aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 71: But For Another Gives Its Ease

Everybody already has enlightenment. Why did Buddha sit for six years, see a star, and then get enlightenment? That’s stupid! If you see a star, you get enlightenment now!
Ch’unsong Sunim

Evening, May 14, 2017
Fire Island

I.

Opening the door to the Captain’s cabin, Ana saw a small room, dark and unadorned, with only a bare wooden bed. The Captain sat upon it, writing something, pages of notes strewn all about. He looked up at Ana, his face unreadable through the dark glasses. She hesitated for just a second, then spoke.

“I know your True Name,” she said.

II.

The overt meaning of “Leviathan” is “a giant sea monster”.

The kabbalistic meaning of “Leviathan” is “the world”.

This we derive from gematria, where both Leviathan and Malkuth – the sephirah corresponding to the material world – have identical values of 496. 496 is a perfect number, from which we can derive that the world is perfect – helpful, since we probably wouldn’t derive that otherwise.

The analogy between the world and a sea monster cuts across faiths. The Norse speak of Jormungand, the World Serpent, who circles the earth to grasp its own tail. The Babylonians say that the heavens and earth were built from the corpse of the primordial sea dragon Tiamat. Even the atheists represent the cosmos as part of a great whale, saying that the whole world is a gigantic fluke.

And the same motif of sea-monster-as-world is found in every form of art and scholarship. Herman Melville uses the whale Moby Dick as a symbol for the forces of Nature. Thomas Hobbes uses the Leviathan as his metaphor for human society. Even Leonard Cohen writes, in his Anthem, “There is a kraken: everything”.

The world, like Leviathan, is very big. The world, like Leviathan, is difficult for humans to understand, let alone subdue. The world, like Leviathan, holds out its promise – if only you could catch up with it, measure up to it, maybe things would make sense. The world, like Leviathan in Job 40:19, is “the first of the works of God”; like Leviathan in Job 41:9, it “humbles the mighty and lays them low”, like Leviathan in Psalm 104:25, it is “that who You formed to play with”.

And like Leviathan in Job 41:34, it is “king over all the sons of pride”. Those who are proud chase after worldly things, worship the world, treat it as their king. They obsess, they pursue, they seek to dominate and control. Even the English phrase has obvious kabbalistic echoes: “chasing your white whale”.

And those who seek God seek Him in the world, for where else could He be? They seek Him by acquiring riches, or by renouncing riches, or by gaining power, or by forsaking power. If all human acts take place in the world, then how but by interacting with the world can God be attained?

Yet Jesus said in Gospel of Thomas: “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom of God is within you.”

And Robert Wilson wrote the story of a man who looked through chamber after chamber of his soul, questing for his true self, only to give up and conclude that there was nobody there. “That’s odd”, the guru told him. “Who’s conducting the search?

III.

“Come in,” said the Comet King.

He sat alone, on his bed, in prayer. For the first time since Ellis had met him, he looked afraid.

“Jala,” said Father Ellis, “you should go abovedecks. The crew is on the verge of breaking. The harpoon line’s holding so far, but the Leviathan – the crew is scared, Jala. And I should be abovedecks, working the blue sail. We don’t have men to spare.”

“Father,” said the Comet King, ignoring everything he had just said, “if you were going to devise a placebomantic ritual to summon God, how would you do it?”

“That’s easy. I wouldn’t. You don’t summon God.”

“But suppose that billions of people were suffering, and the only way to save them was to learn the Most Holy Name of God, which has to come from His own lips, and you thought – what’s there to lose? – and decided to summon Him anyway. How would you do it?”

Father Ellis thought for a while. “No. I still wouldn’t. The point is, you can’t summon God. He’s already everywhere.”

The Comet King smiled. “And that,” he said, “is why the Leviathan does not bother me.” He motioned for Ellis to sit down. “The ritual should conform to the Bible, of course,” he said. “And the Bible says that if you seek God, you will find Him, if you seek with all your heart. So. We have our ship, All Your Heart. Seven earthly sails for the seven earthly sephirot, three hidden in other planes. But the sails themselves aren’t enough. We need ritual. So we enact them in order. Various adventures, activating each aspect of God in turn. We start in my Kingdom. We go to San Francisco, the Foundation, where Heaven meets Earth. We shine with Glory. We win a Victory. We cross through Tiferet via the Canal. We cross Chesed by committing an act of great kindness, then Gevurah with an act of great harshness. We pass Da’at and its dark night, its collapse of everything earthly and recognizable. Now here we are. Binah, understanding. And Chokhmah, Wisdom. Which you have just displayed. Leaving us at the end of our road.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ellis. He didn’t like where this was going.

“God help us if we ever reeled the Leviathan all the way in,” said the Comet King. “No. We are going to very conspicuously demonstrate the ability to capture the Leviathan, and then we are going to complete the ritual exactly as you said. By realizing that God is already everywhere. Inside all of us. God isn’t out there in the world. He’s in all your heart. Tell me, Father, who of the crew seems most mysterious to you? Who doesn’t have a past?”

“Hm,” said Ellis, going over the crew in his mind, one crewmember per sail. “Orange sail…no, Clara came highly recommended from the Board of Ritual Magic. Yellow…Rabbi Pinson’s one of our greatest living kabbalists. Green…Leonard’s from Canada, his history checks out. Blue…that’s me. Purple…Gadiriel we all know. Black. That’s you. Everybody’s got a pretty clear history…wait. The First Mate. I…I don’t understand. Somehow I’ve known him this long and I…never thought to ask his name!”

“A common problem,” said the Comet King, smiling, “and one which we will soon correct. Bring him down here.”

A minute later, Ellis returned to the captain’s room, along with the First Mate. A big man, dressed in dark glasses. Ellis wondered why he’d never thought about him before, why it had never confused him that he didn’t know the name of one of the crew.

The Comet King fell to his knees.

Ellis had heard an old joke, once. The Pope was visiting New York City, but he was running late for his flight back to the Vatican. So he hailed a cab and told the taxi driver to floor it to LaGuardia airport, fast as he could. Well, the driver wasn’t going fast enough for the Pontiff, so he demanded they switch seats, and the Pope took the wheel and really started speeding down the freeway. Eventually a cop takes notice and pulls them over, then he gets cold feet. He radios the chief “Um,” he says “I think I accidentally pulled over someone really important.” “How important?” asks the chief. “Well,” said the cop, “all I know is that the Pope is his cabdriver.”

All Father Ellis knew was that the Comet King was kneeling before the big man, but that was enough. He dropped to his knees too.

“I know your True Name,” said the Comet King.

He just stared at them with those dark glasses.

And the Comet King said –

IV.

“Metatron.” Ana spoke the word without a hint of uncertainty. Then, realizing what she had gotten herself into, she fell to her knees.

The Captain took off his dark glasses, and Ana stared into the whirlwind.

V.

The Sepher Hekhalot states that when the patriarch Enoch died, God “turned his flesh to flame, his veins to fire, his eye-lashes to bolts of lightning, his eye-balls to flaming torches, and placed him on a throne next to the throne of glory.” Then he imbued him with the Most Holy Name, and thenceforward he was called the “Measure of the Lord”, the “Prince of the Divine Presence” and “the Lesser God”. All of these titles are blasphemous as hell to call anybody who isn’t God, and it was this that made Elisha ben Abuyah, in the throes of heresy, give his famous proclamation – “There are two gods. T-W-O. Deal with it.”

The orthodox conception was different. God is ineffable, invisible, unspeakable, unknowable. He is the author of the world, not an entity in it. But sometimes it’s useful for an author to have a self-insert character, so to speak. Thus Metatron. Not God. Definitely not God. But slightly less not-God than anything else in Creation. And the things in creation were already rather less not-God than most of them would have expected. So Metatron’s not-God-ness was very low indeed, practically a rounding error.

Low enough that he, of all creation, could speak with God’s voice to reveal the secrets of the world.

VI.

“Hey,” I’d said one night, months before. We were sitting in the living room in Ithaca, reading our respective books. “If you caught Metatron in his boat at the edge of the world, and you got to ask one question and hear the answer from the voice of God Himself, what would you ask?”

“The Explicit Name,” said Erica.

“The problem of evil,” said Ana at the same time.

Erica raised an eyebrow at her cousin. “What? No! So suppose God says oh, the reason there’s evil is that there’s a blockage on the path between Binah and Yesod, sorry about that. Then what? How do you – ”

“There’s no path between Binah and Yesod,” I interrupted.

“Aaron!” snapped Erica, then turned back to Ana. “So God says there’s a blockage between whatever and whatever, and you say okay, and then what? You’ve wasted your question. Me, I’d ask the Explicit Name. And then have the power to rebuild the universe according to my will. You got to admit that sounds useful.”

“Blockage between whatever and whatever is only boring because you don’t actually know what you’re talking about,” said Ana. “Like, if God said that, I’d ask – why would an infinitely good God allow the passage between whatever and whatever to be blocked? At some point, there’s got to be a meaningful answer.”

“Why?” I asked, though I felt bad about it.

“BECAUSE THAT’S THE WAY I WOULD DO IT IF I WERE GOD,” said Ana.

“Maybe even God can’t answer,” suggested Erica. “It’s like, you know how Evil can’t possibly comprehend Good? Maybe Good can’t comprehend Evil either.”

“Evil is mostly made of fallen angels,” I said. “Who used to be regular angels. I am pretty sure Evil can comprehend good just fine.”

“Evil can’t possibly comprehend Aramaic,” Ana suggested.

“Better,” I said.

“You guys are making fun of me,” said Erica, “but I stick to what I said. Even if God gives some kind of supremely satisfying answer that explains everything about the existence of evil, in the end all you’re going to do is go ‘Huh’, but there’ll still be as much evil as ever. It’s like Marx said. The kabbalists are only trying to understand the world. The point is to change it.”

“I am pretty sure Marx didn’t mean ‘literally shatter it to pieces, then remake it in your own image'” said Ana.

“Actually,” I said, “that was kind of Marx’s thing.”

“But if I could ask God anything,” Erica continued despite us, “I wouldn’t waste it on philosophy stuff. In fact, I think that would be morally abhorrent. If you stumble across ultimate power, you’ve got a duty to use it for good. If I got the Explicit Name, you can bet things would be a lot different around here.”

“Erica,” I said, “you couldn’t use the Explicit Name. It shatters the world and rebuilds it according to the desires of the speaker. Are you one hundred percent sure that you have a clear, consistent set of desires about the world detailed enough to serve as a blueprint?”

“I just want people to be free,” said Erica.

“Boom,” I said. “Everyone’s living on a separate planet. Now they’re free. Is that what you want?”

“The Name isn’t going to be some kind of evil genie that twists your words to trick you.”

“The Name wasn’t meant to be used by humans! And the quatrain that turned out to be kabbalistically equivalent starts out ‘O Love, could thou and I with Him conspire / to grasp the sorry scheme of things entire.’ It very clearly says that visualizing the structure of the entire universe is a prerequisite.”

“And,” said Ana, “that’s why I would ask God about the problem of evil. Unless you know why God added evil in the first place, it’s irresponsible to try to recreate the universe without any. What if something bad happens?”

“By definition, it wouldn’t,” I said.

“You know what I mean!” said Ana. “And if you’re so smart, what would you ask God?”

“Um,” I thought for a second, then was gratified to be able to give a clear answer. “What is the ordered pair whose first value is the best possible question that I could ask you, and whose second value is your answer to it?”

“You are so annoying,” said Erica.

“The ordered pair would be ‘the question you just asked me’, and ‘this answer right here’,” said Ana. “Then God would laugh, and all your worldly wisdom would be to no avail.”

“No,” I corrected. “Jonah whale. Noah ark. I thought we already had this discussion.”

Ana stuck out her tongue.

“If God ever met either of you, He would smite you before you even got a chance to even open your mouth,” said Erica. “And if He was too busy, I’d do it for Him. With a smile.”

She flashed an exaggerated smile at both of us, and held it just a little too long. It was kind of creepy.

“Whereas He’d be totally okay with you asking Him for the keys to the World-Destroying-Machine because you wanted to make a couple little adjustments, right?” I retorted.

“I know what I want,” said Erica. “I spent my whole life trying to fix this stupid world, I’m not about to stop just because I’m in front of the Throne of Glory. And if God ever offers me a question, it’ll be because He knows what He’s getting into.”

“And I spent my entire life trying to figure out the problem of evil, and God knows exactly what He’s getting into with me too,” said Ana.

“And I,” I concluded, “spent my entire life coming up with weird munchkin-style responses to serious situations, and God – ”

“Shut it,” said Erica.

“You act like I’m being more annoying than you are,” I said. “But seriously. God, please tell me your Name so I can destroy everything and remake it according to whichever form of Marxism was recommended in the latest book I read. God, please give me a clear answer to the fundamental paradox of the universe in one hundred words or less, single-spaced. At least I’m honest about how ridiculous I am!”

“There is an answer,” said Ana. “There has to be. William Blake said that God appears and God is light to those who dwell in realms of night, but God can human form display to those who dwell in realms of day. All of these things like ‘it’s an ineffable paradox’ and ‘God works in mysterious ways’ – they’re just light. Vague, fuzzy, warm, reassuring. But our minds were created in the image of God. Things God can understand, we can understand. Maybe not actually. I can’t understand quantum chromodynamics. But it’s the sort of thing I could understand, if I were smarter. There are a lot of things beyond my intelligence. But I don’t know if there are things beyond my ken. I want to think that there aren’t.”

I made an expansive gesture that was supposed to indicate something like “Look at the universe”, but this was hard, and I ended up just making a really big arm movement. Luckily Ana got my point anyway, because telepathy.

“Look,” she said, “you know the story of Rabbi Joshua and Elijah, right? Joshua asks to accompany Elijah on his journeys, Elijah agrees as long as Joshua doesn’t ask questions. The first night they stay with a family who are desperately poor and own only a single cow; still, they take the two travelers in and share what little they have. The next morning, before leaving, Elijah kills their cow. The second night, they stay with a rich man who condescends to them and tells them they can stay in the barn with the cows, because beggars deserve no better. The next morning, before leaving, Elijah magically repairs a wall of his mansion which was about to fall. Joshua says he can’t keep it in any longer, he knows he’s not supposed to ask questions, but what is Elijah doing? Elijah says that the first man’s wife was destined to die the next day, but he prayed to God to accept the death of the cow instead. The second man was going to repair the crumbling wall of his mansion and discover buried treasure hidden underneath; he fixed it so this wouldn’t happen. And I feel like if we’re supposed to draw any conclusion at all from this story, it’s that even seemingly unjust actions have hidden reasons that we can understand, if only someone will explain them.”

“So,” I asked, you think the reason there’s evil in the world is a series of post hoc adjustments for implausible coincidences, some of which involved buried treasure?”

“It’s a metaphor! I think the reason there’s evil in the world is something that will make at least as much sense when I hear it as Elijah’s explanation did to Rabbi Joshua.”

“Elijah’s explanation only makes sense because he passes the buck. Okay, the virtuous woman was going to die, and Elijah has to kill the cow to prevent that. Fine. How come the virtuous woman was going to die young in the first place? How come Elijah doesn’t answer that?”

“It’s a metaphor!”

“Of course it’s a metaphor! Kabbalah says that everything is a metaphor for God, the only thing that’s not a metaphor for God is God Himself. That doesn’t mean you can just dismiss things as metaphors and fail to explain how they correspond.”

“Look, I’m just saying, there has to be a reason. And one day, I’m going to figure out what it is.”

In the sea off Fire Island in New York, on a ship with seven sails, Ana Thurmond thought and remembered. Then she told the Captain: “My question is: why would a perfectly good God create a universe filled with so much that is evil?”

VII.

Then God spoke to Ana out of the whirlwind, and He said:

“THE REASON EVIL EXISTS IS TO MAXIMIZE THE WHOLE COSMOS’ TOTAL SUM GOODNESS. SUPPOSE WE RANK POSSIBLE WORLDS FROM BEST TO WORST. EVEN AFTER CREATING THE BEST, ONE SHOULD CREATE THE SECOND-BEST, BECAUSE IT STILL CONTAINS SOME BEAUTY AND HAPPINESS. THEN CONTINUE THROUGH THE SERIES, CREATING EACH UNTIL REACHING THOSE WHERE WICKEDNESS AND SUFFERING OUTWEIGH GOOD. SOME WORLDS WILL INCLUDE MUCH INIQUITY BUT STILL BE GOOD ON NET. THIS IS ONE SUCH.”

And before Ana could answer, the whirlwind intensified, and caught her in its maelstrom, and she fell into a vision.

VIII.

Job asked: “God, why would You, who are perfect, create a universe filled with so much that is evil?”

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, saying “WOULD YOU PREFER I HAD NOT CREATED YOUR UNIVERSE, EVIL AS IT IS? WOULD YOU PREFER TO BE VOID AND EMPTINESS?”

“No!” said Job. “I would prefer to live in a universe that was perfect and just!”

“I CREATED SUCH A UNIVERSE,” said God. “IN THAT UNIVERSE, THERE IS NO SPACE, FOR SPACE TAKES THE FORM OF SEPARATION FROM THINGS YOU DESIRE. THERE IS NO TIME, FOR TIME MEANS CHANGE AND DECAY, YET THERE MUST BE NO CHANGE FROM ITS MAXIMALLY BLISSFUL STATE. THE BEINGS WHO INHABIT THIS UNIVERSE ARE WITHOUT BODIES, AND DO NOT HUNGER OR THIRST OR LABOR OR LUST. THEY SIT UPON GOLDEN THRONES AND CONTEMPLATE THE PERFECTION OF ALL THINGS.

YET I ALSO CREATED YOUR UNIVERSE, THAT YOU MIGHT LIVE. TELL ME, JOB, IF I UNCREATED YOUR WORLD, WOULD YOU BE HAPPIER? OR WOULD YOU BE DEAD, WHILE FAR AWAY IN A DIFFERENT UNIVERSE INCORPOREAL BEINGS SAT ON THEIR GOLDEN THRONES REGARDLESS?”

“I would prefer to be one of those perfect beings on their golden thrones.”

“WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE SUCH A BEING? THEY HAVE NO BODIES, NO EMOTIONS, NO DESIRES, NO LANGUAGE. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR ME TO CREATE A VERSION OF YOU WITHOUT BODY EMOTION DESIRE OR LANGUAGE, VERSUS TO CREATE SUCH A BEING BUT NOT HAVE IT BE YOU AT ALL? IS A VERSION OF YOU WHO IS INFINITELY WISE STILL YOU? A VERSION OF YOU WHO IS A WICKED IDOLATOR? A VERSION OF YOU WHO IS EXACTLY LIKE NOAH, IN EVERY WAY? THERE IS NO OBJECTIVE COSMIC UNEMPLOYMENT RATE.”

“Huh?”

“THERE IS NO OBJECTIVE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF HOW MANY UNIVERSES HAVE A JOB. THERE ARE VARIOUS CREATURES MORE OR LESS LIKE YOU. IF I UNCREATED YOU AND YOUR WORLD OF SUFFERING, THEY WOULD REMAIN, AND YOU WOULD DIE. WOULD THIS BE A FAVOR TO YOU?”

“I still don’t understand. Certainly I, who exist, want to continue existing. But instead of creating one perfect universe and some flawed universes, couldn’t you just have created many perfect universes?”

“TELL ME, JOB, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR RIGHT AND LEFT HANDS?”

“Uh…one is on my right, and the other is on my left. And they’re mirror images of each other.”

“I AM BEYOND SPACE. TO ME THERE IS NEITHER LEFT NOR RIGHT NOR MIRRORED REFLECTION. IF TWO THINGS ARE THE SAME, THEY ARE ONE THING. IF I CREATED TWO PERFECT UNIVERSES, I WOULD ONLY HAVE CREATED ONE UNIVERSE. IN ORDER TO DIFFERENTIATE A UNIVERSE FROM THE PERFECT UNIVERSE, IT MUST BE DIFFERENT IN ITS SEED, ITS SECRET UNDERLYING STRUCTURE.”

“Then create one perfect universe, and some universes whose structures have tiny flaws that no one will ever notice.”

“I DID. I CREATED MYRIADS OF SUCH UNIVERSES. WHEN I HAD EXHAUSTED ALL POSSIBLE UNIVERSES WITH ONE FLAW, I MOVED ON TO UNIVERSES WITH TWO FLAWS, THEN UNIVERSES WITH THREE FLAWS, THEN SO ON, AN ENTIRE GARDEN OF FLAWED UNIVERSES GROWING ALONGSIDE ONE ANOTHER.”

“Including mine.”

“YOUR WORLD IS AT THE FARTHEST EDGES OF MY GARDEN,” God admitted, “FAR FROM THE BRIGHT CENTER WHERE EVERYTHING IS PERFECT AND SIMPLE. THERE IS A WORLD MADE OF NOTHING BUT BLISS, WITH A GIANT ALEPH IN THE CENTER. THERE IS ANOTHER WORLD MADE OF NOTHING BUT BLISS WITH A GIANT BET IN THE CENTER. AND SO ON, BUT MAKE A MILLION MILLION WORLDS LIKE THOSE, AND YOU START NEEDING TO BECOME MORE CREATIVE. YOU NEED MORE AND MORE STRATAGEMS TO SEPARATE WORLDS FROM ONE ANOTHER. WORLDS WHERE INCREDIBLY BIZARRE THINGS HAPPEN AS A MATTER OF COURSE. WORLDS WHERE RANDOM COMBINATIONS OF SYLLABLES INVOKE DIVINE POWERS. AND THE MORE SUCH THINGS I ADD, THE MORE CHANCE THAT THEY TEND TOWARD EVIL. YOUR WORLD IS VERY FAR FROM THE CENTER INDEED. IT IS IN THE MIDDLE OF A VAST WASTE, WHERE NOTHING ELSE GROWS. ALL OF THE WORLDS THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN PLANTED THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN ABOMINATIONS OF WICKEDNESS. BUT BY COINCIDENCE PILED UPON COINCIDENCE, YOURS WAS NOT. YOURS WILL GROW INTO A THING OF BEAUTY THAT WILL GLORIFY MY HOLY NAME.”

