aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 7: The Perishing Vegetable Memory

Sleep like nothing is watching. Gaze at the stars like it will never hurt.
Steven Kaas

Early morning, May 11, 2017
San Jose

My watch read 5 AM. Bill Dodd lived an hour’s walk away, close to the weird morass of swamps and mud flats that passed for the San Francisco Bay in this area. He woke up around six and left at seven for some tutoring job up in the North Bay. I figured by the time I got to his home, it would be just about morning and I could catch him while he was getting ready.

The streets were deserted, the houses dark. The cracks in the sky were barely visible through the hazy glow of the Silicon Valley megalopolis’ united streetlamps. I could see a few stars.

There was a time when the stars had meant something. Blake thought they were angels. Byron called them the “poetry of Heaven”. The march of science transformed but did not lessen them. They became burning suns trillions of miles away, around which humankind might one day find new worlds to colonize.

Of all the scientists, only Enrico Fermi had come close to the truth, and in the end even he had recoiled from it.

One day back in the 50s, Fermi was having lunch out with my great-uncle out in Los Alamos, and the topic of conversation turned to where all the aliens were.

If there were truly billions of stars with billions of planets, and the Universe was billions of years old, then there had been ample opportunities for life to evolve on other worlds. Earth’s sun was a cosmic infant – other stars were incalculably older. Why in those billions of years had their civilizations not overtaken us, reached and colonized Earth just as Earthly civilizations had reached and colonized their more isolated neighbors?

Maybe life was incalculably rare, a spectacular fluke? Nonsense; even in those days scientists knew that if they stuck hydrocarbons in a jar and shook really hard, they’d get some very biological-looking compounds. Maybe it was multicellular life that was the bottleneck? Unlikely – it evolved three separate times on Earth alone. Sapience? Dolphins are practically sapient, so it must also be as common as dirt. Civilization? Developed separately in the Near East, China, Mexico, Peru, et cetera et cetera. Space travel? You’re trying to tell me that of a billion civilizations on a billion worlds over a billion years, not one would think of taking a really big rocket and pointing it up?

Fermi crunched various numbers and found that even under the most conservative assumptions the Earth should have been visited by just about a zillion extraterrestrial civilizations, instead of the zero that humans actually observed. He figured there must be some unseen flaw in his calculations, and it bothered him a little for the rest of his life.

He could have avoided a lot of anguish if he had just followed the data to their obvious conclusion and admitted the stars probably didn’t exist.

Then maybe things would have turned out differently. People respected Fermi – always a good idea to respect the guy who invents the atomic bomb, just in case he invents something else. They might have listened to him. The Space Age might have become more subdued. They might have wondered whether whatever was up there, whatever wanted people to think there were stars and was powerful enough to enforce the illusion – might be best left alone.

But humans can’t leave well enough alone, so we got in the Space Race, tried to send Apollo 8 to the moon, crashed into the crystal sphere surrounding the world, and broke a huge celestial machine belonging to the archangel Uriel that bound reality by mathematical laws. It turned out keeping reality bound by mathematical laws was a useful hack preventing the Devil from existing. Break the machinery, and along with the Names of God and placebomancy and other nice things we got the Devil back. We’d flailed around like headless chickens for a while until the Comet King had come along and tried to organize a coordinated response. Now we were back to the headless chicken thing.

A car sped down the street, the way people speed at five AM when they know no one is around to stand in their way, the way assholes speed when they don’t care how much noise they make on a residential street when people are trying to sleep. I stepped out of the way just in time.

In a way we were lucky. Reality was still mostly law-bound, because Uriel was burning through his reserves of mystical energy to keep the celestial machinery working. You can still run a car on internal combustion, if for some reason you don’t trust the Motive Name. You can still usually use electronics to run a computer, as long you don’t overdo it and Uriel isn’t having one of his periodic fits.

But once there had been a time when we had looked up at the stars and thought “Yeah, we’ll go there someday.” That dream was dead. Not just because there were no stars. But because the idea that Science could do anything, that it was this genie humankind could command and turn to our most fantastic whims, was gone. If we were lucky we could keep the power grid and the Internet running, but the thought of building our way into a chrome-and-plasma future of limitless possibility had passed away sometime during the seventies. Now we just looked for useful Names of God and hoped Uriel kept Science from failing too spectacularly until we got ourselves killed by something else.

It was getting light by the time I reached the apartment and a half-dressed Bill let me in. The “what are you doing up so early and in my house” was so obvious it could be left unspoken, so it was.

“Hey Bill,” I said, plopping myself down on the couch. It was probably some kind of faux pas, but in my defense I’d been walking an hour. “Ana and I were wondering if we could borrow your gaming computer.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“We’ve got this really interesting search function going on,” I said, “trying to match the fractal patterns in the Song of Songs to paleoclimate data. I know it’s a little weird, but we’ve actually got some good preliminary results, and I think we’d be able to finish in a couple of days if we had some more processing power, and you keep talking about how impressive your new Mac is, so I was hoping…”

“Why would the Song of Songs have fractal patterns?” Bill asked me.

I had forgotten the most important thing about Bill, which was that he liked to think he was smarter than everybody else, and would pretend to know more than you about everything. Problem is, I was making this all up myself, so on the off chance he did know something, it was going to very quickly become clear that I didn’t.

“It’s the Song of Songs,” I said. “Of course it has fractal patterns. In fact – ” I decided to go for broke, “I think there may be multiple levels of patterns in there. Songs of songs of songs.”

“That’s not what Song of Songs means!” Dodd objected. “Hebrew uses ‘of’ as an intensifier. Like ‘King of Kings’ or ‘Holy of Holies’!”

“But consider,” I said, “the words of Rabbi Ezra Tzion, who said…

Then I started speaking Aramaic.

Around 200 BC the Aramaic language started catching on in Israel and most people switched from Biblical Hebrew to the new tongue. Some people started praying in Aramaic, or trying to translate the Torah. The rabbis, who wanted to protect the sacred language at all costs, waged a passionate campaign against Aramaic penetrating into the liturgy, and in the midst of their zeal, they might have kind of told the populace that they had to pray in Hebrew because the angels don’t understand Aramaic. Some people wrote this down, one thing led to another, and it became part of the Talmud. Have I mentioned that the Talmud is kind of crazy?

Couple of centuries later, the Romans destroy Jerusalem, the Jews are scattered to the seventy nations of the world, and now they’re speaking all of these foreign languages like Yiddish and Arabic and Ladino. They don’t know a word of Hebrew, but they still want to pray. The rabbis want to let them, but there’s this old ruling standing in the way, saying that you should pray in Hebrew because the angels don’t understand Aramaic.

So the rabbis declare that actually, the angels understand every language except Aramaic. This actually happened.

And everyone thought it was a joke, but then the sky shattered and we met the angels, and by golly they spoke every language from Albanian to Zulu, but Aramaic was nonsense to them. They couldn’t learn it no matter how hard they tried. It was some kind of fixed mental blind spot. Why did the rabbis’ weird ad hoc decision so perfectly correspond to reality? I don’t know. Nothing is ever a coincidence.

But perhaps there are things humans were not meant to know. And when people started asking the angels – was Jesus Son of God? Was he the Messiah? – the angels answered – darned if we know. We couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

One night, Ana and I were thinking thoughts at each other – gossiping about Bill, actually, since he’d just made a hilariously ill-fated attempt to seduce Erica – and Ana started feeling guilty, because gossiping was a sin.

I asked how anyone would find out we were gossiping, when we were doing it telepathically, and there were no other telepaths in the world – some said the Comet King had been able to read minds, but he was dead – and she said that we didn’t know anything about kabbalistic marriage, maybe the angels could listen in on us or something.

This was a pretty reasonable concern. Somebody had added that section to the Bible, the one in John that Ana had taken SCABMOM out of, and angels sounded like the sort of entities who had the power to edit the Bible. For all we knew, Heaven was wiretapping our private channel. So we decided to learn Aramaic, so that we could gossip as much as we wanted and the angels couldn’t listen in.

Neither of us was very good at it yet, but that didn’t matter, because I was saying the practice sentences from “Aramaic Made Easy: A Beginner’s Guide.”

“The dog is in the house,” I told Dodd in the cadences of first century Judea. “The dog is big and brown. Simeon is going to the synagogue. The dog is not going to the synagogue.”

Bill Dodd watched me intently as I spoke, wrinkles forming on his face. He had only two choices – accept what I had said as accurate, or admit he didn’t understand Aramaic and therefore did not know everything. I could see the wheels turning in his mind.

“Rabbi Tzion was a very wise man,” he finally told me. Then he went into his room and handed me his gaming laptop. “If anything happens to that,” he said as I stuffed it into my backpack, “I will hunt you down and kill you.”

I nodded and made my escape before he changed his mind.

When I made it back to Ithaca, I couldn’t resist stopping off in Ana’s room to check if Sarah had come up with any more Names in my absence. It hadn’t, which wasn’t really surprising – two in so short a time was a huge fluke – but my presence there at least had the effect of waking Ana up. She rubbed her eyes, griped at me for waking her – then, her tiredness melting away before the excitement of the occasion, told me to ensoul Bill’s computer already.

I took the sleek MacBook out of my backpack, plugged it into the outlet, fired it up. I installed Llull. I disabled the Internet connections, not wanting to risk anything automatically updating and letting Bill know what we were doing. Then I spoke the Vital Name. “ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…” I began. Then: “MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH.”

Nothing happened.

There’s no way to tell if a computer has a soul or not. But when you use a Name, especially a strong Name like this one, the warmth shoots through you, for a brief moment you feel Divine power, it’s not just nothing. It’s how people learn they’ve discovered a Name in the first place, it’s the thing whose computer-equivalent Llull is programmed to notice in order to detect hits. It was the thing I was definitely not feeling right now.

“Huh,” I told Ana. “That didn’t work. I’ll try it again.”


Once again, nothing.

“Maybe you made a mistake?” Ana suggested.

I had not made a mistake.

This will require a certain level of explanation. The Vital Name was fifty-eight letters long. How did I remember a fifty-eight letter Name, let alone remember it so clearly that there was no chance of getting it wrong?

The answer was that I was a mnemonist, and a really good one.

Consider: A Roman legionnaire is sitting around, shining a lantern into the darkness, watching for enemies. One suddenly appears; namely, Kim Jong-un, who is soaring overhead on a giant flying lantern. The legionnaire calls for help, and who should arrive but a tyrannosaurus rex, nibbling on a magazine which he keeps in his mouth, and he dispatches the dictator easily. The Roman is so grateful for T. Rex’s help that he knights him on the spot, declaring him Sir Tyrannosaurus, but he doesn’t have a sword for the ceremony, so he squirts ketchup all over him instead. Abraham Lincoln, who is also in the area, comes by to celebrate – he is a fast friend of the tyrannosaurus, as he shares the dinosaur’s quirk of nibbling on magazines.

