aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 9: With Art Celestial

The claim that the Talmudic sages were great kabbalists is a historical error. Most sages make no mention of the kabbalistic tradition at all. Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in a cave and composed 1700 pages of kabbalistic texts, is an exception and should be considered separately.

Bar Yochai spent thirteen years hiding from the Romans in a cavern near Peki’in, and took advantage of his long downtime to write what would later become the Zohar – the founding work of kabbalah, as brilliant as it is impenetrable. Worried that it would lead younger students into flights of overwrought superstition, the orthodox banned study of the Zohar to everyone except married Jews above the age of forty -and even these carefully selected students tended to go off the deep end after a while. The circumstances of the Zohar’s composition are widely believed to be the origin of the old rabbinic proverb against delving too deep into arcane secrets: לֹא תִּיכָּנֵס לַמְעָרוֹת , meaning “don’t go into the caves”.
— Gebron and Eleazar, Kabbalah: A Modern Approach

October 3, 1990
Gulf of Mexico

“WE SAY THAT MAN WAS MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD,” said Uriel. “BUT GOD IS INEFFABLE AND WITHOUT PHYSICAL FORM. RESOLVE THE PARADOX.”

“I’m hungry,” said Sohu.

She was sitting on a little cloud, a dozen or so meters across. In the middle, the cloud-stuff had been piled up into a little amorphous cottage where she slept and stored her books. On the far end of the cloud was the flying kayak, tied down with cloud-ropes.

“UM.” Uriel thought for a moment. “I CAN MAKE MORE MANNA.”

“I had manna yesterday and the day before. It doesn’t taste like anything!”

“UM. SORRY. YOU ARE VERY PICKY.”

“We’re in the middle of an ocean! Aren’t there fish or something?”

“UM.”

The archangel bent down, reached into the deep, and placed a giant grouper the size of a Jeep on Sohu’s cloud. It flailed half-heartedly for a moment, then stared at Sohu with dinner-plate-sized lidless eyes. It looked resigned.

“AS I WAS SAYING, GOD HAS NO PHYSICAL FORM, SO THE CLAIM THAT HUMANS WERE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD MUST HAVE SOME MORE SUBTLE MEANING. RABBI AKIVA PROPOSED – ”

“Uriel!” protested Sohu. “What are you doing?”

“I AM TEACHING YOU THE KABBALAH.”

“I can’t eat this!”

“IT IS A FISH. IT IS KOSHER AND FULL OF NUTRIENTS.”

“It’s staring at me!”

“THAT MAKES SENSE. IT DOES NOT HAVE EYELIDS.”

“Uriel! Make it stop!”

Fast as lightning, the archangel rearranged some of the glowing letters in front of him, causing them to pulse and whirl ominously.

The fish had eyelids. It blinked.

“That doesn’t help!”

“YOU ARE VERY PICKY.”

The poor fish gave up the ghost.

“Humans don’t just eat giant fish the size of jeeps! They need to be cut apart, and cooked, and covered in bread crumbs, and I like them with ketchup even though Father says it makes me a barbarian.”

A series of knives rained from the sky, barely missing the girl’s head, and embedded themselves point down in the cloud. They were followed by frying pans and entire stoves and bottles of ketchup and, finally, manna.

“SORRY,” said Uriel. “IT WAS THE CLOSEST I COULD COME TO BREAD.”

Sohu stared at the objects for a while, then sighed, then picked up one of the larger knives.

“RABBI AKIVA PROPOSED THAT THE VERSE HAS BEEN MISINTERPRETED. ‘GOD MADE MAN IN HIS IMAGE’ MEANS ‘GOD MADE MAN ACCORDING TO AN IMAGE BELONGING TO GOD’. IN OTHER WORDS, MAN WAS BUILT TO A SPECIFIC CELESTIAL BLUEPRINT. WE CALL THAT BLUEPRINT ADAM KADMON, MEANING ‘ORIGINAL MAN’. ADAM KADMON IS THE BLUEPRINT NOT ONLY FOR MAN, BUT FOR THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THIS BLUEPRINT AND THE UNIVERSE ITSELF IS THE BASIS OF KABBALAH.”

Sohu cut through a scale, and was rewarded with a spurt of blood for her efforts. She shrieked and almost fell off the cloud.

“Aaak!” she said. Then: “Sorry. I was listening. Really.”

“NOVICES IN KABBALAH EXPECT THERE TO BE A SIMPLE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN ASPECTS OF ADAM KADMON AND OBJECTS IN THE UNIVERSE. FOR EXAMPLE, ONE PART OF ADAM KADMON MIGHT DESCRIBE HUMANS, ANOTHER MIGHT DESCRIBE TREES, AND ANOTHER MIGHT DESCRIBE THE STARS. THEY BELIEVE YOU CAN CARVE UP THE DIFFERENT FEATURES OF THE UNIVERSE, MUCH LIKE CARVING A FISH, AND SIMPLY…”

“No,” said Sohu, who was still trying to wipe blood off herself. “No fish-carving metaphors.”

“THEY BELIEVE YOU CAN CARVE UP THE DIFFERENT FEATURES OF THE UNIVERSE, ENTIRELY UNLIKE CARVING A FISH,” the angel corrected himself. “BUT IN FACT EVERY PART OF THE BLUEPRINT IS CONTAINED IN EVERY OBJECT AS WELL AS IN THE ENTIRETY OF THE UNIVERSE. THINK OF IT AS A FRACTAL, IN WHICH EVERY PART CONTAINS THE WHOLE. IT MAY BE TRANSFORMED ALMOST BEYOND RECOGNITION. BUT THE WHOLE IS THERE. THUS, STUDYING ANY OBJECT GIVES US CERTAIN DOMAIN-GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WHICH APPLIES TO EVERY OTHER OBJECT. HOWEVER, BECAUSE ADAM KADMON IS ARRANGED IN A WAY DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENTLY FROM HOW OUR OWN MINDS ARRANGE INFORMATION, THIS KNOWLEDGE IS FIENDISHLY DIFFICULT TO DETECT AND APPLY. YOU MUST FIRST CUT THROUGH THE THICK SKIN OF CONTINGENT APPEARANCES BEFORE REACHING THE HEART OF -”

“No. Cutting. Metaphors,” Sohu told the archangel. She had finally made a good incision and was slowly pulling things out of the fish, sorting them by apparent edibility.