“It will?”

“GENESIS 1:31. I LOOKED AT THE WORLD, AND I SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD. I BEHELD ADAM KADMON, THE SEED OF YOUR WORLD, AND SAW THAT IT WAS A GOOD SEED. THAT IT WOULD GROW INTO MORE GOOD THAN EVIL. THAT IT DESERVED A PLACE IN MY GARDEN, BESIDE THE MILLION MILLION OTHER SEEDS THAT WOULD GROW INTO OTHER WORDS, SO THAT AS MUCH GOODNESS AS POSSIBLE COULD BE INSTANTIATED IN THE COSMOS.”

“God,” said Job, “what about me?”

“WHAT ABOUT YOU?”

“All my children are dead. All my wealth is gone. I’m covered in boils. And you’re telling me, basically, that the reason I’m covered in boils is so that you can have one universe where I’m covered in boils, and another universe where I’m not covered in boils, and then you’ll have one more universe than if you committed to not covering me in boils?”

“NOT EXACTLY. I DO NOT SPECIFICALLY MAKE EVERY DECISION ABOUT BOILS. I CREATE THE SEEDS OF UNIVERSES, WHICH GROW ACCORDING TO THEIR SECRET STRUCTURE. BUT IT IS TRUE THAT I COULD HAVE LIMITED MYSELF TO CREATING UNIVERSES WHERE NO ONE EVER BECAME COVERED IN BOILS, AND I DID NOT DO SO. FOR THE UNIVERSES WHERE SOME PEOPLE GET COVERED IN BOILS ALSO HAVE MYRIADS OF WONDERS, AND JOYS, AND SAINTS, AND I WILL NOT DENY THEM EXISTENCE FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE COVERED IN BOILS.”

“How many wonders and joys and saints is one case of boils worth, God?”

“BE CAREFUL, JOB. I HAD THIS CONVERSATION WITH ABRAHAM BEFORE YOU. HE ASKED WHETHER I WOULD SPARE MY JUDGMENT ON SODOM LEST FIFTY RIGHTEOUS MEN SHOULD SUFFER. WHEN I AGREED, HE PLED FOR FORTY, THIRTY, TWENTY, AND TEN. BUT BELOW TEN HE DID NOT GO, SO I DESTROYED THE CITY. AND IF I WOULD NOT RESTRAIN MYSELF FROM DESTROYING FOR THE SAKE OF A HANDFUL OF RIGHTEOUS MEN SUFFERING, HOW MUCH LESS I SHOULD RESTRAIN MYSELF FROM CREATING.”

“So I should just sit here and suffer quietly?”

“UNTIL YOU DIE, AND YOUR SOUL IS REMOVED FROM THE WORLD, AND I CAN GRANT IT ETERNAL BLISS WITHOUT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT ANY OF THIS.”

“That’s not a fucking lot of consolation, God.”

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, saying: “HAVE YOU BEHELD THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH? SEEN ITS FOOTINGS AND ITS CORNERSTONE? WATCHED AS THE SONS OF GOD ALL SANG TOGETHER AND THE MORNING STARS SHOUTED FOR JOY? HAVE YOU SEEN THE DOORS OF THE SEA? THE CHAINS OF THE PLEIADES AND ORION’S BELT? THE LIONS, THE RAVENS, THE YOUNG OF THE DOE AND BEAR? BEHOLD THE BEHEMOTH, WHICH I MADE BESIDE YOU, AND THE LEVIATHAN WHO RESIDES IN THE SEA. CAN YOU SAY THAT ALL THESE WONDERS SHOULD NOT BE, SO THAT YOU COULD AVOID A CASE OF BOILS? SHALL I SMITE THEM FOR YOU? SPEAK, AND I SHALL END THE WORLD WITH A WORD.”

And as He spoke, the whirlwind took form, and Job saw all of these things, the boundaries of the Earth and the gateways of the Heavens, the myriad animals from Leviathan down to the smallest microbe, the glory of the lightning and the gloom of the deepest caves, the pyramids of Egypt and the pagodas of China. And he knew more surely than he had ever known anything before that God could end all of them with a word, and he knew that the existence of all of them, every single one, depended on the same seed that had given him a case of boils.

And Job said “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. But…why couldn’t you have told me this before? Why did I have to suffer in ignorance?”

“YOUR WORLD IS AT THE EDGES OF MY GARDEN. IF NOT FOR COINCIDENCE PILED UPON COINCIDENCE, IT WOULD NEVER BLOSSOM INTO GOODNESS, AND SO COULD NOT HAVE BEEN CREATED. YOUR IGNORANCE OF MY PURPOSE BEGINS A CHAIN OF COINCIDENCES WHICH WILL GROW AND GROW UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD, WHEN IT WILL COME TO FRUITION. THAT PURPOSE IS NOW COMPLETE. GO, AND REGAIN EVERYTHING YOU HAVE LOST, BUT TELL NOBODY WHAT I HAVE TOLD YOU.”

“But…I told everybody I was going to ask You about the purpose of evil. When they want to know what You answered, what should I tell them?”

“TELL THEM I SAID ‘GO FISH’.”

IX.

Ana beheld in the whirlwind the trials of Job, and the answer of the Lord, and the whole chain of being, and the Pleiades and Orion, and Leviathan and Behemoth, and all the wonders and joys and saints of the world, placed in dazzling array, God’s answer to the problem of evil spoken with a tornadic fury that stripped the universe to its roots.

“I don’t buy it,” said Ana Thurmond.

“YOU DON’T THINK IT IS WORTH IT?”

“I think you should have offered us the choice.”

“BEFORE THE WORLD, I SPOKE TO ADAM KADMON IN MY GARDEN. I OFFERED HIM THE CHOICE TO REMAIN IN THE PARADISE BEYOND EXISTENCE, OR TO TASTE OF GOOD AND EVIL, BE SEPARATED FROM ME, AND ATTAIN INDEPENDENT BEING. HE CHOSE THE LATTER.”

“No, what about us? Not the grand purpose of the cosmos, not Adam Kadmon before the world, us. What about me?”

The voice of God said out of the whirlwind, “YOU, WHO ONLY TWO DAYS AGO SOARED SO HIGH SHE ALMOST ESCAPED THE WORLD AND MERGED HER IDENTITY INTO THE JOY BEYOND ALL BEING, BEFORE SHE WAS RESCUED BY MY SHIP AND CREW? AND WHO SAID, AND I QUOTE, ‘OH GOD, I ALMOST FELT TRANSCENDENT JOY. IT WAS AWFUL'”.

“Then…” Ana was almost crying now. “What about Hell? What about everybody who lives their life and dies and ends up suffering eternally with no way to get out. Shouldn’t they have gotten the choice? You said that our world was good on net. Well, it isn’t. I don’t know what kind of calculus you use, or how you rank these things, but I don’t care. As long as there’s a Hell, whatever you saw in Genesis 1:31 that caused you to pronounce our world, and I quote, ‘good’, you were wrong. Yeah, I said it. My name is Ana Thurmond of San Jose, California, and I hereby accuse you of getting it wrong. As long as Hell exists and is eternal, you were wrong to create the world, you are wrong to sustain it, and I don’t care how awesome a fish you’ve got, you are wrong about the problem of evil.”

“YES,” said God. “WHICH IMPLIES THAT HELL MUST NOT BE ETERNAL. I DID NOT SAY, ANA THURMOND, THAT YOUR WORLD IS GOOD NOW. I SAID THAT ADAM KADMON, ITS SEED, WAS A GOOD SEED. THAT IT WILL UNFOLD, BIT BY BIT, RINGING CONCLUSION AFTER CONCLUSION FROM ITS PREMISES, UNTIL FINALLY ITS OWN INTERNAL LOGIC CULMINATES IN ITS SALVATION.”

How?” asked Ana, begging, pleading, shouting.

“COME AND SEE,” said God.

Then the Leviathan wheeled around, opened its colossal maw, and engulfed the Not A Metaphor. The ship spent a single wild moment in its mouth before the monster closed its jaws and crushed all of them into tiny pieces.


The final chapter will be posted next week. I will be doing a dramatic reading of Chapter 72 in Berkeley, very tentatively at the CFAR office on the 7th floor of 2030 Addison St at 4:30 PM on Sunday May 14, but I need to double-check this will fit everybody. If you’re interested in coming, please fill out this RSVP and give me your email address so I can tell you about any changes. There will be other related events in NYC, Tel Aviv, Boston; and Austin; ask on the linked Facebook pages for details.

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500 Responses to Chapter 71: But For Another Gives Its Ease

  1. holomanga says:

    It was an acronym! And Answer to Job was canon!

    Of course, the worlds where the acronym was accurate except for one letter were also good and just on net…

    • Sonata Green says:

      What’s the acronym?

      • holomanga says:

        The first letter of every chapter, as well as haMephorash itself (see the Leonard Cohen song), goes TREEITMTWCTSG…

        The reason given by God for evil existing goes “THE REASON EVIL EXISTS IS TO MAXIMISE TOTAL…”, with the first letter of each word spelling out haMephorash.

        HaMephorash is an acronym for the solution to theodicy.

        • holomanga says:

          Correction: TOTAL -> THE**

        • will408914 says:

          Then what’s the …MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH at the end?

          • B_Epstein says:

            …MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH is not from the haMephorash, it’s from the ensouling name Aaron learns.

          • holomanga says:

            That’s the Vital Name, which is something else. I think the “meh”s are just to make sure that it gets discovered by Aaron (who is a skilled mneumonist) at that specific time; a Vital Name with more or fewer Mehs would be discovered under different conditions, which would tip the Unsong-verse to be net negative and hence not have it have been created in the first place.

          • will408914 says:

            Oh, duh. I’m a moron, I can’t believe I mixed those two up.

          • Taifun says:

            Huh? Shem HaMephorash is *not* the Vital Name.

          • Decius says:

            There could be a universe in which one fewer MEH is in the vital name. That universe would have epsilon less good, and was therefore not permitted to exist.

    • Error says:

      I actually liked the original version of Answer to Job better, but I am guessing it was modified to fit Unsong.

    • 75th says:

      The proper term is “notarikon“. 🙂

    • Peter D says:

      Leonard’s from Canada, his history checks out

      So, same Leonard who wrote the HaMephorash, was with TCK as part of his crew?

    • Ialdabaoth says:

      And a voice spoke out of the whirlwind, and said,
      “THEY’RE GOOD SEEDS, JEB.”

      • Cniz says:

        It’s lucky that this time God decided to appear as a whirlwind and not as a burning Bush.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Huh? Totally different place than I was going.

          • Cniz says:

            Don’t worry, I got your intention, and liked it; it was a good reference, Ialdoboath.

            I just thought that Job being kabbalistically equivalent to Jeb here was also worth remarking upon…

  2. Pickle says:

    Well, I am full of feelings.

    “Then create one perfect universe, some universes whose structures have tiny flaws that no one will ever notice.”

    This sentence has a tiny flaw that I have noticed: shouldn’t there be an “and” after the comma (or in place of the comma)?

  3. Hoactzin says:

    Oh, hey, I guess everyone does die at the end.
    Well, we all knew that anyway, but… you know what I mean.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Dylan to Mark: “I will not feed you into an aligator” – he said nothing about a Leviathan.

  4. Quixote says:

    Vote for Unsong on top web fiction

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=unsong

    As the end nears, this is one of the best ways to promote visibility and attract new readers that is also easy

    A mind is a terrible thing to waste

  5. B_Epstein says:

    And now Ana will go to Hell where she sees the final part of TCK’s plan or something like that.

  6. Angstrom says:

    Well, I know it might have been a bit disappointing for many of us who had already seen draft 1 of the Answer to Job and were hoping to see something else, but honestly, I appreciated seeing this cleaned up. It fits. It’s a good answer. I’m excited for the final chapter.

  7. Matthias says:

    A VERSION OF YOU WHO IS EXACTLY LIKE NOAH, IN EVERY WAY, DOWN TO THE ATOMIC LEVEL?

    Wait, so did atoms exist before Uriel’s script set up the math-based universe?

    • Job is probably post-Uriel, but I’ve removed that to avoid the problem.

      • partwalk says:

        Alternately, maybe God is referring to the Greek conception of atomism?

        • LHC says:

          Or, I mean, infinite universes. I’d honestly assumed that the Job that Ana saw was from a completely different universe altogether.

          • Matthias says:

            Oh, that’s also an interesting interpretation.

          • Haugmaug says:

            So did I. When God says

            WORLDS WHERE INCREDIBLY BIZARRE THINGS HAPPEN AS A MATTER OF COURSE. WORLDS WHERE RANDOM COMBINATIONS OF SYLLABLES INVOKE DIVINE POWERS.

            it sounds very much like he isn’t talking about Job’s world.

          • JJR says:

            He mentions the seed he used to create the universe to Job though.

            “I BEHELD ADAM KADMON, THE SEED OF YOUR WORLD, AND SAW THAT IT WAS A GOOD SEED.”

            Adam Kadmon makes it the Unsong verse we’ve been reading about this whole time.

          • LHC says:

            I’m pretty sure the universe seeds God is using contain more data than is contained in the sounds or letters in the phrase “Adam Kadmon”. The alternative suggests a relatively small, finite universe count.

          • dsp says:

            Notwithstanding whatever else, I am reasonably confident that every universe has a (distinct) Adam Kadmon.

  8. Sniffnoy says:

    Huh. So what changed about Metatron between the two trips, that the second time around he’s obviously mysterious?

    (And was he the one working the red sail the first time around?)

    Also: Wow, the Comet King sure got a bunch of bigshots on his crew…

  9. partwalk says:

    “There is no objective cosmic unemployment rate.”

    You have outdone yourself.

    • B_Epstein says:

      …and then, to compensate, there was that Leonard Cohen kraken pun (the ship groaned…) . Apparently Scott Alexander must contain a great deal of evil to allow all his goodness.

    • 75th says:

      Can someone ELI5 this for me? Both times Scott used it I could immediately tell that it was insanely witty and hilarious, and also I never understood it

      • Unbalanced Diagram says:

        The pun is in God’s next line.

        THERE IS NO OBJECTIVE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF HOW MANY UNIVERSES HAVE A JOB.

        Job is the name of the guy talking to God. Job is a word for gainful employment.

        • 75th says:

          Ahhhhhh, crap.

          • wafflepudding says:

            I also notice that the first three letters of the phrase “OBJECTIVE COSMIC UNEMPLOYMENT RATE” can be rearranged into JOB, but that is most probably an actual coincidence.

  10. Timothy Scriven says:

    Is this the first time an important new philosophical theory has been introduced through fiction, not counting dialogues? Certainly much fiction has discussed important philosophical ideas, but the ideas are usually introduced first in essay form.

    Also this is one of only a handful of genuinely and startlingly novel solutions to the problem of evil in thousands of years so congrats on that I guess?

    • Gazeboist says:

      I don’t think it’s particularly novel. I can’t say I’ve seen it elsewhere in precisely this form, but “God the scientist/gardener, creating as many good universes as possible” (ie hunting for the boundaries of goodness in the space of universes) is a pretty common idea. It often comes up when you ask an agnostic scientist or philosopher about their preferred character in a supreme God.

      • brainiac256 says:

        Didn’t Pascal basically believe something like this? Not necessarily extending to multiverses, but I recall reading somewhere that his conception of God was like a scientist balancing a system of many equations to find what combination of conditions resulted in the most good.

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      Scott wrote about this a while ago on Slatestarcodex. (I believe the post was titled “Answer to Job”, or maybe “Answers to Job.” It was not new then, either.

    • gwern says:

      Is this the first time an important new philosophical theory has been introduced through fiction, not counting dialogues?

      No, there are any number of examples. Just for poetry alone, Indian philosophy frequently was written in verse (eg Nagarjuna) or Chinese philosophy (Tao teh Ching), or verse is used throughout for mnemonic properties (eg gatha); Western philosophy, not so much, other than Lucretius who was apparently mostly just summarizing already standard positions, I don’t know how much is novel.

      More importantly, as Scott notes on the SSC version, his modal realism theodicy was apparently anticipated a few years prior in a philosophy article, so technically it’s not ‘new’.

      • “poetry” does not imply “fiction”. I don’t know about the other works you cite but I read Lucretius and his work is essentially an argumentative essay, just written as poetry.

      • teucer says:

        It should also be noted that some Platonic dialogues, especially the Phaedrus, have plot, and character development, with things happening to the participants in the dialogue itself. This plot shapes the understanding of the philosophy therein.

    • The coment king says:

      Have you read Answer to Job? Scott had the idea back there.

    • Inty says:

      It’s not novel, he’s done a similar thing before in a post on SSC, and someone commented that theologians had thought of it already (can’t find link; on phone), but it is still a well-put version of the idea.

    • One answer that comes to my mind is “dust theory” from Greg Egan’s Permutation City. As other people point out Scott’s theory isn’t entirely new here, and I won’t be surprised if “dust theory” also has precedents.

      • phenylanin says:

        Funny you should mention that, because after reading Permutation City and thinking about Dust Theory, I independently came up with this exact theodicy too.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra is not usually thought if as fiction, but it’s actually a story. Granted, it consists almost entirely of the protagonist giving speeches, but that doesn’t make it any less fictional than Ayn Rand novels… Which also might count, actually.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Its an olf idea in Western philosophy.

      See Arthur Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being for an overview.

    • Having come across it in a different context, I am reminded of another modern almost-example: Conway’s formulation of the theory of surreal numbers was first publicized in Donald Knuth’s novella Surreal Numbers: How two ex-students turned on to pure mathematics and found total happiness. Sadly, it’s a dialogue.

  11. Error says:

    ‘And Robert Wilson wrote the story of a man who looked through chamber after chamber of his soul, questing for his true self, only to give up and conclude that there was nobody there. “That’s odd”, the guru told him. “Who’s conducting the search?”’

    I just want to say that this is one of my favorite bits of the Illuminatus and I’m immensely gratified to see the reference here.

    Also, Aaron’s question is awesome.

    • Blipvert says:

      And Simon Moon entered the fire.

    • Spoon&Cake says:

      There’s an almost identical scene in witches abroad by terry pratchett.
      Two witches are in a world of mirrors , and have to find the real version of them among the reflections. One runs searching forever, the other points at herself immediately and says “this is the real one”.

  12. Roman says:

    Chapter was so good that I almost didn’t mind being so wrong. Thanks for the book, Scott!

  13. B_Epstein says:

    The Explanation also gives a brilliant reason for every “coincidence” the author might otherwise have to “sell”: without this series of “coincidences”, the world would not exist. To put it differently – this is precisely the reason behind TINACBNIEAC.

    • VelveteenAmbush says:

      I suppose it makes our narrative presence in that particular universe exactly as coincidental as the conjunction of all of the explained-away coincidences… except that that coincidence can be explained satisfyingly away by narrative fiat 🙂

      Can I just say, I love this chapter, this god’s explanation, and how perfectly and beautifully it ties everything together? Fucking amazing. Total braingasm. Scott — bravo, seriously.

    • ybell says:

      Also, the world has a preset seed, so it doesn’t use a true RNG, but rather all random events are predetermined by the seed. (oddly enough, I dreamed about this point and came back now to see if anyone mentioned it)

      • Lambert says:

        Hmmm. Does a nondeterministic universe that happens to go a certain way differ from a deterministic universe where they were pre-ordained to go that way? What about the set of all universes possibly produced by the randomness?

        • dsp says:

          Yes, in that their rules and therefore fundamental underlying structure differ. A totally nondeterministic universe would have a wildly different Kabbalah.

        • Gazeboist says:

          For universes with nearby overall seeds and a nondeterministic “feel”, an important part of the seed is probably a more literal seed for (effectively) a psuedorandom number generator that serves as “luck” or “fate”.

  14. Peffern says:

    Is there any way the live reading of the next chapter could be live streamed?

  15. -_- says:

    For people keeping score, the apocalypse still doesn’t seem to have happened yet, and Aaron has 26, 27, or 25 days left to either become emperor of the world or else owe Ana dinner.

    • -_- says:

      also, I do believe elements of Sufism still haven’t–*gets hit by a brick*

      • hlynkacg says:

        Is that a “brick joke” joke?

        • -_- says:

          Early on, I and a few other people got… Slightly Yelly™ in the comments over “Judeo-Christian” and if it is a meaningful way to slice things.
          [Any Opinions on the subject should find their way to the original threads, and still probably not be posted.]

          So it’s a call-back to the comments, not a brick joke.

    • Aegeus says:

      The machinery of Uriel has shattered, a kabbalistic missile was launched, New York is on fire, the Other King is invading, and Sohu confronted a demonic horde in a cataclysmic battle that split a mountain in two. I think you can say the apocalypse has happened now. Or at least is in progress.

      (Alternative answer: The apocalypse has happened, because “Apocalypse” means “Revelation,” and Ana just got the mother of all revelations.)

