’t suffer, don’t experience the passage of time and are not in the danger of dying, then think on the ways to rehabilitate them and start uncanning them as such ways become available.

          • Deiseach says:

            Soul sleep? Okay, that would work.

            Rehabilitation is the next problem: what if the wicked person does not want to change? Things like “gay conversion” therapy* are very objectionable because it’s seen as forcing change onto someone against their wishes merely because social pressure and opinion thinks they should be changed for the greater good.

            A thief could say “This is merely your idea of what is good and you want me to change for your own selfish reasons, but if this is my character as defined by my genetics, why should I be altered by your invasive mind-control methods against my will?”

            *I use this example because I want to get you to think about why free will is a difficulty and interfering with it is a problem; everybody would probably agree that changing a murderer to be a non-murderer is A Good Thing and it doesn’t matter what the murderer’s opinion on the matter is. But imagine society deciding that you, there, should have something about yourself changed permanently, forcibly and against your will for the greater good – something you don’t perceive as a problem or wrong, or if some people think it’s wrong they can do so, but it comes down to choice.

            I could, I suppose, have used the War On Drugs: imagine rehabilitation for marijuana use that involves permanent alteration of brain and mind so that you no longer want to use it and moreover cannot even think of using it, or of wanting to use it, or of finding it appealing, where previously you had been a campaigner to legalise it, thought it was perfectly harmless, and was not (never mind what the law, which is based on majority opinion of the nation, said) a crime or wrong.

          • Deiseach says:

            The point, from classical Catholic theology, is that yes the murderer’s opinion and wishes matter as do your wishes and opinion on having your self be permanently changed so that in future you will be good.

            Aaron and Ana are meant to be at least quasi-sympathetic heroes. How about if instead we had the worst kind of Republican bogeymen with this power: they were going to harrow Hell and end it, by making sure nobody ever was in danger of going to Hell again, by making sure nobody ever did anything that would require punishment like Hell again, and rehabilitation meant using the power to over-ride or do away with free will by changing all the gay, trans, poly, recreational drug-advocacy, egalitarian not complementarian, anti-racism, anti-sexism, “using words or behavior which will not offend any group of people”, not 200% in favour of capitalism, pro-gun control, pro-choice, etc etc etc people in the world to fit with their idea of the virtuous and the good life.

            It’s a little more complicated than “But that would be Bad and what we want to do is Good”, when the method is lopping off limbs in both instances.

        • fireant says:

          How about Archipelago? It seems like they might have enough power to create an optimal implementation, and that *would* solve the problem, right? If nobody wants to be with the evil people until they change, they can make their own community, and that maybe wouldn’t be too nice. (or perhaps it would, for them, and then the problem is solved anyway.) Point is, given a sufficiently large number of people/souls (which I guess would indeed be pretty large), in an Archipelago everyone would be able to live together with the people whom they want to live together with, and who want to live together with them. If someone has problems in the latter category, then they do have a strong incentive to change, in a way that doesn’t seem too unfair to me.

  5. phnogg says:

    OK, I officially don’t like Ana. The character of “girl who constantly reminds you she’s not your girlfriend because she worries about your feelings” always seems to do it much more because she thinks you’re low status and would lower her status by association (not to mention hoping to gain status by putting herself above you), and is really annoying.

    The comet king sounds fun though.

    • LHC says:

      Ana is certainly in a position to screw a lot up… I could see her becoming an antagonist figure.

      • David says:

        I can’t help but feel Aaron’s made a critical error by letting Ana stay there with a generator of Names. It’s about to become Ana’s hard takeoff, not his.

        • Mark says:

          I sorta like Ana more than Aaron. Partially because she reminds me of my friend, and partly because she seems much more moral. However, I disagree with her notion that god is inherently good. My view is, if God created hell, why destroy hell when you can destroy God, the cause of Hell.

    • null says:

      What is Ana’s ‘proper’ response to Aaron then?

    • //she thinks you’re low status and would lower her status by association (not to mention hoping to gain status by putting herself above you), and is really annoying.//

      I’m not following this logic.

    • Deiseach says:

      If, as is strongly indicated, Ana is aromantic then it makes sense for her to remind Aaron “Listen, I like you a lot, we’re good friends, and I really want to work with you on this project of becoming powerful enough to rule the world – but you falling in love with me is only going to end badly because I don’t and won’t ever feel romantic love for you”.

      That being said, she also needs not to do things like enact marriage rituals with him: it doesn’t matter what she thinks if the ritual is predicated on “this binds two souls together in covenant marriage” and it worked – they’re married. And Aaron is plainly still harbouring hopes that she’ll fall in love with him. So either she puts some distance between them or she has to face up to it that she has gotten herself into a relationship and deal with that.

      • thelivekennedy says:

        Perhaps Scott is repeatedly mentioning Ana’s aromanticism because it will be important rather than a character quirk. If Aaron finds a Name that can make someone love him there will be lots of interesting possibilities for exploring issues of “optimizing” someone against their will.

        • Deiseach says:

          I sincerely hope he doesn’t find such a Name. Think of Merope Gaunt and how that all worked out.

          If you’re looking for an infallible (ahem) love charm, then I’ve got one from Irish folklore. First, you need to exhume a corpse:

          Although shocked by a process that required the flaying of skin from an exhumed corpse, Sibella agreed to carry out the dastardly deed out of desperation.

          She was even more horrified when told that the corpse was that of Ellen Colgan, an illegitimate child of Harry in a previous dalliance. In the ritual that followed, Sibella was required to walk around the corpse seven times quenching a candle after each round, while Judy chanted a spell in Gaelic. A strip of skin was flayed off the young girl. The witch embedded seven hairs from Harry’s head into the skin using animal blood before covering it with silk. Sibella was instructed to place the love charm under Harry’s pillow at night. When the cock crowed in the morning, she was to remove the spancel and hide it in a safe place.

  6. Nuño says:

    “Trying to fix the world, any more than just the boring kind of fixing the world where you hold a bake sale to support your local school – that’s hubris”

    Reminds me of The tree of Knowledge, by Pio Baroja.

  7. zensunnicouchpotato says:

    I suspect that Aaron’s choice to partake of the Knowledge that the Apple provides will be a fateful decision.