“THE BIBLE IS AN ESPECIALLY CLEAR EXAMPLE OF A SYSTEM WHICH IS ISOMORPHIC TO ADAM KADMON. SO ARE ALL HUMAN LANGUAGES. SO IS THE HUMAN BODY. SO IS THE TAROT. SO ARE THE WORKS OF WILLIAM BLAKE. SO IS THE SKY AND CONSTELLATIONS.”

Sohu nodded. Was that a spleen? Did fishes even have spleens?

“THERE ARE FOUR GOSPELS IN THE BIBLE, FOUR LETTERS IN THE TETRAGRAMMATON, FOUR LIMBS ON THE HUMAN BODY, FOUR SUITS OF THE TAROT, FOUR ZOAS IN BLAKE, AND FOUR QUARTERS OF THE SKY. THE NOVICE CONSIDERS THIS A COINCIDENCE. THE ADEPT UNDERSTANDS THIS IS BECAUSE THE NUMBER FOUR IS AN IMPORTANT ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE OF ADAM KADMON, AND INSOFAR AS ALL SYSTEMS REFLECT ADAM KADMON, THEY ARE ALSO ORGANIZED INTO FOUR PARTS.”

Sohu managed to extract the heart from the fish. For a second she felt some strange significance at seeing it divided neatly into four chambers. Then she shook herself out of it and moved on.

“THERE ARE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN THE BIBLE, TEN DIGITS IN THE NUMBER SYSTEM, TEN FINGERS ON THE HUMAN BODY, TEN PIP CARDS IN THE TAROT, TEN PROPHETIC BOOKS IN BLAKE, AND TEN CELESTIAL BODIES IN THE SKY.”

“Ten celestial bodies?”

“EIGHT PLANETS, THE SUN, AND THE MOON. 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.”

Sohu wiped off her hands. She was pretty sure she had gotten everything even potentially edible out of the fish now. She looked at her piles. There were twenty two weird unidentifiable fish organs.

“Huh,” she said.

“LIKEWISE, THERE ARE SEVENTY-TWO BOOKS IN THE CATHOLIC BIBLE, SEVENTY-TWO LETTERS IN THE SHEM HA-MEPHORASH, SEVENTY-TWO HEARTBEATS PER MINUTE IN A HEALTHY HUMAN ADULT, SEVENTY-TWO SIDES OF NUMBER CARDS IN THE TAROT, SEVENTY-TWO PAGES IN WILLIAM BLAKE’S POETICAL SKETCHES, AND SEVENTY-TWO YEARS TO ONE DEGREE OF PRECESSION OF THE EARTH’S EQUINOX.”

Sohu had finally extracted enough pieces of fish innard to put on a frying pan. She placed it on a stove. Even though the stove was unconnected to any source of gas or electricity, it started burning with a thin blue flame.

“IN KABBALAH,” Uriel continued “WE RECOGNIZE CERTAIN DIVISIONS OF ADAM KADMON AS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT. A FOURFOLD DIVISION, WHICH WE INTERPRET AS FOUR WORLDS. A TENFOLD DIVISION, WHICH WE INTERPRET AS TEN SEPHIROT. A TWENTY-TWO-FOLD DIVISION, WHICH WE INTERPRET AS TWENTY-TWO PATHS BETWEEN SEPHIROT. AND A SEVENTY-TWO-FOLD DIVISION, WHICH WE INTERPRET AS THE SEVENTY-TWO-FOLD EXPLICIT NAME OF GOD. BY UNDERSTANDING ALL OF THESE DIVISIONS, WE LEARN THE STRUCTURE OF ADAM KADMON AND THEREFORE THE ORGANIZATIONAL PRINCIPLES OF THE UNIVERSE. ONCE THE ORGANIZATIONAL PRINCIPLES OF THE UNIVERSE ARE UNDERSTOOD, THEY CAN BE CHANGED. IT IS AS EASY AS SHOOTING FISH IN A BARREL.”

“You’re doing it on purpose now!”

“THERE ARE MANY FISH METAPHORS.”

“Wait a second. If you can create stoves and ketchup bottles ex nihilo, how come you can’t create food ex nihilo for me?”

“THE MOST BASIC DIVISION IN THE MYSTICAL BODY OF GOD IS THE TEN SEPHIROT. SEPHIRAH IS A HEBREW WORD RELATED TO THE ENGLISH “SAPPHIRE”, BECAUSE THE SAGES IMAGINED THEM AS SAPPHIRE-LIKE JEWELS ARRANGED IN A STRING. THE TEN SEPHIROT ARE A SERIES OF STAGES OR LEVELS OR JEWELS THROUGH WHICH DIVINE POWER FLOWS IN ITS MOVEMENT FROM GOD TO THE FINITE WORLD. EACH ONE CORRESPONDS TO A SPECIFIC DIVINE ATTRIBUTE. THE FIRST REPRESENTS THE WILL OF GOD. THE SECOND REPRESENTS THE WISDOM OF GOD. AND SO ON.”

A spark appeared on Uriel’s finger, and in lines of fire he traced a diagram into the sky in front of him.