      • Gazeboist says:

        I think in either case we can say that the Apocalypse is “in progress” rather than complete. After all, we cut before Ana’s revelation is fully revelated.

  16. Gamzee Makara says:

    I get five internet points!

    • Roman says:

      Yeah, the fact that the sentences don’t end where the chapters do makes it really hard to even approximate a guess. If I hadn’t had that hypothesis, I would have just given up, as that sort of thing wouldn’t even e fun to speculate about. :/

      • Anonymous says:

        I’d like to cash in my points too.

        Only the second book doesn’t start a sentence, which makes it a bit odd since all the other ones do. Now we have to rebuild a notarikon that does start a sentence while meaning the same thing.

  17. -_- says:

    Unrelated: next Sunday ia Lag BaOmer.

    If your final chapter reading doesn’t incorporate any pyrotechnics, Scott, I will be SEVERELY disappointed…

  18. Sniffnoy says:

    Hm, so returning to Interlude Dalet:

    Ana and I had a long discussion about the Digrammaton once. Jesus calls himself the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end. It makes sense. The Hebrew equivalent would be aleph and tav. But the Digrammaton is aleph and lamed. Lamed is the middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Aleph-lamed, beginning and middle. “I am the alpha and the lambda, the beginning and the middle” doesn’t have the same ring to it. What’s up?

    And Ana tried to tie this into her own theory of music vs. silence vs. unsong. There was good. There was neutral. And there was evil. Not just ones and zeroes, but ones and zeroes and negative ones. God took credit for the good. He even took credit for the neutral. But He didn’t take credit for the bad. That was on us. Draw a line from best to worst, and God is everything from beginning to middle. I protested, said that God had created evil along with everything else, that it was on Him, that He couldn’t just change His Name and hope to avoid detection. Ana didn’t have an answer then. Later, when she heard all of this explained in more detail, she realized it was the key to the whole mystery, that anyone who understood the Digrammaton would understand the Shem haMephorash too, and everything else beside. But that was still long in the future.

    I guess the intended interpretation here of aleph-lamed, then, is that “God creates worlds that span from perfectly good to just-barely-good”?

    Of course this would work better if lamed were the 11th letter of the alphabet rather than the 12th. But what can you do…

  19. VK says:

    I’m working off the theory previously mentioned – a chain of kabbalistic marriages somehow destroying Hell. So far we have 7 participants in the network –
    Uriel, Sohu, Aaron, Sarah, Ana, Erica, Dylan.
    At least one (Dylan) is probably in hell; another (Ana) is likely in heaven. And Ana posesses the Explicit Name?
    We need 3 heavenly participants – any thoughts?

    • Droid says:

      Ana didn’t ask for the Explicit name
      –but I just realized, she got it anyways, thanks to the power of acronyms!

      • Macbi says:

        Right, Ana and Erica were arguing about which way to ask the same question.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Hm… is there anything that points in that direction inside the story? All names so far have been random strings.

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          Search Chapter 8 for “notarikon”.

          • Ninmesara says:

            I didn’t remember that part. It’s certainly very weird, because if all (as some people say) or even most of the names are notarikons of the bible they’re trivial to find by brite force…

            If you know that the Shem Hamephorash is 72 letters you can find it by hand jn a coiple of years (or days if you have a whole sweatshop) by just saying all the possible 72 letter notarikons from the bible.

            Unless the name was in the Book of Jezuboad, but now that Sohu knows abou that book the Cometspawn could have found the name in no time

    • Psy-Kosh says:

      Wait, why do we need _3_ heavenly participants?

    • Viktor Westermark says:

      CK, Robin, Metatron?

    • The Verbiage Ecstatic says:

      Well, this chapter certainly makes Uriel’s claim that he created scabmom by modifying Adam Kadmon more interesting!

      Twist ending: Uriel fucked up, pushed the world over the edge into evil, and scabmom sets off a sequence that actually dooms everyone to hell forever.

      • Gazeboist says:

        To the extent that hell (or for that matter Thamiel) is part of creation, Uriel is part of creation as well, and therefore the skabmom structure was always meant to appear late in the evolution of Adam Kadmon. In fact, the timing of Uriel’s creation of the skabmom structure might be another key point (like Aaron’s discovery of the Vital Name and which set of names Sarah happens upon in her early searches) in determining whether the universe is on-balance good. It has to be there enough for the chain to do whatever it’s going to do, but it can’t show up to early, otherwise it disrupts things before the Apocalypse is ready to happen correctly. Similarly, the difficulty of deriving it, and the prerequisite concerns for noticing it, must be precisely calibrated Ana (and nobody else) to be the one to discover it, initiating the basic links in the chain among the three middle people (Aaron – Ana – Erica) who never meet up again.

  20. The coment king says:

    This one was… about what I expected. On the one hand, I’m slightly disappointed. On the other hand, it was very well done, and addressed both of my main concerns with this idea really well (The first is that net evil still exceeds net good in unsongverse. The second is that having a universe that’s just one more in an infinite continuum of universes makes the mechanics of everything that goes on kind of boring. But the ideas of this as island in a sea of nonexistence, and that God starts everything from seeds that he lets grow instead of micromanaging, are reassuring on that front).
    Besides, it’s unreasonable to expect Scott to have two brilliant original solutions to a fundamental philosophical problem.

    • Ninmesara says:

      The problem is that Metatron (God) is micromanaging his own search. Other than that, it fits.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Is he? He seems to intervene three or four times, total, in about 6000 years of history: once when He speaks to Job, once when He speaks to Ana, and twice when He speaks to Jala. You could very arguably claim that the insertion of Thamiel and reinsertion of Neil* count as well, which brings the intervention total up to 6, but that’s it.

        * Speaking of Neil, and on a total tangent, Ananiel is apparently a leader of the Watchers in the Book of Enoch (and maybe related to storms?). Anyone else know enough to say if we can connect Ananiel to Ana’s time in San Francisco by way of anything other than nominative determinism? My thoughts leading to this footnote turned out to be entirely pointless because I can’t spell Neil.

        • dsp says:

          You’re forgetting the part where He has been captain of the Not A Metaphor ever since he incited some guys in a bar in Mexico to steal it.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Yes, this is the micromanagement I was referring too. It feels like He’s meddling too much.

          • Legendary says:

            @Ninmesara

            Look, when you are an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being and you have created all meaningful universes that can produce good without any intervention on your part, of course you’re going to move on to create the ones where they will be good with just *one* intervention. And then two interventions, and three, and the next thing you know you’re a dog in the Panama canal.

        • Ninmesara says:

          @dsp:

          and the next thing you know you’re a dog in the Panama canal

          The story would be 666% better with the inclusion of the following lines of dialog (God’s line is taken directly from your comment):

          Ana: But LORD, if you wanted this seed is supposed to blossom into a tree worthy of your glory, why did you interven so much?
          God: “Look, when you are an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being and you have created all meaningful universes that can produce good without any intervention on your part, of course you’re going to move on to create the ones where they will be good with just *one* intervention. And then two interventions, and three, and the next thing you know you’re a dog in the Panama canal.”

  21. Major Failing of the Planetary Corps says:

    So, following the form of The Clod and The Pebble, the final chapter will be titled:
    “And Builds A Heaven in Hell’s Despair”

    Well, that’s promising, at least 🙂

  22. dsotm says:

    Nice !

    But no theodic cigar, if two identical universes are the same universe then the goodness in a given universe with lots of good stuff + job-in-boils is the same goodness as in a universe with lots of good stuff without job-in-boils except for the job-in-boils part which is net evil, now if we say that the job-in-boils variation induces some kind of chaotic perturbation which makes the goodness of this universe distinct and valuable on its own then God needs to explain why it is not possible for him to devise a universe that would only include the positive results of such perturbations to begin with, and the only reason I can think of would subject God to computational limitations.

    • summer says:

      i think you’re reading this with a sort of omnipotent-omnipresent-god perspective which this god is not supposed to be. In unsongverse god plants world-seeds that he allows to grow if he senses(?) that they are good, but he doesnt put any intention into these world seeds. The world seeds are just each blip in an infinite-dimensional “sea” of possible combinations of features. each blip that is good grows, all blips that are not good do not grow. I think god is supposed to have created the sea, but not individually each blip in it

      • Borealis says:

        > “god plants world-seeds that he allows to grow if he senses(?) that they are good”

        “Sensing” had not been implied. God first creates a world from a seed, and then lets it run for a bit. He can always uncreate a world with a word.

        Thus it is only by the time of Genesis 1:31 that he declares it to be good — rather than by “sensing ahead”, even if after creating a few million million worlds from as many seeds, he’d likely come to possess -some- heuristics about seeds.

        Some theodicians may argue that Genesis 1:31 was *before* the shit had hit the fan. And that the judgement about that world being good was thus premature. But the judgement of any such theodicians might be itself premature; the world has not yet run its course and we’re yet to see what happens -after- this apocalypse (revelation).

    • Decius says:

      God can create universes that include only the positive results. He created all of those universes.

      Then he created universes that included one negative result. He created all of those universes. They are almost as good as the ones that allowed none, and it was good to create them.
      Then two negative results.
      In a manner outside of time, he created all universes that had net positive value. The Unsongverse would have negative value, because the eternal suffering in Hell is about to surpass all good ever done on Earth, but it hasn’t yet (Hellish Growth Mindset). Ana is about to destroy heaven and hell and earth and end the universe while it still has nonnegative value- if she would be too late to keep the value positive, the universe would not have been created.

      Nothing is ever a coincidence, because if those things weren’t going to happen and have everything turn out one half quantum goodness better than zero, this universe would not exist.

      Except for the one error God made. Evil exists. Evil is an aspect of God. Evil also created a panfinity of universes. In fact, Evil God created the complementary set of universes.

      • Borealis says:

        No need for Ana to destroy all and sundry. Even Jala had originally meant to outright destroy Hell, but gave up when realizing that outright destruction of one complex part of an intertwined entity will end up destroying -much- more than he had bargained for. I don’t see Ana making a mistake that Jala already avoided.

        There are other ways to ensure the universe keeps a net positive long term balance. Uriel had already demonstrated how he could make “minor” tweaks in Adam Kadmon. I’d rather predict a minor tweak being done to Adam Kadmon which doesn’t result in -complete- removing of hell, but does restore and assure a long-term net positive balance.

    • dsotm says:

      i think you’re reading this with a sort of omnipotent-omnipresent-god perspective which this god is not supposed to be.

      Well yeah the theodicy problem is only fundamental with such a god, otherwise you can always dismiss it with ‘it’s the best he could do under his limitations’

      I AM BEYOND SPACE. TO ME THERE IS NEITHER LEFT NOR RIGHT NOR MIRRORED REFLECTION.

      So it does seem to be at least omnipresent and unless relativity is Thamiel’s work beyond space also means beyond time
      And he does say he has a clearly defined objective which is to maximize goodness so the problem of evil here is essentially being recasted into ‘why seed-and-weed rather than go with a 100% success rate which an omnipotent + benevolent God should easily achieve’
      Scott tries to solve that by claiming that 100% success rate only creates one perfect universe but doesn’t explain why two perfect universes are the same one whereas one perfect universe + one universe an epsilon away from perfection equal two universes minus epsilon worth of goodness.

      • JB says:

        There’s an idea in mathematics that if two objects are identical in every way, it’s just one object. It doesn’t make sense to talk about “this 1” and “that 1” (if we’re talking about the concept of 1, not the characters on the screen that reference the concept). On the other hand, 1 and 0.99999999999999999998 are different numbers.

        If universes work in a similar way, then in order to have 2 universes, there has to be something different between them which makes them distinct.

      • dsotm says:

        Sure but two objects that are not identical in every way but can be related in the form of Universe1 = Universe0 – evsilon (evil epsilon!) are only different within evsilon so 1- 0.99999999999999999998 is 2e-20 and according to the premise this is 2e-20 of evil which creates 0.99999999999999999998 of entirely new goodness in the cosmos and that feels like cheating but we can invoke chaotic dynamics / quantum wavefunction evolution metaphors to say that the 2e-20 of evil in the initial conditions of the universe will cause it evolve into a universe that is good in a whole different way while still containing only 2e-20 of evil except that would induce the possibility of a universe which is the same in every way but *without* the 2e-20 of evil and hence strictly preferable and it is *that* universe that should have been created by an omnipotent and maximally benevolent God in the first place.
        Also he could in principle just assign different ordinals to identical perfect universes thereby differentiating them by that property – perfect universe number one, perfect universe number two etc.

        • JB says:

          He did do the identical perfect universes enumerated by different ordinals thing. He also created the imperfect but net-positive universes. Every “but what if instead” universe was created… it’s not like there is a finite, exhaustible amount of material to make universes out of, and God is choosing between using the last bit of it to create yet another variety of perfect universe or creating an imperfect universe. All universes that have a net positive amount of good are created.

          • JB says:

            Another analogy – imagine the integers are perfect, the rest of the reals are imperfect but net-positive, and the complex numbers are imperfect and net-negative. God instantiates the real number line, but doesn’t instantiate the rest of the complex plane. When we’re looking at, say, 1.715, we might say “what if instead of creating that number, God had instead created another integer?” But what integer wasn’t instantiated along with the entire real number line? The set of all integers was instantiated. The question is whether R\I should be allowed to exist along with them.

          • dsotm says:

            No we ask ‘what is it about 1.715 that makes a cosmos that includes it along with 1 and 2 preferable to a cosmos that includes 1 and 2 alone’ or why is God’s objective to maximize total good rather than say the good/evil ratio which would hit infinity with a single perfect universe

          • JB says:

            This seems like a completely different line of objection than what I was responding to, and I agree – it’s valid to ask why God is maximizing total net good rather than maximizing total good subject to the constraint of having no evil.

          • JB says:

            The end of the chapter does deal with this objection as well (though perhaps you don’t find its answer satisfying)

            “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, saying: “HAVE YOU BEHELD THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH? SEEN ITS FOOTINGS AND ITS CORNERSTONE? WATCHED AS THE SONS OF GOD ALL SANG TOGETHER AND THE MORNING STARS SHOUTED FOR JOY? HAVE YOU SEEN THE DOORS OF THE SEA? THE CHAINS OF THE PLEIADES AND ORION’S BELT? THE LIONS, THE RAVENS, THE YOUNG OF THE DOE AND BEAR? BEHOLD THE BEHEMOTH, WHICH I MADE BESIDE YOU, AND THE LEVIATHAN WHO RESIDES IN THE SEA. CAN YOU SAY THAT ALL THESE WONDERS SHOULD NOT BE, SO THAT YOU COULD AVOID A CASE OF BOILS? SHALL I SMITE THEM FOR YOU? SPEAK, AND I SHALL END THE WORLD WITH A WORD.”

            And as He spoke, the whirlwind took form, and Job saw all of these things, the boundaries of the Earth and the gateways of the Heavens, the myriad animals from Leviathan down to the smallest microbe, the glory of the lightning and the gloom of the deepest caves, the pyramids of Egypt and the pagodas of China. And he knew more surely than he had ever known anything before that God could end all of them with a word, and he knew that the existence of all of them, every single one, depended on the same seed that had given him a case of boils.”

            I think this is saying that it would be evil to not create beings that experience net positive happiness. So the choice between creating a universe where everyone is perfectly happy except that one person stubs his toe one time, versus not creating that universe, isn’t a choice between a large amount of good and a small amount of evil versus zero good and zero evil. It’s a difference between a large amount of good and a small amount of evil versus a small amount of good (not allowing the stubbed toe) and a large amount of evil (not allowing those creatures to exist and experience their nearly-perfect lives)

          • dsotm says:

            Same line of objection really (all objections challenging the consistency of a proposed theodicy are merely cabalistic metaphors for the primordial objection) – to be satisfactory a theodicy even under the total-net-good objective needs to explain what is it that makes a non-perfect universe marginally valuable in the presence of the perfect-er universe from which it initially differed by an infinitesimal flaw, that is why the apocalyptic end-state of a “net good” universe is not ontologicaly identical to a universe that has existed in that state from the beginning.

          • Gradus says:

            yet this does seem to be addressed in his response to abraham.

            “BE CAREFUL, JOB. I HAD THIS CONVERSATION WITH ABRAHAM BEFORE YOU. HE ASKED WHETHER I WOULD SPARE MY JUDGMENT ON SODOM LEST FIFTY RIGHTEOUS MEN SHOULD SUFFER. WHEN I AGREED, HE PLED FOR FORTY, THIRTY, TWENTY, AND TEN. BUT BELOW TEN HE DID NOT GO, SO I DESTROYED THE CITY. AND IF I WOULD NOT RESTRAIN MYSELF FROM DESTROYING FOR THE SAKE OF A HANDFUL OF RIGHTEOUS MEN SUFFERING, HOW MUCH LESS I SHOULD RESTRAIN MYSELF FROM CREATING.”

            He also has Job’s answer itself — given the choice to exist or not, the peoples of the universe choose to exist. This is enough ethical motive to create them.

            The thing that bothers ME about all this is that God states Job’s soul can be removed from the world and given over to eternal Bliss. What the fuck is THAT about?? if that’s possible then whence all this “identity of form is identity of essence” stuff?

          • dsotm says:

            So the choice between creating a universe where everyone is perfectly happy except that one person stubs his toe one time

            But consider that there is a universe that is exactly like this one but with that one person not having stubbed his toe even a single time, if it’s not for this difference these two universes would have been ontologically the same one, but because of this one incident of toe-stubbing all the good in the second universe suddenly takes up extancy of its own and nearly-doubles the value of the cosmos ?

          • JB says:

            But consider that there is a universe that is exactly like this one but with that one person not having stubbed his toe even a single time, if it’s not for this difference these two universes would have been ontologically the same one, but because of this one incident of toe-stubbing all the good in the second universe suddenly takes up extancy of its own and nearly-doubles the value of the cosmos ?

            Yes, that’s how it works in the story. I guess to me this seems like a way metaphysics could work, and to you it doesn’t. Sadly there is no such thing as experimental metaphysics to resolve the disagreement 🙂

          • JB says:

            Although now that I think about it the other way… even if having infinite copies of the version of that universe with no stubbed toes is possible in a way that makes them all ontologically distinct, that still leaves the question of whether the identical except with a stubbed toe universe ought to exist in addition to the infinite copies of the first universe.

          • dsotm says:

            Well there is thought-experimental metaphysics, so let’s assume that it works exactly that way – what makes God prefer *any* state of the universe over another, with the exception of 100%-evil universes every universe contributes some good to the cosmos if evil is free, I guess the next chapter will clarify what the unsong God thinks constitutes a “net good” end-state which might allow for a non-arbitrary definition of his objective.

            Although now that I think about it the other way… even if having infinite copies of the version of that universe with no stubbed toes is possible in a way that makes them all ontologically distinct, that still leaves the question of whether the identical except with a stubbed toe universe ought to exist in addition to the infinite copies of the first universe.

            This question only makes sense from the point of view of God – otherwise who can be said to derive or be deprived of utility from the [non-]existence of an entire universe – assuming no inter-universe information/causality flow (which given God is a non-trivial assumption) ? And if we consider God as target of ethical choices then we need to be able to model him which just pushes the whole discussion one metaverse higher.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Utility and disutility don’t seem to exist outside of a given universe. That is, a universe is judged for its “net goodness” in terms of the utility of all its components throughout its history (especially the happiness of conscious beings, but also things like beauty and elegance), but all universes together are not. God is trying to create a set of good universes, not a good set of universes.

    • The Verbiage Ecstatic says:

      > “now if we say that the job-in-boils variation induces some kind of chaotic perturbation which makes the goodness of this universe distinct and valuable on its own then God needs to explain why it is not possible for him to devise a universe that would only include the positive results of such perturbations to begin with”

      Per God’s explanation, God did create that universe (with the positive perturbation, minus the boils). But God also created the boils universe. Because having both is even better!

  23. Major Failing of the Planetary Corps says:

    I think the important question for Scott is, what’s up with these golden thrones in the most perfect possible universe? Whatever happened to a nice, comfy, lotus throne? I feel like a gold seat would be extremely uncomfortable after a prolonged period of sitting. How are we supposed to spend eternity comprehending the eternal bliss of our existence once the hemorrhoids start setting in?

  24. Name says:

    People have alluded to it already, but for posterity: “Answer to Job”, posted nine months before the prologue of Unsong, and the basis for this chapter. (Or perhaps the entire story?)

    http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/15/answer-to-job/

  25. Matthias says:

    So, also, while I like the Answer to Job as it works for our universe, it sort of weirds me out in Unsong. For our universe, it sounds really reasonable for a certain kind of physics and where lots of Biblical scholars and theologians accept that one shouldn’t believe in the literal truth of all of the Bible. But Unsong-verse turns out to be very literal in the Bible and there are several established interventions by God/Metatron (with some question of Uriel, but still). This very touch-and-go approach to cosmogony seems kind of strange to me for this setting. Especially the modal worlds bit, when that seems to come out of nowhere from the Bible. (Although on discussion, a friend pointed me out that the KJ version of Hebrews 11:3 is “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”)

    • JJR says:

      You can’t really accept the Answer to Job for just one universe though. By it’s nature it will either explain the problem of in a myriad of universes or not at all.