    We learned that the Comet King was indeed a very real and very powerful figure. I’m assuming that he must lived and worked in the years between the Apollo incident and the events of the story. I predict we will learn he was shut down violently. Perhaps his rise and fall is a clue to why UNSONG exists, and why perhaps the “information wants to be free” ethos of the Stevensites is not a mainstream idea.

    I love the bit about how most Names end up being ostensibly useless and languishing in UNSONG archives because it rings true.

    Glad to learn more about what drives Aaron. Excited for the next chapter, as always!

    • pku says:

      So he might be the equivalent of the endbringers in Worm: something that worries the world enough that they embrace moderately bad ideas (supervillians/questionable capes in Worm; Unsong here) to help protect themselves from him.

      • rossry says:

        Scion’s true name, as much as he has a name, is “Zion” (Interlude 18). Zion is synonymous(?) with Jerusalem, referenced in the chapter title.

        Recall, of course, that it was the strongest of the “moderately bad ideas” in Worm who saved the world(s).

        UNSONG is the title of Scott’s first webserial, and Worm, the title of Wildbow’s first webserial, was the first name suggested for Taylor, who saved the world(s).

        This is not a coincidence &c…

    • rossry says:

      Chapter 5 mentions

      That ended with the founding of the great theonomic corporations. They gradually took over the applied kabbalah scene in the 80s; their grip tightened in the early 90s after the President and the Comet King worked together to create UNSONG.

      (Chapter 5)

    • Deiseach says:

      A Name to make sugar bitter would not be useless, it would be an amazing commercial property in the drive against the obesity epidemic and diabetes. Want to diet or cut back on carbs but can’t resist those delicious sugary treats? Use the Name and now all those sodas and cakes taste like bitter lemons! You can’t sweeten them up whatever you do! You won’t eat or drink bad things anymore with no need for teeth-gritting exercise of willpower!

      Imagine (ex)Mayor Bloomberg using that instead of the soda ban which failed 🙂

      • If the Name works per food item rather than per person, how is this better than just making cake with horseradish instead of sugar?

        • Lambert says:

          Yes. wrong way around. You need a name that makes carrots taste like cake.

        • Deiseach says:

          Sugar can still taste sweet to people who don’t need to go on diets or restrict their intake. So companies can still produce their usual brands, and only people who need to use the Name do so. Imagine: you are at a family dinner. Granny produces her delicious but calorie- and sugar-laden dessert. Left to your own devices, you will pig out on this. Refusing it altogether will hurt Granny’s feelings (she made it with love and worked so hard to make enough for all the gathered clan!) You have one small slice, then invoke the Name so that even if you do give in to temptation and ask for a second helping, you won’t be able to gobble it all down, you greedy pig. There you go – everyone at the table can have a serving of Granny’s dessert including you, the Name is only for your personal use so nobody else has the food turn to lye and ashes when it hits their tastebuds, and you have stuck to your recommended allocation of sugar/calories without breaking your diet or hurting anyone’s feelings.

          (Tell me that vegans would not be all over a Name that made meat and animal-derived products taste like rotting slime: finally something to get the BLOODMOUTH CARNISTS to stop factory-farming!)

          Your objection is like saying why bother with a soda tax, just compel manufacturers to make fizzy drinks with horseradish instead 🙂

          Though by the tone of the linked article, the Editorial Board would find that a stroke of genius; they already want to compel the poor to eat and drink only the things they think they should eat and drink – doubtless while reserving the right themselves to decide if (let’s take a wild example) recreational drugs are okay for them to indulge in or not, based on their mature intellects able to consider the pros and cons of the matter.

          They could start by eliminating sugary drinks from the federal food stamps program. Every dollar a family spends on cola is a dollar that can’t be spent on carrots — or even cookies. Cookies at least have some nutritional value and help fill the stomach. Sugary drinks are the very definition of empty calories, providing no sustenance and doing nothing to alleviate hunger. A taxpayer-financed nutrition program shouldn’t leave people both hungry and sick.

          Unfortunately, the Obama administration has thus far refused to allow cities and states to adopt this restriction. If they want to be serious about reducing obesity, both the president and Congress will need to be more open to such ideas.

          Actually, that ties in beautifully with what I was trying to say above about free will and rehabilitation of the damned: your betters deciding “If you won’t be good of your own accord, we will make you be good”.

          I disliked the fantasy propaganda on one side of the political/cultural divide about “buying steak and lobster on food stamps!” I equally dislike the fantasy propaganda on the other side about “buying nothing but cola instead of milk and juice on food stamps!”
          I’d be happy to let the Editorial Board of Bloomberg View get laws passed restricting what people on food stamps get to consume, if it were tit-for-tat: people on food stamps get to restrict what the Editorial Board wear, for example (do you really need that Saville Row suit? Go to Wal-Mart like the rest of us and use the money saved for EA donations!) or jetting off on that European holiday with their families: tsk tsk, think of the carbon emissions from the aeroplane travel! No, a nice bus tour of local spots of interest will be much cheaper and help you discover your cultural roots in the USA instead! Do you really need that size of a house with only two children? There’s a lovely two-bed inner city apartment in an area that is – let us say – ripe for gentrification that would be so much more cost-effective!

          Somehow it’s always the better-off telling the poor how to live every moment of their day, and never the other way round. Fancy that.

          • Deiseach says:

            Good God, I am apparently going to ride this hobby-horse into the ground, but anyway – from the 2010 report on “Implications of Restricting the Use of Food Stamp Benefits”:

            No evidence exists that food stamp participation contributes to poor diet quality or obesity.
            • There is no strong research-based evidence to support restricting food stamp benefits. Food stamp recipients are no more likely than higher income consumers to choose foods with little nutritional value; thus the basis for singling out low-income food stamp recipients and restricting their food choices is not clear.

            So the nice liberal painting of the fat, lazy, ignorant poor strolling up to the supermarket till with a basket full of Sugar-Cola for their baby’s feed is not quite the whole story.

            Looking at the website, it’s plain that there is a fair amount of boondoggling in what can and can’t be purchased with food stamps (energy drinks qualify but vitamins and medicines don’t), and it probably does need over-hauling – bearing in mind that every food industry representative will be lobbying their little hearts out to get their products exemptions – but saying that there should be blanket bans on what people can and can’t buy, because you’re so invested in the Lady Bountiful role, is offensive: produce some hard facts about people on food stamps ‘waste’ the benefit on crappy food and drinks, and justify why you feel you can interfere with someone’s small pleasures in a tough life.