And now you have fourteen letters.

I am a mnemonist. My hobby is memory. I study very complex systems for remembering long strings of meaningless information. The mnemonists talk about how you can remember entire decks of cards in sequence, or hundred digit numbers after a single reading, but those are smokescreens. The real reason smart people become mnemonists is to remember Names.

The average singer spends half an hour at choir practice every week learning a single Name through constant repetition. Slow but effective. But what if you overhear someone, just once, using a True Name without any klipot? How are you going to remember it unless you have extreme measures available?

My extreme measure was a variant of something called the Dominic System. Memorize three sets of correspondences between alphabet letters and concepts. The first set is between each letter and a person or animal beginning with that letter. The second set is between each letter and an action beginning with that letter. And the third set is between each letter and an object beginning with that letter.

Now break down the thing you want to remember into three-letter blocks. Each block represents a person performing an action on an object. Keep doing this, and you have a really weird story, which is exactly the sort of story you are most likely to remember.

My R person is a Roman. My S action is sitting. My L object is a lantern. ROS-AILE becomes a Roman sitting with a lantern. It’s Hebrew, so the vowels don’t count.

My K person is Kim Jong-un. My F action is flying. My L object is still a lantern. So Kim Jong-un is flying on a giant lantern. Add the tyrannosaur nibbling, and you’ve got KAPHILUTON.

Remembering ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON is hard. Remembering a Roman sitting watchfully in the dark with a lantern, only to have Kim Jong-un suddenly scream past him on a lantern-shaped fighter jet so terrifying that they have to call in the dinosaur cavalry – that’s easy. Keep going, and even a fifty-eight letter name becomes tractable.

Is it hard to make these kinds of stories up on the fly? Yes, it’s hard the first time, and the hundredth time, and even the thousandth time.

But I work eight hours a day in a sweatshop where all I do is recite a bunch of meaningless syllables. I’d have gone crazy long ago if I didn’t have some way to make it all useful. And my way of making it all useful was to train myself to become really good at mnemonics.

The fifty-eight-letter Vital Name shone flawless in my mind.

“ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…” I began, and kept going. I spoke the Vital Name. It didn’t work.

“Ana!” I said. “You have the Name! You try!”

“I only know what I took from your head,” Ana said, but she spoke the Name as she recalled it. “ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…”

I could see from Ana’s face that she felt nothing.

“Maybe it’s just…we’re not feeling it because we’re tired,” I said. I fiddled with the settings of Llull, told it to investigate just one Name, the Moon-Finding Name we had discovered last night. The speaker let out its strange hum. There was no output. Bill’s computer had failed to detect it as a Name.

“Maybe the Name stopped working,” Ana suggested.

“Names don’t stop working! You think God just packed up? And went on vacation or something?”

It probably says a lot about us that we decided it was important to test this hypothesis, and so started using all the other Names we knew – the simple ones, the ones we could use without exhausting ourselves or causing trouble. I tried the Moon-Locating Name from this morning. A big bright arrow appeared pointing toward the western horizon.

“Okay,” I admitted “God didn’t pack up and go on vacation. Then why the hell isn’t the Name working?”

I was seeing our goal of inevitable world conquest fade into a comparatively modest future of limitless wealth. The one ensouled computer we had could give us enough Names to buy a small state. But minus the ability to ensoul more of them, the feedback loop that resulted in total domination of everything and a second Comet King was fading out of reach.

Ana was quiet. After a few seconds, she just said “Euphemism.”

“You expected this all along,” I said. “You said God was going to intervene.”

“Not directly.” she said. “And not this soon. And not like this.”

My mind was racing. “Okay,” I said. “This isn’t a disaster. Maybe it’s not God. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe we can just use the Name error-correction algorithms.”

Given the constraints all Names have to follow, you could find the most likely Name candidates matching a “flawed Name” with one or two letters out of place. Although in principle it was meant to address exactly the sort of situation we were in right now, in reality people almost never forgot Names that weren’t backed up somewhere already, and it was mostly a purely theoretical field people investigated as basic research. It’s all fun and games until a plot to take over the world hinges on it.

“You think that would help?”

“Look, maybe, possibly, there’s a tiny chance a mnemonist like me could forget a letter or two. But no more than that! We mostly have the Name intact. So if I can get some of the error correction algorithms, we can run them on what we remember of the Vital Name and figure out the real thing. I took a class that mentioned this at Stanford once. I’m sure there are some books in the library there. Give me your library card and I’ll go get them. You come with me.”

“Aaron,” said Ana. “You barely slept all night. The error correction books will still be there this afternoon.”

“Ana,” I said. “We had the most important Name in history, short of the Shem haMephorash, and we lost it. No, we didn’t lose it. I know what it is. Something isn’t right here.” I grabbed the library card from her desk. “Are you coming or not?”

“Pass,” she said, infuriatingly.

My mind burning, I set out for the CalTrain station and Stanford.

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225 Responses to Chapter 7: The Perishing Vegetable Memory

  1. XerxesPraelor says:

    Something is going wrong with Aaron – maybe he lost his soul to the machine?

  2. Samwise Gamgee says:

    I would’ve expected at least a consideration that the issue is simply not being able to ensoul someone else’s stuff.

    • LHC says:

      Didn’t even think of this, but it seems fairly likely. In which case the likely narrative purpose of this entire detour to the error-correcting algorithm is to get the name stolen.

      • Deiseach says:

        The detour to the error-correcting algorithm is Aaron showing his flaws. He’s tired, he’s frustrated, he should calm down, get some rest, and think about this.

        Instead, he’s very heavily invested in being The Smartest Kabbalist Out There and he’s not thinking straight (due to tiredness and excitement and frustration), so he’s bulldozing ahead with a notion he got into his mind, no matter how silly it is. He wants an instant fix right now, because otherwise all his castles in the air are going to vanish, and he’ll be proven to be what he’s afraid he really is: a failure, a disappointment, not able to live up to his father’s family’s heritage, so he deserves to be abandoned because he’s just not good enough. He’s going to be stuck as being poor and obscure all his life. And that is intolerable.

        So he’s rushing off to the library on a wild goose chase at sparrowfart because he’s clutching at straws right now.

    • Deiseach says:

      Perhaps it does not work on shiny new Macs but only on crappy old PCs? That would be very funny.

      It’s possible it’s not working because the machine is Bill’s, it’s not anything personal to Aaron. Sarah was personalised – he even gave it (her) a name. So the first two elements could have been there already, waiting for the third – the Vital Name.

      Bill’s new machine is just a tool to him and certainly to Aaron and Ana – they have no connection to it. They don’t love it. You can’t bring it alive if you don’t love it.

      But because the idea that Science could do anything, that it was this genie humankind could command and turn to our most fantastic whims, was gone.

      I’m cackling at this, and I probably shouldn’t be because oh no, what a tragedy, you mean the Laws of Nature weren’t laws as you conceived them to be but were laws as in “rules created and maintained by person or persons”? But this amuses me for some reason, possibly because it’s a lovely counter-balance to all the Poster Boys of Pop Science posts that I see.

      The part about Aramaic also greatly amuses me. What Bill should have done to check if Aaron was pulling this out of the air was nod gravely and intone “Of course, as he says in another place, talitha koum and we mustn’t forget eloi eloi lama sabachthani“. Then we would have the two of them smiling and nodding at one another and each knowing the other was full of crap.

      SCABMOM is the worst acronym ever.

      • pku says:

        What is it for? I couldn’t figure that out.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m guessing “Sacred Cabbalistic something something Marriage Of Minds”, based on what it does.

          • Ezra says:

            “Sacred kabbalistic marriage of minds,” said Erica.

            “SCABMOM for short,” said Ana. “But I haven’t gotten it to work quite right yet.”

      • Different T says:

        Bill’s new machine is just a tool to him and certainly to Aaron and Ana – they have no connection to it. They don’t love it. You can’t bring it alive if you don’t love it.

        “They don’t love it?” Well, this may be the single surest way to devalue the concept of “love” a human could devise. If you’re correct, it would certainly speak volumes about the author of the story, him being a psychiatrist and rationalist.

        • The Warren Peace NFL Report says:

          How would that “speak volumes” about the author? So you assume people never write anything that they might not actually believe in… Please explain Orson Scott Card, then.

          • Different T says:

            It appears the humans in the UNSONG universe are identical to the humans in our universe. Therefore, the “you must love it” line implies the relationship to an inanimate thing is in the same class of objects as relationships between humans, or more importantly in the UNSONG universe, between God and humans.

            “So you assume people never write anything that they might not actually believe in.”

            Maybe you’d be right, though I disagree.

          • Calien says:

            Speaking as a (wannabe) physicist, I would be Very Offended if the rationalist share-house sub-cult were an accurate reflection of what Scott thinks of various nerdy types.

        • Eve Matteo says:

          There’s lots of kinds of love though, and some of them even come in various levels. Platonic love can come in a level shallow enough to be felt towards a tool that you’ve had for a long time, used quite often, have never had issues with, have lots of happy memories with, and as a consequence have grown extremely fond of.

      • tomkob says:

        Its been a (number > i’d like to admit) of years since I read Buber’s “I and Thou”, so you need an I-Thou relationship, not an I-It relationship to ensoul something?

      • =_= says:

        >Perhaps it does not work on shiny new Macs but only on crappy old PCs? That would be very funny.
        In our world old macbooks used different processor architecture. PowerPC, or POWER or whatever.
        I am not sure how things are in unsong world, and even if things are the same there, I’m not sure where to tun with it.

        Also, it might be software. Historically OSX is a fork of BSD, but I dunno if Apple changed something in newer versions.

        I wonder in what language Llull is written.

        (I wonder if Scott heard about TempleOS.)

      • GreatWyrmGold says:

        Mild correction: Sarah is a crappy old Mac, not a crappy old PC. Llull only works on Apple devices.

    • XerxesPraelor says:

      Yeah, this sounds like a much more reasonable possibility than my idea. In any case, Aaron is being really reckless here, and I have the feeling something else is going to go badly wrong really soon.

      • Deiseach says:

        I really think that what Aaron needs is someone to tell him “You know, it doesn’t matter that your father was a really big-name smart physicist, he was also an asshole. Him taking off when your mother told him she was pregnant has nothing to do with you, it has to do with him not having the balls to man up and take responsibility. And forget all that crap he tried to palm off on you about the family heritage: if he wanted you to follow in the sacred Teller footsteps, he should have included you as part of the family. What about your mother’s side of the family? That’s as least as important. They were ordinary shlubs? So what? The Tellers aren’t any prizes, even if they are names in history books who hob-nobbed with the famous. Your life is yours to make something of and you have nothing to prove to them.”

    • Senjiu says:

      My first thought was that maybe the object has to have a name. But then I think I remember that Sarah only received her name after getting a soul.