      • Matthias says:

        I suppose, I’m using universe more broadly to mean the setting the universe is part of. Answer to Job seems reasonable for whatever you want to call the multiverse configuration our universe is embedded in (for that story) that seems much less interventionist. It seems weirder narratively in the Unsongverse’s configuration, where God is both describing setting seeded universes in the garden growing according to their secret structures (which He knows how they will play out, so only good ones grow), but also at least some seeds like the Unsongverse seem to require direct, active intervention by God. (If God accepts intervention as necessary for certain good seeds, then there’s the question of why bad seeds can’t also get interventions. Although I suppose the interventions may make them indistinguishable in the parameter space of the cosmic garden.) It makes divine intervention seem like the “fixed points in time” from Doctor Who, which in theory can’t be changed, but in practice seemed amenable to various amounts of intervention or change.

        • dsp says:

          The interventions are part of the seed. Just because part of the universe says it’s doing God’s will doesn’t make it less a part of the universe.

  26. Necarion says:

    From Metatron’s answer we can deduce both that the universe is a Fermion – if it had been a Boson, then God would have been able to create infinitely many identical and perfect universes. More importantly, our Universe must have spin-1/2 which can be encouraged to point Up towards Good or Down towards Evil. A perfect Bosonic universe, being made wholly of divine light, would have Spin-0 and have no free will.

    Relatedly, we can deduce that Metatron is also a Fermion. After all, as Captain, he is far to highly ranked to be a mere Bo’s’n.

    • antpocalypse says:

      As a physics grad student I feel compelled to note that bosons need not have spin 0, only integer spin (and likewise that fermions can have spin 1/2, 3/2, 5/2, etc)… but the pun might be worth the error.

  27. LHC says:

    So, um.

    If, after living in their universes, beings go onto Heaven… isn’t every conceivable universe “net-positive”, since even the worst of universes contain their own distinct beings in them, which will rather have been created than not have been created once they’re in Heaven?

    Heaven really throws a wrench into things such that, if the “what, would you rather not have been created at all” argument works for any universe, it should work for all universes. This is particularly the case once we take Hell out of the equation (eternal Hell, at least), so that we don’t have to weigh the souls in Hell against the souls in Heaven to do utilitarian calculus.

    • Patrick says:

      Why do you assume that “after living in their universes, beings go onto Heaven”? I assume that some universes contain Heaven and some don’t, but that there is no “extra-universal” heaven beyond all the universes. So containing Heaven and/or Hell is part of (though not all of) what goes into deciding if a universe should exist.

      • LHC says:

        When God references Heaven to Job as a further reason he should be okay with suffering, it really doesn’t seem like a description of the exact conditions of Job’s universe; it seems like God is making an argument applicable to all people suffering from Job’s same problem. Furthermore, if God sees two identical universes as being the same, this implies that destruction-and-recreation teleportation is possible, and by extension that it’s always good for God to create the version of a person who’s just gone to Heaven.

        • Patrick says:

          But we know that at least in the Unsong universe, heaven is inside the universe: Neil Armstrong has been there, for instance. And to me, God’s reference to Heaven when answering Job does sound like something in Job’s universe because he lists it along with a bunch of other things that are in Job’s universe.

          And yes, God sees two identical universes as the same, but it’s also specified that God does not create individual people, he just creates “seeds” that grow into universes and the important thing is that these seeds are different. I don’t see any evidence that God has the ability to transport people out of their universe or that this is even a meaningful concept in Unsong. (I.e. maybe beings that are not God only make sense inside a universe and it is not meaningful to talk about transporting them to some other universe or place.)

          So I see no good evidence in the text that there is an extra-universal Heaven and I see good evidence that there is a Heaven within some universes. It seems like you’re worrying about a problem that doesn’t exist.

          • LHC says:

            I don’t actually see this as a “problem”, but rather, as a very good thing; the alternative is much more horrifying insofar as it implies that there is no eternal Heaven (but the fact that God explicitly refers to Heaven as eternal in this chapter contradicts that). Insofar as I object to what Scott’s written, it’s not because I object to the theodicy solution itself, but rather because I think he’s underselling how good this solution is. The reason God creates evil is because each Universe-With-Evil-And-Good-In-It is a universe with its own unique good, and God is a natalist when it comes to the existence of unique goods. I think Scott’s intuition of a “utilitarian scale” that needs to be at least weighted towards good to justify an action isn’t really applicable in this context for a multitude of reasons, most obviously the idea that there’s actually no such thing as negative utility, only utility getting closer and closer to zero, and so creation of a universe with unique beings inside it is always a net good – a being that says it’d be better off never to have been created at all is always necessarily mistaken.

            I’ll certainly say this: when I suffer, or when I hear about other people suffering, I don’t ever really feel the strong urge to retcon my existence away to fix it, and I’m pretty sure anyone who disagrees could be turned around on the subject by spending a bit of time in the eternal Heaven (which is where we’re all going, right? because the alternative is annihilation-death, which is a horror on scale with eternal Hell, and that’s fucking terrible. also note that the existence of the explicit name means that there is no eternal Heaven in the Unsong universe if Heaven is supposed to be within the universe as opposed to outside it).

          • MugaSofer says:

            I interpreted God’s comment about heaven the same way you did, LHC.

            But note that God is omniscient, and so knows in advance whether anyone is going to use the Explicit Name to destroy mini!heaven and can refrain from creating the universe if they will. As long as this universe lasts forever, so would its attendant micro-heaven.

        • Jello says:

          I just assumed he meant that there existed a mind in a perfect universe that would have continuity of consciousness with the person who died. There doesn’t even have to be any causal connection since every mind that is at all capable of net happiness should be instantiated in many universes.

  28. R Flaum says:

    I disagree with this entire approach. Creating a happy person — even a perfectly, superhumanly happy person — does not make the world a better place. Now, once a person exists, then making them happy makes the world a better place. And if you know for a fact that a person is going to exist, then arranging for them to be happy when they do is good. But creating someone just so that they can be happy seems like giving someone cancer just so that you can then cure it.

    • Marvy says:

      I am very sympathetic to that objection. It’s my objection too. But I think it might be wrong, or at least not the whole story. The trouble is, if you take this seriously, you can derive a bunch of things that sound wrong-ish. For instance, right now human population is growing at a percent per year or so (or so says Wikipedia). It would only take a small tweak to birth and/or death rates to make it hold steady instead. You say that’s pretty much fine, there’s no need to create a world with 8 billion people, the one we have with 7 billion is not any worse. I agree. Suppose we tweak the rates a bit more. The population begins shrinking. Eventually the world population falls to 6 billion. That’s still fine. Most people alive today remember what it was like to live in world with 6 billion people. If they think today’s world is better, it’s usually for some reason other than “there are more of us now”.

      Let’s continue. We make no further tweaks. The population continues to fall slowly. Eventually there are 5 billion people. 4 billion. Are you getting uncomfortable yet? 3, 2, 1. The population of the world is less than that of India or China today. Half a billion people left. A quarter billion. Less people remain on the planet than are today in the USA.

      100 million. 50 million. 25 million. Many decades have passed by now, or maybe centuries. (Too lazy to do math.) The world population is roughly that of today’s Shanghai. 10 million. 5 million. The population of the world is lower than it’s ever been in recorded history, and continues to fall at a slow and steady rate. (Too lazy to do proper research, but I think this is right.)

      2 million. 1 million. Half a million. Quarter million. I’m definitely uncomfortable by now, even though I can’t quite put my finger on why. 100 thousand. 50 thousand. 25 thousand. People have been making jokes for a long time that humans should go on the endangered species list. It starts to look like it will soon happen.

      It’s important to emphasize that we make sure the shrinking population doesn’t make anyone particularly unhappy. But that seems realistic. Plenty of countries already have birth rates too low to keep the population from falling, and I don’t hear anyone complaining. (Maybe I just don’t pay attention?) Likewise, it is important that low population doesn’t make people unhappy, but again, I’ve never heard of people in ancient times complaining that the population was too low and the average happiness could be increased if only people would have more kids. (Again, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.) But even if I’m wrong about how realistic this is, it doesn’t matter. This is a thought experiment, so we can assume those problems away by fiat. The world population is falling and nobody minds. Maybe they even like it this way. (No more competition for scarce resources, yay! My children will face even less competition and lead lives more even more luxurious than mine!)

      10 thousand. 5 thousand. 2 thousand. It seems safe to say that humanity no longer spans the globe, but is concentrated in just one or two population centers.

      1000. 500. 250. 125. Everybody knows everybody else. Also: everyone is probably related to everyone else. Finally, we’re literally one big happy family!

      60. 50. 40. Unless some discovers the cure for aging right about now, it should be possible to predict with pretty high precision the exact time the human species goes extinct.

      30. 20. 15. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

      12. 10. 8. 7. I think at this point we no longer have enough people to maintain a hi-tech civilization, so people are probably living a fairly simple life.

      6. 5. 4. 3. By now my assumption that nobody is sad is getting unrealistic. At the very least, the extroverts are probably getting lonely.

      2. 1. 0. The last person dies peacefully in their sleep.

      Do you think the final state of this hypothetical world is no worse than ours? If someone put you in charge of that world, and you found a way to bring humanity back, would you have no temptation to do so? After all, even if it’s sad when people die, that’s no reason to create new people. It won’t bring anyone back. It’s just like “giving someone cancer so you can cure it”.

      I’m pretty sure I cheated somewhere in what I just wrote, but I’m not sure where. Or maybe you actually think this is all fine, in which case, great, you’re more consistent than I am.

      • chosenonemore says:

        I think this would be the best possible thing.

        • Gradus says:

          let’s not put you and others in this thread in charge of the world, then.

          some sui-genocidal folk around here…

          • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

            Gradus: Agreed. Negative utilitarians are scary. They’ve got a good sense of pain/suffering but seem to be entirely lacking a sense of joy/happiness/beauty.

            ..of course that’s an empirical claim and probably false; the truth is probably much more complicated. If anyone wants to talk about this more I’d love to hear your thoughts; PM me.

      • R Flaum says:

        If someone put you in charge of that world, and you found a way to bring humanity back, would you have no temptation to do so?

        No, I wouldn’t.

      • Yossarian says:

        If someone put you in charge of that world, and you found a way to bring humanity back, would you have no temptation to do so?
        Nope. If I were God, I would say “FINALLY, NO ONE IS BITCHING ABOUT THE STATE OF AFFAIRS ANYMORE. THEY MUST BE ALL HAPPY NOW” and move on to a different project.
        On a more serious note, I would try for a better metaphor than “giving someone cancer so you can cure it”. I think something like heroin addiction is a better metaphor here – if you are not addicted, you are fine as you are, but once you are addicted, you are better off using (if the addiction is uncurable, of course). Similarly, not existing is better than existing (I’ve never heard anyone complaining about it, like ever!), but the human built-in set of values is such that once you exist, you want to keep existing.
        Actually, if you think about it, the whole heroin addiction metaphor might be not so much of a metaphor, as the system that gives us the feelings of value does, in fact, operate on the various neurochemical substances, and heroin-cocain-whatever else users just try to directly hack the system to get more happiness out of it (with disastrous results, of course). But creating a new being in order to increase the amount of good things is akin to addicting an existing being to some drug that gives an incurable addiction – it’s just two different levels of the same exact process.

        • R Flaum says:

          I can see the argument for a heroin addiction metaphor. The thing I was going for with a cancer metaphor was, well… you know that thing in HPMoR where Harry calls death a “wound in the world”? Well, that’s how I view desire: a wound in the world. Satisfying the desire closes the wound (and in my view it does so even if the person who has the desire never finds out that their desire has been satisfied), but it’s even better to see to it that the desire never arises in the first place. That the wound never even happens.

          • Marvy says:

            Nitpick: Dumbledore said that, not Harry.

          • linkhyrule5 says:

            The problem with that is that it very easily leads silly places. If you want to eliminate desires instead of satisfying them, you have no incentive not to wirehead, or to otherwise cheat around actually solving the problem.

          • R Flaum says:

            What’s wrong with wireheading?

          • Yossarian says:

            Actually, if you are looking at the desire as a wound in the world, the heroin thing is a better metaphor, because it’s not a metaphor – it’s exactly this, creating a new point of desire within an existing being.

      • David Marjanović says:

        Plenty of countries already have birth rates too low to keep the population from falling, and I don’t hear anyone complaining. (Maybe I just don’t pay attention?)

        …You don’t, and it’s pretty astounding. There’s lots of worrying about “who will pay for our retirement”, “who will care for all these old people”, and of course “but if we solve those problems by immigration, that would change things, and I don’t like that!”.

        That’s before we even get to religious objections. Various fundamentalists somehow believe we still haven’t fulfilled “be fruitful and multiply”, and the same pope who said Catholics don’t have to “multiply like rabbits” still recommends having three children per couple.

        And never mind the geneticists! I once had a professor who said in a lecture that he was for further increasing the world population (and solving the food problem by genetic engineering) to make it less likely that we’d all die from the same pandemic or something.

        Likewise, it is important that low population doesn’t make people unhappy, but again, I’ve never heard of people in ancient times complaining that the population was too low and the average happiness could be increased if only people would have more kids. (Again, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.)

        Here, too, you weren’t. The death rates were high enough that there was repeated worrying about birth rates not keeping up in a particular place. Augustus, IIRC, ordered married couples to have sex at least twice a month for this reason (marriage being generally arranged, so spouses didn’t like each other much).

      • The Verbiage Ecstatic says:

        There are alternatives that avoid this. For instance, “complexity is better than simplicity, but ugly complexity is worse than beautiful simplicity”. A world of suffering with a lot of people is worse than a world of bliss with a few people, but a world of bliss with a lot of people is even better.

      • You haven’t seen the people complaining. If nothing else, there will be a shortage of people to take care of those who are debilitated from age, loss of variious ethnic groups, and a lot of good stuff that doesn’t get created.

        I think your argument would apply to ending all life on earth, or at least life which is capable of feeling pain.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          That’s kind of the point; it’s supposed to be a terrible argument, because it’s a reductio ad absurdum of “bringing new life into being, and making this life happy, is not a good thing.”

          Because if you believe that, then ultimately there is no reason for life to continue existing at all. As long as each individual life form remains happy until it dies, having the whole world wither away and quietly perish is going to seem like at worst a morally neutral proposition.

          There are two ways around that issue.

          One is to back up and say “no wait, creating a new happy person, or person whose life is otherwise a utilitarian net positive, is itself a utilitarian net positive.” The other is to say “what is desirable is not the happiness of individuals, but some underlying order of the world that requires those individuals’ existence.”

          The first explanation involves conceding the original argument. The second creates its own interesting issues- in particular, because it becomes open to questions of theodicy.

          I suppose that the steelman version of the argument “creating new beings with happy lives is not a net positive” would be that this notion of letting all life die out can be cast in a more positive light. It’s sort of like the concept of Nirvana: release of the soul from the veil of illusion and the endless cycle of worldly life.

          However, this steelman version STILL basically boils down to saying that nonexistence is inherently preferable to existence, and that letting everything die is fine as long as you can keep everyone happy while you do it.

          • dsp says:

            I’m not even an antinatalist and I can’t comprehend what is supposed to be so bad about letting all life die out that it supposedly instantly snipes any position that may justify it. I mean, it’s going to happen anyway, you know. Might as well accept it.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Suffice to say that ‘survival,’ as a collective body and not just as isolated individual monads with no relevant past and future, is a very commonly shared value among human beings.

            Saying that the continued existence of people as a whole is objectively irrelevant, and that the only thing that matters is that we be comfortable until the end… Well, it’s a self-consistent position. But it’s an unusual position. And one that is very much at odds with most value sets that you could get consensus on from a bunch of humans.

            That provides the reason why “this argument leads to us having to accept human extinction as a morally neutral outcome” ‘snipes’ things. It’s basically giving up on a core value that is shared by a super-majority of the audience. And I don’t just mean an idea or belief, I mean a value. Most people want community and collective existence to continue, and do not favor collective suicide or withering-away.

          • dsp says:

            Get paid by the word, do you? I mean, I hope so, because you just murdered an awful lot of them telling me that “other people irrationally value continued human existence”, which I already knew.

        • Yossarian says:

          Higher fraction of people who are not working because of old age? Aren’t there also people who are complaining that with the automatisation of everything there are too many goods produced and less work places needed in the economy? Well, I guess that might be one of the paradoxes of the modern economy or something…
          Loss of various ethnic groups? And why is it a bad thing really?
          And a lot of good stuff will get created anyways regardless of the particular number of people living on Earth. There might be some minimum number of people where the diversity and the number of the people carrying various skill set falls below what’s needed to create the new good things, but I feel that nowadays we are well past that optimum and sitting in a highly oversaturated society – for every person working for creating new, novel things there are thousands upon thousands of people doing some sort of old boring thing, and in those thousands of people there is at least a hundred or two who could easily replace the one person doing the good thing (but were just not lucky enough to get a job doing the NEW THING), so it’s not like we would have less good things if the population goes down.

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      Yes.

      I often flirt with something like antinatalism. Or at least conditional antinatalism, in which our world is currently well below the threshold for acceptable person-making conditions. For various reasons I do not think this makes extinctionism the correct path (note to prospective parents: I do not actually think what you are doing is unethical- not on net anyways), but yeah.

      And the interesting thing is… the reason I adopted this view, originally, was that it developed out of consistency for my shear, unending hatred for God.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        Actually I have a perhaps even bigger objection, now that I think about it- identity lives in the present and forking cannot be seen as creating more people from any present point of view! I will make a separate comment for this, because it seems important.

    • fourtimesnine says:

      Would you mind explaining why you think so? It seems to me that most people are happy to exist — that they wouldn’t liken creating someone to giving someone cancer. Just to be clear, I’m not trying to argue; I’m simply curious.

      • Yossarian says:

        When most people reproduce, they are not exactly thinking of maximizing the goodness content of the universe. Similarly, there is quite a lot of people who are really unhappy to exist (even to the point where their existense brings negative value), but they wouldn’t do anything about it or even voice it out (or, hell, even think about it) because of the various social reasons.

        • Gradus says:

          There are many people who, given the option, prefer existence to non-existence. If you aren’t one of them, please let the universe alone and don’t go ’round casting human extinction like it’s a good thing. It won’t do you any harm carrying one once you stop.

      • R Flaum says:

        Well, I’m not a happiness-maximizer. I’m a desire-satisfier. Once someone exists — or if we know that they’re someday going to exist, because desires can create obligations backwards in time — then you should try to make them happy because they prefer to be happy, all else being equal. But if they don’t exist, and never did exist, and never will exist, then they have no desires at all.

        • Marvy says:

          Hey, that actually makes sense! I think I get what you’re trying to say now!

        • Peter D says:

          Isn’t that the Benatar argument?

        • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

          Lots of people, myself in particular, have very strong desires for more people to exist. I’m not a utilitarian, but I want there to be sentient life until there can be no more sentient life… I want to have children, I want my children to have children, etc. I want the things that have happened so far in history to never be forgotten, or failing that, to be remembered and learned from as long as possible. I can go on listing more such things. And I’m not alone in desiring this.

          • dsp says:

            I desire, many times more strongly, for your line and every line related to you to within seven generations to go extinct and for all their names to be lost to history for an eternity. We can’t both be satisfied, but satisfying my desire instead of yours dramatically curtails the possibility of future unsatisfied desires. Incidentally, it’s also the correct way to maximise utility, for the people who are into that, because I’m a utility monster capable of experiencing transcendent joy.

        • fourtimesnine says:

          Ah, that does make sense! In light of your other comment (the one about desires being wounds), I would guess that you believe an absence of desire is neutral, a satisfied desire is neutral, and an unsatisfied desire is bad. In which case the existence of life is bad, because living things can have unsatisfied desires; even if you satisfy all their desires the situation has only improved to be the same as if they’d never had desires in the first place.

    • holomanga says:

      Anthropic principle: all the antinatalist Gods never created universes, so of course you wouldn’t find yourself living in a universe where God didn’t like creating universes.

    • Grauds says:

      Unsong seems to subscribe to a theory of ethics that believes inaction in the face of a moral decision is morally reprehensible. (See the coat and the drowning child analogy from Singer)

      If God can anticipate the existence of a being and know that this being would prefer to live than not exist, God may see it not just as creating good, but as a moral imperative to create any such entity He can, so long as doing so is net positive suffering. Failing to create this being is the same as failing to save the child – inaction is just as bad as action, especially from a timeless perspective.

      • R Flaum says:

        I agree that inaction can be morally reprehensible. I just don’t see how it’s reprehensible in this specific case — because a world that has net positive happiness is still inferior to no world at all. A world that had infinite happiness would still merely be as good as no world at all.

        • David Marjanović says:

          So… is happiness nothing but the absence of suffering?

          • R Flaum says:

            Happiness is not something I’m concerned with. I don’t care how much happiness there is in the world. I care how much unsatisfied desire there is in the world.

          • Gradus says:

            R Flaum – This can be framed without relying on “maximize happiness” as the terminal value for God.

            If “failing to create” and “destroying” are morally equivalent for God due to his timeless nature and the principle of Tooley’s Moral Symmetry, then God may be ethically compelled to create all possibly minds that would want to exist, and do not result in net Evil.

            In this scenario, God isn’t creating minds to make more happiness, creating minds is the terminal value, and happiness/evil is simply a metric whereby he determines what limits to put on that creation.

          • Gradus says:

            R Flaum

            Let me put it this way, since you described avoiding unfulfilled desire as your terminal value.

            To God, as he is timeless and omniscient, the anticipation of an unfulfilled desire is the same as an actual unfulfilled desire.

            Therefore, he is compelled to fulfill the desire of every person who would want to exist.

            If he didn’t care about happiness at all, as you claim you don’t, he might create even more worlds than described here, because he would create every world in which the residents on net desired to exist, not those which were on net happy.