“THERE ARE TWENTY-TWO DIFFERENT PATHS BETWEEN THESE JEWELS. EACH CORRESPONDS TO A PARTICULAR HEBREW LETTER.”

Sohu looked at the glowing diagram. “Okay,” she said. “But what does all this mean?”

“THIS WAS GOD’S MACHINE FOR CREATING THE WORLD,” said Uriel. “IT HAD MANY PROBLEMS. SO I HACKED INTO IT AND MADE IT EMULATE A DIFFERENT MACHINE WHICH RUNS THE WORLD MY WAY. IT INVOLVES MANY FEWER SURPRISES. IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE STRUCTURE OF THE ORIGINAL MACHINE BOTH IN ORDER TO CONTROL THE EMULATION, AND BECAUSE THE EMULATION IS NO LONGER COMPLETE.”

“So the whole universe runs on this system of sapphires connected by paths?”

“MOST OF IT RUNS ON SAPPHIRES ON PATHS, BUT I USE RUBY ON RAILS FOR THE DATABASES.”

“Huh? Is that a different thing?”

“WE CANNOT TALK NOW,” said Uriel, suddenly. “THE BUTTERFLIES ARE MIGRATING”.

“What?”

“I JUST REALIZED. THE BUTTERFLIES ARE STARTING TO MIGRATE. IT IS ONLY OCTOBER. THEY SHOULD NOT MIGRATE FOR SEVERAL MORE MONTHS. I THINK I MIGHT HAVE MADE AN OFF-BY-ONE ERROR THE LAST TIME I SYNCHRONIZED THE INSECT MIGRATION ALGORITHMS.”

“Can’t you just let them migrate early?”

“EVERY TIME A BUTTERFLY FLAPS ITS WINGS, IT CREATES A CASCADING CHAIN OF AFTER-EFFECTS WHICH CAN UPSET THE ENTIRE COURSE OF HISTORY. IF THE ENTIRE BUTTERFLY MIGRATION HAPPENED AT THE WRONG TIME, THE RESULT WOULD BE TOO HORRIBLE TO IMAGINE.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. I AM GOING TO FIX THE BUTTERFLY MIGRATION. I WILL GIVE YOU HOMEWORK FOR TONIGHT. ALL LANGUAGES ARE ISOMORPHIC TO ADAM KADMON, BUT IN DIFFERENT WAYS. YOU WILL NEED TO COMPARE AND CONTRAST THEM. YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT IS TO LEARN EVERY HUMAN LANGUAGE.”

“Um, that’s not something humans can realistically do.”

“OH. THEN DO SOMETHING HUMANS ARE GOOD AT. FALL IN LOVE. START A WAR.”

“But – ”

The archangel was no longer listening, focusing the attention of his glowing gold eyes on the stream of letters in front of him, already rearranging them with frightening speed.

Sohu experimentally slathered one the fried fish-parts in ketchup, tentatively took a taste, then spit it out. Making sure Uriel was distracted with his butterflies, she furtively started squirting ketchup from the bottle straight onto her tongue. She swallowed, shrugged, and curled up on her cloud with her book and one of the ketchup bottles as the archangel gesticulated above her.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

161 Responses to Chapter 9: With Art Celestial

  1. Pickle says:

    >“MOST OF IT RUNS ON SAPPHIRES ON PATHS, BUT I USE RUBY ON RAILS FOR THE DATABASES.”

    wut

    Also: The diagram of the Tree of Life seems to contain eleven nodes. I understand that Da’at is special, but if Uriel is going to be talking about ten jewels, presumably he should draw ten nodes.

    • Thanks. That’s a good point and I’ve corrected it.

      • Pickle says:

        Oh neat, you found a ten-node Tree of Life with the diagonals across Binah/Chesed and Gevurah/Chokmah! All the ten-nodes I’ve seen have diagonals running from Hod and Netzach to Malkuth in their stead.

        (I guess I will jump on the meme train and posit that this has kabbalistic implications)

      • Placid Platypus says:

        Another minor quibble: Ruby on Rails doesn’t exactly do databases on it’s own. Something like servers or data models or something might make a little more sense while preserving the joke.

        • dsotm says:

          I thought about nitpicking about that one, but it says “running RoR on the databases” rather than “running databases on RoR” so it can be taken to be the backend data services or something, but RoR is a frontend framework so if Scott feels like increasing the tech-speak credibility in the published version (there will be a published version right?) it should probably be Saphires-On-Paths on the backend (as a more fundamental aspect of reality) and RoR on the frontend (for the shallower worlds)

          • Placid Platypus says:

            The quote is “Ruby on Rails for the databases”. And I wouldn’t really call Rails a frontend framework; in the technical jargon, the part you use Rails for would be the backend since it’s running on the server; frontend generally refers to stuff that runs on the client’s browser (so HTML and Javascript). Rails generally acts as an intermediary passing data back and forth between the frontend that the client sees and the database where the information is stored.

          • dsotm says:

            Can still mean it’s used to access the databases rather than used for their development 🙂

            As for the frontend/backend distinction well it is itself fractal – both the server-side and the client-side can have both frontend and backend (and anything in between) tiers if complex enough to warrant that, so the web-facing server side of a system can be (and is) legitimately called a frontend even if it doesn’t do any view rendering (say a web API), or you can refer to the client-side code as the frontend in the context of the entire system. Now in the days of yore most view rendering was done on the server side and RoR was explicitly designed to be web-facing so that would make code running on it anything between a server-side frontend and the entire system I guess.

          • sosodaft says:

            If we’re going to get nitpicky, rails didn’t exist in 1990. Of course, it can’t be an anachronism if angels exist outside of time.