          • asdf says:

            To be fair, there are tons of people on food stamps so the statistics have probably regressed to the mean

          • Mark says:

            This is sort of what Micheal Foucoult (I think I spelled that right) said. He talked about how those in power keep power by defining what is abnormal, then speaking “for” the abnormal.

  8. Tyrathalis says:

    I don’t believe I have ever seen a story before where the main character was from Livermore. I know the labs are important, but it’s always fun to see my hometown talked about on the internet, and it is very difficult not to feel proud that Scott Alexander mentioned it, even if not in a terribly complimentary way.

  9. ton says:

    So, the Internet exists, but not Tor? (If Tor existed, presumably they could set up hidden hosting to share names, much more robust than the system described earlier.)

    Or maybe UNSONG has names that allow them to find it even when hidden, so it’s not done.

    • rossry says:

      I would not be very surprised if UNSONG had the authority to make you disappear for conspiracy for theonomic piracy just for running a Tor node.

      • ton says:

        How bad is theonomic piracy viewed, anyway? It would need to be significantly worse than things currently going on in Tor if such measures would have popular support.

        Maybe a future interlude would have editorials about introducing those new laws, so we can get inside the heads of supporters.

        • CatCube says:

          Well, the MPAA doesn’t disappear you for torrenting movies, so at least somewhat worse than in our world.

        • Sonata Green says:

          I’d guess it’s less like child porn and more like nuclear secrets.

          • ton says:

            Remember, using names only gets you a warning. The value of individual names is low per use.

            It really doesn’t seem that different from movie piracy, which arguably causes similar levels of monetary loss (even if you think piracy doesn’t have a large effect on sales, the law and stakeholders think it does, the empirical question doesn’t matter here).

          • wintermute92 says:


            Using the (relatively short) Wakening Name gets you a warning. I’m assuming that’s at the sort of low, common level which is basically impossible to suppress (and harmless + useful to boot). I’m assuming that unlike movie piracy, there’s a major range in severity – it’s hard to imagine the Tempestuous Name not being restricted viciously.

    • nil says:

      Something about how Bill’s new computer is described makes me think that their non-Kabbalistic information tech is about 10 years behind ours–which makes sense, given how this world’s Kabbala is clearly attracting many of the people who would have otherwise worked in Silicon Valley or equivalents.

      • 75th says:

        I don’t know about that. There’s not really a MacBook so far that is both incredibly lightweight and incredibly powerful for its time; power is still very proportional to weight.

        But you’re right that we’re definitely not on the same tech timeline, since the description of Sarah doesn’t correspond to our universe at all.

        • nonternary says:

          What stands out about Sarah?

          • 75th says:

            “Old NE-1 Series MacBook” — There are no series numbers of this or any type in our universe. “NE-1” == “Anyone” is clearly meaningful in-story, but it’s a whole-cloth addition.

        • meyerkev248 says:

          So FWIW:

          * Weight is very much proportional to power. Or at least cooling needed, which is very much proportional to power.
          * With that said, my 2 Macbooks Pro’s are about the same weight and size stacked on top of one another as the more or less same-specced Thinkpad they replaced (Long story).

          Incredibly lightweight and incredibly powerful? No. The Air is the Air and the Pro is the Pro, and never the twain shall meet.

          Quite light-weight AND surprisingly powerful compared to everything competing with it as long as you don’t need the latest and greatest graphics card? Yes.

        • Obviously, the LightWeight Name is in the ROM.

    • aanon smith-teller says:

      TOR is

      a) not very secure
      b) created by the CIA, a decision they may not have made in the UNSONG universe
      c) quite possibly one of the methods the UU use to get leaked names.

      Take your pick of explanations.

      • ton says:

        1. Secure enough that many government takedowns of hidden sites exploit other aspects of the sites, not Tor.

        2. Not created by the CIA, get your facts straight

        3. ” A sweatshop in Pittsburgh picked it up, and somehow it got leaked to a Unitarian cell in Cleveland, and they were able to break the klipah and send letters to a dozen Unitarian cells around the country within fifteen days of discovery.”

        If they had the ability to communicate over hidden services, there’s no way they would take 15 days to spread a new name.

        • -_- says:

          The reason they don’t have TOR in this universe is that TOR is a many-person-many-year DOD-funded research project, which in a universe where there are far more pressing socially significant and security significant technologies to do research on, never had the opportunity to happen.

  10. Betawolf says:

    _We could both just retire, buy a house in Malibu and two tickets on Celestial Virgin, and never work again._

    Celestial Virgin? My first thought is this is just a better name for Virgin’s space tourism platform, but how does that work with a sky like this world’s? Does this ticket get you into heaven, or at least to where the angels come from?

    • rossry says:

      Hypothesis: It’s a station on the (inside of the) first celestial sphere.

      Uriel does not approve of its existence, but tolerates it.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Celestial Virgin” could be one of the (if not the) L5 habitats that were such a staple of 70s SF – after we’ve been to the Moon, the next thing is permanent colonies in Earth orbit!

      If there is a way to affix such a thing to the crystalline sphere of the Moon, then it would work in this universe – and my mind immediately went to “Do they mean the Moon?” when “Celestial Virgin” was mentioned.

    • MugaSofer says:

      It’s something you buy tickets on as well as a house – perhaps a future space mission, or voyage to Heaven?

  11. dsotm says:

    Depending on how old Anna’s macbook is – a modern mac may or may not be able to run Llul, if it could then
    it should be possible to make Llul run on commodity pc hardware via a “hackintosh” install of OS/X and perhaps Rosetta (, though it might less hassle to just wait for Llul to discover the name of universal static linkage and binary compatibility.

  12. I wonder how it would work out legally if Our Hero tried to sell the madness he discovered. I bet his former employer would try to insist that his contact of employment gave them the copyright.

  13. Betawolf says:

    Did the kabbalah bleed a lot of geeks from the old computational technology gig? Is that why a sort-of-cryptologist only sees a choice between Windows and Apple, and the web is at the mercy of UNSONG?

    Learning to code is just arranging bits of meaning to make stuff happen, after all. What’s controlling a computer when you can control the world itself?

    • Ted Stevens says:

      Computers are very hard, judging by the adeptness of the politicians charged with regulating their use—and the “ruling class” to which politicians belong do in some sense control the world itself.