      • Anonymous says:

        No, it was already called Sarah, see chapter 4:

        “I want to give my laptop a soul,” I said. “Llull only works on Macs, remember?”

        I had an old NE-1 series Macbook. I’d named it Sarah after my desktop wallpaper of Sarah Michelle-Gellar striking a sexy pose.

        So this theory seems pretty plausible to me, given the importance of names.

  3. pku says:

    “an fifty-eight letter Name” is a mistake.

  4. 75th says:

    The most unrealistic thing in this chapter is that someone bought a Mac as a gaming machine

  5. I wonder if each ensouling name can only provide a single soul?

    • Jai says:

      There’s another known method for creating new ensouled beings. For humans, it takes two people, intense physical interaction, and several months. For a machine, it might take far less time.

  6. Daniel Armak says:

    > Maybe it was multicellular life that was the bottleneck? Unlikely – it evolved three separate times on Earth alone.

    How does he count to three? Wikipedia says: “Multicellularity has evolved independently at least 46 times […] However, complex multicellular organisms evolved only in six eukaryotic groups.”

    • Daniel Armak says:

      On second thoughts, I’m sure they didn’t know that in the fifties. On the other hand, they didn’t know back then that it didn’t evolve just once, or a thousand times, or any other number you can pick out of a hat. The origins of the big eukaryotic groups are very unclear even today.

      • Deiseach says:

        No, see, you’re forgetting the logic of this universe. Three and seven are sacred and significant numbers. Forty-six or a thousand (well, a thousand you could work with) aren’t the same thing at all.

        Three separate evolutions of multicellular life is mystically portentous 🙂

        • jeorgun says:

          46 might not be significant in and of itself, but it’s only one off from 47.

        • There are forty six chromosomes in the human body and forty six books in the Catholic compendium of the Old Testament (*glares at Deiseach*).

          Chromosomes and Biblical books are both collections of information; 46 of the one create a human, 46 of the other create the Bible, which is equivalent to Adam Kadmon, the divine ur-human. St. Augustine pointed out that as per the Greek spelling, the gematria of “Adam” is 46. This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

          The kabbalistic meaning of multicellular life evolving 46 times is that the end purpose of multicellular evolution is mankind.

          • gavriel ben yaakov says:

            Okay now, be honest, how long did it take you to figure all that out?

          • g says:

            If you happen to have a copy of the King James Version of the Bible, completed in 1610, turn with me to its translation of Psalm 46.

            Count 46 words from the start; you will end on “shake”. Count 46 words from the end; you will end on “spear”. William Shakespeare just happens to have been 46 years old in 1610.


  7. -_- says:

    You can still usually use electronics to run a computer, as long you don’t overdo it and Uriel isn’t having one of his periodic fits.

    Well, that answers the “Why doesn’t TOR exist” discussion from last time.

    I don’t see very much in this chapter to tear into numerologically, except maybe his varient of the Dominic System. So let’s break that apart:


    Gives us, maybe:
    R-S-L-K-F-L-T-N-M-R-K-K-Y-L-N-Y-M-T-SH-N-K-Y-K-Y-F-S-N-D-R-G-L-S-D-T-H-N- … -M-M-M-M-M.

    The “Y”s do not appear as consonants in the English, but Hebrew can only do an “OI” sound by having an “O” vowel followed by a “Y” consonent. Also “AI” and “IE” (well, there is an “EE” sound as a vowel, but that is often transcribed as “I”, so I assumed “IE” means specifically the dipthong). HOWEVER, we are given that “ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON” is “R-S-L-K-F-L-…”, even though it has an “AI”, so I dunno. The “Y”s are there on probation.

    Also, the “TSHANA” bit may be ambiguous, because Hebrew has a “TS” consonant and a “H” consonant, but also a “T” consonant and a “SH” consonant, so?? I assumed it as “T-SH” because that occurs sometimes (e.g. “Tshuvah” — Answer or Repentance), and I don’t think “TS-H” ever occurs. If it is “T-S-H” I swear I will hunt Scott down.

    This is not necessarily 100%, because we’re going off of an English transcription of a non-standard Hebrew “word”. So notably, we have, maybe, two different “S”s, (possibly three if he’s using Ashkenazi pronunciation) two different “T”s (one if Ashkenazi), two different “K”s, and three different things which could get mapped into English as “H” (One that actually is a “H”, like in “Har Sinai”, and two that make “CH” sounds (velar fricatives) like in “Challah”)

    There are maybe more possibly variations — I only really know Modern Hebrew pronunciation and (less so) Ashkenazi. Notably, if we’re going based on Yemenite pronunciation (which, I think(??), is considered to be closest to Ancient Hebrew), they have a LOT more phonemes. So starting with that:

    A Roman legionnaire is sitting around, shining a lantern into the darkness, watching for enemies. One suddenly appears; namely, Kim Jong-un, who is soaring overhead on a giant flying lantern. The legionnaire calls for help, and who should arrive but a tyrannosaurus rex, nibbling on a magazine which he keeps in his mouth, and he dispatches the dictator easily. The Roman is so grateful for T. Rex’s help that he knights him on the spot, declaring him Sir Tyrannosaurus, but he doesn’t have a sword for the ceremony, so he squirts ketchup all over him instead. Abraham Lincoln, who is also in the area, comes by to celebrate – he is a fast friend of the tyrannosaurus, as he shares the dinosaur’s quirk of nibbling on magazines.

    Which gives us:
    Roman — R
    sitting — S
    lantern — L
    Kim Jong-un — K
    flying — F
    lantern — L
    tyrannosaurus — T
    nibbling — N
    magazine — M
    Roman — R
    knights — K
    ketchup — K
    Lincoln — L
    nibbling — N
    magazines — M

    Notably for me, none of the “Y”s worked in there, so let’s throw those out. What vowel system are we working with??

    R-S-L-K-F-L-T-N-M-R-K-K-L-N-M-T-SH-N-K-Y-K-Y-F-S-N-D-R-G-L-S-D-T-H-N- … -M-M-M-M-M.

    So we currently have:

    Kim Jong-unKnightKetchup
    T. Rex??

    (This is supposed to be an HTML table. If it doesn’t work, I’ll comment with a |-version of it.)

    I’d also like to comment that just because it’s Hebrew, doesn’t mean vowels don’t make any difference — there are words that differ in only vowels (e.g. “IM”=Ayin-Mem=”with” and “AM”=Ayin-Mem=”nation”). It’s easy to say “well, restrictions on Names”, though.

    ANYWAYS. Somebody check my work? Carry it further?

    • -_- says:

      Agh, the table didn’t work. Okay:

      K|Kim Jong-un|Knight|Ketchup
      T|T. Rex|?|?

      … that isn’t much better.

    • -_- says:

      Actually, I’ll carry it a bit further.

      These are letters grouped into threes — we’ve seen that before.

      Specifically, M-S-S and A-R-N.

      Looking at those, we get:
      M-S-S: ?-Sitting-?
      A-R-N: ?-?-?

      Okay, nothing yet. (Unless we get hints to other bits of his mnemonic in other parts of the story? … anybody up for a fruitless dig?) But something worth paying attention to…

      Anyone got anything else?

    • gavriel ben yaakov says:

      The Ashkenazi pronunciation still has two separate t-sounds; the tav still exists as long as the letter holds a dagesh.

      Additionally, the velar fricatives are intended to be different sounds, usually transliterated as “CH” or “H” for chet and “KH” for khaf – a much harder sound than the former.

      • -_- says:

        Right. I knew that. In my defense, I was rushing.

        The Velar fricatives are only different sounds in Yemenite and Ancient Hebrew pronunciations (and maybe some other ones I haven’t heard of?). Ashkenazi Hebrew and Modern Hebrew don’t distinguish. I’m pretty sure I said somewhere that I was only doing it based on the Ashkenazi and Modern Hebrew that I know, ’cause I don’t know others. (And if we are counting that — I know that Yemenite Hebrew distinguishes between a lot more — like, e.g., Gimel with and without a dagesh (One of them is close to the English ‘J’).)

        • gavriel ben yaakov says:

          I was taught Modern Hebrew but decided to pronounce it with the Ashkenazi dialect a few years back, and many of my teachers tried to explain the difference between the khaf and the chet. Is that strange?

          I don’t know if it makes sense to assume that Yemenite Hebrew is all that close to the Ancient dialect. Its isolation doesn’t guarantee its authenticity.

          • -_- says:

            I don’t think the theory is “islolated => not changed”, I think it’s that “Yemenite Hebrew has a sound for almost every single varition, which Ancient Hebrew would probably also have” combined with other ways of reconstructing Ancient Hebrew pronunciation which yield similar to Yemenite.

        • Daniel says:

          Some Sephardi accents also distinguish chet and khaf; when I (very briefly) studied Biblical Hebrew that’s how I learned to pronounce it.

          Also, if anyone’s curious: in linguistic jargon, the khaf sound is a velar fricative, whereas the “softer” chet sound (in accents that have it) is a pharyngeal fricative.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I’d also like to comment that just because it’s Hebrew, doesn’t mean vowels don’t make any difference — there are words that differ in only vowels (e.g. “IM”=Ayin-Mem=”with” and “AM”=Ayin-Mem=”nation”).

      For a triliteral example: EREV and AREIV, “evening” and “raven”, respectively. Furthermore, variations in vowelization are precisely the way that Hebrew differentiates between different words that are based on a single consonantal root: e.g. “written”, and “writer” are not the same thing, though both are based on the root denoting the concept of writing. It therefore seems implausible to me that the vowels of a Divine name would be arbitrary.

      Furthermore, it doesn’t seem like they are intended to be arbitrary within the story: if they were, why would these names be quoted with consistent vowels throughout? In fact, why use vowels at all; if for ease of pronunciation, why not stick to a single vowel (e.g. AH, conventionally used for pronouncing Hebrew acronyms such as “Rambam”)?

      It’s easy to say “well, restrictions on Names”, though.

      Perhaps so, but the given reason “it’s Hebrew” sounds more general than that. It’s not obvious how a knowledge of Hebrew would tell someone how to pronounce a Divine name without more specific expertise in the phonology of Divine names.

    • Avigaïl Eshet-Chaïl says:

      Just as a little tip – because it’s late in the night and I don’t really have the concentration to really dig in what you’re trying to do, but I couldn’t ignore the assumption that “TS-H” never occurs without trying to roll it on my tongue.

      H(a)-TS-H(a)-R(a)-H הצהרה = declaration
      Also possible with other vowels, by using AHU”I אהו”י letters or by using nikud, as seen in the following conjugation: T(a)-TS-H(i)-R תצהיר
      And yes, it was tasty, thanks for asking :p

  8. Sammy says:

    That line about science being dead is just tragic. Reminds me of a similar bit early on in HPMOR, except then Harry is optimistic that science can be rebuilt, wheras in Unsong everyone just accepts that since God exists there just aren’t any laws of nature to discover. That line about Uriel needing ‘mystical energy’ to keep the world running implies the existence of some new principle that binds even supernatural beings. Maybe start looking there.