        • lmm says:

          Writing a database in Rails would be incredibly dumb (like, orders of magnitude dumber than reddit’s architecture. But possible.

    • Sarah McManus says:

      “IT INVOLVES MANY FEWER SURPRISES.”

      Oh, no. My boyfriend would strongly suggest running it in Haskell or some other functional programming language, rather than Ruby, if you want fewer surprises. (That’s his job.)

      There’s even a web framework for Haskell that’s appropriately called Yesod:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yesod_(web_framework)

      Wikipedia reassuringly describes Yesod as being “fully type-checked at compile-time” and links to a presentation that compares it to Rails.

      • Wow. That’s pretty weird. I’ve been thinking of Uriel’s machine as based in Yesod, but I’d never heard of that programming thing before.

        • Random_Lurker says:

          Nothing is ever a coincidence.

        • benzrf says:

          Extremely late to the party, but: The standard Haskell project-configuration and build tool is called Cabal, which is of course etymologically related to Kabbalah.

          Actually, now that I think about it, Haskell programming out of all of the other languages I’ve used has the most in the way of twisting the way things are represented or viewed in order to identify latent shared structure between all kinds of disparate things…

          • benzrf says:

            Example:

            A “lens” is a thing that, given a value of a particular type, picks out a specific subpart of that value so that you can extract that subpart or replace it with a new version. One obvious way of putting this is type Lens whole part = ((whole -> part), (whole -> part -> whole)), meaning “a value of type Lens whole part is a pair of: 1. a function that takes a whole and gives you a part, 2. a function that takes a whole and a replacement part and gives you new whole.”

            A “prism” is a thing that encodes one of the possible shapes values of a particular type might have. It lets you try to identify a value as having that shape, pulling out its contents, and it also lets you take some expected contents and stick them into a new value of that shape. This also lets you take some value of your particular type and then, depending on whether it’s the shape your prism wants, replace its contents or just leave it alone. One obvious way of putting this is type Prism whole contents = ((whole -> Maybe contents), (contents -> whole)), meaning “a value of type Prism whole contents is a pair of: 1. a function that takes a whole and gives you back either a contents or nothing, 2. a function that takes a contents and gives you back a whole.”

            If you’re clever enough, you can engage in metaphorical thesaurus abuse and punning, and show that the more obvious definitions above are actually equivalent to type Lens whole part = forall f. Functor f => (part -> f part) -> whole -> f whole and type Prism whole contents = forall p f. (Choice p, Applicative f) => p contents (f contents) -> p whole (f whole) (which I am not going to even bother trying to explain). These are in fact similar enough to both be special cases of a single broader type! And what does this buy you? You can write a single function which takes any value of that broader type, which, when given a lens, lets you replace the part of a value that the lens picks out, and which, when given a prism, lets you replace the contents of a value if it’s the right shape, otherwise leaving it alone – all without that function needing to distinguish between whether what you give it is a lens or a prism.

  2. “MOST OF IT RUNS ON SAPPHIRES ON PATHS, BUT I USE RUBY ON RAILS FOR THE DATABASES.”
    this is all so fun.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      Yes. I am very ok with a story whose purpose is increasingly elaborate puns.

      I wonder if we could use them to predict the story arc. Kabbala, and all that.

      • ThrustVectoring says:

        Maybe less “predicting” and more “guiding”. If you make a really terrible pun in the comments, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns into a plot point.

    • Deiseach says:

      I understood that reference 🙂 Between that and the “Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in a cave and is an outlier”, I don’t know whether Scott should get a triumphal procession or be hung head-down over a scorpion pit.

      As for Sohu, it’s very plain she’s never cooked, nor seen cooked, whole fish in her life (prepared breaded fish that you buy in the frozen food section of the supermarket is a different matter). You don’t eat the innards, child! You throw those away! Once you’ve cleaned and filleted the fish, those are the parts you cook! Well, now she knows.

      The complaint about nothing but manna to eat was very canon-compliant 🙂

  3. Pablo says:

    I’m glad Uriel uses open source software. Probably made it easier on the early kabbalists.

  4. Kiya says:

    “MOST OF IT RUNS ON SAPPHIRES ON PATHS, BUT I USE RUBY ON RAILS FOR THE DATABASES.”

    Uriel is the best 🙂

    • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

      It really is a question of architecture. If that is only backing one universe node, then Uriel made a good choice. If he’s implementing MWI, that Ruby on Rails backend could be less effective. With that many parallel calls to the back-end, Uriel would be facing some devilish performance and capacity problems.

      Granted, the kabbalistic resonances with the Emeralds-on-Strings application platform would probably really optimize things.

      (Long-time SSC lurker, loving this story!)

      • dsotm says:

        Each MWI world naturally gets it’s own backend and database, since by definition they are causally independent it will scale arbitrarily, it’s the load within a single world-branch that your should worry about – especially if the world as designed by God required a globally consistent state, maybe that was one of Uriel’s hacks – introducing special relativity to allow for better concurrency at the cost of eventual consistency instead of a strong one.

  5. Shieldfoss says:

    oh no the rationalist-adjacent tumblr references

    i wasn’t expecting that

    have there been a bunch more in the earlier chapters that I missed?

  6. Paul says:

    > Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in a cave and composed 1700 pages of kabbalistic texts, is an exception and should be considered separately.

    … Is this a spiders georg reference?

  7. Sinclair says:

    Fish. Whale puns. This has kabbalistic implications.

  8. Sukil says:

    Today’s lesson: never confuse Adam Kadmon with Cædmon (the word is pronounced the same by the Espeak speech synthesizer). It can lead to strange conclusions.
    Anyway, great post! I especialy like the fish part.