  29. Droid says:

    First letter of last chapter is ‘S’ CONFIRMED!!!

  30. Metatron is a Mary Sue?

  31. Rand says:

    BECAUSE SET THEORY, spake the Lord.

    IT IS GOOD THAT YOU DID NOT ASK THE STUPID PARADOXICAL QUESTION

    • The coment king says:

      I feel like that’s a quote from somewhere, but don’t remember where.

      • Rand says:

        I hope not.

        If it is, I don’t know where from.

        • Rand says:

          A search for “STUPID PARADOXICAL QUESTION” yields one result: a discussion of “why is there something rather than nothing” on 4chan.

          • Aris Katsaris says:

            I think the paradoxical question about sets, is “Does the set of all sets that don’t contain themselves, contain itself?”

  32. linkhyrule5 says:

    Hm.

    Interestingly, as it turns out, the answer God gave answered both Erika’s and Ana’s question. (On a side note, I’ve been a little worried about her for a while – one of *ana* and *kata* means “left,” I believe…)

    Does that imply, through Aaron, that that was, in fact, the best possible question to ask?

  33. Eyeballfrog says:

    “IF TWO THINGS ARE THE SAME, THEY ARE ONE THING. IF I CREATED TWO PERFECT UNIVERSES, I WOULD ONLY HAVE CREATED ONE UNIVERSE. IN ORDER TO DIFFERENTIATE A UNIVERSE FROM THE PERFECT UNIVERSE, IT MUST BE DIFFERENT IN ITS SEED, ITS SECRET UNDERLYING STRUCTURE.”

    I like that this is a restatement of the Axiom of Extensionality, the most fundamental axiom of set theory. Does that mean the Unsong multiverse follows the mathematical universe hypothesis?

    • Rand says:

      But also, that it’s impossible to pair universes with natural numbers (or this would have solved the problem).

      Now I’m wondering about the theological implications of the Univalence Axiom…

      • Eyeballfrog says:

        Actually, going further with the set theory analogy, it seems that God’s method of creating universes maps rather well to the elimination of paradoxes in naive set theory. If you allow arbitrary construction of sets/universes, you get a bunch of bad ones that screw everything up and make the whole endeavor fail. But if you carefully only allow the “good” sets/universes to exist, you get a wondrous creation out of a few simple rules.

    • Torstein says:

      I dont think it’s a restatement of the Axiom of Extensionality, but Leibniz’ Law (Identity of indiscernibles).

  34. PDV says:

    Bold prediction: Heaven exists in or consists of Leviathan; it is necessary to be swallowed by Leviathan to reach Heaven.

    God is obsessed with Leviathan. This is strange and confusing, and it is not a coincidence. The other kabbalistic meaning of Leviathan is “all the people of the world”, which is derived from Hobbes and the Leviathan which makes up all people of society.

    “COME AND SEE,” said God.

    Then the Leviathan wheeled around, opened its colossal maw, and engulfed the Not A Metaphor. The ship spent a single wild moment in its mouth before the monster closed its jaws and crushed all of them into tiny pieces.

    God invites them to COME AND SEE, then Levithan eats them all. Metatron is fully capable of striking them all dead where they stand, or even just Ana, on an instant whim. So why feed them to Leviathan?

    Then consider: Thamiel is a facet of God and Hell his direct creation. It takes more than the Explicit Name to remove it. And yet God has now promised that it will be net-positive, which it could not be with the continued existence of Hell. Leviathan, though, is if not a facet of God, “the first of the works of God”, and so plausibly could make the difference. (Also, the first aim of the works of God is to create unique happy worlds; first means not only chronologically but also first in importance, and the resolution of Hell is first in importance.) Furthermore, the entrance to Hell is in a lake, and many myths of world-serpents include them swallowing the world in the end of times.

    My conclusion is that the Leviathan is destined to eventually shatter the continents and devour the entire world, including the oceans flooding through Lake Baikal into Hell and Leviathan eating them all, and in some way becoming part of Leviathan or being eaten by it transports you to Heaven.

    • Marvy says:

      Leviathan is a big scary fish. Thamiel is the Left Hand of God.
      We already have seen example of some feeding their left hand to a scary fish.
      This is probably “just” a coincidence because even for a universe running on NIEAC principles can only support some large but probably finite number of coincidence before things just get too crazy.

      • memeticengineer says:

        In Sohu’s battle with Thamiel, it seemed super salient that she didn’t have a left hand after Thamiel announced that he was the left hand of good.

        Crazy theory: the Comet King threatened to recarve God without that facet (the facet that Thamiel is). Thamiel is the left hand of God. Sohu doesn’t have a left hand. Does this mean that the Comet King will replace God with Sohu?

      • Simon_Jester says:

        “This is probably “just” a coincidence because even for a universe running on NIEAC principles can only support some large but probably finite number of coincidence before things just get too crazy.”

        Thing is, the Unsongverse has long since passed that point. Things are crazy. Some things are even by all appearances fractally crazy. It is entirely possible that the number of crazy things is spiraling completely out of control, asymptotically approaching infinity.

        In other words, there’s a crack in the world.

        • dsp says:

          It seems probable that individuals have different levels of willing suspension of causative disbelief with respect to coincidences.

    • Placid Platypus says:

      But we learned in this chapter that God is not actually obsessed with Leviathan. That was just the cover story Job came up with since God told him to keep the real answer a secret. “TELL THEM I SAID ‘GO FISH’.”

      • dsp says:

        How have you not learned by now that the fact that it was just the cover story does not mean that it was not also part of the fundamental order underlying the universe?

  35. hnau says:

    The answer to all of theodicy was pretty disappointing.

    And that’s speaking as a Christian, and as someone who has heard Christian apologists use pretty much the exact argument given in part VIII.

    • hnau says:

      On the other hand, the cosmic unemployment rate and “Go Fish” were pretty awesome. Overall I liked the chapter a lot and can’t wait to see how the story ends.

    • clayton smith says:

      It was a bit expected for those who had read answer to job, but in all honestly as an atheist and former christian, it’s the ONLY interesting answer to theodicy I’ve heard. Everything else amounts to “God is mysterious” or “God is not subject to moral judgement.” This at the least casts God as a rational agent trying to do what is best in a way we can understand.

      • dsp says:

        You have an interesting definition of “interesting”.

        • clayton smith says:

          How so? The solution is interesting a) because it’s fairly novel — the philosophical paper predating Scott notwithstanding, the use of multiverse theory to explain the existence of non-perfect worlds is creative; b) because it offers a self-consistent ethical position that doesn’t merely beg the question, which no other justification of Christian theology has been able to do, in my opinion. Why shouldn’t that be interesting?

          • dsp says:

            Perhaps the main problem is that it doesn’t actually fulfill either of those criteria at all. That said, I’m not sure why something that does would be interesting, either.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Hnau, do you have a reason for saying that the explanation is both non-novel and does not offer a self-consistent ethical position beyond ‘begging the question?’

            It certainly seems novel to me. Scott may not be the first person in the whole world to think of it, but this explanation certainly hasn’t penetrated into popular awareness, or even into the general awareness of philosophy buffs as a whole.

            And as to its self-consistency… well, that requires a bit more refutation than just a bald dismissal on your part.

          • dsp says:

            I am going to assume that you meant me since hnau doesn’t seem to have directly stated that.

            Novelty is, of course, a subjective criterion, but if we’re going to try to talk about it usefully – and I’m not the one who asserted its relevance here, so I’m not going to take responsibility for the term having come up – we’re going to have to adopt a definition at least slightly more general than “I and anybody I know haven’t heard of it”. On the one hand, your claim to know of what “philosophy buffs” are aware might be disputed, but I’ll take a different approach. I say it is not novel because it is an obvious extension of utilitarianism that everyone thinking about the question should have already considered and discarded by now. If it was a technology, you couldn’t patent it for exactly that reason.

            Respecting self-consistency, I’m not sure why the claim doesn’t require more support than a bald assertion on the other guy’s part, but I can agree that it’s reasonable to want more detail. The explanation absolutely begs the question. It reduces to both “God is mysterious” and “God is not subject to moral judgement”. Witness his response to Job when asked why He is so dead-set on creating: there’s not a shred of argument there that might potentially be convincing to someone who doesn’t already agree with His moral choices, only a pile of, well, bald dismissal dressed up in aesthetic words. Why does God want to create things at all? Well, because that’s what He does. (He works in mysterious ways.) Why does God care about the net goodness of each universe and not, say, the total goodness, and where did this “goodness” concept come from anyway? Well, because that’s what He wants. (Who are you to judge Him?) Respectfully, you’ve both – you and Clayton – been suckered into believing that this formulation is self-consistent because you already agree with it. A deontologist would have had an easier time – “the universe contains so much evil because it must, next question?” – but this answer is no less lacking for justification. It’s a front developed to please utilitarians, but with nothing behind it. It also, of course, plainly contradicts the established rule, “they enslave their children’s children who compromise with sin”.

      • hnau says:

        I assume by “everything else” you mean “everything I’ve heard”? Because I’ve definitely heard other ways of coming at the issue, some of them very interesting. And it’s not like they’re fringe theories either. I’ve read good pieces by Alvin Platinga and David Bentley Hart that demonstrate what I think of as the canonical way of addressing the question– namely understanding evil as a deficiency or a negation, something that God never wills and always finally overcomes, but which is a possibility inherent in human free will and so forth. Obviously I can’t do the argument justice here, and I’m not saying it’s watertight– just that it’s an interesting way of addressing the question that’s worth recognizing.

        One of the points Hart makes is that any argument presenting evil as a means to an end– as “Answer to Job” does– completely fails to address theodicy’s fundamental issue, because it’s not a satisfying or palatable answer on a human level. The steelman of the anti-theodicy position is Ivan Karamazov, who accepts for the sake of argument that evil may be part of God’s plan to bring about a greater good, but rejects it on personal moral grounds– he refuses be complicit in the evil, any amount of evil, and therefore he must decline to participate in such a plan at all. Scott’s argument may be an answer to Job, but I don’t think it works as an answer to Ivan.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          Yes, but I’m not sure the canonical answer does either.

          Suppose Ivan precommits to never be complicit in any amount of evil, not for any reason. He is never willing to perform any action that leads to X units of evil and Y units of good with Y>X>0. And he’s serious about this.

          Then if Ivan were God, Ivan would also refuse to create any universe in which His (infinitely benevolent) will could be even momentarily thwarted. Any universe where His (benevolent) desires could be negated, or that could be deficient in carrying His desires out. He would (omnisciently) foresee any such flaw in any of His creations, and either remedy it, or decline to create such a universe. Since by knowingly creating a universe that contained evil, He would (by Ivan!God’s argument) be complicit in evil.

          Therefore, Ivan!God would create only perfect, flawless jewel-universes with lotus thrones and all that. To do otherwise would be to be complicit in evil, by bringing that evil into being, directly or indirectly. Ivan!God would not try to disclaim responsibility for evil in a universe He had created by saying ‘oh no, that happened because of free will, not because of Me.’

          Since the ‘canonical’ explanation for the problem of evil boils down to “evil happens because of free will, not because of God,” I can’t see Ivan!God (or Ivan the mortal) being satisfied with such an explanation. Indeed, that’s the entire reason there’s even still an argument about theodicy, because large numbers of people don’t accept such an argument.

          So basically, Ivan!God would create only perfect universes, and they would be indisputably perfect. There might be many such universes, just as there are many integers, or there might be only one such universe, since any attempt to differentiate between universes would make some of them less than perfect.

          Either way, what it comes down to is that Ivan!God would be rejecting the statement here, made by Unsong!God:

          “BUT IT IS TRUE THAT I COULD HAVE LIMITED MYSELF TO CREATING UNIVERSES WHERE NO ONE EVER BECAME COVERED IN BOILS, AND I DID NOT DO SO. FOR THE UNIVERSES WHERE SOME PEOPLE GET COVERED IN BOILS ALSO HAVE MYRIADS OF WONDERS, AND JOYS, AND SAINTS, AND I WILL NOT DENY THEM EXISTENCE FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE COVERED IN BOILS.”

          And Ivan!God might reply “no, not one time, not even one case of boils, never compromise!”

          But by the same argument, He would also say “no, not one time, not even one case of someone ignorantly turning away from the light and negating My will!”

          So to be sure, the strongest possible steelman version of ‘Job’ (that is, Ivan Karamazov or his analogue) would reject Unsong!God’s argument. But in the same stroke he would also reject the canonical argument, claiming that it would be better for the universe to never have been made at all than for it to contain free will that would predictably lead to evil.

          • dsp says:

            You presume a bit too much here, since Ivan may oppose boils fundamentally but be willing to tolerate the occasional apostate as long as they never give anyone boils. There’s not necessarily a contradiction there.
            More importantly, you’re forgetting first that the canonical answer doesn’t actually include a multiverse with perfect worlds – God wants free will for some reason and is willing to put up with a temporary struggle against evil to ransom it, and of course the reason He doesn’t just create the final evil-overcome state in the first place is because “it’s about the journey, not the destination” – and, second and probably more crucially, that nobody ever said Ivan was God.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            The main point of my argument revolves around the question “what would Ivan expect God to do?” I keep saying “Ivan!God” because I’m talking about what our notional Ivan would do, if he were God. Or if God behaved the way Ivan would like Him to. After all, Ivan must have some self-consistent picture of how he thinks the universe/multiverse should operate.

            If this picture reduces to “never be complicit in the creation of any evil, ever,” then the ‘canonical’ answer of “God created free will knowing it would result in evil, but that’s okay because free will is important” is no better than answers like “God created imperfect universes knowing they would contain both good and evil.”

            In fact, those two answers are identical from the point of view of someone who says “never do anything that makes you complicit in evil.”

            If free will entails the possibility of evil, then creating free will is in a sense accepting complicity in the existence of evil. If it’s okay to create a universe that contains evil, in order to create free will… then by extension it’s okay to create a universe that contains evil in order to create goodness in general.

            Conversely, if God were to utterly refuse to accept complicity in the creation of all evils, then God would never create free will, or ANY form of “net good that entails a bit of evil.” God would either create nothing, or create only perfect universes totally free of evil.

  36. Joan says:

    “Even the atheists represent the cosmos as part of a great whale, saying that the whole world is a gigantic fluke.”
    I can’t believe you made me read this with my own two eyes. I love you for making me read that with my own two eyes.

  37. Reminder that there’s also a wrap party in Austin! Details available on the FB event https://www.facebook.com/events/223053658182473/

    Scott, it’d be awesome if you could include us with your links to other wrap parties 🙂

  38. The discussion of the cosmic unemployment rate reminds me of the Barcan formula.

  39. Maxwell says:

    On the topic of Aaron’s question,

    Erica’s objection (that god would simply say “the question you just asked me” and “this one”) is very interesting, as it is a paradox.

    if that was indeed God’s answer, then Aaron’s was not the Best Possible Question, so God would NOT have answered “the question you just asked me,” and would instead have answered the way Aaron was hoping, so that MAKES Aaron’s question the Best Possible Question, which would make God’s answer be…

    and so on and so forth to infinity.

    • Ninmesara says:

      TCK asks Erica’s question and it does him no good.
      Ana asks her own question and they’re all eaten by a fish.
      Maybe Aaron is the one who would ask the right question.

      • Marvy says:

        We don’t yet know that being eaten by a fish is a bad thing. I mean usually it is, but when Someone says so calmly “COME AND SEE”, surely that means “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL GO WRONG”. Surely?

    • Vigil says:

      Agreed, this was my first thought. But surely you can just fix this by asking “What is the ordered pair whose first value is the best possible question that I could ask you that is not this question, and whose second value is your answer to it?”

      (Although thinking about it surely the ordered quad whose first value is best Q, second is answer, third is second best Q, fourth is answer, is even better, and so on…)

      • listless says:

        It occurs to me that we run into another semantic problem: Even if you manage to specify the requirements for the tuple you actually want, what would constitute an answer? If your question was specific enough to pick out one object, then the question is also (in some contexts) an adequate answer to “what is that object?” You would have to ask God for a different description of the same object somehow….

        Analogous problem to asking a smart-aleck “what’s the square root of four?” and they go on about how that’s imprecise, how there are two, how it depends on your algebraic structure, and eventually you get to “what’s the positive square root of four, when four is taken as a real number?” or something… and then since you’ve adequately specified a number, smart-aleck could just spit your description back at you, or some trivial paraphrase like “it is the real number greater than zero which when multiplied by itself gives four.”

        I don’t know if there’s a question specific enough to force a maximum-smartalecky God to say, “It’s 2.”

        • Marvy says:

          There certainly is a way. Namely, write a computer program to compute square roots, and ask what is the output of this program when given 4. Avoiding the question is pretty hard now:

          “It is the real number greater than zero which when squared gives four”.
          WRONG. The output of the program is a sequence of digits, not an English sentence.
          What is the sequence?

          “It is the number such that this program will output it when given 4”.
          WRONG AGAIN. That is not a sequence of digits!

          • dsp says:

            “Two.” WRONG, the output of the program is not the particular pattern of sound waves produced by Metatron’s larynx pronouncing the phonemes expressed in IPA as /tu/, it’s some obscure pattern of electrons passing from the CPU toward the peripherals.

            Sorry, was that not helpful?

          • listless says:

            In addition to DSP’s point, I don’t think this scheme avoids the smartaleck – “It is the sequence of digits that would be displayed on the console after running this program on the input 4.” I suspect that any “what is” question is vulnerable to this kind of chicanery…

    • The Verbiage Ecstatic says:

      Or God answers, “(your question,(your question,(your question,(your question,(your question,….”

      Until God has a stack overflow and the multiverse is destroyed.

      Meaning, the best possible question is the worst possible question.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Or, perhaps, the answer is “(answer, answer, answer, …, your question with the outputs reversed, …)”. God is perfect, so presumably God’s stack is perfect and has no maximum depth.

    • The coment king says:

      The actual best question is “What is the best object level question and its answer.” It’s slightly better than Aaron’s, since its answer is clearer and shorter.

    • hnau says:

      Some answers that I could see Metatron giving to Aaron’s question:

      “SUCH AN ORDERED PAIR DOES NOT EXIST BECAUSE IT IS NOT WELL-DEFINED. IT IS LIKE A ROCK SO BIG GOD CANNOT LIFT IT.”
      “THAT IS TWO QUESTIONS. NICE TRY.”
      “ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO HEAR THAT? IT EXISTS, BUT IT IS INFINITE AND YOU WOULD HAVE NO WAY OF PROCESSING IT.”
      “THAT IS NOT GOING TO GET YOU ANYWHERE. SERIOUSLY, HAVE YOU NOT READ ANYTHING BY DOUGLAS HOFSTADTER?”
      “(WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU MULTIPLY SIX BY NINE?, FORTY-TWO).”

      • dsp says:

        The answer to your penultimate question is plainly no, because no net-good universe can contain writing by Douglas Hofstadter.

  40. Goforth says:

    Theory: Just as Sohu’s left hand was eaten by a fish, so too will Thamiel be consumed by Leviathan.

    Also, Pike’s Peak, being split in two, both represents Thamiel’s Bident, and the fact that it’s battle is Thamiel’s high point. And after a peak, on a Mountain plot of a story?

    The fall.

    I’m pretty sure Armstrong, being the Right Hand of God, will be the one to finally defeat Thamiel, Because when you cut off your Left Hand, you use your right for obvious reasons.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Talk Can The TELL Sarah

    TCTTS

    THEN PROCEED THROUGH THE SERIES

    Chapter 42 starts with “Can” whose first letter isn’t a P!

    I feel like I’ve seen the unsongverse’s answer to the problem of evil in comic form before but can’t seem to find it.

    WHICH IMPLIES THAT HELL MUST NOT BE ETERNAL

    I guess Hell is going to be destroyed/replaced after all.

    Finally.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/unsong/comments/69uuca/im_going_to_preemptively_consider_the_final_exam/

    Oh poo. And I was sure it wasn’t an acronym. But actually, I’m guessing when Metatron answers, we weren’t supposed to notice it right away and the hard part was finding the chapters’ first letter and his speech’s first letter were the same. But since we were all looking for it, it super stood out.

    Looks like the last letter is S/samech then.

    • Anonymous says:

      I should probably add that in spite of having read some of the ideas elsewhere, I found this to be a great chapters.

      The discussion in Ithaca, Ana accusing Metatron/Word of God of getting it wrong and, of course, all the whale puns we could ever want.

      the whole world is a gigantic fluke.

      I am not disappointed.

    • JB says:

      I also noticed the conflict between PROCEED in Metatron’s answer, and chapter 42 beginning with Can.

      Perhaps change PROCEED to CONTINUE?

    • Peter D says:

      “Talk Can The TELL Sarah”

      Where is this from?

    • Anonymous says:

      Looks like this was changed within the last day to CONTINUE.

      • The coment king says:

        Yeah, it’s probably just a coincidence.

        • Grauds says:

          No way no way no way was it just a coincidence, especially given it was the 42nd letter. That just boggles the imagination. Then again, of course something like that would happen to this story…

  42. Taka says:

    So, given that Metatron is the Captain, anyone want to take guesses at what Not a Metaphor means?

    I’m guessing that we might get a “kabbalistic” interpretation of metaphor, or alternatively, that it’s an anagram of Metatron and {p,h,o,a}. Opah is a kind of fish called King-fish in English, apparently. Maybe that works?

    • ShareDVI says:

      >the only thing that’s not a metaphor for God is God Himself

    • Cniz says:

      “Help me Metatron, you’re me only Hoap.”