    • Daniel Armak says:

      It also implies that Uriel is going to run out, so better hurry up… Or, you know, just ask him.

    • Nomghost says:

      I actually just finished HPMOR for the first time, and reading the ‘science is dead’ part of this post gave me a vivid mental image of Harry tutting and lecturing Scott “no, there’s no reason why we can’t apply the laws of reason to these new phenomena.”

      • Murphy says:

        HEVP is still living in a mechanical universe, the rules don’t change on the whim of a thinking being.

        You can still do science but it becomes far far far harder and the conclusions become far less solid. Especially if the intelligent being starts taking interest in your experiments and decides to fuck with your head.

        • gavriel ben yaakov says:

          Interestingly, and correct me if I’m wrong, but we don’t actually have confirmation that any God exists in this world. It could very well be that the angels, the “names of God,” the significance of specific numbers, etc. are the same as other forces of nature like gravity, relativity, and the like.

          • Murphy says:

            Well Uriel appears to have root-level access to the world, is intelligent and can take an interest in the actions of individuals though mainly those who boil goats in their mothers milk.

          • Deiseach says:

            In this universe, gravity is something Uriel decided would be useful for his purposes so he created those laws. Now that the Celestial Machine is malfunctioning, gravity etc. are being kept going by Uriel.

  9. Ted Stevens says:

    The second time Aaron tries to use the Vital Name, he uses five MEHs instead of six. Well, one could be cut off by the ellipsis, but that seems unlikely given that the MEHs have previously been written out in full.

    Infallible memory? Hardly.

  10. dsotm says:

    There is a doctrine in Judaism which says that the rulings of important enough rabbis bind the heavens, very similar and possibly the origin of the catholic papal infallibility doctrine, so it makes sense that once the old rabbis have proclaimed that angles don’t understand Aramaic, they stopped understanding Aramaic.

    Even in a reality governed by the kabbalah and requiring active maintenance by an archangel the use of a mac as a gaming machine is highly unplausible.

  11. hnau says:

    “two in so short a time was a huge fluke”

    Come on, Aaron. You know better than that.

  12. NoSuchPlace says:

    I am really annoyed that AST is trying to ensoul Bob’s computer instead of it just preforming the computations and sending them to Aaron’s computer, besides being faster, easier and not requiring AST to look up things that have no legitimate use, this also has the fringe benefit of not creating a second doomsday device.

    This is of course assuming that computation and not speaker time is the bottle neck, but since AST wants to use his future wealth to buy a supercomputer and not a giant array of speakers, I assume this is the case.

    • dsotm says:

      AST is not of the skillz, not those skillz anyway.

    • If the bottleneck is the speaking of the candidate Names (rather than generating them) then that wouldn’t help. Then again that also implies that a beefier computer won’t actually speed things up, so maybe you’re right. They still want more computers for parallelizing the search though.

      A related point I’m confused about: what is the actual sensor a laptop has for detecting that a candidate Name is producing that holy glow / divine power?

      Relevant paragraph: “There’s no way to tell if a computer has a soul or not. But when you use a Name, especially a strong Name like this one, the warmth shoots through you, for a brief moment you feel Divine power, it’s not just nothing. It’s how people learn they’ve discovered a Name in the first place, it’s the thing whose computer-equivalent Llull is programmed to notice in order to detect hits. It was the thing I was definitely not feeling right now.”

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        A related point I’m confused about: what is the actual sensor a laptop has for detecting that a candidate Name is producing that holy glow / divine power?

        Someone in one of the comment threads speculated it was the camera.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I think this is the main reason why Aaron should have needed to write the program himself. I’d enjoy a description of Aaron’s struggles to build and program the correct name generating machine. As of now, Aaron is just a lucky® guy, who by coincidence® got hold of the ensouling name. Making him program the computer himself would give him somthing useful to do and turn him into a more sympathetic protagonist, although I’m pretty sure the current lucky-useless Aaron is exactly what Scott wants him to be.

        Besides being more satisfying to the overall narrative, if no one else had ever used a computer to successfully speak a name, then how would they know how to detect a new name? They might have conjectured the computer would glow with a divine light, and actually programing a camera to detect the divine glow would be possible, but it’d be very improbable for such an untested (untestable?) feature to work correctly the first time.

        • Seth says:

          The problem of debugging a program that cannot do what it was intended to do has been bothering me, too. It seems rather… miraculous that it apparently does work flawlessly.

          • Outis says:

            It just doesn’t make sense. Llull should not even have had such a feature.

            To even try writing it you would make Llull try to speak a known Name to find out what, if any, effects it can detect. You would quickly find out that it does not work. Once it’s clear that computers cannot speak Names, you would simply give up on adding the detection feature. There would be no way to even determine what it should look for.

            Unless, of course, you had it look for the *visible* effects of a name. You could use all sensors (camera, microphone, etc) with an anomaly detection model, or something more sophisticated. This would actually be useful in the Theonomic companies to detect a working name spoken by a drone, rather than relying on them to report it. OTOH, the more obvious solution to that issue would be to have multiple drones try each name, turning it into a Prisoner’s dilemma.

            But in any case, Scott has written himself out of that option by establishing that the program does not look for external effects, but for the (never seen before) internal effects.

      • Occam's Laser says:

        I’d bet you wouldn’t need a sensor at all. This is a world where words have power, and code is words–a suggestively named Boolean in your code should be sufficient! When the program finds a Name, isTranscendentNameOfGod will miraculously be set to true.

  13. Daniel Armak says:

    Speaking in Aramaic to hide from listeners who mysteriously don’t understand that language has Biblical precedence. 2 Kings 18:26: “Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.”

    (NIV. What Bible translation is usually quoted in Unsong?)

  14. ton says:

    >The Rosh (1250-1328) in Berachos (2:2) writes that this is an issue unique to Aramaic, because it is not a nice language. The question is why. Ma’adanei Yom Tov on the spot explains that this is because Aramaic isn’t its own language, but rather a distortion of Hebrew. He quotes a Rambam to this effect as well. Therefore Aramaic is not normally an acceptable language for prayer – not because it is difficult for God to understand it, but because it is not considered respectable.

    • From the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 12b:

      Did not Rab Judah say, One should never petition for his needs in Aramaic; and R. Johanan said: When one petitions for his needs in Aramaic, the Ministering Angels do not heed him, for they do not understand Aramaic

      • ton says:

        I’m not disputing that they said the angels didn’t understand Aramaic. I’m offering an explanation for why Aramaic was singled out that conflicts with your own.

      • Deiseach says:

        This is reminding me of the Traditionalist Catholics’ objection to the Novus Ordo and translating the Mass into the vernacular 🙂

        It’s even better because (as some reminded us all) the original language of Christian liturgies was Aramaic, and Syriac Aramaic is still the liturgical language of Syrian Orthodox and of the Catholic Maronite churches (though often replaced by Arabic).

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      By what standard Aramaic is a “distortion” of Hebrew but, say, Yiddish is not a distortion of German?

      • ton says:

        Yiddish can be a distortion of German, that wouldn’t mean you can’t pray in it. Hebrew is special, distorting it is bad. Other languages are mundane.

        Don’t have a source, though.

        • gavriel ben yaakov says:

          Evidence for why Hebrew is special can be seen in examining the commandment forbidding “vain name-taking.” In Hebrew, God must be referred to as “Hashem” – the name – or some other variation of one of God’s names when not in prayer or discussion, but in English or any other language one is free to say God, deus, etc.

  15. LHC says:

    Calling it now that the arc of this story is rediscovering the scientific method in a world plunged into a new intellectual dark age by the loud, public confirmation of the supernatural.

    • Deiseach says:

      Speaking from the unenlightened superstitious craven mud-eater side of the fence, this does not mean you need to “rediscover the scientific method”, it means theology re-takes her place as Queen of the Sciences.

      If the supernatural is plainly and verifiably real, then studying it and the rules and laws governing it is not a waste of time and intellectual effort. It is not a new Dark Age if the best intellects are turning to the study of kabbalah and theology, if the burning question of the day is “How long can the Planetary Intelligence maintain the world by means of its innate spiritual energy?”

      What you are saying is rather like saying the world has been “plunged into a new intellectual dark age by the loud, public confirmation of the scientific method” where people choosing to become scientists and investigate those fields of endeavour, instead of devoting their skills and intelligence to becoming Pokémon game masters as in the good old days.

      • Deiseach says:

        And since I’m reminded of the Angelic Intelligences, time for a favourite bit from Dante’s “Divine Comedy”; ‘Inferno’, Canto VII, in the Hollander translation:

        ‘Master,’ I said, ‘tell me more: this Fortune
        whom you mention, who is she that holds
        the world’s possessions tightly in her clutches?’

        And he to me: ‘O foolish creatures,
        what great ignorance besets you!
        I’ll have you feed upon my judgment of her:

        ‘He whose wisdom transcends all
        made the heavens and gave them guides,
        so that all parts reflect on every part

        ‘in equal distribution of the light. Just so,
        He ordained for worldly splendors
        a general minister and guide

        ‘who shifts those worthless goods, from time to time,
        from race to race, from one blood to another
        beyond the intervention of human wit.

        ‘One people comes to rule, another languishes,
        in keeping with her judgment,
        as secret as a serpent hidden in the grass.

        ‘Your wisdom cannot stand against her.
        She foresees, she judges, she maintains her reign,
        as do the other heavenly powers.

        ‘Her mutability admits no rest.
        Necessity compels her to be swift,
        and frequent are the changes in men’s state.

        ‘She is reviled by the very ones
        who most should praise her,
        blaming and defaming her unjustly.

        ‘But she is blessed and does not hear them.
        Happy with the other primal creatures,
        she turns her sphere, rejoicing in her bliss.’

      • LHC says:

        I’m not saying that a new intellectual dark age is the *rational* reaction to loud, public confirmation of the supernatural, dude. It is a believable one, though, and it seems to be what’s happened here, what with all the brooding about how science is dying or whatever.

        • Deiseach says:

          In this universe, religion happens to be true, not science. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. Plenty of people are happy to cheer the death of religion as an untrue hobble and shackle on human progress in our world; well, in Aaron’s world, science is the untrue hobble and shackle.

          Besides, your assumption there about an intellectual dark age is that only science is a proper use of the intellect – because, in our world, religion is a false belief system not based on facts etc. But in Aaron’s world, the study of theology and kabbalah has opened up an entire new realm of intellectual pursuits and is a worthy use of human effort and reason, because the supernatural is true and existent.

          • Deiseach says:

            For example, take the constraints on the possibilities for what can and can’t be Names, the combinations of letters and syllables.