    • scherzando says:

      Well…Cædmon was, per Wikipedia, “the earliest English (Northumbrian) poet whose name is known”; his one surviving poem refers to “the might of the architect” who created “heaven as a roof”. I know Adam Kadmon is kabbalistic concept outside the Unsong-verse, but it still seems like Not A Coincidence that “Adam” + a homophone for “Cædmon” should form a term meaning “Original Man” and referring to a “blueprint for the universe”.

  9. dsotm says:

    “IN A WAY DRASTICALLY DIFFERENTLY FROM HOW OUR OWN MINDS ARRANGE INFORMATION”
    Said by Uriel, so that implies angels and humans are similar in terms of how their minds work ?

    “EIGHT PLANETS”
    “That still hurts”, Pluto said non-existently

    “SEPHIRAH IS A HEBREW WORD COGNATE WITH THE ENGLISH “SAPPHIRE” ”
    I was bothered about that one before the Ruby on Rails pun.

    • Re: planets. I deliberately made it ambiguous whether Uriel was talking about there being eight planets total without Pluto, or eight planets in the sky without Earth.

      Re: sapphire – I was under the impression this was true (source, source, source). Sapphire is pretty much the same word in Hebrew, probably influenced by the same Greek original. Any linguists want to chime in?

      • dsotm says:

        The Greek influence interpretation I’m aware of is “sphere” (from greek “Sphera”), the sapphire interpretation actually comes from the Hebrew bible itself (“sapir”).
        In modern Hebrew “sephira” is the act of counting and there are uses in the bible from the same stem to indicate counting, so it cloud be a synonym for “number” (“mispar”) or more abstractly a “unit” or “measure”. Hebrew Wikipedia also mentions the possiblity of it being from “lesaper” (“to tell”) so “a telling”

      • DanielLC says:

        It seems odd to include Earth. “Planet” means traveller, and referred to the fact that these bodies traveled through the celestial sphere. Earth is just sitting there in the middle of it.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Well, Earth clearly shouldn’t count, but neither should Pluto… obviously that means that in this universe, Planet Nine exists. 🙂 (Yes, this contradicts what I said earlier.)

      • geist says:

        Sephirah almost certainly means enumeration. There’s a popular folk etymology that it comes from the word sappir, but that can’t actually be right. Sappir is the source for the Greek word that is the origin for the word sapphire. However, in ancient times it probably referred to some other blue gem, and the meaning shifted over time.

      • ItThing says:

        My gut as a Hebrew speaker (who is definitely not a linguist) tells me that sephirah and sapphire are probably unrelated, but it’s definitely worth keeping it in for the pun.

        As dsotm says, sephirah and sephirot are the plain old Hebrew (ancient as well as modern) words meaning counting and countings respectively, and since there are ten sephirot, this makes it the most likely meaning. The Hebrew word for sapphire is sapir, which notably differs from sephirah both in that the second letter is Pey and not Phey, so that they do not quite have the same root (in the sense of semitic language word roots, not in the etymological sense), and in that sapir is masculine and not feminine. The Online Etymology Dictionary entry for sapphire says it comes through greek “from a Semitic source (compare Hebrew sappir “sapphire”), but probably not ultimately from Semitic. Some linguists propose an origin in Sanskrit sanipriya, a dark precious stone”. A Hebrew dictionary (ironically called milon sapir – sapphire dictionary, tinacbnieac) gives the same ultimate etymology for sapir – that it comes from sanskrit. The same Hebrew dictionary claims that sephirah in the kabbalistic sense originates from the greek sphere as dsotm has also mentioned. Another Hebrew dictionary I consulted says all the same things.

        The Hebrew Wikipedia entry for sephirot, as well as this wikipedia clone dedicated to Judaism both give some of these possible etymologies, and also explain where they came from (comparing the two suggests that both entries were almost certainly edited by the same person or people, at least in part). According to these two sources, the word sephirot first appears in Sefer Yetsirah in the usual sense of counting, and so this is the preferred interpretation of Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Cordovero. What geist calls a “folk etymology” is a kabbalistic interpretation based on Exodus 24:10 which mentions a sapphire in relation to the manifestation of God, as well as Ezekiel 1:26 (like geist mentions, the original Hebrew verses have sapir in both cases, but some modern english bibles translate this as Lapis Lazuli instead). Like dsotm says, Wikipedia and HaMichlol also mention that Sefer HaBahir explicitly interprets sephirot as related to lesaper, to tell, specifically referring to a fragment of psalms 19:2 (frustratingly, I found that this actually corresponds to psalms 19:1 in KJV and other English translations): “HaShamaim Mesaprim Kvod El” – “The heavens declare the glory of God”. HaMichlol, the wikipedia clone, doesn’t mention the “sphere” etymology, and Hebrew Wikipedia says this is “probably an unsubstantiated conjecture and not a real etymology”…….but does not cite its source for this >_<

        That's all, folks.

    • Decius says:

      Well, is Pluto on the Crystal Sphere of the Planets, or The Stars?

  10. COPYEDITING THREAD — reply to this comment with typo fixes and other noncontroversial edits. Other forms of pedantry or kabbalistic nitpickery can be top-level comments.

    I’ll start:

    1. Typo: CONTIGENT APPERANCES -> CONTINGENT APPEARANCES

    (I guess spell-checkers don’t presume to flag angels’ speech. :))

    2. Thanks to the TMBG song “Mammal” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXD7YOoHpAs — it occurred to me to check the number of chambers in a fish heart. Seems to be 2. In our universe, at least.

  11. Sniffnoy says:

    God’s machine for creating the world had many problems, and Uriel hacked it? Oh my. Though thinking now of when we saw Pirindiel earlier — Pirindiel didn’t mostly have such a problem with people saying bad things about God; it wasn’t until someone said something which might be construed to mean that there is more than one god, that Pirindiel went all “That’s blasphemy, you mustn’t say that”. Something is up here, but I’m not sure what.