    • Gazeboist says:

      NOT A METAPHOR

      RAT MAN TO HOPE

      HOPE AT TA MORN

      THE ROPE AT AMON

      HEAP NO MATTER

      • Gazeboist says:

        Oh, of course, the first part of the commute is over and we’ve gotten on the subway:

        AT PATH NO MORE

      • Unbalanced Diagram says:

        I started finding a few more anagrams, but then I got a little carried away.

        The first universe, a place without evil but only goodness, is a NO HARM TEAPOT. The universe of Unsong is one of the many others — the NTH ATOM OPERA. Its ROOT PATHNAME is Adam Kadmon, the primeval MAN, ATOP OTHER parts of creation. From Adam Kadmon emerges Atziluth, whose emanations MAP TO ANOTHER series of realms and ultimately MAP ONTO EARTH.

        Uriel built A PHOTON TAMER that channeled divine light and ended the Angels’ war with Thamiel. When the sky cracked, his mathematical machine didn’t work quite the same as it did in the previous era. He had to make adjustments to the code and write a MATH AEON PORT.

        The crew of NOT A METAPHOR made a promise to each other. When John was near death, they fulfilled that promise and took him to a rocket to heaven at Cape Canaveral. (Their OATH PORT, AMEN.) Later when they caught up to Leviathan, they MET AT HARPOON to discuss what to do, and eventually went ahead and speared the big fish.

        Then belowdecks, Ana grilled Metatron about evil. Why can’t we be those perfect beings on golden thrones? How do I get there? Give me a MAP TO A THRONE! He basically told her everything is going to work out. It was a bit cryptic but he seemed to imply that she and many (all?) other people will be RAPT HOME TO AN everlasting bliss.

        All these Blake references are a POET MARATHON. Ok I’m done.

  43. Dirdle says:

    What I like about this theodicy: it accounts for the abundance of evil very nicely. One should expect, in such a multiverse, to be in a world where the total amount of good and evil is as close to equal as possible, because there are many more such configurations. On the whole, though, it falls a little flat. Maybe it’s my latent antinatalism, maybe it’s the lack of an answer to the “you could get the same results, from our perspective of limited ability to evaluate the net goodness of a universe, from a God trying to maximize total evil under the same constraints,” maybe it’s just that allowing a multiverse outright hands the game to the materialist side and removes the need to even postulate a God who cares about morality at all (even in worlds with magic spells and biblical prophecies and whale puns, I think).

    Still, as theodicy goes, it is at least an honest effort to answer rather than dismiss the question, which is more than most can say.

  44. Ninmesara says:

    I think that invoking multiple universes in Unsong doesn’t work very well, and somehow cheapens the plot. On the other hand, the Answer to Job is great and if I hadn’t read it already I’m sure I’d be amazed on how good it is and how well it fits in the story.

    The explanation for the coincidences is also good: God wouldn’t have allowed the Universe to exist if not for those coincidences. Good enough, I guess.

    If Metatron disguises himself as Nemo, do we get an Omen (reverse of Nemo) or a dog (reverse of God)? It works both ways apparently.

    Some things that are a little bit strange:

    – What’s the role of Father Ellis in all of this? Is he playing along with Metatron’s ruse? Letting the others figure it out for themselves? If he’s just there to help mantain the ruse, why does Metatron call him to operate the sail, instead of getting a random priest? I mean, at this point I guess everything can just be handwaved by saying that it must be done that way to get the outcome God desires, but since God (through Metatron) is intervening, then are those really coincidences? If God is intervening so much, why doesn’t he just create the outcome he wants directly? This tension between coincidences and God’s intervention is not very satisfying to me…

    – Doesn’t Metatron care for the little detail that he’ll make Lin disappear by crossing the Canal? Maybe that’s irrelevant. Or maybe that’s the act of “great harshness”.

    – Going back to the first point. Metatron gave Lin the idea for the necessary ritual to open the locks. Isn’t that a little to much help? Shouldn’t humans have figured it out alone? Having Metatron (God) leading the chase of the Leviathan feels like cheating.

    Finally, TCK asks Erica’s question and no good comes out of it. Ana asks her own question and they all get eaten by a sea monster. Maybe Aaron’s the one who knows the best question to ask after all.

    • teucer says:

      Both. A Nemo who is really God became an ominous canine.

    • The coment king says:

      Father Ellis was a devout Christian; his first loyalty is to God, as evidenced by his line about not looking for God if He doesn’t want to be found. Ellis not telling people the captain’s secret is consistent with that.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Yes, I undertand why Ellis would not rat on the Captain, I just don’t understand why Metatron would want to bring him along instead of some other priest. Have they become friends? Does the Voice of God care that much about single humans? It feels a little out of character to me.

        • dsp says:

          Ellis’ involvement was instrumental in a few of the metaphorical Sephirot crossings; in particular, if he hadn’t been mortally wounded, there would be no opportunity for the act of great kindness in shipping him off into the Ein Sof. It’s true that this is isomorphic to saying, as you suggested, that it must be done that way to get the outcome that God desires, but what you’re not considering is that Metatron is part of the world, and everything Metatron does is thus also defined by Adam Kadmon. If God only intervenes through a conduit that is bound by the rules of the universe, then his intervention is part of the set of coincidences that make the world turn out right: if he had, by coincidence, intervened differently, or not at all, it wouldn’t have worked out okay. In contrast, God also did “just create the outcome he wants directly”; that’s some other universe.

  45. Macbi says:

    I occurs to me now that un-song is equivalent to uni-verse.

    • Macbi says:

      And that if the solution to the problem of evil is to consider the single universe as part of a whole, then this is metaphorically beheading “unsong” to yield “song” in the same way that Erica did with the brass nameplate.

  46. TempestWindblown says:

    “What is the ordered pair whose first value is the best possible question that I could ask you, and whose second value is your answer to it?”

    “THE BEST POSSIBLE QUESTION IS THE QUESTION YOU JUST ASKED ME, AND THE ANSWER IS ‘THE BEST POSSIBLE QUESTION IS THE QUESTION YOU JUST ASKED ME, AND THE ANSWER IS “THE BEST POSSIBLE QUESTION IS THE QUESTION YOU JUST ASKED ME, AND THE ANSWER IS…”‘”

  47. Deiseach says:

    Even Leonard Cohen writes, in his Anthem, “There is a kraken: everything”.

    GOD DAMN IT, SCOTT!

    The classical answer to the problem of Hell is that people do get the choice, and they choose Hell, choose it every day, with every step along the path, every “it’s only one small thing”, every “well I don’t think this is a sin, who says it is?” and “I refuse to believe a perfectly just and good God would put people in Hell for just doing ordinary human stuff”. From the parable of Lazarus and Dives:

    27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:

    28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.

    29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

    30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

    31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

  48. Diadem says:

    Is no one going comment on the GO FISH pun?

    That pun was even better than the superficially Tom Swiftly we had a few chapters ago. This whole chapter was awesome, but that line was definitely the high point.

    • Jack V says:

      Agh! I didn’t realise.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is there yet another reading of that whale pun?

      I took it to mean the answer is not to bother Job/God about it (from the card game go fish) but that “go fish” is also what you have to do literally to speak to Metatron (catch the Leviathan).

      • The coment king says:

        Also, the book of Job has three chapters of God praising the leviathan, like a cheerleader saying “Goooooooo Fish!”

      • Diadem says:

        Yes, that’s essentially the pun. I just thought it was extremely well done.

        Very early in the story they discuss Job, and complain that God basically refuses to answer Job, instead going on about how awesome Leviathan is, and, in one reading, that humans are not worthy because they can’t catch Leviathan.

        Here we learn that God did in fact answer Job, but then asks him to not tell other people. God tells Job to tell other people that he was told to “GO FISH”. Go fish is indeed from the card game, and is basically a dismissal.

        And that’s what’s in the bible. God dismissing Job without answering the question. Job (presumably) made up a cover story about Leviathan in lieu of an answer.

        The Comet King, and later Ana, reinterpret this non-answer as a order to go and catch Leviathan. Turns out, that’s exactly what God told them to do.

        • Anonymous says:

          Thanks for taking the time to explain. There are definitely some quality whale puns in this chapter, like this one.

          I also like the coment king’s additional interpretation.

      • Gradus says:

        maybe also worth noting Jesus’ commandment to his followers, go forth and become fishers of men.

  49. Jack V says:

    I remember people speculated the captain was god or jesus (or metatron). I did what I probably *should* have done before and read through some of the relevant chapters again. What does the captain do?

    Is “big”
    Judges TOK’s morality in a very final way
    Really doesn’t like Crucifixion
    Is “an old friend” of a priest
    When everything on the ship is reversed, becomes “Dog”.
    Is particularly eager to get John into heaven, and sail Panama again.

    Now I’m curious, how much of this was specifically set up by God? It seems more active than God’s usually able to be in this universe. But “lets go steal the All Our Hearts” kicked off a lot of this chain of events, and was instigated by metatron saying “hey, lets go do this”.

    I’m also trying to remember, was there any attention on the harpoon before? Someone mentions it as “leaning against the rail near a weird harpoon”. Did anyone ask “why is there a harpoon here”?

    • The coment king says:

      Man, I didn’t make the crucifixion connection, or the “old friend”. Well done.

      • Jack V says:

        Thanks! I’m sure some people speculated about crucifixion when the Big Man was first introduced, but I think people were leaning toward “maybe Jesus?” not so much “Metatron as God”.

        I didn’t remember the “Old Friend” thing at all, it seemed an obvious red herring towards Comet King, but when I read the chapter introducing Father John, it struck me. I don’t know if anyone considered that at the time.

        I only just now realised, “extremely private and hides away from people and gives limited instruction with little explanation” fits very well as well 🙂

    • Jack V says:

      Also “Not a lot of facial expressions. Impossible to miss”

  50. Ninmesara says:

    Predictions: (grading)

    My predictions:
    – problem of evil: will not be answered (80%) [wrong], Scott wants to reuse the SSC Job post (15%) [right] or something else (5%) [wrong]

    – Shem Hamephorash: Ana will receive it from Metaron (90%) [won’t grade yet – she might receive it later or it might be encoded in God’s answer, in whichbcase I will grade it as true]

    Fate of the world: will become our world – names stop working, physics starts working again (60%) [probably wrong, given God’s statement, but won’t grade it yet]

    Fate of Hell: will be destroyed (80%) [probably right, but won’t grade it just yet]. Conditional on being destroyed, it will use a SkabMOM chain to get the Shem Hanephorash into Hell (70%) [we don’t know yet but it seems likely]

    Dylan had a secret plan all along that involved killing Malia (30%) [probably not because of the way God talks about coincidences, but won’t grade it yet]

    Metatron will talk to Ana through the Captain (90%) [right]. The Captain is TCK (30%) [wrong], some nobody Metatron found in the Desert and struck a deal with (30%) [wrong], literally Metatron (20%) [right]

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      it might be encoded in God’s answer

      It is encoded in it — the first letters of each word match those of the chapters and those in Leonard Cohen’s song from the book title pages. But we don’t know if Ana knows that.

      • Jack V says:

        Well, she (or one of the other SCABMOM) has one chapter to figure it out, if it wasn’t presented to her in such a way as to make that obvious to her. *Hopefully* the ending isn’t “and there was a chain of kabbalistic telepathic marriages connecting the person who just learned the true name to someone in hell who could use it but none of them realised in time and Thamiel recoalesced and everyone suffered in hell for millions of years before the true messiah rescued them.”

        (I’m not sure what’s actually going to happen, doesn’t someone need to get bodily into hell so they can use names? But surely it’s got to be something like that.)

      • Ninmesara says:

        Let me be more specific. If Metatron says: “figure it out!” and she decodes the name I’l grade the prediction right. If she is eaten by the Leviathan, dies, goes to hell or something like that and somehow Aaron discovers the name (possibly using telepathy to get access into Ana’s conversation with God) I will grade it aa weing.

        This interpretation respects what I has in mind when I wrote down the prediction 🙂

  51. Jack V says:

    Huh, so now we have the Voice of God assuring us thing will end well. In most books, that would refer to the author 🙂

  52. Aran says:

    saying that the whole world is a gigantic fluke

    Dammit

  53. Jack V says:

    Huh, so the untrustworthy mentor figure turns out to have been benignly ushering in a utopian transhumanist future from outside time by arranging a long string of impossible coincidences that put the main characters in the right place at the right time. I feel like after HPMOR I should have been expecting harder 🙂

    (PS. That’s just a joke, I think the too stories are very good in different ways, this congruity I just happened to notice)

  54. Borealis says:

    Amazing chapter. I didn’t anticipate unsongbook would -really- try to answer Theodicy’s Big Question.
    And yet, how brilliant it is to postulate its answer as the Cosmogonical Anna Karenina Principle

    — happy universes are all alike; every unhappy universe is unhappy in its own way.

    “IF I CREATED TWO PERFECT UNIVERSES, I WOULD ONLY HAVE CREATED ONE UNIVERSE.”
    It is true, and it is profoundly departing from the previous SSC “Answer to Job”
    (which mentioned God creating 10^^^^^984 “different” perfect universes).

    So there is only one universe possible which would contain exactly zero evil.
    (plus it is a remarkably uninspiring one, due to the said design constraints)
    Whereas allowing fractional amounts of evil opens up possibilities for creating countless
    amounts of -different- universes, each one containing way more wonder and beauty
    than that one “perfect” universe.

    The Creator of the universes cannot be faulted for being Creative, and laboring to create
    different universes. Besides, if the -eternity- of Hell gets edited out of the unsongbook universe,
    its net balance becomes positive.

    • Aur Saraf says:

      Actually, Unsong’s God does create a lot of perfectly good universes:

      THERE IS A WORLD MADE OF NOTHING BUT BLISS, WITH A GIANT ALEPH IN THE CENTER. THERE IS ANOTHER WORLD MADE OF NOTHING BUT BLISS WITH A GIANT BET IN THE CENTER. AND SO ON, BUT MAKE A MILLION MILLION WORLDS LIKE THOSE, AND YOU START NEEDING TO BECOME MORE CREATIVE.

      • The coment king says:

        Presumably God made one of these for each ordinal (including unreachable ordinals?)

        There’s a quote of Paul Erdos, where he said that if he had one question to ask God, he’d ask “Is the continuum hypothesis true?” And God would have one of three answers. He might say, “Godel and Cohen have already said what there is to say on the subject.” He might say “There is an answer, but it’s beyond your conception”. Or He might say, “You know, I’ve thought about it a lot, and I just haven’t decided yet.”

        • Decius says:

          More like he made all of them, all for each of the things which ordinals are shadows projected into the cave of Aristophanes equivalent in math.

          He didn’t do so at “the same time”, because not all of the universes have a metaphor for the thing which time is a metaphor for.

      • Borealis says:

        I’d rather say these alephs and bets would come under the “one flaw” heading
        [WHEN I HAD EXHAUSTED ALL POSSIBLE UNIVERSES WITH ONE FLAW, I MOVED ON TO UNIVERSES WITH TWO FLAWS, THEN …]

        Their “one flaw” would be their cracking of symmetry, i.e. why did the “aleph-in-the-center world” come to privilege aleph over the other 21 letters?
        A universe which harbors such discrimination cannot be a just universe.

  55. Sillence says:

    So, the reason the Lord told everyone but Acher to repent was because Acher’s staying evil was important for the salvation of the world. That’s neat.

  56. Error says:

    COME AND SEE

    I could swear I’ve seen this phrase spoken in a portentous way before, but can’t remember if it was in this story or another. Is this a callback, or an external reference?

    • K25fF says:

      And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
      2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.

      It’s what the Beasts say as the Seals are opened in Revelations 6.

  57. James Picone says:

    Kabbalah says that everything is a metaphor for God, the only thing that’s not a metaphor for God is God Himself.

    The boat they’re on is Not a Metaphor. Presumably it is, therefore, either God or outside of Creation somehow.

    • S. G. says:

      Aaron is incorrect that God is not a metaphor for God. There’s always the identity metaphor where everything represents itself.

      And I suppose Metatron counts as God’s elementary embedding into Himself. Because God exists in all creation, but at the same time Metatron is a form of God descended from His throne into the world, as we derive from meta- (‘beyond’ in Greek) + tron (‘throne’ in many European languages).

      But then I wonder: what if we compose that elementary embedding with itself? Surely we shall obtain Metametatron, wh— *ONION*

  58. benzrf says:

    “I am pretty sure Marx didn’t mean ‘literally shatter it to pieces, then remake it in your own image’” said Ana.

    “Actually,” I said, “that was kind of Marx’s thing.”

    Sounds utopian to me

  59. K25fF says:

    “And the angels said ah, yes, it is Metatron risen from the deep, but you will not catch him, for he keeps his own counsel. And none see him and live.

    Interesting.

    • Ninmesara says:

      TCK seems to have survived for a long time after seeing Metatron. Something fishy’s going on here…

      • dsp says:

        Adam survived for a long time after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but it caught up with him eventually. I feel like the claim is technically fulfilled.

  60. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Let’s trace how the Not A Metaphor followed the ritual:

    We start in my Kingdom. We go to San Francisco, the Foundation, where Heaven meets Earth. We shine with Glory. We win a Victory. We cross through Tiferet via the Canal. We cross Chesed by committing an act of great kindness, then Gevurah with an act of great harshness. We pass Da’at and its dark night, its collapse of everything earthly and recognizable. Now here we are. Binah, understanding. And Chokhmah, Wisdom. Which you have just displayed. Leaving us at the end of our road.”

    It started in the Other Kingdom, picked up Ana in SF.. the Canal is the same, as it’s the wisdom at the end. But what are the rest?

    • Marvy says:

      Well, given what happened to Uriel’s machine, the collapse of everything Earthly and recognizable is moving along nicely.

    • Stib says:

      Malkuth (Kingdom): TOK’s kingdom
      Yesod (Foundation): SF for Ana
      Hod (Glory): The symphony
      Netzach (Victory): Beating the druggies
      Tiferet (Beauty): The canal
      Chesed (Kindness): Rushing to get John saved (though I mean I’m sure he’d go to heaven anyway)
      Gevurah (Severity): Kicking Simeon off
      Da’at (Knowledge): This one doesn’t exist on Uriel’s version of the tree in Ch. 9 but yeah, the machine breaking and them leaving the world through 7-sail symphony
      Binah (Understanding): It’s the leviathan
      Chokhmah (Wisdom): Find God within
      Keter (Crown): Where they are now

  61. Jack V says:

    Rereading the first few chapters a lot resonates differently when we know more about what happens.

    Aaron’s plans are both more ridiculous and more ominous. He guesses he’s destroy Thamiel, or something — most people are still just not thinking about it much.
    The political summits with Thamiel are a lot more horrifying.
    The Kaballah is very interesting when you know roughly what might happen.
    Did we hear any more about the Book of Jebuzoad?
    All the chapters are lovely to read when you’re not impatient for them to go faster.

    • Jack V says:

      And, a lot of stuff is actually mentioned in the first few pages, but I didn’t really “get it” until I read a lot more. Aaron says, the celestial machinery broke, and allowed the devil back into the world, and humanity headless-chickened, then CK organised some sort of coordinated response, and then we were back to headless-chickening.

      Which is fairly explicit about the state of the world. But because everyone is sitting around in California discussing theodicy and comparing laptop specs, I felt like things were “fairly normal” not “completely screwed”, even when people SAID that.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Interesting… I got the idea very quickly that California was a little bubble of sanity in the middle of a mad world. I did think that the whole Comet King stuff would be just a recurring background event with little relevance for the story, which I thought would be centered on Aaron and the way his ensouled computer would disrupt the name generation industry.

    • The coment king says:

      Also, when Aaron first gets the vital name, he mentions following the Comet King’s path, because that’s the only path to follow when you get that kind of power. It felt like a throwaway at the time, until we learned more about the Comet King and how central he was to the story.

  62. Aran says:

    Kabbalah says that everything is a metaphor for God, the only thing that’s not a metaphor for God is God Himself.

    In other words, the ship Not A Metaphor must be God?

  63. Arancaytar says:

    “THE REASON EVIL EXISTS IS TO MAXIMIZE THE WHOLE COSMOS’ TOTAL SUM GOODNESS. SUPPOSE WE RANK POSSIBLE WORLDS FROM BEST TO WORST. EVEN AFTER CREATING THE BEST, ONE SHOULD CREATE THE SECOND-BEST, BECAUSE IT STILL CONTAINS SOME BEAUTY AND HAPPINESS. THEN PROCEED THROUGH THE SERIES, CREATING EACH UNTIL REACHING THOSE WHERE WICKEDNESS AND SUFFERING OUTWEIGH GOOD. SOME WORLDS WILL INCLUDE MUCH INIQUITY BUT STILL BE GOOD ON NET. THIS IS ONE SUCH.”

    Woah, we had this answer the whole time: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/15/answer-to-job/

    Hm. Cryptogram checks out except for chapter 42 – TREE ITMT WCTS GSWR PWFB TWEA CTBO SCTS BISC SBAH T(C/P)TT SCRU RTWW ASOG SWWI MIBS BGON TIOS.

    Chapter 42 begins “Can I ask you something”, but word 42 is PROCEED.

    As this whole story is concerned with the Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe And Everything, this is the least coincidental coincidence ever.

    • Arancaytar says:

      (Maybe Scott originally had CONTINUE instead of PROCEED here. But the likelihood of swapping that word out by accident and breaking the correspondence precisely on 42 stretches credulity.)

      • LHC says:

        Oh shit, the ultimate question is which character of the explicit name is broken.

      • teucer says:

        Also, if God is omnipresent, then a crack in everything implies that there’s a crack in God, and plausibly in the Explicit Name. (And that’s how the light gets in.)

    • Borealis says:

      Serious Kudos for noticing this.
      There’s no WAY that this is a coincidence — the breaking of the C/P Symmetry must have been intentional.

      Look up “Baryogenesis” and “violation of C/P symmetry”. In short, it is instrumental in explaining why our universe — which otherwise tends to have profoundly symmetrical laws — has nonetheless ended up having so much more matter than antimatter.

      The questions about the “net balance of good and evil” in a universe surely have their kabbalistic counterpart in the breaking of the C/P symmetry.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Obviously we get more good because we proceed instead of continuing.

        • Borealis says:

          Yes, but C/P violation is about a universe getting -anything at all- in the first place.

          If the quantum laws did not have C/P violation, then exactly same genesis of matter and antimatter would have come about, which could then have total mutual annihilation.

          Leaving a universe filled only with light.

          A perfect universe.

          C/P violation is a crack in the generally perfect symmetry of universe’s laws, and is why we exist.

          The question for Douglas Adams’ answer to life, the universe and everything is thus “which letter of the Explicit Name has the C/P violation?”

          • dsp says:

            I’m actually pretty sure the question was “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?”

      • Taka says:

        Oh, good.

        I came here to ask more or less the question of what was going to happen next Sunday when Scott finishes speaking aloud an extremely detailed Klipah of the Explicit Name, but I see that he has already taken precautions to avoid any problems of the sort.

        • Cniz says:

          Did he? Or did Metatron? By the same logic, since Metatron (almost surely) knows that the answer to theodicy IS the Mephorash, wouldn’t speaking it aloud invoke the name itself – which He probably has no desire to do? It would make sense for him to change one of the words in order to break the equivalence. Perhaps he relies on Ana misremembering the 42nd word of the answer and auto-correcting it to the one that corresponds to the Mephorash – thus providing Ana with the name without speaking it.

          Or, perhaps, both Metatron’s and Aaron’s notarikons contain a small error. If so, it would probably be on the 42nd letter in both cases, as there is no other known difference.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Great idea, but not actually necessary. Metatron’s an angel; angels can’t speak Names.

          • David Marjanović says:

            Metatron is also Enoch, a human…

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Point. Which raises the question, did Metatron forget how to speak Aramaic on ascending to the heavens?

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            Didn’t he ascend before Babel (which is why is Enochian is called that)? If so, he just never learnt it in the first place.

  64. Why does Thamiel have two heads anyway?

    • Ninmesara says:

      I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but characters in the story don’t seem to care, so it might not be very significant. Or maybe it’s obvious to them but not to us.

    • Gamzee Makara says:

      One interp: he represents separateness from God (since evil comes from extent of separation from God), ergo duality, and two heads is a good way to broadcast “this guy represents duality.”

      • Marvy says:

        I strongly suspect there’s more going on. Why is one of them the head of a baby? There’s something fishy going on here.

        • Gamzee Makara says:

          The man-head could be taken to represent himself as a logical punishment-maximizer.

          The baby-head could be taken to represent more the fundamental suffering and/or helplessness he embodies.

          I’ll probably be pleasantly surprised if wrong, but given there’s a chapter left I doubt there will be a canon explanation beyond vague symbolic gesturing.

    • G says:

      Just as Metatron came from the human Enoch (as mentioned in section V.) and the RHOG from the human Neil Armstrong, presumably Thamiel who is also an aspect of God comes from some human(s) as well.

      Best guess: Cain and Abel, forming the two heads.

      • Timothy Scriven says:

        I’m going to treat this as canon unless shown otherwise.

      • dsp says:

        I agree fundamentally with this analysis, and I also think that Abel is the head “in charge”, and Cain the deformed head. Since I suspect that may prove counterintuitive to some people, let me explain: it seems more likely that Abel would be entrusted with the responsibility of punishing sin, and more likely that Abel would take it wildly out of proportion from an excessively human sense of vengeance; it also seems more likely that Cain the murderer would be subjected to the punishment of being stapled to his victim for most of eternity, forced to watch impotently the universe-wide consequences of his crime.

    • I’ve been wondering whether Thamiel’s second head is someone who needs to be rescued. Everyone has been ignoring its suffering.

  65. listless says:

    “COME AND SEE”

    Sea? Where they currently are?

    C? The correction of the broken letter of the HaMephorash?

    • The coment king says:

      They’re going down a level into the OS code, which is written in C.

    • Anonymous says:

      Command-C, the keyboard shortcut to stop the world (or for making another copy?).

      • listless says:

        This is so good I think it has to be right. I don’t know what it predicts though.

        • Marvy says:

          Scott is not a Mac user. We know this since someone pointed out he got some detail wrong in an early chapter. Hence, I predict that this is not in fact the right answer. It is, however, a REALLY nice pun.

          • 75th says:

            Many Windows shortcuts, including cut/copy/paste, are the same as the Mac’s, you just swap Ctrl for Cmd

          • Marvy says:

            Sure, but no Windows user would have thought of it. Or at least I wouldn’t have. Maybe I’m just bad at this 🙂

          • 75th says:

            I did not understand OP when I posted this comment, I am the incompetent one

      • Cniz says:

        To paraphrase Douglas Adams, “I may be a sorry case, but I don’t write puns based on Mac lingo”. At least, so I would hope…

      • Michael says:

        both
        TINACBNIEAC

    • Ninmesara says:

      Cum and sea? The role if the sea and sperm in creation myths xD

      • ShareDVI says:

        something something sperm whales

        • Cniz says:

          I didn’t think Ninmesara’s pun could be improved upon or made any worse; yet you somehow managed to do both.

        • Ninmesara says:

          The overt meaning of “cum” is “collaborative creation”. This meaning we derive from sperm, the fluid that is essential to create life, but which is not complete on its own, and needs the egg in order for it to be whole. The kabbalistic meaning is “deep”. This meaning derives both from the fact that the sperm must navigate to hidden depths to find its goal, and from the “sperm whale”, a whale that dives deep into the sea in search for nourishment.

          The overt meaning of “sea” is “expanse of open water”. The Kabbalistic meaning of “sea” is “obstacle”. This we derive from the Parting of the Red Sea, a mighty obstacle crossed with the help of the LORD.

          Thus we can conclude that the cryptic sentence “cum and sea” can only refer to the “collaborative creation of meaning, through the fearless investigation of the depths of of the world, facing obstacles, in search for intellectual nourishment”. God leaves the clues, weaved into the sacred patterns of the Adam Kadmon, and it is our collective role (here represented by the Male and Female archetypes) to follow them, wherever they might lead, regardless of the obstacles put in our way. The search for the truth is a collective pursuit, founded on debate, mutual respect and division of labor.

          Am I doing this right?

      • Yossarian says:

        The only sperm and sea myth I currently remember without going to google is the Greek one, and it’s pretty brutal – Love being born out of blood and sperm dripping into the ocean from the severed balls of a castrated sky god. Not even sure what to make of that kabbalistically.
        …to make it more punny, when I opened the wikipedia article on Aphrodite to refresh my memory of that particular myth, the first sentence that stopped my eye contained words “Ur anus’ genitals”. Make of that what you wish.

        YOU DO NOT BELIEVE. I WILL GIVE YOU A SIGN. ARISE AND OPEN YOUR WIKIPEDIA, AND READ THE FIRST WORDS UPON WHICH YOUR EYES FALL.

  66. Gamzee Makara says:

    Remember when Ana fed the Dog some Meat?

    Well, now she has indeed fed God her Team.

  67. The coment king says:

    After thinking some more, Something I really like about this chapter is inserting Adam’s (and Ana’s) choice as a foundation. It ties in the abstract idea with the Adam Kadmon theme in a completely fundamental way (and also incorporates preference utilitarianism, to reinforce the evidence).

    Also, Neil Armstrong’s comment that the shattering of the vessels was an expansion, not a contraction, makes sense in this context: God let things crack so that all the universes with good in them could grow, expanding from one universe of pure light to all the good there could be.

    • Decius says:

      God let/caused this universe to exist despite having an eternal hell, because the cracking of the sky and events related thereto destroy hell and reduce the harm done by it existing to a large negative. Ana must choose between letting/making the world end, and the infinitely greater suffering of letting the world continue.

  68. Peter D says:

    “Evil is mostly made of fallen angels,” I said. “Who used to be regular angels. I am pretty sure Evil can comprehend good just fine.”
    “Evil can’t possibly comprehend Aramaic,” Ana suggested.
    “Better,” I said.

    I don’t get this exchange. Is there a pun hidden somewhere?

    • listless says:

      Angels can’t understand Aramaic. I thought that fact was sufficient to make this nerdy banter. I don’t see a pun.

      • Peter D says:

        So, when Ana replies “can’t possibly comprehend Aramaic” to Aaron’s “can comprehend good just fine”, why is that a retort? Is Aramaic somehow inherently “good”? And why does Aaron answer “Better”? What is “better” – Ana’s reply?

        • Cniz says:

          Yes, Ana’s reply is better – but it is a reply to Erica, not to Aaron. Erica said “Evil can’t possibly comprehend Good”, Aaron contradicted her, and Ana suggested “Evil can’t possibly comprehend Aramaic” instead. Aaron judged that Ana’s statement is better than Erica’s – because it is more correct, because it is funnier, or both, maybe other reasons as well.

          • The coment king says:

            This also relates to the theme of “Good, Evil, *and* Neutral” – Neutral comes into this too. And the explanation for (and downfall of) evil hinges not on Evil not comprehending Good, but on Evil not comprehending a more neutral secret of God (that God just wants things to work out to a non-negative sum).

        • zeek0 says:

          I think the logic goes like this, but is exagerated by the playfulness of conversation.
          -Evil can’t comprehend good.
          -Yes they can, because the original evil was fallen angels.
          -Evil(=fallen angels) can’t comprehend Aramaic
          -Yes, that’s a more correct statement than the first.

  69. Gradus says:

    > “TELL THEM I SAID ‘GO FISH’.”

    this is my favorite part. Even God is in on the epic whale puns.

  70. Anonymous says:

    No-one seems to have ask this one yet, but doesn’t Father Ellis get to ask Metatron a question after TCK does?

    I don’t think its something important to the story or will be answered though.

    And since Gadriel is working directly with TCK (I guess we already knew that since Reagan), could the blown up Vihaan be a stunt double? Since there’s a remark about him being over-dressed. Although that might just to hint at him not being an unimportant character. Since so many characters met their deaths in the last few chapters, maybe that isn’t unusual.

    Ellis, Vihaan, Tharmas, Uriel, Alverez & co, Not a metaphor crew.

    (Plus Lin and the drug lord attack from earlier.)

  71. Sniffnoy says:

    So there’s one part of this that doesn’t really make sense with an omnipotent God, and that’s this:

    YOUR WORLD IS VERY FAR FROM THE CENTER INDEED. IT IS IN THE MIDDLE OF A VAST WASTE, WHERE NOTHING ELSE GROWS. ALL OF THE WORLDS THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN PLANTED THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN ABOMINATIONS OF WICKEDNESS. BUT BY COINCIDENCE PILED UPON COINCIDENCE, YOURS WAS NOT. YOURS WILL GROW INTO A THING OF BEAUTY THAT WILL GLORIFY MY HOLY NAME.”

    Remove this bit and it makes sense. Right, the usual question is as Ana and Aaron discuss above: If we say “Job had to get boils because of downstream effects”, well, God, being omnipotent, could just effect the downstream effects without the boils, and make a strict improvement.

    The original “Answer to Job” post on SSC addresses this by saying, ah, but that universe already exists, so we need to also have one with the boils. But this breaks apart once you claim that a particular universe is an island! God should always be able to make strict improvements; as I said above, if he can’t, then he’s not so omnipotent. The original answer assumes he can and answers why he doesn’t, which is interesting, an actual theodicy; this doesn’t do that, it just makes God not omnipotent after all.

    (Also the problem of identity of different universes gets somewhat muddied when there’s an interventionist God. Doesn’t have to be very interventionist; more than zero is enough, which this God clearly is. This problem can be kind of swept away though, I think.)

    • Peter D says:

      Could it be that the world with Job w/o the boils is actually very far removed from the one where he has boils – because of chaotic effects – so that this one is still an island in the sense that any minute deviation from it is an abomination and thus not instantiated. But removing boils is not so minute and the resulting universe is actually far away in the garden.
      What’s maybe more surprising is God’s use of “BY COINCIDENCE PILED UPON COINCIDENCE” which must be strictly tongue-in-cheek.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I think you’ve missed an important part of the argument — that an omnipotent God can just micromanage such “chaotic effects” so that they work out the same.

        • dsp says:

          Leaving, of course, only one micromanaged-to-goodness universe adrift in a chunk of multidimensional possibility space surrounded by the ghosts of possibilities that entail different micromanagement and therefore would have gone poorly, and therefore were never created.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            But barring perfection you could still find some direction of improvement. E.g. the boils. What you’re saying doesn’t make sense — where does “and therefore would have gone poorly” come from? Just take what you have, make one concrete improvement, and then step in to counter its negative effects.

          • dsp says:

            What you’re not getting is that “and then step in to counter its negative effects” means selecting a certain point in possibility space and leaving its neighbourhood, where you might possibly have stepped in less or differently, barren. All the parts of your suggested process are accounted for in your position in probability space, not just the first step of “taking what you have”. Making a concrete improvement is moving to a different, probably extremely different, position.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Huh? I don’t understand your basis for the assertion that small changes are in fact large.

            I think I should expand on my example some; I’m not sure I’ve been clear enough there. Let’s take the boils. We want to cure Job of his boils, but we don’t want to screw up other things. So what we do is, we designate a bubble — not a spatial bubble, but a bubble of events… I guess it’s a bubble in spacetime. (I was going to say it doesn’t even need to be a connected set, but actually I guess it really should be.) The bubble includes the entire duration of Job’s boils, and excludes everything we care about being the same later. We alter the bubble so that Job no longer has boils. However, we have the rest of the universe, outside the bubble, play out as before. Anything that leaves the bubble is altered to become as it would have been were there no bubble; anything that enters the bubble is altered to become as it would have been were the bubble to consist of the entire universe. (Note that this includes entering/leaving it in the time dimension, i.e., remaining stationary while the spatial extent of the bubble expands or shrinks.) Essentially, we are taking two different universes, and replacing a small patch of one with the corresponding patch of the other.

            So for instance, Job has no boils, but all Job’s neighbors will see he that has boils; but Job himself will hear all his neighbors speaking as if they don’t see any boils. Everything is altered so that nothing seems out of place to anyone on either side. Once the temporal extent of the bubble is past, Job will remember having had boils. If, say, it’s important that bacteria from Job’s boils would have fallen on the ground in certain spots, then those bacteria will spontaneously appear in those spots as soon as those spots cease to be in the bubble. Etc.

            The resulting universe is exactly the same except for the interior of one small bubble for the period of its short existence. It is, I claim, nearby to the universe we started with. Where do you disagree with this example?

          • dsp says:

            I disagree only that it is nearby to the universe we started with in the space of all possible universes. It took you two somewhat complex paragraphs to explain the difference between the universes informally; I can think of very many perturbations that would have a much smaller effect on the coordinates in possibility space. For example, “the universe where everything you’re describing happened, but just one (and a separate universe exists for each one) of those inexplicably mission-critical bacteria didn’t spontaneously appear in the right place” is much closer to the new universe, part of that vast desert surrounding it, than the original universe is.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Is it, though? That’s the thing: It’s all about those unexpected knock-on effects. In what I’m describing, the two universes differ only on a finite region of spacetime. But if you change any one thing, like the position of one bacterium, and don’t do the bubble thing — well, I’m assuming you intend for that change to propagate forward. But any change that is allowed to just propagate forward as usual leads to a difference that is not confined to a finite reason (unless the universe has an endpoint, I guess, but even then… “light cone of event X” is probably much larger than “designated finite region which we have chosen to be small”). As I see it, changing the position of one bacterium and propagating that change forward is — unless the world is about to end — a much larger change than making basically any change that is confined to a finite region of spacetime and cannot propagate outside of it.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Finite region, not finite reason. Blargh.

          • dsp says:

            Our possibility space here is indexed by the seed, which is to say the underlying structure of the universe, not by its content at any particular time. The fact that small perturbations in the initial state can produce hugely different results is why islands can exist, not an argument against them, because the seeds don’t move once they’re planted. Think of its position as corresponding to a descriptive sentence like “the universe where Job gets boils, with all that entails” versus “the universe where Job doesn’t get boils, except everyone else thinks he does, but Job doesn’t know that because he has been ontologically isolated in a spacetime bubble with different rules (and everything is created, altered, or destroyed at the surface of the bubble as necessary), with all that entails” versus “the universe where […] as necessary, except for some bacteria I will coincidentally forget about), with all that entails”. The second and third are much closer to one another than either is to the first.

          • Marvy says:

            I think this is cheating. The rule is that each universe has its own special structure that it obeys. I do not think the thing you described can be accomplished with any sane self-consistent structure.

            Even worse: how do you know this hasn’t been done? Maybe Job never had boils, but history is such that he may as well have had them.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            dsp:

            I suppose that’s a consistent answer, but it sure seems to me like God is then speaking in misleading terms to Job (in that he’s speaking in terms of a distance measure that is meaningful only to Himself).

          • dsp says:

            It was extremely clear to me that God is talking about a distance measure that is only meaningful to Himself. He specifically describes “MY GARDEN”, which I have been interpreting as simultaneously both a metaphor for the space of possible universe seeds and a very literal garden of universes which God can literally enter and watch the universes grow in a way that is as close to our corresponding physical interpretation of that words as conceptually possible while still being an abstract instantiation of the space of possible universe seeds; in any case, it’s clear that Job isn’t expected to know what God’s garden looks like or how distance is measured therein. I certainly don’t think Job would have understood your scenario as “close” to his universe either; from his perspective, in fact, it’s closer to all the other universes where he doesn’t have boils. It seems like it’s intrinsically impossible for God to speak to humans about His business and experiences in a way that isn’t arguably serious misleading.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Marvy:

          I think this is cheating. The rule is that each universe has its own special structure that it obeys. I do not think the thing you described can be accomplished with any sane self-consistent structure.

          Sure it can, I just described it (informally). What I said involves a fair bit of non-uniformity, but it doesn’t involve any contradictions.

          Even worse: how do you know this hasn’t been done? Maybe Job never had boils, but history is such that he may as well have had them.

          “Job never had boils, but history is such that he may as well have had them” is just a much more concise description of the possible altered universe I’m describing!

          It apparently hasn’t been done because God described the world as an island. If it had been done the world would not be an island. Let’s remember what I’m claiming — that the assertion that the world is an island doesn’t make sense with an omnipotent God and undermines the presented theodicy. If in fact it has been done, that would indeed make sense, but that would contradict the island claim.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Argh. Posted this in wrong subthread. Sorry about that. Intended as reply to this comment: http://unsongbook.com/chapter-71-but-for-another-gives-its-ease/#comment-48496

          • dsp says:

            Personally, I think the thread depth cap is the worst thing ever, so your mistake was actually extremely helpful.

          • Marvy says:

            > Sure it can, I just described it (informally). What I said […] doesn’t involve any contradictions

            Yes, you got the “self-consistent” part right. But not the “sane” part. You essentially have Job living in a different world for several years. Consider the following conversation from both sides:

            “Job, you look awful. Go see a doctor before it gets worse.”
            “Yes, I’m actually on my there right now”.
            versus
            “Hi Job, nice tan! Can I get you to watch my kids for an hour? I need to run a few errands.”
            “Sure, no problem, I’ll see you when you get back.”

            You’re suggesting that Job thinks he spent the day with the neighbor’s kids, while everyone else knows he went to the doctor? THIS IS NO WAY TO RUN A UNIVERSE. Oh, and then when the boils are over, you erase all of Job’s memories so they agree with what everyone else thought was happening all along.

            Nevertheless, there are, as you said, no contradictions. But I don’t think you realize just how thin the ice is where you’re going. It doesn’t get thin enough to allow outright contradictions, but… What if you apply this boils “cure” to 2 people, instead of 1, and these two are neighbors? Easy: neither suffers from boils, but feels sorry for the other guy who clearly has them. There are now 3 parallel universes to track: “main”, “Job” and “neighbor”. Even assuming a relatively mild butterfly effect, if you do this to enough people then EVERYONE IS LIVING A LIE. If I lived in such a world, I shouldn’t trust the memories of my childhood, or of what I had for breakfast, or whether or not the person I think is my best friend has ever seen or heard of me. I should really wonder whether any person resembling my best friend has ever been born.

            Is this the kind of world you would call a strict improvement? Even The Matrix didn’t try to pull lies on this scale, and instead put everyone inside a shared environment. (Probably to save CPU cycles, which God need not worry about, but still.) Maybe you do call this a strict improvement. But if so, I think you have a (much?) looser criteria than I do about counts as a “harmless white lie”.

          • dsp says:

            When did Job go to a doctor? I don’t remember that part of the story. If you think this objection is trivial or misleading, you don’t understand the concept well enough.

            Even if he had gone to a doctor, even had a doctor to which to go, you’re the one who invented this whole business with the neighbour’s kids. It would be much cleaner to let Job believe that he went to the doctor, who told him that he’s fine and everything is fine. Of course, God presumably doesn’t need to care about the complexity, so as long as both options produce a net good universe, God might as well do both. Why should God care how complicated the lies get? He just wants to make a good universe. If your morality is not as Godly as God’s morality, well, bub, that’s your problem.