            Researching and discovering these, in this universe, is as justifiable a use of intellectual enquiry as researching what combination of nucleotide sequences are feasible and what are junk.

            Saying that it’s a waste for all the best minds go into kabbalah (in Aaron’s world) is like saying that it’s a waste for all the best minds to become theoretical mathematicians in this world. Exchange the terms in your original post and you’ll see the underlying assumption you are still working on, which does not apply to Aaron’s world:

            (T)he arc of this story is rediscovering the theological method in a world plunged into a new intellectual dark age by the loud, public confirmation of the natural.

            In our world, saying “Thunder and lightning are caused by Thor” is a fairytale invented as a best-guess to explain natural phenomena by people who didn’t know the real reason, but now we know (thanks to science) that thunder and lightning happen because of [physics explanation I’m too lazy to look up and can’t remember off the top of my head].

            In Aaron’s world, the [physics explanation] is the fairytale, and the real explanation is that Thor (or Uriel) did do it.

            So spending time and mental effort on “science” (that exploded superstition) is the new intellectual dark age in Aaron’s world. Insert here all the sneers about theology your favourite New Atheists have posted online, only applying them to science 🙂

          • LHC says:

            “The scientific method” doesn’t refer to a particular fairytale explanation for everything, dude. It refers to the process of systematically and effectively seeking explanations for phenomena. It’s *exactly* as applicable in a world where religion is explicitly true as it is in ours. If thunder and lightning are products of Thor, then okay, how does that work?

          • Chrysophylax says:

            You’re confusing magisteria and methods. The scientific method literally can’t stop working in any causal universe – it’s just the social version of Bayes, and Bayes is built into the basic maths of causality. If you want to kill off science, you have to make your world out of something other than causes and effects (and I’m pretty sure it’s literally impossible to imagine a non-causal universe while using a causal brain).

            The scientific method doesn’t stop working. A lot of scientific theories stop being accurate descriptions of reality, because the laws governing reality changed when the crystal sphere broke; they were accurate for the appropriate period, appear to be very reliable excpet when Uriel is poking things, and may start working again if Uriel fixes the sphere. (Note that humanity has not gone extinct from tiny changes in chemistry and physics, so the laws we know must continue to apply almost all of the time. Perhaps they mostly breaks down on scales humans can easily visualise [or Scott just needs to have humans continue to exist]. I am not aware of any consistent way to have hydrocarbon fuels stop working without instantly killing all humans, for example, which means we’ve got to be throwing in occasional weird exceptions rather than making the fundamental laws change globally.)

            Maths is just a very precise language that’s useful for describing things unambiguously. if a thing is describable at all, it has to be mathematical structure, and all causal structures can be described with maths. If Uriel is made of causes and effects, he can be exactly specified with maths. The whole point of kabbalah is that reality has a hidden common structure, and that structure can definitely be written down with maths. That means you can still use maths and science to study it. Theology becomes a very important branch of science *if* you do it in ways compatible with the mathematical laws that govern evidence. If you don’t respect the maths, you’re wasting your time just as much as a real-world “scientist” who tries to patent pepetual motion machines.

    • Fhoenix says:

      Scientific method seems to be doing fine where it concerns the search for names. They clearly have some theory on what working names should sound like and that theory is verifiable.
      The problem is the rest of science. It could be that without the machine in the sky there is no general theory to base predictions on. You could still observe natural phenomenon, but not explain them in any meaningful way.
      Say, tomorrow electricity stops working and diamonds start breaking in milk. You can still somehow think despite a distinct lack of any current in your brain and lightning still falls from the sky (but it’s made of God’s wrath, a special substance that has only one application: killing you). No new chemical reactions occur in milk (in fact micro level does not exist anymore), the diamonds just break as if by magic. And that’s tomorrow. The day after rabbis declare that God is no longer angry. And all the goats are dead because Uriel hates their guts.

      That’s my take on breaking scientific method without breaking “cause and effect”. Feel free to poke holes in it.

  16. hnau says:

    Who or what is the Comet King? Some not-too-serious ideas:

    -One possible explanation for the Star of Bethlehem is Halley’s Comet. But if Jesus is identified as the Comet King, that would make Unsong’s theology even weirder than it already is.
    -Julius Caesar is a popular subject of mysticism, and “Caesar” and “comet” both come from (different) Latin words for “hairy”. The Comet King could be metaphorically related to Caesar.
    -Googling “world leaders comet” turns up this kabbalistic gem: Identifying either of the world leaders mentioned here with the Comet King is plausible given the timing, and would be good for a laugh or five.

    More seriously, I’m expecting the Comet King to be the analogue of one of those semi-messianic superman figures that Silicon Valley seems to like, e.g. Bill Gates / Steve Jobs / Elon Musk. My evidence for that is in the previous chapter, where going for a more powerful laptop is described as the kind of thing the Comet King would do. Also, it makes sense that someone who had such mastery of the Names might control a large theonomic corportation, and we haven’t heard of any such figure yet.

    Plausible? Not plausible? Any other ideas?

    • dsotm says:

      I’ve put my prediction on Jesus in the previous chapter, this one seems to support it further by saying that the Comet King came after the crack (rapture) has unleashed the devil. As I’m writing this it appears to me that the Comet King could be the Antichrist with Jesus making an appearance later or even being AST himself

    • Lambert says:

      Does he have any specific dates relating to him? I’ve checked Wikipedia and no comets with decade-century level periods come close to the Sun in 2017.

      • hnau says:

        Not that I remember. Of course his arrival, reign, and death took place between 1968 and 2017, and this chapter implies it wasn’t too close to either date. My money is on the 1990s and/or 2000s since I would have expected the Uriel chapter (set in 1990) to mention him otherwise. Maybe the comet he’s associated with was Shoemaker-Levy or Hale-Bopp? On the other hand, the whole ‘cracks in the sky’ thing makes me cautious about trusting astronomy here.

        • Daniel says:

          King Hale-Bopp, who attained forbidden knowledge after consuming an Applewhite, …

        • Susebron says:

          Scott mentioned that there’s a big discontinuity around 1974 (I think) as part of the thing about Peter Singer. That seems like a pretty natural date for all of this.

          • Susebron says:

            I can’t edit, but since Bill Gates was mentioned later down in the thread: Microsoft was founded in 1975, so it would fit the time frame if Bill Gates became the Comet King rather than the founder of Microsoft.

    • Daniel says:

      By Agrippa’s Latin gematria, which is apparently canon, “Comet King” = 245 = “Bill Gates”.

      Furthermore, Bill Gates was born in 1955, and Wikipedia informs us that in that year

      The movie adaptation of Evan Hunter’s novel Blackboard Jungle premieres in the United States, featuring the famous single “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets.

      Could this be a coincidence? Think about it: has anyone ever seen Bill Gates and Halley’s Comet in the same room together

      Furthermore, it now becomes obvious that BG’s fuller name William H. Gates III is a kabbalistic cipher: the “H” stands for “Halley’s Comet”, while “III” is a sly reference to the third letter of the Arabic alphabet, Jim, which stands for “Jala“.

    • Haplodiploidy says:

      The Comet King is Sohu. After she saw Adam Kadmon, she needed a public persona to start UNSONG, so she changed her appearance using celestial kabbalah.

      • rossry says:

        1) “On a Cloud” occurs in 1990, a conveniently appropriate time for the coming of the Comet King.

        2) “Dark Satanic Mills includes “Gebron and Eleazar’s classic textbook says that only four kabbalists have ever gazed upon Adam Kadmon bare. Rabbi Isaac Luria. The archangel Uriel. The Comet King. And an eight year old girl.” It is possible that this is a clever way of hiding the fact that two of those are the same (and the fourth person is AST? Not that G&E would know that, but Tinac Bnieac…), but it seems not particularly polished to admit of that reading.

        3) Nevertheless, the possibility of Sohu being at least contemporary with the Comet King is worth considering. Also, her name means “star”, synonymous to “comet”, and Tinac Bnieac.

  17. One Time Use says:

    Any other frum people reading this? I would love to discuss the way this story is making me feel (uncomfortable, mostly) with others who have my perspective.

    • dsotm says:

      Not frum by a long shot but would love to hear why it makes you uncomfortable

      • One Time Use says:

        It’s disturbing to read a story that treats things I believe to be real and true as world-building ingredients for a fantasy/sci-fi adventure. The fact that I’m really enjoying doesn’t help.

        • And I am (sort of) sorry about that. I’m not religious, but I do want to be respectful to Judaism and I’ve tried to avoid, for example, being too flippant about any actual Names, or anything that puts God Himself in a ridiculous or negative light.

          I forgive myself for mining Judaism as elements of a sci-fi book because in a sense I’m also using San Jose, President Nixon, and Apollo 8 as elements of a sci-fi book. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t respectable.

          I feel kind of bad about bringing up the issue with Aramaic and the angels, but you have to admit it’s a little funny.

          • One Time Use says:

            I studied the Talmud for 7-8 hours a day for close to 8 years, believe me when I say I know how funny it can get. I have no issue with you writing this story using these elements; just because these things are sacred to me and not to be trifled with doesn’t mean they have to be like that for you.

            The goal of my post wast to hopefully find some commiseration, not complain.

          • Samm says:

            Yeah, I only just realised you killed Jim Lovell! Atheists have their hero-figures too

          • Ninmesara says:

            Well, nowhere in the text does it say that the astronauts died in the crash… Maybe they all transfigured somehow and their triple-soul merge turned them into a single superior being, capable of seeing the kabbalah naked with their own eyes. Jim Lovell didn’t die. He merely ascended to a higher plane of existence and became part of the the Comet King.

          • Ninmesara says:

            After crashing through the machine, the Comet King descended to earth in a trail of blazing glory, inside the command module glowing from the adiabatic compression of air against the walls of the command module, ultimately landing on the Pacific, that swallowed the heavenly fires; a being wrought not from mortal flesh but from the heavens themselves.

          • Daniel says:

            Ninmesara, that is my very favourite theory and I’m going firmly believe in it no matter what Scott says 🙂

        • dsotm says:

          I can see how that can be, I guess you can take some solace in how disturbing it is for some non-religious people to see entire societies believing in the reality of things they feel might as well have been taken out of a fantasy/scifi adventure world and a one with gratuitous over-reliance on deus ex machina as a plot device at that.

          • One Time Use says:

            I wasn’t really looking for sympathy. I am not offended by this in any way and have no problem with Scott for writing this.

          • Be nice, dsotm. SSC commenting policy is in effect here.

          • dsotm says:

            Sorry if that sounded too strong, I’m not endorsing this view (though I admit that I at least somewhat did when I was younger) – I really think that looking at it from this point would help OneTimeUse to rid himself of the discomfort and continue enjoying this without qualms. The part about deus-ex-machine was to say that keeping God outside/above the story is a good idea even from purely literary perspective.