    • Deiseach says:

      God’s machine for creating the world had many problems, and Uriel hacked it?

      Angelic intelligences thinking they know better has been a problem 🙂

      • Allan53 says:

        There’s a tech support saying that goes something like: “The problem is between the chair and the computer” (ie the user has messed up).

        In a kind of messed-up way, Uriel is analogous to the user in this metaphor: the universe is the system, and the chair is God. Uriel inserted himself, started messing around, and next thing the universe has gone BSOD.

        I have absolutely no idea if this is significant or not, and if so, how. Probably not.

        • Mammon says:

          It’s PEBKAC, as in “Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair.” Highly technical term, often used in diagnostics.

        • 27chaos says:

          Did Uriel intervene to stop the Holocaust in this story, perhaps?

        • Deiseach says:

          (T)he chair is God. Uriel inserted himself, started messing around, and next thing the universe has gone BSOD

          And this is why angels are not supposed to sit down in heaven. Nothing is ever a coincidence 🙂

          Uriel has usurped the place of God on the throne, in other words, and that goes as well as warned about.

      • JPo says:

        Lucifer was the Light-Bringer, and Uriel, while a different angel, means “Light of God”. You tell me if that’s a coincidence.

        • JPo says:

          Sorry, “God is my light”. Point stands, though.

        • Brian says:

          FYI, this is a “Genius Bonus” joke in The Dresden Files. Harry, in his usual sarcastic way, calls Uriel “Uri.” Uriel is extremely displeased–for this exact reason.

  12. Deiseach says:

    I’m interested in Uriel’s question to Sohu regarding “What is meant when it is said that Man is made in the image of God, since God does not have a physical form?” He then goes on to propose the rabbi’s interpretation of the ‘cosmic blueprint’, Adam Kadmon.

    But are there no other interpretations of the verse in Jewish thought? Nothing like Aquinas’ definition, that “Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature”? That is, Man is not made in the image of God by reason of physical form (God is not to be thought of as having two arms, two legs, etc.) but by the power of rationality (amongst other things).

    I’d be very surprised if centuries of exegesis of the Torah hadn’t brought up some disputations about “Well, plainly this verse can’t simply mean that God is a giant human”. I know why the idea of Adam Kadmon is important here, and why Uriel goes for this particular interpretation, but I’m sure it can’t be the only one out there.

  13. I keep counting paths and getting numbers that aren’t 22. 3 light purple, 3 dark purple, 6 yellow, 4 brown, and 8 or 9 green depending on whether the 11th jewel counts comes out to 24 or 25. Help?

    • Try reloading. I originally used a different image with Da’at, which has some extra things that don’t officially count. That was confusing, so I replaced it with a new one.

    • Deiseach says:

      I keep counting paths and getting numbers that aren’t 22

      I see blue, pink and green where you see light purple, dark purple, yellow, brown and green 🙂

      1. Kether to Binah (green)
      2. Kether to Chochmah (green)
      3. Kether to Tiphereth (blue)
      4. Binah to Chochmah (pink)
      5. Binah to Chesed (green)
      6. Binah to Tiphereth (green)
      7. Binah to Gewurah (blue)
      8. Chochmah to Gewurah (green)
      9. Chochmah to Tiphereth (green)
      10. Chochmah to Chesed (blue)
      11. Gewurah to Chesed (pink)
      12. Gewurah to Tiphereth (green)
      13. Gewurah to Hod (blue)
      14. Chesed to Tiphereth (green)
      15. Chesed to Nezach (blue)
      16. Tiphereth to Hod (green)
      17. Tiphereth to Nezach (green)
      18. Tiphereth to Jesod (blue)
      19. Hod to Nezach (pink)
      20. Hod to Jesod (green)
      21. Nezach to Jesod (green)
      22. Jesod to Malchuth (blue)

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, duh, I’m stupid: there are different colours and different paths because there are two different diagrams and I’m seeing the later one.

  14. Marvy says:

    The moment I say the title I hoped that we’d see Sohu again. Did not disappoint.

    Looks like Uriel is even worse than Pirindiel at dealing with humans. Poor Sohu. Hopefully either she or Uriel learn to cook before she starves to death.

    Also, looks like we learned something important here: Uriel messed with God’s setup. But he didn’t do a good job. This seems like the biggest hint of the backstory that we’ve gotten since chapter 7, when we learned that at least part of Uriel’s plan was to make the Devil not exist.

  15. Ton says:

    There are 24 books in the Bible. Is this poetic license, a mistake, or are two missing?

  16. Decius says:

    Gate s2e8 dub came out this week. In it a girl falls in love and starts a civil war.

    The timing is not coincidence, because nothing is coincidence.

  17. RMW says:

    What is the history of Tarot in this world?

    In real life, playing cards originated in china, where the suits represented currency. Coins were the lowest suit, followed by strings of coins, and then myriads. By the time playing cards spread to Italy, the strings had become sticks/clubs/batons, and the myriads had become cups (万 looks like an upside-down goblet if you squint at it). Then some Italian blokes added a suit of trionfi (trump) cards in the mid-15th century to play a game similar to bridge.

    In the late 18th century, de Gébelin asserted in “Le Monde primitif” that tarot cards are actually a religiously significant work originating in ancient Egypt. Here is a translation of the relevant essays by Donald Tyson

    From the translator’s introduction: “His views exerted a profound influence on later writers on the Tarot, even though most of his assertions are incorrect. The Tarot was probably not deliberately designed as a book of esoteric wisdom; it did not originate in ancient Egypt; it has no ancient connection with the Gypsies; the similarity in number between the trumps and the Hebrew letters may be accidental; there is no hard evidence supporting the location of the fool at the head of the trumps.”