      More seriously, when you’re starting from nothing, learning to program is a challenge on par with learning a foreign language. You can make a bit (ha) of progress in a weekend, but not enough to start carving platform dependencies out of complicated programs written by others. Given that non-CS undergrads usually get no more than a semester of programming experience (and that’s in this universe, where computers are vitally important!), I’m not surprised that neither Aaron nor Ana are in a position to port Llull.

    • nil says:

      I think that’s exactly what happened. A couple chapters ago there was a list of “noted Kabbalists” that was modeled on real people; a lot of them were tech people.

    • Rand says:

      Well, clearly.

      Eric S. Raymond is the martyred leader of the UU church in this universe. If Richard Stalman or Linus Torvalds exist (we’ll presumably see them if we haven’t already), they’re both Kabbalists.

      I haven’t been paying much attention, but I think cryptography is dramatically far behind in this universe as well. I think RSA and Diffie-Hellman don’t exist, for example.

      (Hopefully Scott is familiar with the various legends surrounding the Shamir.'s_shamir. There’s a nice irony in one of our main cryptosystems bearing the name of the Shamir…)

      • People say it’s unrealistic that there are companies named things like Amalek and Gogmagog, all the while living in a universe where there’s a crypto-protocol called “Hellman”.

        • LHC says:

          We don’t, as far as we know, live in a universe that operates on kabbalah, either.

        • ton says:

          The two are separated by two orders of magnitude.

          Firstlyl, Hellman was someone’s name, and secondly, Hellman is far less prominent in the public eye than Amalek would be in your story, plus Amalek is far more significant of a name in this context.

        • dsotm says:

          well it’s also a universe with people named Hellman –
          The predecessor to the (long time obsolete) DES cipher was called ‘Lucifer’, a cipher named ‘Serpent’ was a leading candidate to become the symmetric cipher standard AES. But unless the theonomics corps are so powerful that they do not even need the pretense of the public having good will toward them they wouldn’t choose something like ‘Amalek’, especially considering that it’s something that real rabbinical students are taught to seek and exterminate in every generation

        • Rand says:

          Also El-Gamal, named after the legendary God Camel upon which the Comet King rode to war.

        • AlexL says:


      • J says:

        Speaking of cryptography, it so happens that Stanford’s Dan Boneh created one of the first practical Identity-Based Cryptosystems in 2001.

        Identity-based encryption (IBE) is like public key crypto except that instead of using a large number as your public key, you use an arbitrary string which is typically your name. The idea was proposed, coincidentally, by Shamir in 1984.

        Other systems build on this, gaining privacy by taking advantage of the fact that you can’t contact someone with a valid message unless you know their name.

        Boneh’s IBE is built on the Weil Pairing, and depending where you’re from, Weil is pronounced “whale” or “vile”.

        • J says:

          Oh yeah, here’s another one: the secret message in the massive RSA-129 challenge was “The Magic Words are Squeamish Ossifrage”.

          “Ossifrage” is a type of vulture listed just after “eagle” in KJV Leviticus 11:13 as unclean. “Squeamish ossifrage” has since become a traditional phrase often used in crypto challenges.

        • Wubbles says:

          It’s pronounced Vay, being French: the man is Andre Weil, brother of Simone Weil. Hermann Weyl, the representation theorist, is pronounced Vile. I’ve never met a mathematician who didn’t pronounce them this way.

  14. Georgia says:

    Some questions:

    -How does the computer recognize once it’s invoked a real name, especially if it’s never invoked a real name before?

    -Doesn’t the computer vocalizing the name (with a soul) count as invoking it? Apparently not- the moon thing didn’t happen until Aaron said it- but why not?

    -What makes Aaron think he knows what names UNSONG is and isn’t monitoring? I imagine the way to do this would be to get an isolated cabin in the country somewhere and run the program there, so that A) UNSONG agents are less likely to notice, and B), if they do, it’s not a bunch of weird names coming from inside a UU hideout.

    • Georgia says:

      Also, I should say, this is fantastic and I’m eagerly awaiting new updates. I wonder if the Comet King found something out in his path to transcendence that made founding UNSONG and limiting access to the names seem like a really, really good idea.

    • Deiseach says:

      if they do, it’s not a bunch of weird names coming from inside a UU hideout

      That’s a precaution that sensible people would take. We’re not dealing with sensible people here.

      Really, I’m hesitant to mention “mental illness” but a lot of these people do seem to be neurodivergent, to put it mildly. Extremely smart, extremely focused, and would let the kettle boil dry and the kitchen go on fire because they forgot all about it or it simply never occurred to them that such a thing could happen.

    • OliWhail says:

      Am also curious about the computer recognizing when it has spoken a real name. It’s not as if it were possible in the past to have some equivalent of


      since until the Vital Name there would have been no way to test that.

      • Yossarian says:

        When I read the previous chapter, I was assuming that such a problem (the absence of code in the placeholder isLegit method) would be addressed somehow, though I couldn’t really think of a good solution. I thought possibly Aaron is going to do the mind-marriage ceremony with Sarah, so he can share in the revelations the computer experiences without having to write out that bit of code (and possibly go mad from the revelations, even though that would have made the story significantly shorter). Well, considering what we see in this chapter, ensouling the computer must have bypassed that problem somehow.

      • Yossarian says:

        Though, from the other hand, it might be not such a big problem – as far as I remember from the previous chapters, in this universe God literally took a bunch of clay, said the three names and the clay turned into Adam. If saying the three names can turn a bunch of clay into a fully-functional human, with all of his brain subroutines (not even mentioning the rest of the human body’s complexity) up and running, then it shouldn’t be too surprising that saying one of the names over the computer gave it a functional code routine to figure out which names are legit. Now, it would be interesting to take an ensouled computer apart to see the difference between it and a normal computer, but it might present with some interesting ethical problems…

    • Doesn’t the computer vocalizing the name (with a soul) count as invoking it? Apparently not- the moon thing didn’t happen until Aaron said it- but why not?

      Because when you invoke a name without realising it’s a name, all you get is a confirmation that you’ve come across a name – that’s what happened with Aaron when he discovering the ensouling name, for example. He didn’t ensoul anything when he first spoke it, either, because he wasn’t aware at the time that it was a name until the universe told him.