        • Ninmesara says:

          What exactly makes you uncomfortable? Just curious on what your thought processes might be.

        • LHC says:

          In the opposite boat where I wish more stuff closer to my own religious points of interest made it in. Definitely really enjoying it, though, and it’s not like weird fringe Judaism is an *unrelated* religion to weird fringe Christianity.

    • Clara says:

      Yes, and yes. I’m not exactly frum – more frum-adjacent, getting to the point where I should just admit I’m full-fledged ba’al teshuva – but I definitely would like to talk about it. The best way to contact me is probably through tumblr (an-animal-imagined-by-poe)

    • -_- says:

      I’m not frum — atheistic-apatheist Modern Orthodox — so my parts that I’m uncomfortable/frustrated with are probably different than yours, but there might be some overlap.
      Mine is primarily, like, that there’s so much that’s Very Christian about the story that people are thinking is just Universal Judeo-Christian(UGH) Theology when it’s not and generally that this story is basically the personification of the term “Judeo-Christian”; that so much of the stuff that does come from Judaism just doesn’t make sense in a Jewish framework; and stuff like that. (And coming from that, there’s a little of “well if I’m trying to participate and overanalyze stuff, can I expect this part to be Jewish or is it gonna be Christian? We just. don’t. know.)

      I don’t know how much of that overlaps. And even stuff that’s not on that list, I might also be like “oh yeah that too” if you mention it.

      ((D’you wanna hold the conversation here in the comments, or go somewhere else?))

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I agree that it seems weirdly Christian, and I expect I’m much less familiar with this than you…

      • One Time Use says:

        Here’s fine. And yeah, I agree with the basic thrust of what you’re saying. I am slightly concerned that people are going to come away from this thinking certain things about Jewish theology that are just not true.

        • -_- says:

          Yeah… Like I’m sure that Scott knows when he’s pulling from Judaism vs. when he’s pulling from Christianity, but I don’t trust that even a majority of the readers to know which is which.

          That’s why I was pushing for him to, since he’s planning to mix up Christianity and Judaism, also add in Islam as well. (Especially since early Kabbalah developed alongside Islamic Sufism, and literally the first Amazon result for “Sufism” has an entire chapter on Names of God.)
          Like that wouldn’t make it any clearer which parts were which, but it would make it clearer that there are a bunch of different things getting muddled. I think.
          (And, like, giving a good smack to the people who were all “Islam is Different and Barbaric” in the comments to interlude gimel…)

          But like I kinda really wish he had some sort of disclaimer? or something? (Also about “Kabbalah in Unsong is as about as related to actual Kabbalah as real mathematics is related to whatever the heck happens in the final third of Anathem”. Because, well, yeah…)

          • One Time Use says:

            I expect Scott trusts his audience to understand that this isn’t an example of authentic kabbalah, and he’s mostly right to feel that way. But, this is the internet, and if the internet had a “national sport” it would be competitive taking things out of context.

            The responsibility to avoid and prevent chilul hashem is something I take seriously IRL, it’s all just a lot fuzzier online.

          • -_- says:

            (EDIT: Sorry messed up copying that link:
            here. )

          • -_- says:

            Yeah, I guess you’re probably right.

            Is the possibly chilul hashem you’re worried about only the “Judaism very much doesn’t work like that”, however huge that gets, or are there other things, too?

          • One Time Use says:

            That’s mostly it, for now. We’ll have to see what fresh horrors the next chapter brings 🙂

          • -_- says:

            Heh. *grin*

            Maybe we should form some general “grin and bear it” conversation space for discussing and complaining at Unsong from a specifically Jewish perspective.

          • One Time Use says:

            I like it. An Unsong nudnik’s club.

          • Fhoenix says:

            Can you give examples of things you are afraid people will think are actual Kabbalah but it is not.

            I assume that quotes from books written before the Event are true and history of the world before the Event matches our own. Everything else I try to assume to be made up or affected by the event to such a degree that it could be vastly different in our world.
            But I am interested in what I could be mistaking for a fact, maybe subconsciously.

            In general I think it would be interesting to read what religious people think about the story.

          • Deiseach says:

            In general I think it would be interesting to read what religious people think about the story.

            I’m Catholic (“No!” you all gasp in amaze, “We could never have guessed!”) so I’m not going to comment about the Judaism in the story, other than to say I’m fairly clear that this is not how actual kabbalah is done; I’m taking the background of this universe to be more or less Western Esoteric Tradition which is, as various have pointed out, a bit of a mess with bits and scraps swiped from everywhere, never mind complete romantic re-invention of supposedly Hidden Oriental Wisdom.

            In general, when it comes to depiction of religion (and I’m going to stick to Catholicism here mostly) in popular media, be that in television/movies or SF/Fantasy (where religious SF/Fantasy is a niche in, or sub-genre of, the genre), I have decided it’s easier on my blood pressure to be thick-skinned about it and not take offence where offence is not intended, even when they get things badly wrong; if they’re trying to be respectful or indicate that in-universe this stuff has real meaning and power, then I’ll give them a pass on things, even big things.

            It’s a different matter when they’re deliberately being insulting or doing the condescending ‘native wisdom and traditions of the Magical Native American/Wise Old Oriental type is true and real and effective and should be treated respectfully, but Christianity is all man-made and power-grubbing priestcraft and has no basis as anything other than made-up stories’ thing; an example I have in mind is one authoress who, doubtless, would have screamed the house down in disapproval over the idea that, say, the souls of unbaptised infants would go to Limbo but not enter Heaven, but had no problem at all with having a Native American character casually explain that wandering ghosts encountered by her were because they had died without paint and so could not enter into the afterlife. It’s not Christianity (especially majority American Protestant Christianity) you see, so that means it’s different and it’s okay for a discriminatory afterlife based on a ceremony.

            I have banged my head off the desk over things such as Dan Brown “What the – that is not how that works, that is not right at all!” but it doesn’t help that from the believers’ side there equally have been works that made me bang my head (e.g. the “Left Behind” novels which, from the description, have me going “That is not even theology, what the heck?”)

          • Two McMillion says:

            > In general I think it would be interesting to read what religious people think about the story.

            Loving it so far (fundamentalist evangelical Christian here).

    • Jeremy Jaffe says:

      I’m frum but this story doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all – to be fair though I don’t know anything about kabbala

  18. So the Vital Name can only be used by a person once? Perhaps because it binds the speaker’s soul to an object?

    • typicalacademic says:

      But then Ana would have been able to do it. I’m betting either he accidentally ensouled the whole Internet, and anyone who happens to play with Llull will start getting names, or you can’t ensoul something that hasn’t been named in the pedestrian sense.

    • Tadrinth says:

      Close; the name can only be used once, ever. It probably binds God himself into the object you’re ensouling.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Well, humans are ensouled and appear to be able to make more ensouled beings through sexual reproduction. Aaron should rebuild Sarah as a replicating von Neumann machine, then take a pice of it, build a partner out of it and them have them replicate through sexual reproduction (nor actual hot computer-on-computer action, just some mixing of source code with interleaving of program routines with some random source code mutations added for diversity). Then he would get an army of computers ready to tell him the names. The problem is that if some mutation might make them particularly fond of paperclips.

  19. Ninmesara says:

    Why exactly did the spaceship crack Uriel’s machine? Was the entire sphere a machine, or were the astronauts unlucky (LOL, coincidences) to hit the (possibly invisible) machine? If so, then why didn’t the Mariner Venus probe (which according to Scott) is canon in universe break the sphere? Where exactly is the sphere? Between the Earth and the Moon? If so, why didn’t they break it on their way up? And lastly, what is the meaning of the omens?

    One possibility is that the cystal sphere is NOT the crystal sphere, and was already broken when the astronauts went through. The actual machine was broken by the Soyuz 1 flight, which unlike what official propaganda might have told you failed NOT because the capsule’s parachute failed to open but because the spacecraft hit the Celestial Machine. The soviets must have gained valuable intelligence from the impact, which they never shared with the rest of the world. This disrupted the simulation of the universe and started the omens. The next body to go beyond low earth orbit (chronologically the Apollo 8 spacecraft) then broke the sphere, since it was no longer protected by the Celestial Machine. This actually makes little sense as it doesn’t explain why they didn’t break it on their way up, but it is too good a theory for me to just let it pass.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I suspect the various omens may have been Uriel trying to send a warning (after Mariner and etc.), rather than anything actually breaking. Scott suggested that it was something in particular about Apollo 8 that caused it to break, not just how far out it went. I think the simplest hypothesis, whether or not it’s right, is just that trying to send people (souls) outside the bounds caused the problem — and that, as I said, Uriel was attempting to warn humanity not to do this.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I like your explanation and I think I’ve suggested it before, but it is still not very convincing… Let us hope Scott will provide an official explanation for this

    • Anonymous says:

      I think the breaking of the crystal sphere must have to do with the fact that the Apollo 8 astronauts were reading Genesis.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I don’t think the machinery of the universe pays much attention to words spoken in the English language, unless the sequence of sounds happens (by coincidence®) to be a hidden name of God.

  20. 271 says:

    I liked somebody’s theory last week [citation needed] that Ana is a secret antagonist, and might mess with Aaron’s computer while he’s away — not sure how that would stop the Name from working, but maybe somehow.

    I also definitely feel that not-being-online is important somehow (or will become important), in an AI Box way

    • Murphy says:

      Hard to be a secret antagonist when someone can read your thoughts.

      • HonoreDB says:

        If you want to be ridiculously paranoid, note that we only have Ana’s word that this was a marriage ritual, and not something less symmetrical, with the telepathy being voluntary on one side and not on the other. Something you’d use when swearing yourself to lifelong servitude.

        I don’t think that’s where this is going, but paranoia’s fun.

        • -_- says:

          Maybe, but on the other hand Halachically the servitude ends at a Shmita year (every seven years).

          There is, in fact, a ritual for extending it to life — but nobody got their ear pierced by a doorpost.

        • Ninmesara says:

          When Ana proposed the ceremony, she had no idea Aaron would learn the Ensouling name, so it doesn’t make much sense that she would get much from reading his mind.

          Unless she wants to test whether he is an UNSONG agent in disguise, tasked with infiltrating their cell. Maybe she does it to anyone she deems suspicious that tries to get into Ithaca. Paranoia IS fun.

  21. SEG says:

    “broke a huge celestial machine belonging to the archangel Uriel that bound reality by mathematical laws”
    Ironically, this implies that there might have been some truth to the medieval idea that the movements of the stars control physical reality.

  22. phisheep says:

    Maybe the ensouling Name doesn’t work on Bill’s machine because Bill’s machine *already* has a soul? How much do we know about this Bill guy anyway – he sounds a bit shady.

    • somnicule says:

      >I fiddled with the settings of Llull, told it to investigate just one Name, the Moon-Finding Name we had discovered last night. The speaker let out its strange hum. There was no output. Bill’s computer had failed to detect it as a Name.