    Of course, we know that the association with the Hebrew alphabet isn’t a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

    But was the unsong world precisely like our own before the cracking of the sphere? Or does the invented occult history hold some accuracy here?

  18. sweeneyrod says:

    Pedantry alert: it doesn’t really make sense to describe things as “highly isomorphic” — either they are, or they aren’t. Of course, this could just be how Uriel talks, but it’s slightly jarring to me nevertheless (in the same way as “very unique”).

    • dsotm says:

      What’s the term for structures that are within small editing distance of isomorphism ? seems like there ought to be one

    • pku says:

      It depends, maybe the “highly” refers to the amount of the structure that’s isomorphic, e.g. two things may be isomorphic as groups but not as topological groups.

      Aside from that, there are two interpretations of this that are reasonable: Maybe some things have more isomorphisms than others (which comes down to counting automorphisms, which is an interesting problem). The other one is that “highly isomorphic” means “naturally isomorphic” (e.g. a finite-dimensional vector space is isomorphic to its dual but highly isomorphic only to its second dual).

      • Mammon says:

        I like this interpretation. Isomorphisms exist with respect to categories; an isomorphism within a category that’s more restricted (ex: rings) means that the two structures are “more highly isomorphic” than if we were talking about an isomorphism in a less restricted category (ex: sets)

      • Dindane says:

        I like all of these suggestions, although the text has been changed now. In particular, what is the automorphism group of Adam Kadmon? This question it interesting, especially since whatever the group is, it has to be something in our mathematics too (I think). Sadly, if it’s self similar, the automorphism group might not capture all the ways it’s self similar – there might be injections from the whole into part of it that are isomorphisms onto their image.

        • Decius says:

          The automorphism group of Adam Kasmon is the complement of the empty set.

          • Dindane says:

            I know that was a joke, but that (whatever it is) doesn’t seem to naturally come equipped with a group structure (were you thinking symmetric difference maybe?) and the group structure, not the underlying set, is the interesting part.

          • Decius says:

            Everything is isomorphic to Adam Kadmon.

            [Insert reference to piece of fairy cake]

          • Tasty_Y says:

            Automorphism group of Adam Kadmon is not all the stuff that is isomorphic to it. It’s very roughly, a “list” of ways AK is isomorphic to itself, a way to describe the amount of its symmetry.

            (From the sound of it that group must be immensely complicated, but it probably should contain Z_4 ⊕ Z_10 ⊕ Z_22 ⊕ Z_72.)

    • Dindane says:

      I was confused about this, too. Someone suggested that it mean something like “obviously isomorphic” or “isomorphic, and it’s easy to see what the isomorphism is”, although of course those statements are not absolute (Uriel might mean any of: obvious to him, obvious to Sohu, obvious to an average kabbalist…).

  19. wolfreporter says:

    “MOST OF IT RUNS ON SAPPHIRES ON PATHS, BUT I USE RUBY ON RAILS FOR THE DATABASES.”

    Awesome. I’ve been a lurker here and at SSC for a while, and this compels written acknowledgement.

    Scott, when you declare yourself a prophet, and start your own religion, I want to join.

  20. -_- says:

    So we’re seeing Sohu again —

    When are we gonna meet Vohu?

    • pku says:

      I think you mean Uohu (or maybe Wohu?)
      (It should be Tohu, S comes before T, so the other one should be within a letter of V).

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Look at it in the Hebrew alphabet. “Sohu” would just be the Askhenazi pronuncation of “Tohu”, assuming there’s no dot. It’s not altered by a letter, just by a dot. “Vohu” makes sense.

        (That said, Scott has already said that this isn’t what “Sohu” means in this context.)

        • -_- says:

          Oh, really? I missed/forgot that.

          And here I was thinking we’d get to actually see the Big Red Button pushed…

        • pku says:

          I don’t think it is, unless it used to be that way a century ago (source: am an ashkenazi Israeli). Or can you give any other examples of T-words that have an ashkenazi S pronunciation?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Well if you’re Israeli, you’d presumably be pronouncing things the Israeli way; when I say “Ashkenazi pronunciation”, I don’t mean “the way all Ashkenazi pronounce things”. And indeed I think “Ashkenazi pronuncation” is becoming less common, and something like standard Israeli pronuncation becoming more common, because, IDK, the latter’s just considered more “proper”, and it’s what you learn in Hebrew school. But the former’s what got incorporated into Yiddish, the former is how (e.g.) my grandfather spoke…

            But yeah, in Ashkenazi pronuncation, a Taf with no dot is a Saf. “Shabbos” is the first example of a word that comes to mind. And, uh… I am totally drawing a blank on any others right now, because I don’t actually know Hebrew. Anything with a Taf with no dot.

            (Also in Ashkenazi pronuncation, the vowels Patach and Kamatz are different, the latter making the “aw” sound rather than the “ah” sound. Although Wikipedia says this may also be true in Israeli pronunciation? Huh. I definitely remember learning in Hebrew school they were both “ah”.)

            There are apparently other differences too, here’s the Wikipedia article, which will probably be more informative than my mostly-Hebrew-ignorant memory of things above: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi_Hebrew

  21. J says:

    Coincidentally, yesterday I learned that whales aren’t kosher since they have no scales. So was it proper for Job to sell his whale tale to the Ninevites?

    Also, it is forbidden to boil a (goat) kid in its mother’s milk. But my friend pointed out that goats are already not kosher. So apparently the point is that you’re not allowed to do the boiling, regardless of whether you eat it afterward. This makes me wonder if the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire had to be executed with particular care near any goat pens.