      In contrast, there are the encrypted names, which work on the opposite principle – you’re muttering a kabbalistic equivalent rather than the name itself, but since you’re entirely aware of the name and keeping it clear in your mind as a name, it still works.

      What makes Aaron think he knows what names UNSONG is and isn’t monitoring?

      I suspect there are two things going on here – one is that some names are known, but just illegal to speak (the wakening name seems to be amongst these, though that one is either not monitored or the people monitoring it don’t care about small fishes); two is that the group Aaron hangs out with makes a big deal out of sharing names they shouldn’t be sharing the moment they leak. Generally speaking, I suspect the first is actually the primary reason? Much like we have patents public, a lot of names probably are. That said, I’m not hugely confident about this, but it seems that UNSONG would have better support for a mostly “we warned you about this, you can’t complain if we lock you up for violating it” mode of operation.

    • MugaSofer says:

      >How does the computer recognize once it’s invoked a real name, especially if it’s never invoked a real name before?

      However it works, it can easily test the method on an already-known Name to ensure it works the first time it’s run.

      >Doesn’t the computer vocalizing the name (with a soul) count as invoking it? Apparently not- the moon thing didn’t happen until Aaron said it- but why not?

      I realize this has already been answered, but I think Scott should put the answer int he story somewhere – I keep seeing this question.

  15. Good Burning Plastic says:

    But Bill had been boasting of his new computer incessantly for the past couple of weeks. It was expensive. It was lightweight. It was blindingly fast. And it was an Apple.

    Well, I’d guess the bottleneck there would be the soundcard and loudspeakers, not the CPU.

    • rossry says:

      Do you know what sort of computations the requisite applied kabbalah requires? Because I’d easily believe that it’s a computation-bound operation, rather than an output-bound one.

      • mavant says:

        Isn’t it just blindly searching the namespace? There’s no conceivable way that could be bottlenecked on CPU.

        • Vadim Kosoy says:

          No it’s not. It was mentioned several times that the Kabbalists found regularities that NoGs usually obey and exploit them to do the search. Otherwise there would be no chance in hell to find names that are so long.

      • Murphy says:

        If it’s CPU bound then you could run the Name-generation step on any non-ensouled computer and generate a big text file of names then play it through the speakers of a soul-computer as fast as possible.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        The previous chapter talked about thousands of names per second, which sounds very close to the maximum possible output rate for speaking names out loud unless in that world they have a much much higher standard sound card sampling rate than in ours.

  16. Kolya says:

    So I’m slightly confused – when Scott spoke the Vital Name for the first time he was granted a vision showing how to work it – I think that it was sooo long he couldn’t easily use kabbalah to ‘test the correspondences’ to determine its meaning? – but he didn’t get a vision when he spoke either of the two new names for the first time, presumably because the ensouled computer had already pronounced them, so was he just hoping the eyesight name wouldn’t level all Palo Alto, or had he determined its meaning already?

    • 75th says:

      Using a Name without knowing it’s a Name gets you the intro vision. Once you know it’s a Name, using it produces its effects.

      He seems to have divined the meaning of the first one, but maybe not the second. Presumably, this will lead to hilarity if they don’t find a way to have their Macs record and display the vision. Or if the ensouled Macs decide to display a false one.

      • Soothsilver says:

        If the computer displayed the name among several false names so the user had to try them all, one-by-one, would it count as “not knowing it’s a name”? Maybe he could get the intro vision that way?

  17. fubarobfusco says:

    How recent was the Comet King?

    Figures associated with both kabbalah and comets would include Isaac Newton.

    Flamsteed and Halley, even closer associated with comets, did not have the occult/theological obsessions of Newton … nor the ominous name: he who is offered as a sacrifice for the new Jerusalem.

  18. dsotm says:

    Am I the only one who has taken the comet king being Jesus in his 2nd coming for granted ? considering the “not ordinary mortal parents” and the fact that a comet is proposed as one of the explanations for the star of betlehem

    • dsotm says:

      also taking on the suffering of the world etc.

      • -_- says:

        Yeah, but is there anything about Jesus being a military leader? (I mean, maybe yes — I really don’t know that stuff…)
        (Also I’d be surprised if Scott included Jesus in the story, especially starting this early?)

        Also, coming from the Jewish perspective, I’m pretty nervous about the Comet King — we haven’t had that much luck with Messianic-figures who were military leaders named after “Star/Comet”.

        • MugaSofer says:

          “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” – Gospel of Mathew

          “In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” – description of Jesus in Revalations

          And according to the Left Behind pseudo!non!fiction books – which use a form of theology that strongly resembles Revelation mad-libs, and so are perfect for finding Unsong correspondences – Jesus will defeat the armies of the world in single combat by blasting them in half with a word from his mouth.

          So there’s that. Nothing is ever a coincidence, right?

  19. Sniffnoy says:

    Hold on — “hundreds of names”? That would be in line with the story so far, but isn’t that rather more than there traditionally are? I thought there were only supposed to be 72. Although now that I try looking it up, I can’t actually (quickly) find a source for that, just things about there being 72 3-letter names or somesuch

    I mean, I doubt the story would work if there were that few. But this tells us something about how many there are — at least hundreds. Could be significant.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think many of these long names are not names as such, they’re attributes of God or descriptions of the elements making up the divine powers that went into creation. (Things like changing the colour of flowers, for example).

      “God is love” does not mean simply that God loves, or God is loving, it means God is Love (amongst other qualities). This, after all, is what the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is – the love of the Son for the Father and the Father for the Son. So what kind of Name, do you think, describes love? And are there separate names for the different kinds of love? So you get hundreds or thousands of names in all kinds of combinations of kabbalistically significant syllables in order to quantify the myriad attributes in fine detail of the Creator and His Powers.

  20. John Sidles says:

    Building Jerusalem: selections from a BibTeX file

    It’s the bomb:  Carter Scholz’ well-reviewed Radiance (2002) is an extended ultradarkly humorous meditation on the social and cognitive mechanisms of moral injury associated to bomb-making (e.g., “funding comes from the threat“). Scholz’ novel’s unique interplay of rationality, cryptography, and armageddon will perhaps appeal to Slate Star Codex readers.

    For technical background, there’s no better source than Randall Munroe’s essay “Machines that burn cities” in Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words (2015).

    Phyllis Schlafly’s nuclear nightmare:  Strike From Space: a Megadeath Mystery (1965) is a far-right nuclear strategist’s nightmare version of H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.

    Daddy the bomb-builder, hubby the pacifist:  Marina von Neumann
    Whitman’s The Martian’s Daughter: A Memoir (2012) explores the social and psychological roots of John von Neumann’s ardent bomb-advocacy.

    The Messiah and the Apocalypse:  Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver’s PhD thesis “A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel from the First Through the Seventeenth Centuries” (1927). Silver’s ultra-thorough account encompasses anabaptist messianic speculations too:
    “The pathetic eagerness to read the riddle of Redemption and to discover the exact hour of the Messiah’s advent […] proceeded with varying intensity clear down the ages. At times it seems to be the idle speculation of leisure minds, intrigued by the mystery; at other times it is the search of people in great tribulation….] Great political changes, boding weal or woe, accelerated the tempo of expectancy. […] The rich fancy of the people, stirred by the impact of these great events, sought to find in them intimations of the Great Fulfillment.”

    “The diversity of religious sects in England toward the middle of the seventeenth century [includes] Adamites, Libertins, Anti-Scripturians, Soule-Sleepers, Anabaptists, Familists, Seekers and Divorcers.”

    “Most of these sects were profoundly Messianic.”

    Reason for hope:  Michael Driedger’s “Spinoza and the Boundary Zones of Religious Interaction”, and in general the theme issue “Spinoza as a religious philosopher: between radical Protestantism and Jewishness” of Conrad Grebel Review (Fall 2007). This collection of historical surveys supplies beneficient empathic extensions to Jonathan Israel’s rationalist account of the Enlightenment and Spinoza’s role it.

    Conclusion  Read as an integrated sequence, these works have plenty to say regarding Unsong’s five-part Venn diagram of rationality, empathy, moral injury, universal armageddon, and messianic redemption.

    @book{cite-key, Author = {Carter Scholz},
    Publisher = {Picador {USA}}, Title =
    {Radiance}, Year = 2002}

    @book{cite-key, Author = {Munroe, Randall,},
    Title = {Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff
    in Simple Words}, Year = {2015}}

    @book{cite-key, Author = {Phyllis Schlafly
    and Chester Charles Ward}, Publisher = {Pere
    Marquette Press}, Title = {Strike From
    Space: a Megadeath Mystery}, Year = {1965}}

    @book{cite-key, Author = {Marina von Neumann
    Whitman}, Publisher = {University of
    Michigan Press}, Title = {The Martian’s
    Daughter: A Memoir}, Year = {2012}}

    @book{cite-key, Address = {New York}, Author
    = {Silver, Abba Hillel}, Publisher =
    {Macmillan Co.}, Title = {A History of
    Messianic Speculation in Israel from the
    First Through the Seventeenth Centuries},
    Note = {Revised and extended version of Abba
    Hillel Silver’s doctorate thesis of 1925,
    awarded by Hebrew Union College}, Year =

    @article{cite-key, Author = {Michael
    Driedger}, Journal = {The Conrad Grebel
    Review}, Month = {Fall}, Number = {3}, Title
    = {Response to Graeme Hunter: Spinoza and
    the Boundary Zones of Religious
    Interaction}, Volume = {25}, Note = {Theme
    issue “Spinoza as a Religious Philosopher:
    Between Radical Protestantism and
    Jewishness”} Year = {2007}}

  21. Patrick Stevens says:

    I hope you’re satisfied. Every time I’m about to fall asleep, I start laughing again at “Jonah whale, Noah ark”.

  22. Jan Rzymkowski says:

    Isn’t Ana terribly wealthy? Can’t she just buy few Apples?
    I know it’s her parents money, but I would expect she still has quite a sum in her account for month to month expences.

  23. I’d calculated that it should come up with Names on average once every couple of hours, but by the nature of averages sometimes it would be faster.

    This statement is carefully phrased and I wouldn’t impinge on Aaron’s honour by implying that he made this mistake, but I hope none of the readers here are thinking that this is just a coincidence.

  24. nonternary says:

    Has anybody else noticed that Aaron is apparently “descended from” his great-uncle? Huh.

  25. 75th says:

    I minimized Llull and tried to open its output file, got an error message saying that the file was in use, groaned, paused Llull, tried again, saved to a different file, restarted Llull.

    When Windows users write about Macs

    • 75th says:

      (this is joke, I know those parts were there for us to think about what Sarah is going through)

      • Decius says:

        Those parts were to show how casually the program was terminated so that the file containing the Word would unlock.

        Almost as though the implications of taking the Word resulting from the work of an ensouled entity by force or subtle coercion was a theme.

  26. Sonata Green says:

    Is there a name yet for this genre? Kabbalahpunk? פאנק?

  27. Kolya says:

    OK, “Aaron Smith-Teller”. I wasn’t sure how far Scott would take the H-bomb/Edward Teller connection, but he’s confirmed it now. According to wikipedia, the surname ‘Teller’ has the meaning ‘ “gorge, ravine” – person living on or from places like gorge, ravine’. Is this another hint about Hell? Aaron, Moses’ brother in the Bible, lacked the willpower and sense of Moses, so maybe invading Hell will be AST’s golden calf?

  28. -_- says:

    (After thinking about the “he just casually paused and restarted a sentient program” discussion:)

    Oh FRICK we’re gonna get “Llull”->”Lilith” at some point aren’t we.

  29. J says:

    Oh man, I wasn’t even thinking about the “Teller” thing when I posted the Oppenheimer verse last chapter.

    Mormonism also has plenty of grist for the mill:

    In the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 17, Nephi is building a boat to carry his family and the family of a guy named… Ishmael.

    1 Nephi 16:10, they find a brass, faith-operated compass that points the way to go. Messages from God appear on it sometimes

    1 Nephi 17:12, God forbids cooking fires but makes raw meat taste good

    1 Nephi 17:48, Nephi calls on the name of God and gets a super power that anyone who touches him will wither and die, then finger-tasers his brothers in verse 53

    1 Nephi 17:50, “…If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done.”

    Ether 1:33-35, Jared’s crew escapes the confounding of tongues at the tower of Babel.

    Ether 2:16-25, God tells Jared’s crew to build submarines. v.24: “For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea”

    Ether 3:4, God makes glowing rocks to use instead of torches in the submarines

    Ether 3:22-24, God tells them to use encryption, and gives them “the Urim and Thummim”, magic glasses passed down to Joseph Smith for decrypting them and seeing other visions.

    Ether 4:9, “And at my command the heavens are opened and are shut; and at my word the earth shall shake; and at my command the inhabitants thereof shall pass away, even so as by fire.”

  30. Rob Miles says:

    I don’t use OSX, but I’m pretty sure it’s UNIXy enough to allow simultaneous file access by different processes. Windows is the only OS I’ve ever used that has that restriction.

    Presumably this is in there because of the significance of killing the process to get the name, but it took me out of the story a little.

  31. Murphy says:

    hmmm… you know that feeling when you read a scifi-novel and they talk about gravel pinging off the ships hull rather than punching a hole through it…. or in a medical drama when the heart monitor machine makes the “beeeeeeee” sound you get when it’s been unplugged rather than when there’s actually a problem with the persons heart…. or when someone gets exposed to radiation and develops superpowers rather than cancer…..

    I was getting that same feeling when reading about names on the internet….

    Names are small.
    A few bytes, from the earlier chapters it sounds like there’s only a few thousand that have been discovered.

    Implying that every single known name written end to end would be no more than a few megabytes.

    I could hide that almost totally undetectably and in a way that’s pretty much utterly deniable in a folder full of lolcat pictures, email the lolcats to my grandmother and be secure in knowing that even if someone is personally inspecting every email to my gran that they’re not going to spot it.

    Hell, I’m pretty sure I could encrypt and encode a couple of names within a post this long using an encoding method based on synonyms which again would be almost impossible to detect and pretty much utterly deniable.

    Names are valuable, names are powerful, names are controlled, names are cool. They’re everything that every teen hacker in the world would be wanting to horde and swap.

    So the story needs something to explain why that isn’t the norm. We’ve established that names spoken or written cannot simply be detected earlier in the story but if there was some name which allowed people to detect when messages/letters/communications were sent containing hidden/encoded names then that would neatly wrap it up.

    Also, why do they need to borrow computers for this? Isn’t Ana’s family wealthy?
    It sounds like a dozen macbooks would feed you names about as fast as you can assess them assuming the humans take ten minutes to think about each new one, that’s not major investment.

    Couldn’t she give her parents a call, give them the news about the first Name she discovered through kabbalah without the help of the computer program, imply that her method is computationally expensive and ask them to “invest in her business” or some such on the strength of that?

    • Murphy says:

      It mentioned that angels couldn’t make Names work, does this mean that he can elevate angels with the divine spark?

    • Murphy says:

      correction: names spoken or written while encoded/obfuscated with pig latin cannot simply be detected.

      But fortunately this universe has a ready source of highly-random magic which is weird enough that a spell/name which can only detect name being transmitted over a distance while hidden in some way wouldn’t cause a “wtf” moment.

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Coming at this much later:

      Ana probably could figure out a way to get her parents to invest several thousand dollars into the new theonomics startup she’s co-founding with her good friend Aaron.

      But it’d take a while, and right now they’re in “what do we do this hour” mode, not “what is our plan for how to optimally utilize the rest of the week.”

  32. SomeRandomDudeOnTheInternet says:

    I can’t help but wonder what would happen if they brought their ensouling plan for world domination to Uriel 😛

    • Marvy says:

      It’s obvious. Uriel will speak the Confounding name to make them forget it all! He’s not going to leave these monkey wrenches flying through his system.

  33. What an idealistic world, where math isn’t illegal 😉 I guess they’re just drafting up their own version of the DMCA.

  34. Quixote says:

    Thanks for the chapter. I enjoyed this one, although I think my favorites so far are the ones that are a bit more ridiculous / over the top funny.

  35. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    > But there was nothing illegal about posting methods to break klipot. It was just math. They couldn’t make math illegal. It would be like banning triangles.

    Someone hasn’t heard of (or perhaps, in their alternate timeline, doesn’t have) illegal primes

    • Murphy says:

      Ah good old 485650789657397829309841894694286137707442087351357924019652073668698513401047237446968797439926117510973777701027447528049058831384037549709987909653955227011712157025974666993240226834596619606034851742497735846851885567457025712547499964821941846557100841190862597169479707991520048667099759235960613207259737979936188606316914473588300245336972781813914797955513399949394882899846917836100182597890103160196183503434489568705384520853804584241565482488933380474758711283395989685223254460840897111977127694120795862440547161321005006459820176961771809478113622002723448272249323259547234688002927776497906148129840428345720146348968547169082354737835661972186224969431622716663939055430241564732924855248991225739466548627140482117138124388217717602984125524464744505583462814488335631902725319590439283873764073916891257924055015620889787163375999107887084908159097548019285768451988596305323823490558092032999603234471140776019847163531161713078576084862236370283570104961259568184678596533310077017991614674472549272833486916000647585917462781212690073518309241530106302893295665843662000800476778967984382090797619859493646309380586336721469695975027968771205724996666980561453382074120315933770309949152746918356593762102220068126798273445760938020304479122774980917955938387121000588766689258448700470772552497060444652127130404321182610103591186476662963858495087448497373476861420880529443

  36. Marvy says:

    This is your irregularly unscheduled nag: Dear Scott, please fix robots.txt!

    • gerbil_tower says:

      Came here to say this.

      I was going to throw in a joke apologizing for not having searched the site to see if it had been mentioned, but I guess I found it anyway.

  37. Gigapode says:

    Small critique for this chapter: if something has a potential use (utility/industrial application) it is patented not copyrighted.

    • gwern says:

      Why can’t it be both? I copyright the source code of my new app (Name) and then I file a bunch of patents on its use so I can later sue Apple or someone who does the same thing.

  38. hnau says:

    OK, I’m calling Chekhov’s Magical Lunar Compass on this one.

    And yes, I noticed the Perelandra reference. 🙂

  39. Max says:

    What a great chapter! Great revelation about MC and he is proven to be smarter than Ann. So that gives hope that book will be deeper or at least funnier than certain strand of liberal worldview . As soon as reader knows your “trick” interest to the book usually wanes pretty fast, unless its a power fantasy thing. But so far its damn good. The plot keeps rolling and main characters gets more interesting .