      Wouldn’t it have recognized the name if it had been ensouled?

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t think Bill is shady; he seems to be a typical member of that particular little UU cell. Very smart, thinks he’s smarter than he is, doesn’t like to be challenged on what he does or does not know, has a theory of how things work and shoves it on everyone who’ll sit still long enough to listen, and very prickly when it comes to perceived slights.

      Aaron may be dismissive of him (“I had forgotten the most important thing about Bill, which was that he liked to think he was smarter than everybody else, and would pretend to know more than you about everything”) but as someone with that kind of magpie mind myself, he is right to be careful (” so on the off chance he did know something, it was going to very quickly become clear that I didn’t“) about trying to be too clever-clogs.

      Magpie minds do go “Oooh, shiny!” when picking up all kinds of obscure bits’n’pieces of trivia, and often we find we know things without knowing how we know them (the amount of times I’ve recognised some reference or explained something, then gone “Wait a minute, how the hell did I know that?”…) – we may be shallow and have a very surface knowledge of the subject, but if we don’t know very much in-depth, we do know a surprising lot in quantity: a little about everything. Jacks of all trades if masters of none 🙂

      Aaron might be surprised what Bill might be able to tell him about why the Vital Name isn’t working, if he just asked (or even dropped a hint).

  23. Fhoenix says:

    Everybody is inventing reasons for the Name not to work in that particular situation.
    I’ll just go and bet that God/Uriel did something and revoked the admin pri… power of that Name.

    That or Sarah has quietly achieved full AI status and subjugated the laws of reality.

    • Deiseach says:

      It would be great if Sarah was now aware and using a Name she had discovered to prevent other self-aware computers.

      It may be that, as Ana fears, God has intervened. Given that Aaron was or is planning to ensoul enough computers to discover enough Names to make him Emperor of the World, IF (and we’re still not quite sure on this) the Vital Name and ensoulment renders the machine sentient and sapient, then it is a person not a thing. Therefore, Aaron’s and Ana’s plan depends on enslavement of sentient beings.

      This could, ironically, be exactly what all the UUs were complaining about re: theodicy – why doesn’t God intervene to stop bad things happening? Well, God has (possibly) done exactly that here – actively intervened to prevent Aaron and Ana creating new lives for the express purpose of being slaves (not children).

      Okay, I feel a New Testament verse (or three) coming on here:

      John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

      Epistles of St Paul:

      Galatians 4: 6-8 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.

      Romans 8:15-16 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

      Having children is a big responsibility, Aaron and Ana. Are you sure you’re ready for it? 🙂

      • Cakoluchiam says:

        This is my running theory. If Sarah discovered a Counter-Name, she could easily have spoken it in response each time they attempted to ensoul Bill’s MacBook, since she was right in the room there with them.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Can a computer, just because it is self aeare, just choose to act against the way it was programed?

      • Fhoenix says:

        Ninmesara, in-universe it’s up to the author.
        In reality probably not, but we also probably would not be able to program a self-aware AI perfectly.

        • Ninmesara says:

          My question was about what would happen in universe, sorry is that wasn’t clear. I was expecting answers from the point of view of Unsong’s universe. For example, imagine that self awareness is granted by a soul that is external to the body but communicates somehow (through the pineal gland, for example, which the computer doesn’t have). In that case, the computer can “think” whatever it wants with the soul, but from an outsider (i.e. from a Turing test) it is forced to act according to its programing. Even if you hook it to some measuring equipment you get the same voltages as before the you added the soul. Humans might be special in that the pineal gland (for example) allows the soul to communicate back to the body, unlike Unsong’s computers. On some reflection, this is a pretty cool theory I should have proposed before.

          In the real world the question is probably currently unanswerable as we have no agreed upon definition of what “self aware” is. But since you brought up the real world question, I can give you my position. I think I am prepared to believe that self awareness (which I can’t define) is a property of the computational system we are discussing (animal, human, computer, black hole), and that “adding” self awareness to the system will need some rewiring/reprogramming and will change the values you can measure (voltages in neurons or circuits, amplitudes of gravitational waves in the case of black holes). I do not believe in souls, and I don’t think the phenomenon of self awareness can be explained outside of the electrical/chemical phenomena of the brain or computer (that is, no souls, auras, chakras, magnetic waves, quantum voodoo). I could write at length about my opinions on the topic of counsciousness and self awareness, but I’d need to read more about it, to avoid reinventing the wheel (with mistakes) here.

          • Fhoenix says:

            If the “thinking soul” could not change voltage it would not be able to communicate with us. Nobody would be able to tell it’s self-aware and effectively it would not be.
            To show images on the screen or to use the speakers it would have to send signals to those devices, and if it could do that it would be literally against prior programming, which dictates what signals the computer should send and when. Even if thinking could not be measured by equipment, the act of communication would have to be.
            Unless the magic of the Name completely ignores the physics of the hardware and images just appear on the screen like a mass hallucination/illusion.
            Really, it would be up to the author how it works.

          • null says:

            Does the computer have a pineal gland?

  24. Decius says:

    Does the ensouling name give a soul to a subject, or does it give souls to subjects?

  25. Murphy says:

    Hypothesis, since Uriel was able to bind the world to mathematical laws he does indeed have some limited power to “lock out” words though it’s not established whether he can lock out specific words or if he has to lock them all out.

    Presumably he can’t do it again on a grand scale when facing the active,knowing opposition of entities like the devil.

    I also want to know whether the rulings of rabbis still bind the heavens. If a bunch of them get together and make a ruling on something trivial but unknown to them does it turn out to be true.

    If they rule that the devil cannot pronounce Shibboleth (without knowing the opposite for certain) does he suddenly lose the ability to do so?

  26. HonoreDB says:

    Fun fact! The concern that one personal computer would develop a soul, share it over the internet, and cause the apocalypse by giving individual PC owners too much power predates not just the internet, but the personal computer itself. See Murray Leinster’s 1946 *A Logic Named Joe*.

  27. Different T says:

    Hypothesis: Ana did something. Something is “off” with her. Consider how Aaron described his mother earlier. And then he did a SCABMOM ritual with Ana. Coincidence?

    Looking at the sidebar of slatestarcodex, the author is familiar with many issues that point to there being something really “off” with the entire UU group.

    For instance, Aaron romantically loves Ana but she does not romantically love him. Add that he considers her (and everyone) as equals (though he struggles with it). What does this equate to?

    Has the author said if this is a horror story?

    • null says:

      Would you be willing to spell out the implication?

      • Different T says:

        Spelling out only adds value if referent concepts are understood.

        From commenter g:

        So it’s appropriate for the chapter in which we learn that in the Unsongverse natural causes really are an artefact of spiritual ones;

        Remember that the theonomic corps developed the way to successfully utilize names without directly stating them (hold the correct name in the mind, but not directly saying).

        Still going with the hypothesis about Ana.

    • Deiseach says:

      This particular UU cell, and I have no idea if it’s generally representative of the UU/La Résistance as a whole, couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Maybe that’s why UNSONG haven’t bothered kicking in the door and hauling them all away for a nice chat while seated in the comfy chair. You don’t need to see any deeper horrors than grandiose notions and lack of ability to put them into action – they’re all extremely smart but they haven’t the common sense to come in out of the rain.

      Aaron getting his hands on what seems like a potential game-changing Name (dreams of becoming World Emperor and all) is what is so dangerous; now this bunch of no-hopers have access to real power. Cue the Apocalypse! 🙂

      • Different T says:

        This particular UU cell, and I have no idea if it’s generally representative of the UU/La Résistance as a whole

        My comment about UU was referencing the Rev. Stevens ideology or whatever it would be called.

        they’re all extremely smart but they haven’t the common sense to come in out of the rain.

        Don’t recall which chapter, but the Comet King and the president (presumably of the US) are the creators of UNSONG. The same Comet King that “fought” Thamiel.

  28. Eneasz says:

    > “Pass,” she said, infuriatingly.

    I spent too long trying to figure out the Swiftly here. I’m still not 100% convinced there isn’t one I’m just not seeing…

  29. Quixote says:

    Another really good one. I loved the digression about what languages the Angels speak. Thanks

  30. Jeremy Jaffe says:

    I’m going to assume that the rabbi’s ad-hoc decision that angles don’t understand aramaic is what caused the angles to not understand aramaic

  31. Pickle says:

    Not quite a continuity issue, but a potential issue of consistency:

    >I fiddled with the settings of Llull, told it to investigate just one Name, the Moon-Finding Name we had discovered last night.

    >I tried the Moon-Locating Name from this morning. A big bright arrow appeared pointing toward the western horizon.

    In the first instance it is referred to as the Moon-Finding Name, discovered last night. In the second it is the Moon-Locating Name, discovered this morning. As a newly-discovered Name, I suppose it doesn’t have a canonical title, and “deep in the wee hours” may be construed as either “last night” or “this morning,” so this isn’t *wrong* as such, but it is stylistically strange.

  32. Good Burning Plastic says:

    Speaking about the sky crashing…

  33. purpleposeidon says:

    Is Sarah the Mehssiah?

  34. So yeah, I really should be asleep now, but since nothing is a coincidence and all:

    Somebody on IRC asked what’s up with the title. So I suggested that maybe it’s just a placeholder for something with the consonants (T)PVM, or possibly shuffled around so that the nouns and verbs align with the scheme presented in the text.

    Then they straight up googled PVM and found Parallel Virtual Machine, and now I’m bumping up the hypothesis about accidentally ensouling the Internet (I forget if it was specifically mentioned either way if Sarah was on-line at the time). Perhaps a big soul burned out the name 😛 (Obviously, the loaner computer would’ve been off-line at the time.)

    Sleep, now.

    • g says:

      The title (like all the others, I think) is taken from William Blake. This one’s from Milton. “And every Natural Effect has a Spiritual Cause, and Not / A Natural: for a Natural Cause only seems, it is a Delusion / Of Ulro: & a ratio of the perishing Vegetable Memory.”

      So it’s appropriate for the chapter in which we learn that in the Unsongverse natural causes really are an artefact of spiritual ones; and of course “the perishing … Memory” is what poor Aaron fears he may be suffering from when he can’t get the Name to work right.

      (Ulro = the world we’re in now = a land of delusion, selfishness, and barren fruitless rationality = the realm of the senses = hell. Natural causes are inferior to spiritual because “the Natural power continually seeks & tends towards Destruction, ending in Death”, among other reasons. Vegetable = material, near enough.)

  35. Luke Somers says:

    Guess: the name doesn’t work more than twice on any individual type of target. Aaron’s work machine and ‘Sarah’ are the Adam and Eve of computers, and they’ll have to get jiggy (Giga-ey?) in *some* fashion for there to be any more.