            Unrelatedly, you absolutely should distrust the memories of your childhood, and what you had for breakfast, and every memory of your best friend. They could all be wrong. They probably are all wrong. In fact, I’m going to let you in on a secret that I’m technically not supposed to tell you: at least one of them definitely is. Have fun figuring it out!

    • Decius says:

      The universe contains the interventions as well. There’s a universe where God intervenes in each set of instances where intervention results in a positive value universe.

  72. David Marjanović says:

    And Robert Wilson wrote the story of a man who looked through chamber after chamber of his soul, questing for his true self, only to give up and conclude that there was nobody there. “That’s odd”, the guru told him. “Who’s conducting the search?”

    Je doute, donc je pense, donc je suis.

  73. Orr says:

    AND THE MORE SUCH THINGS I ADD, THE MORE CHANCE THAT THEY TEND TOWARD EVIL.

    Twice “THEY” – typo 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      “So,” I asked, you think the reason there’s evil in the world is a series of post hoc adjustments for implausible coincidences, some of which involved buried treasure?”

      Missing opening quotation mark before ‘you’.

      • Anonymous says:

        And a minor quibble: the previous time Acher’s heresy was mentioned, he was saying ‘T-W-O G-O-D-S’, but here he’s just saying ‘T-W-O’. It’s fine as-is (neither was even a literal translation, I guess), but still noticeable.

  74. JJR says:

    ““YES,” said God. “WHICH IMPLIES THAT HELL MUST NOT BE ETERNAL.”

    Thamiel, as an aspect of God, must know this. If he was going to win and create the eternal domain of hell that he wants he wouldn’t actually exist. Bu, he still seems to be trying to win. I guess I don’t understand the thought process behind his actions.

    • The coment king says:

      Just because he’s a facet of God doesn’t make him omniscient. He’s failed to know things before.

      • Marvy says:

        All he had to do was ask Metatron, just like Job and Ana did. Unless maybe for some strange reason Thamiel was never too interested in the central question of theodicy, and never thought that evil is a problem that needs to be explained. Or maybe Metatron didn’t want to talk to him.

        • Jack V says:

          “maybe Metatron didn’t want to talk to him.”

          Metatron mostly didn’t talk to ANYONE even the other angels, and didn’t really take part in the war. Not talking to Thamiel seems a shoe-in 🙂

      • JJR says:

        Not knowing things, sure. But not knowing his own role in the universe seems a bit beyond the sort of ignorance I would expect hi to have.

        Now I’m wondering if Thamiel and the Demons of hell ever struggle with the Philosophical Problem of Good.

        “God, why would you who is so perfectly evil as to create hell also create creatures of such goodness like The Comet King?”

        And then God spoke from a whirlwind and said, “I HAVE SOME UNFORTUNATE NEWS FOR YOU.”

        • Marvy says:

          That is truly hilarious.

        • JJR says:

          Thinking on it a bit more though. I guess Thamiel’s ignorance makes sense from a Placebomancy perspective.

          God’s Left Hand does not know what His Right Hand is doing.

          • Anonymous says:

            Did God undergo a callosotomy or something?

          • Yossarian says:

            God with a callosotomy would be a bit too close to the T-W-O G-O-D-S heresy, i think. Btw, on the first read I misread that one as “colostomy”. Now, a God with a colostomy bag – that is just wrong…

  75. A good universe in the middle of a wasteland of bad universes can also be found in Worlds of the Imperium by Keith Laumer.

  76. hrdn says:

    I don’t buy it, animals evolved such that they prefer existence to nonexistence, how can G*d use their primal fears about death as evidence that they would prefer to be created in the first place?

    • dsp says:

      Because that evolution is also built into the structure of Adam Kadmon. Universes which would result in sentient life that doesn’t want to exist don’t get planted.

  77. “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin” but we now know G-d Himself made a pretty major compromise with sin in creating this world in the first place.

    But this chapter seems to quite confidently promise a happy ending. I’m really curious what, if any impact the Arc Words will have on the finale.

  78. Bland says:

    Did anyone else notice that it’s implied that Leonard Cohen is manning the green sail on All Your Heart?

  79. haplodiploidy says:

    I’ve been hoping throughout the story that we’d get a reference back to the four-eyed baby (one of whose eyes came from the pope) mentioned in the prologue. The text says that the provenance of the fourth eye was never determined, but that could just mean that it was never determined by people within the Unsong universe, while Scott could clue us in. It would make for a nice bookend in the last chapter, I think.

  80. Anonymous says:

    For God’s illumination of Job, compare the short story of Borges, “Inferno, I, 32”

    https://thefloatinglibrary.com/2008/07/28/inferno-i-32/

  81. Jack V says:

    OK, further thoughts.

    The Other King

    If he has a personal grudge against god, that explains his focus on crucifixion

    I was confused for a long time, because seeing the boy in the tree treated unjustly he… became really evil? I would have thought the opposite (at least when it comes to sins that actually harm people, rather than eating pork). But it’s like, he was offended by the inconsistency, not the injustice, so he decided to fight God, without regard to good or evil.

    Or, I guess, there’s possibly some kabalistic reason. Who’s the only other person in history Thamiel wanted to keep out of hell? CK, because he knows the explicit name. This is a REALLY long shot, but is it possible Acher found out the explicit name and God/Thamiel banned him from hell however evil he was, because he would tear everything down (and make everything again in a good/bad way), and he’s trying to break through that prohibition by accumulating so much evil he can’t be kept out of hell any more? (If so maybe CK and TOK compared notes after all).

    Or, he’s trying to do an anti-Thamiel: be a force for evil in the world, so people become righteous fighting him and get to heaven?

    Or, he’s genuinely just… really bad even if orthogonal to Thamiel. That’s what God-as-Metatron-as-Nemo said anyway.

    What’s his game *now*. Was he connected to Vihaan or not? Was destroying Tharmas, thence Uriel, an attempt to defeat the comet spawn before they get names online, or part of some deeper plot? Did he wait until THARMAS was producing names for a reason (either because his plan only worked then, or because it became urgent) or was that Vihaan’s delay?

    The missile said “sorry”, was that a coincidence, or does TOK genuinely sympathise with Uriel?

    What’s next?

    I assume we’re going to destroy hell *somehow* because we’ve been building up to that a lot. I imagine that will be basically the same as destroying Thamiel (cos otherwise he’d be just as bad, and because hell seems to be an extension of him being made out of the broken anti-god divine light channeling vessels).

    If so, I *hope* that makes this world ok again. Even without physics, if there’s a few good angels around, and names, and no Thamiel, hopefully we can build a good society? If the world exists at all, but God’s implication to Ana is that it WILL.

    All sorts of prophecy is coming due now. I can’t remember the details, but we’re on the last president, and I think the USA runs out about now. (Not a surprise, given apocalypse, but to be borne in mind.) If Father John Ellis on the spaceship is correct, the righteous children die today, presumably the same as “all CK descendants die cursing his name”. I am still hoping that’s not in a bad way.

    Everyone is working to get tharmas+sarah working. I guess infinite names still helps even if Thamiel is at full power? Maybe? At any rate, it was a heck of a coincidence that loosed the vital name in the first place; presumably that was relevant to saving the world, and so far, it’s set up a bunch of stuff (eg. Ana wouldn’t be on Not a Metaphor if not for that chain of events) but it would be weird if it weren’t directly useful somehow.

    They hoped to use Sarah to ultimately get the explicit name, but now they have that a better way.

    Thamiel is temporarily out of the way if there’s any chance for a “fix the world all at once” plan it’s probably now or never.

    Fixing the world

    The obvious plan as tried before is:

    STEP ONE. Know the ultimate name.

    It seems Ana has this sorted implicitly: Scott’s “graduation exercise” implies it’s not necessarily supposed to be obvious at this point, but it *is* supposed to be provided to Ana. Which says she’s pure enough to know it, I guess.

    And can presumably pass it by SCABMOM to Aaron and Sohu. Um, if she’s quick before she dies.

    It may or may not be passable to Erika or Dylan “prime candidate for in hell” Alvarez, if they’ve already been confounded.

    I’m not sure how stringent the requirements for knowing it are, but presumably some main characters count if Ana does. I’m not sure if CK’s not sharing it was because he thought it better not to, or because no-one else qualified as good enough, or because he couldn’t share it without saying it (kliopt didn’t work on it somehow). All the ritual with the boat was necessary for *finding* it, I don’t know if it’s easier to *know* it, or not.

    STEP TWO. Be in hell.

    I’m not sure on the saying-names-while-in-hell thing. Apparently random damned souls can’t just go wrathful-name everywhere? But they can, in general, say names. The general gist seems to be if CK had forced his way in, it would have worked. And if he could die after sinning enough he would be in hell and (Uriel thinks) able to say the name.

    They don’t explicitly say this, but the bottleneck may be being evil enough to go to hell, but good enough to retain the ultimate name.

    What are the going-to-hell possibilities?

    Break the seals in Lake Baikal. I assume there’d have been more mention of this if it was the way forward. I guess we might still get “tharmas discovers a forcing-your-way-into-hell name”.

    Thamiel goes to hell. Could anyone trick or overpower him enough to go along somehow? Probably not now he’s temporarily melted.

    Malia (and maybe Obama) came *from* hell. Can she go back? Can she take a passenger? That would be a bit of a let-down now.

    *Robin* went to hell without sinning much. Thamiel checked she didn’t know any special names. But could you sell your soul to a lesser demon and hope no-one checked? If you tried, could they just confound your memory of it, or is that too specific to do? Probably no time for that.

    Die, and have enough sin. I’m not sure about this “can’t sin on purpose to go to hell” thing. It sounds too similar to what Acher was doing with God, if you really wanted, you can do bad things, and likely learn to enjoy them enough that you WOULD do them without an hidden motive to get to hell, and hence be damned for them. CK despaired (maybe even commited suicide-by-other-king), maybe he DID go to hell. I feel like there must be some connection between CK and TOK here, but I’m not sure what. Working together? Just a realisation of CK of what to do?

    But (a) metatron might take the name back and (b) thamiel might not let you in.

    Several hints point towards (a) be in hell (b) maybe stupid-fragile-kabal-mystic-marriage-of-minds still works and lets you get the name. But if so it seems like it should have been taken care of earlier without so many intervening steps.

    CK could do telepathy with his children, does that work SCABMOM-like or did he actually have a SCABMOM link? Does SCABMOM work earth-hell? hell-hell? purgatory-hell? heaven-hell?

    Who is likely in hell at this point? Dylan. Robin. Some of the crew or passengers of the Not a Metaphor. Maybe CK. Maybe Malia. Possibly Ana but probably not. Shortly, at least some more major characters.

    STEP THREE. Say the name.

    It seems like this requires great kabbalistic skill. Who can do this?

    CK.
    Uh, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before, but Uriel? Can’t see how he’d get to hell, if you can’t just walk in like Sataniel any more. But he presumably is as good as anyone else at making names. And very good at remaking universes along rational lines. He might even remake THAT universe into OUR universe patching over the history.
    Sohu. Not sure, but the obvious candidate, as trained by CK and Uriel.
    Isaac Luria. I guess? Is he still around? Did people who die in the 1500s have souls that went into the afterlife?
    Other Comet Spawn. Don’t know if they can, but they have a better chance than most.
    Other angels? Or demons?
    Aaron? I’m not hopeful, but he’s been talking about being another CK for ages, this is the moment…

    Not sure how #2 and #3 go together. Sure they must connect into a neat solution but not sure what it is.

    STEP FOUR. That was a doozy of step two. But I guess, profit? Remake the world to be just and merciful.

    Best guesses

    Immediate situation with TOK and with Vihaan will be explained.

    Jane and Nathanda will meet TOK, and probably defend Colorado from him (it’s still possible he’s got some other plan, but “need to defeat him” seems probable).

    Tharmas-names will be used (either a lot, or just one that happens to fix a specific thing).

    Hell will be destroyed and the world destroyed or remade in some way, not tragically.

    The cometspawn will die “cursing their father’s name”. Maybe he’s been running some long plot that involves not letting them in on it, and they shout at him, and then they all die, but everyone who dies is brought back? (Or at least, doesn’t go to hell.) Or maybe it’s “cursing their father’s Name”, they will use the explicit name to destroy hell.

    The explicit name will get to someone in hell who can say it somehow, probably through some combination of circumstances that wasn’t easily possible before now, and get used. Likely involving SCABMOM.

    Probably there will be a few extra chapters or codas after the end.

    (Rough guess: 90% certainty for most predictions, 70% for ones marked “probable”)

    Random other thoughts

    Other prophecies which we need to cover. Um, many seem to have been covered already. Messiah 1 vs Messiah 2, does this shed any light on where CK stands?

    The cometspawn realised the missile wasn’t aimed at them before it hit, and Sohu apparently (?) had a SCABMOM with Uriel (or teleport by lightning), so couldn’t she have warned him? Did they just not act quickly enough or was there a specific reason why not?

    Sohu and Uriel ordered takeout when she was 12. Did they just go somewhere a takeout would deliver, or did they find someone willing to send food up into the hurricane?

    Sarah has a soul. Tharmas apparently has a soul because he produced names. Does lacking a moral soul mean they go to hell? If so, are they better than humans at pronouncing the explicit name before they explode from saying it?

    RHOG seems a bit shafted compared to LHOG…

    Nixon must have died, I wonder if he *did* go to hell. I guess. What about any of the other characters we know apart from Robin, have any died before the last chapter or so?

    Did Sarah KNOW the invisible+airwalk name would let Ana rescue Aaron? Or did she just think it was likely and go with that?

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      Regarding Messiah 1 versus Messiah 2, Sarah looks like Messiah 2. (She was conceived of divine light after the fall of the Comet King.)

      One mechanism she may have a unique capacity for is the ability to self-modify; rewrite and recompile her soul to be evil, with a routine to overwrite that once she is in Hell.

      • Jack V says:

        But isn’t the true messiah supposed to be descended from *David*?

        Wait, let me check. Apparently Sarah Michelle Geller *was* matriliniarly jewish, does that count?

        But is she good enough to hold the explicit name? And how will she find it out, she’s not married to anyone?

        • Viktor Westermark says:

          Wasn’t Sarah in the room with Sohu and Aaron when they performed the ritual? Sarah could have mumbled ultrasonically the same phrases as the two others. Perhaps she is part of their kabbalistic polygamyic marriage?

      • David Marjanović says:

        She was conceived of divine light after the fall of the Comet King.

        And immaculately so, right? How would she have inherited Original Sin…?

    • Jack V says:

      Oh, and the flash-forward Sohu had in the eclipse to Metatron taking the name back, must be relevant somehow.

    • Jack V says:

      Prediction rating. Not bad. I was wrong about the vital name still being used. Everything else I expected to show up did.

      Although the state of the world afterwards isn’t confirmed. “Doing ok but kinda fallen to pieces and no US any more” is still most likely but not specified.

      It didn’t occur to me CK would show up again even though it should have done (if someone had suggested it, I would have thought it was likely). I did manage to include him on the list of “able to say the name” even though I didn’t expect him to!

      Indeed, I remember CK=TOK speculation but forgot it on the last chapter. It didn’t occur to me the backstory wasn’t there at all. Does the Fall of the Sparrow prophecy make more sense now? Or less sense? Metatron saying he’s a bad man resonates a lot now!

      I was super super right about some connection between CK and TOK, especially related to the “how to do good/bad without intending it” question.

  82. Arancaytar says:

    “BEFORE THE WORLD, I SPOKE TO ADAM KADMON IN MY GARDEN. I OFFERED HIM THE CHOICE TO REMAIN IN THE PARADISE BEYOND EXISTENCE, OR TO TASTE OF GOOD AND EVIL, BE SEPARATED FROM ME, AND ATTAIN INDEPENDENT BEING. HE CHOSE THE LATTER.”

    Oh hey, I only noticed the Adam/Adam Kadmon analogy on the second read.

  83. Ninmesara says:

    Alternate American Pie interpretation: “Drove the Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry” -> Drove the Comet King to the Leviathan, but the leviathan was dry because he doesn’t actually swim in the sea and he didn’t give us the answers we wanted.

  84. Ninmesara says:

    Hm… something that ocurred to me. If God exists and Talks, why doesn’t Uriel believe jn His existence? God has clearly revealed Himself to TCK. Maybe after TCK got the Name Uriel started believing?

    • Anonymous says:

      Uriel doesn’t doubt the existence of God — only God’s willingness to intervene in the world, and probably also the meaningfulness of ascribing personhood to him (similarly to Bill Dodd in that respect). And the former seems to have been actually vindicated.

    • dsp says:

      Strictly speaking, Metatron exists and talks. This doesn’t necessarily imply that God exists at all: Metatron might actually just be following the rules inherent in the structure of the universe all along, like a Chinese room. In fact, Metatron has to be doing so for the story to work; the only question is whether his utterances “coincidentally” also express the views of a yet-further God.

    • The coment king says:

      At the time Uriel said he didn’t believe God takes an active part in the universe, Metatron had never talked.

  85. The coment king says:

    Headcanon (not sure if this chapter supports it, but I like it): The Ein Sof, the void outside the cracks in the sky, is actually the void in which God creates all the worlds, and is identified in some sense with the unique world of pure good. When Neil Armstrong fell into it, he actually became part of this world of pure good, until he fell out again.
    Also, God is somehow constrained in His options to create new worlds, in that they have to be isomorphic to Adam Kadmon in some sense. That’s why the Names in unsongverse do follow deep patterns, rather than being random collections of syllables like blhgdgdgdgd, and why Aaron’s kaballistic analysis is actually pretty good at predicting things that happen in advance. It’s also why unsongverse is a unique world in a desert, instead of being on a large-ish island of similar worlds with microscopic differences.

  86. Ninmesara says:

    I’m starting to think that there is a high likelihiod that the story ends with someone saying the Shem Hamephorash and that we’ll never know the aftermath of the destruction of Hell. I really hope this isn’t the case, though.

    • Yossarian says:

      Well, so far each of three books ended up with someone vanishing. Maybe someone will say Shem Hamephorash and the world will vanish?

  87. Tina C. Beniac says:

    THERE ARE TWENTY-TWO BOOKS IN THE HEBREW BIBLE, TWENTY-TWO LETTERS IN THE HEBREW ALPHABET, TWENTY-TWO SOMATIC CHROMOSOMES IN THE HUMAN BODY, TWENTY-TWO MAJOR ARCANA IN THE TAROT, TWENTY-TWO ENGRAVINGS IN BLAKE’S BOOK OF JOB, AND TWENTY-TWO CONSTELLATIONS IN EACH OF THE FOUR QUARTERS OF THE SKY.

    But only twenty-one interludes, and now we’ve missed the last Wednesday an interlude would have been possible. Perhaps that one coincidence was not necessary to make the universe good on balance.

  88. Space Attorney says:

    Well hey, no epic is complete without a journey into Hell, right?

    • Ninmesara says:

      I think either the Broadcast or Robin fulfill that part

    • teucer says:

      Most epics also start in media res, often with the hero at his lowest point, then explain in flashbacks how it got that way.

      We began this story with the Comet King dead, Robin West in Hell, Thamiel’s child running UNSONG, and Aaron selling his dignity for minimum wage in a sweatshop. And the interludes tell us how it got there.

  89. Angle says:

    This might already have been asked, but shouldn’t a truly infinite god be able to make a universe with infinite good and no evil? As written, it would still seem that god is constrained in some way. :/

  90. Ben says:

    First, I would like to say I really like this argument that explains that evil exists and I find it quite compelling. However, I suspect there are an infinite number of universes that could be considered purely good or at least as good as the unsung universe. For example you could take a purely good universe and add one grain of sand and you could do this forever and it would still be more good than the unsong universe. The only reason to create lesser universes would be if the lesser universes were a larger infinity than the more pure universes.

    • The coment king says:

      God doesn’t just create the largest possible cardinality of good, He creates the maximum set of good worlds. And He is beyond set-theoretic limitations.

  91. Quixote says:

    As of right now Unsong is the number one ranked web serial

  92. Nicholas Weininger says:

    Surprised to see neither a Parfit nor a Le Guin hat tip here; this chapter reads to me as pretty transparently a riff on/mashup of the Repugnant Conclusion and _The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas_.

  93. There are two issues– an answer to theodicy, and a satisfactory end to the novel.

    Ideally, the first is part of the second, but maybe not essential.

    Do we have evidence that the Broadcast is truthful? If I were the Devil and I got humanity to wreck itself with a false depiction of Hell, I’d be so smug I’d be (more) insufferable.

    The story suggests that Hell isn’t eternal. If the Broadcast is correct, I’d like to see what rehabilitation would be like for the souls which have been tortured there. Maybe actually seeing how the evils of the world (including moral degeneration due to pain) interlocks to create good on the whole will be enough. Maybe.

    This is the only version of Hell I’ve seen where moral destruction is part of the torture.

    There’s plenty of evil in the world even if eternal hell is destroyed. Will the story address that?

    It probably wouldn’t work for the story, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Thaumiel erased for being bad art. I’m not sure that he is bad art, but I want to get the reference in.

  94. Hypothesis: Bifurcation is a problem at least some of the time.

    What if Thaumiel’s other head is his empathy and/or conscience? What happens if both head are integrated into one entity?

  95. Kazi Siddiqui says:

    There is a kraken everything.

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