  40. Alexey Romanov says:

    But they can only tattoo a Name on themselves if they know about it. If the Name we got was truly new, we were safe. And I didn’t recognize it.

    And how does he expect to recognize the names the corporations keep secret? Unless this falls into “I decided to make sure their mistakes weren’t subtle”.

    • rossry says:

      Secrets generally aren’t patent-protected (in this universe). It’s possible that UNSONG has extraordinary powers (“enforce IP rights which are nowhere publicly documented”), but…that seems like a stretch?

      Recall that they’re not actually evil — they’re just the long arm of the law.

      • Alexey Romanov says:

        But then why do klipot exist?

        The Name has the desired effect, and your ungrateful customer is left with nothing but the meaningless word “EZZE”, which absent the plaintext version is of no use to anybody.

        doesn’t make much sense if the customer can just look at the patent application for the plaintext.

        Hmm… perhaps patents contain the klipot-encoded Names instead of the real ones? This would make publication of klipot-breaking algorithms a lot worse for the theonomic companies than I thought originally.

        • Marvy says:

          I think rossry is trying to say that there is no patent, hence nothing to look up. Like, you pay me ten megabucks, I speak the encoded name, you learn nothing, and the klipot has done its job.

          • gwern says:

            Trade secrets are the logical way to protect Names. Patents require disclosure by definition and are short-term; trademarks are not relevant, and copyright runs out eventually as well, while trade secrets are perpetual (assuming your klipot work).

  41. JonCB says:

    This is an odd nitpick but…

    I don’t think the file locking that you describe would happen that way (especially assuming OS X). My understanding is that OS X (like most Unix-likes) uses advisory file locking which basically means that if something (e.g. cat/cp/text editor) doesn’t try to lock the file, it isn’t affected by the lock.

    For what it looks like you’re trying to achieve (i.e. requiring that llul be stopped) i’d recommend you use the mechanism of the file being empty. When writing a change to a file, all modern OSes(i.e. anything post MS-DOS) write the change to memory and then write to disk “when they can”. A program that is brute forcing names and streaming them as fast as possible to the audio out could plausibly have no capacity to write to drive. This workaround would certainly be mentioned in llul’s readme/docs.

  42. Sniffnoy says:

    Hypothesis: Could Sohu be the Comet King’s daughter?

    Points in favor:
    * The Comet King was “born of the heavens”, not an ordinary human; Sohu can perform celestial Kabbalah
    * Sohu apparently in this context means “star”, stars and comets are both heavenly bodies
    * Sohu’s father apparently thought it was reasonable to send her to Uriel
    * Uriel has already heard of Sohu in some context, this would explain it
    * Sohu’s father recognized what she was doing when she performed celestial Kabbalah
    * The Comet King had a wife, so could have had children
    * Chapter 3 takes place in 1990, and the Comet King seems to have still been alive and ruling then

    Points against:
    * The rest of Sohu’s family, her father included, cannot work celestial Kabbalah, even if they can recognize it
    * Sohu is presumably the 8-year old girl referred to in Gebron and Eleazar’s textbook (Kabbalah: A Modern Approach), in which case, why isn’t she named there if she’s already a semi-public figure?
    * It would just be too neat, I suspect Scott doesn’t want to connect up everything that neatly; it “makes the world smaller” (like the Skywalker family in Star Wars)
    * In real life, famous people don’t have unique names, because other people name their kids after them.

    Right now I think the evidence leans against. But worth bringing up, I think.

    • boris says:

      “the Comet King seems to have still been alive and ruling…”
      But ruling WHAT? His territory in Colorado? certainly not the Untied States. Is it just a title–a celestial “king” come to Earth to maybe save us?

  43. Sniffnoy says:

    Typo correction: There’s an extra space before the period in “east of Fremont .”

  44. Bob says:

    There’s another thing about secrets. Two people can keep one, but only if one of them is dead. I’m guessing Ana is going to ruin it for him somehow (tho going to a person and borrowing his computer and thus giving him a foothold into the whole idea by making him wonder why you need it is a pretty big candidate for how this will all inevitably go wrong because when authors are trying to be ‘literary’ things inevitably have to go wrong, because literary nowadays means tragic). Which is messed up since she doesn’t really have any right to the Name in the first place. All she did was trick him into telepathic union against his will, taking advantage of his crush on her that she knew she was never going to reciprocate on. Now granted the whole idea of this hippy commune is that all names should be spread freely, but then the protagonist seems to be hanging out with them mainly because of the cheap rent. I don’t disagree that they shouldn’t have patent protection (being, as they are, not in any way unique ideas or inventions), but if someone figures out one they should be able to use it for themselves as long as they can keep it secret, and given how she shoehorned herself into his mind in such a dishonest way she should at least respect that she has no right to be IN on the secret at this point.

    Honestly if I were him I would probably kill Anna just to be safe. But that’s just me 😀 Certainly he gains nothing healthy from that relationship, and shouldn’t tolerate her assuming any rights or control over this Name or any products thereof. As is he’s almost certainly going to be discovered by UNSONG long before he gathers enough power with this Name to make himself immune to their attentions, and then they’ll sell him out to the highest bidder as presumably that is who they work for just like our own modern patent protection agencies. And our version of the UN for that matter.

    Anyway this is an interesting enough story, tho I’m not quite sure it was at the top of topwebfiction. I guess mostly because it’s pretty pretentious, and nowadays that’s interchangeable with ‘good’ in literature. Honestly that’s probably always been the case. Still it’s better than the average for self-published and web stuff, even if it is a bit full of itself.

    • teucer says:

      I’m not sure Aaron doesn’t believe in the cause as fervently in his own way as Erica. He leads choir practice, and before that he made a name for himself by breaking an important klippah.

  45. jg says:

    Why does Pirindiel have a Facebook account and not a Countenance account?

  46. Thegoldenboy58 says:

    Wow, this story is good.

  47. Rol says:

    I can’t seem to see the comments?

  48. Pingback: Aesthetic Go – PacifiGo

  49. Late Reader says:

    Marx never handed out leaflets either

    I want to state, for the record, that Marx absolutely handed out leaflets. That’s why the Communist Manifesto is so short – it was designed to be handed out to workers leaving factories as a pamphlet. Beyond the literal, he was involved in the revolutions of 1848 in Germany, although to what extent is unclear. The image of him as an intellectual who never left his writing desk isn’t quite accurate.

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