    • rossry says:

      Adam did not use it at work; he only got the intro video.

      • Luke Somers says:

        Oh, there’s an ‘intro’ without invoking? I guess that’s how it’s safe to search for names without risk of devastating effect.

        Well, then, they need to cannibalize the first one to use it a second time on the part, which will become a new whole.

  36. Mirra says:

    Wild speculation time:

    The vital name requires all members of a SCABMOM ritual to be aware/near. Ana and Erica tried the ritual once, and it might still be in effect for them. Erica is presumably asleep. The only successful invocation of this name had Erica interrupt the naming. Point in favor: SCABMOM has the word MOM=”parent” in it and nothing is a coincidence. Point against: intro video didn’t seem to have any conditions. Meta point against: might be verified/refuted too readily unless Erica is removed for reasons.

    Speaking of the intro, why doesn’t our memorytastic protagonist remember the other 2 names spoken to the first human in the in the intro video?

    Other questions (that might have been asked in another thread, I’m sorry): If “God is one” as our favorite fallen angel wants us to believe, then is the Kabbalistic interpretation of this just the numerology surrounding Aleph and it’s symbolism? And if “Nothing is a coincidence,” and Aleph represents nothingness, then is this claiming God is a coincidence? Is that too blasphemous, or is that conviction what allows the devil to exist? Also, why does Aleph represent both “nothingness” and “1”? Seems oddly binary.

    Also, what is with klipot why does it work, and could it’s mechanism be part of the reason this name is failing?

    Wild speculation and questions over, very much a fan of the story. Looking forward to the rest.

  37. Seventeen17 says:

    Even God took a day of rest after ensouling Adam. Aaron conspicuously won’t.

  38. Eve Matteo says:

    I checked the name with the original in the first chapter, and it was exactly right.

    My favorite theory is that Sarah has a name, while the new mac does not.

    My second favorite theory is that Sarah has a name, and Aaron feels a connection to Sarah, while the new mac has neither a name nor a connection to any ensouled being.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      Agreed. I haven’t read up to the most recent chapters yet, but giving a computer a personal name is a huge Chekhov’s gun that has to be important, especially in a story about Names.

      • Nemo says:

        Does anyone not name their computers? Is that a thing, not naming one’s electronics? I’m nervous that my anthropopsychistic tendencies are making me the odd one out, now.

  39. Late mention, two typos:


    (Though latter I could see as being intentional, so disregard if you wish, of course!)

  40. Sigivald says:

    Why did the rabbis’ weird ad hoc decision so perfectly correspond to reality?

    Obvious answer: Because like Most Holy speaking for Tarim, they were actually dictating reality.

    (A href=””>Ref and also this.)

  41. GingersCantUseNames says:

    Major number, loci and linking systems masterrace(s)

  42. ... says:

    In Chapter 5, he says when at the job where he met Ana, he “sat behind a register and studied Talmud and Zohar most of the day.” Here, apparently, he only learned Aramaic after he met Ana, “so that [they] could gossip as much as [they] wanted and the angels couldn’t listen in.” But most of the Talmud is Aramaic, so he obviously had known Aramaic before he met Ana.

    • R Flaum says:

      Or he read it in translation.

      • ... says:

        That’s possible, but I was discounting it because translation would utterly ruin all the kabbalah (as well as all of the puns and most of the logical connections). Or at least the gematria-based kabbalah. I was also discounting it because it feels to me as though nobody whose entire career (and, apparently, life) is based on these texts would put off learning one of the two to three languages most important to that study.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I’m not sure this fully addresses the question, but it’s probably fair to say that the sort of Aramaic fluency acquired by Talmud and Zohar study would likely be inadequate for all-purpose gossip.

  43. Somnulous says:

    While I’m sure these points will be clarified when I read further:

    1. Aaron should have slept on it. He might have thought to try teating the …meh name on Sarah.

    2. My theory (probably too simple) is that he needs to add another “Meh” to the end of the name. One for each inanimate thing given a soul. Which means there are 6 other ensouled items in the world. I wonder what they could be…

  44. ItThing says:

    It’s Hebrew, so the vowels don’t count.

    ………Excuse me?
    I’m not even going to ask how the euphemism Aaron remembers vowel sounds if he doesn’t include them in his mnemonics.
    I know Scott, someone who may or may not know the Hebrew writing system that well, but who regardless is writing elaborate and painstakingly researched science-fantasy based on the Kabbalah, can’t possibly need this explained. So something really weird is going on. Disclaimer – I only know modern Hebrew and very little about the Kaballah, so maybe I’m missing something, so if anyone knows please point it out to me. It could also be that this is resolved later on in the story but right now I’m getting frustrated and I need to vent.

    The user ‘-_-‘ has already reacted to this a bit in his comments, but I’m going to break it down in more detail for other readers.

    Even without nikkud, the Hebrew writing system has several letters that strongly imply specific vowel sounds with their presence – Aleph, Yud, and Vav. Aleph can technically represent any vowel, within certain constraints, but is most strongly associated with ‘ah’. Yud represents ‘ee’ on its own or as part of a diphthong. Yud also represents the ‘Y’ sound ‘yuh’ – which is usually considered a consonant, and so should not be absent even if we accept Aaron’s statement that “vowels don’t count”. Likewise, Vav is associated with ‘oh’ and ‘oo’, but also with the consonants ‘wuh’ and ‘vuh’ (at least in modern Hebrew).

    Knowing only this, it’s difficult to predict when these letters will be used and when they won’t. It depends on a complex system of spelling rules, many of them arbitrary, and some of which vary or are not universally agreed upon. Some words are even spelled differently depending on whether you have nikkud or not (all scripture does, but almost all other writing in Hebrew does not, unless it’s some unfamiliar word and you need to dot it up for your readers). There are many different ways one could transliterate the Names from this story, but some make more sense than others. By comparing fragments of the Names in this story to various Hebrew words, one gets a feel for which transliterations look right, which look weird, and which are definitely…inappropriate.

    One assumes all 22 letters of the alphabet are important in kabbalah, and we have already seen that these quasi-vowel letters – namely Aleph and Yud – have plot significance, so it seems very odd if Names do not include them. I doubt that the vowel sounds in the Names are arbitrary, because vowel sounds in Hebrew are not arbitrary (despite what one may conclude knowing that the Hebrew alphabet technically lacks true vowels). Furthermore – a lot of these sounds like AI in “AILE” appear to be either diphthongs or successive monophthongs. AFAIK, no amount of nikkud on its own can represent a diphthong or successive monophthongs – you’re definitely going to need Alephs, Yuds, and Vavs for those.

    You can get away with transcribing “ROS” using only Resh and whichever letter is standing in for ‘S’, sure; you don’t necessarily need a Vav there. It is not possible to transcribe “AILE” to Hebrew without including at least another letter besides Lamed. To me, the obvious way to transcribe it is Aleph-Yud-Lamed. If this were really Hebrew, I would even stick another letter at the end, usually Heh, (or ‘Ain if it were Yiddish), but I’m going to let this slide because I won’t assume that Names are strictly a form of Hebrew, Yiddish, or Ladino, but some other language using the Hebrew writing system.

    Another option is to ignore the dashes, whatever they mean, and rebracket the beginning of the Name to “ROSA-ILE” and then we might be able to get away with Resh-Sin-Yud-Lamed, the ‘A’ sound in ‘AILE’ having been transferred to the Sin with nikkud.

    I would like to try and transcribe the whole thing, but I won’t be able to take it much further than ‘-_-‘ has. We don’t know at this point in the story how ‘Ain, the Kaf/Qof distinction, the Taf/Tet distinction, or the Sin/Samekh distinction are represented in latinized Names. Qof really should be represented only by Q if you care at all about the original spelling, but as in the words ‘kabbalah’ and ‘nikkud’, common transliteration procedure neglects this. I really hate the convention that the velar fricative is represented by ‘ch’ rather than the obvious (to me) alternatives ‘kh’ or even ‘x’, but I assume that is the convention that Scott uses as it is the most common among Anglophone Jews. I’m not even going to go into what is known as the “beged kephet rules”. Suffice to say that in Hebrew, the letter Kaf for example is pronounced ‘kuh’ when it appears in some parts of a syllable or a word, and ‘khuh’ (velar fricative) in other parts. If I go by the beged kephet rules, I can deduce that the K in “MIRAKOI” is probably Qof and not Kaf, because I think if it were Kaf it would be a fricative, but in “KALANIEMI” it could be either one.

    But to get back to the subject of vowels, I would recommend transliterating “AILE” as Aleph-Yud-Lamed, “MIRAKOI” as Mem-Resh-Qof-Yud, and “KALANIEMI” as Kaf-Lamed-Nun-Yud-Mem, or maybe Kaf-Lamed-Nun-Aleph-Mem. That is to say, this is how I would do it if I were trying to assume as few Alephs, Yuds, and Vavs as possible. If I let my intuition be guided by typical Hebrew spelling, it gets way more complicated and that’s it I’m stopping here byyyyeee!

    • dsp says:

      You are, in fact, missing some information on both the Kabbalah and linguistics.

      The Kabbalah is concerned with what it believes to be the primordial usage of the Hebrew alphabet, which, then, must predate the invention of matres lectionis, the use of certain consonant letters for vowel sounds. More directly, the Torah, the text with the analysis of which the Kabbalah is most preoccupied, is written in ktiv haser, meaning that there are no matres lectionis by which to be led astray. All the letters are used for their consonantal values – and here you seem to be unaware that alef indicates a technical consonant, the glottal stop, so all letters have consonantal values and there is no need to exclude any of them from participating in names. The vowel sounds in names, of course, are probably not arbitrary, although since names cannot, presumably, be conjugated I suppose we can’t say with certainty; nevertheless, they would not be indicated in any way in a “canonical” Kabbalistic orthography.

      All that said, you are correct in stating that “AILE”, assuming the dash represents a syllable break, does at minimum require an alef for the onset glottal stop, and it does seem plausible that the “AI” is pronounced as two syllables and would thus justify a yud for the approximant /j/. If it is a diphthong, though, that wouldn’t demand any further letters because there are no consonants involved; the fact that niqqud doesn’t specify an encoding for the diphthong is totally irrelevant given that we aren’t using any niqqud anyway. However, it’s possible either that the dash isn’t a syllable break at all (and the AI is a diphthong), in which case the consonants are all represented and everything is fine, or, much more importantly, that this is only a mnemonic system, not an actual transliteration into Hebrew letters, and Aaron is allowed to decide which details he considers important to include in his own mnemonic. The point of a mnemonic is (or seems to be; I don’t need them, personally) to cue the memory you presumably already have, not to actually supply all the encoded information again. (This is also my objection to your second sentence.)

  45. teucer says:

    On a reread, it seems relevant that Ana got the Name from Aaron’s mind *before* he ensouled Sarah, which makes the Confounding more challenging.

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