    • pku says:

      In case you never heard it before, there’s an old joke about the goat in its mother’s milk:

      God: And remember Moses, in the laws of keeping Kosher, never cook a calf in its mother’s milk. It is cruel.
      Moses: Ohhhhhh! So you are saying we should never eat milk and meat together.

      God: No, what I’m saying is, never cook a calf in its mother’s milk.
      Moses: Oh, Lord forgive my ignorance! What you are really saying is we should wait six hours after eating meat to eat milk so the two are not in our stomachs.

      God: No, Moses, what I’m saying is, never cook a calf in it’s mother’s milk!!!
      Moses: Oh, Lord! Please don’t strike me down for my stupidity! What you mean is we should have a separate set of dishes for milk and a separate set for meat and if we make a mistake we have to bury that dish outside…

      God: Moses, do whatever you want….

    • Jack V says:

      This makes me wonder if the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire had to be executed with particular care near any goat pens.

      I think, boiling a kid in its mothers milk is forbidden for Jews. Some of those laws describe God, but I don’t think all of them do.

  22. Elissa says:

    So yeah, I googled fish anatomy to find out if they have spleens or not

  23. Aegeus says:

    >“MOST OF IT RUNS ON SAPPHIRES ON PATHS, BUT I USE RUBY ON RAILS FOR THE DATABASES.”

    That was an awful pun and you should be proud.

  24. Uriel used sapphires and rubies but no perls?

  25. Daniel says:

    So I keep meaning to point this out, maybe someone already has:

    This 72-fold Shem haMephorash that keeps being mentioned as a great and terrible mystery is, in our universe, so well-known you can look it up on Wikipedia.

    So either:
    1. The Exodus anagram used in our world is actually a red herring, which became obvious after the Incident With The Spaceship; or
    2. Uriel et al. moved heaven and earth (perhaps literally) to erase all records of the Explicit Name

  26. Michael Vassar says:

    Fish hearts and numbers of chambers
    esi.stanford.edu/circulation/circulation5.htm

  27. terminallyUninspired says:

    A lot of the “A FOURFOLD DIVISION, WHICH WE INTERPRET AS FOUR WORLDS” stuff was rather reminiscent of Scott’s ‘steelman timecube’ post from a while back. Coincidental?

  28. 217 says:

    from chapter 8: “some say all Names, however long, are notarikons for increasingly accurate descriptions of God”

    from the wikipedia page on shem ha’mephorash (h/t Daniel, above): “The 72-fold name is … derived from Exodus 14:19-21 read boustrophedonically to produce 72 names of three letters” (Scott’s written previously on boustrophedon, and a lot of things from his other blogs have ended up in UNSONG already: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/31/rational-orthography-2/)

    I think it’s *incredibly* unlikely that Scott just threw some random letters down to create his Names, in a book about everything being meaningful and everything having patterns.

    The Name that Aaron discovers is ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH. I can’t for the life of me figure out what to read into that, but I bet it means something.

    • Lambert says:

      Maybe something involving mathematical properties of the names’ gematria or the Tree of Life as a graph gives a clue as to the names. (IIRC, The Maharaj Rankings are what this is called.)

  29. Quixote says:

    Another good one. Thanks

  30. Vakus Drake says:

    I think it should be mentioned that there has been strong evidence recently that there is actually another gas giant in the kuiper belt.

  31. Acccccc says:

    Hey, I see you there, sly Northern Caves reference! 😀

  32. Brandon B says:

    What is the counter-Kabbalah? Everything is “sound and fury, signifying nothing?”

  33. Murphy says:

    Did anyone else find it odd that Uriel is talking about hypothesis rather than with certainty? Does that imply that he isn’t actually sure of some of the things he’s saying?

  34. mrkun says:

    Although I can’t help but think that the structure of the chapter should contain some hints, the only thing I could find were 10 mentions of Uriel’s name and 68-but-not-quite-72 paragraphs. Should I be disappointed or ashamed?

  35. Marcus says:

    “LIKEWISE, THERE ARE SEVENTY-TWO BOOKS IN THE CATHOLIC BIBLE”

    There are 73, aren’t there? What’s the extra one?

  36. Jack V says:

    Interludes, author’s notes… are we going to get something else to fill in wednesdays? 🙂

    (Please don’t actually try to do that, stick with whatever update schedule works for you.)

  37. Murphy says:

    25 And the Lord spake unto the Angel that guarded the eastern gate, saying Where is the flaming sword which was given unto thee?
    26 And the Angel said, I had it here only a moment ago, I must have put it down some where, forget my own head next.
    27 And the Lord did not ask him again.

  38. R Flaum says:

    Current hypothesis: the virtual machine Uriel created is much less powerful than the base machine, and this is why the UNSONG universe works on a crystal-sphere cosmology. A few lights in the sky are much less computationally intensive than full-scale galaxies.

    • R Flaum says:

      Actually, follow-up theory: if this is true, that means that Uriel completely screwed up God’s plan. Maybe Uriel and Thamiel are actually the same person?

  39. Nomghost says:

    “Don’t go into the caves”. Perfect.

  40. Aran says:

    I head-desked at the Ruby on Rails pun, though I should’ve really seen it coming by now.

  41. Late mention of a typo:

    Sohu experimentally slathered one the fried fish-parts in ketchup, tentatively took a taste, then spit it out

    Should probably be past tense.

    I’m reading my primary Unsong in little spurts. He’s hugely enjoying it – and I’m hugely enjoying reading Uriel in the silliest possible booming voice. 🙂 Thanks for writing Unsong and sharing it with the world!

  42. Ryan says:

    Wait a second. If you can create stoves and ketchup bottles ex nihilo, how come you can’t create food ex nihilo for me?

    Is it just me, or are you referencing this: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *