aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 58: …And Now The Form Of Enion

The LORD is greater than or equal to the expression involving f(y)

Evening, May 13, 2017
Citadel West


“We’ll try this again,” said Sohu. “Look into my eyes.”

I looked, I listened, I let myself fall into a trance.

[Walls of Kujiracho] came a voice from afar.

[What?] I asked. [Sohu?]

A feeling of surprise. [Aaron?]

[Oh,] I said. [Hi, Ana.]

[Aaron?] came a different voice, differently flavored. [What’s going on?]

As best I could, I tried to send thoughts and memories through the two links. To Ana, an explanation of where I was and what was going on. To Sohu, memories of my relationship with Ana. Both of them started talking at once. I mentally pushed Sohu to one side, concentrated on the quieter link.

[I can’t feel Sohu,] Ana told me.

[And I can’t feel Erica,] I answered. [I don’t think kabbalistic marriage is transitive.]

[I can barely feel Erica myself. Last I got from her she was trying to join BOOJUM.]

[!!! Really ???]

[We shouldn’t be so surprised. She always wanted to burn the euphemizing system to the ground. I just didn’t expect it to be so literal. This is the problem with being a theodicy student. When people tell you that the world is horrible and needs to be destroyed, you expect them to end with ‘So let’s discuss different interpretations of this fact for the next several decades.’]

[Speaking of theodicy – Ana, have you ever heard of Elisha ben Abuyah?]

[Oh man, that name really brings back memories!]

[You say that like you went to prom with him or something.]

[Pfffft. No, I was just – got really interested in that story freshman year of college. It kind of brings everything together.]


[I remember I once had a teacher who asked me what would have to happen before I believed God was utterly unjust. How bad would things have to get before I admitted there was literally no possibility that the evil in the universe has a reason? I told him it was a stupid question. The magnitude of the world’s evil is so much that anyone who could be convinced of divine injustice by a specific amount of evil was already convinced. The only people who could possibly be hanging on were the ones who were literally willing to accept anything.

He told me it didn’t work that way. Everyone’s willing to dismiss the evil they’ve already heard about. It’s become stale. It’s abstract. People who say they’ve engaged with the philosophical idea of evil encounter evil on their own, and then suddenly everything changes. He gave the example of all of the Jewish scholars who lost their faith during the Holocaust. How, they asked, could God allow six million of their countrymen to perish like that?

But read the Bible! Somebody counted up all the people God killed in the Bible, and they got 2.8 million. It wasn’t even for good reasons! He kills three thousand people for worshipping the Golden Calf. He kills two hundred fifty people for rebelling against Moses’ leadership. He kills fourteen thousand seven hundred people for complaining that He was killing too many people, I swear it’s in there, check Numbers 16:41! What right do we have to lose faith when we see the Holocaust? “Oh, sure, God killed 2.8 million people, that, makes perfect sense, but surely He would never let SIX million die, that would just be too awful to contemplate?” It’s like – what?

The lesson I learned is that everybody has their breaking point, the point where they stop being able to accept things for philosophical reasons and start kicking and screaming. Did you know there was an Orthodox rabbi, Irving Greenberg, who after the Holocaust declared that God had unilaterally broken His covenant with the Jewish people, and should be considered in breach of contract, and until He, I don’t know, reverses time and un-Holocausts Europe no one is under any obligation to follow any of the divine commandments? And if God doesn’t like it then tough because no punishment could be worse than the one He had already inflicted? There were rabbis saying this sort of thing, Aaron. That’s what happens when you break. Some people break when the death toll is six million instead of two point eight million. Other people break when something they’d previously only read about in books happens to them in real life – have you ever heard that Dr. Seuss poem:

You say you have problems as great as my own
I am forced to admit it is true
But the thing is that my problems happen to me
Whereas yours only happen to you.

That’s why I love the Acher story. He’s a crazy old coot, but I love him. Everybody has their breaking point, and for Acher it was seeing a kid grab a bird out of its nest. He’s a famous rabbi, he’s read all about Noah’s Flood drowning everyone in the world, and God killing all the innocent Egyptian babies, and euphemism, he’s living in second century Judaea, where the Romans are basically torture-killing anyone they can get their hands on, and thoughout all of this he’s wise and equanimous and tells his disciples to bear their sufferings gracefully, and then finally he has a bad day and sees a kid snatch a bird and he just flips, he’s like, you know what’s a completely proportional response to this? DECLARE WAR ON GOD AND TRY TO DESTROY EVERYTHING. Most of us have to go through a Holocaust before we get to that point, but he grasped it immediately.]

[Holy frick Ana I’ve never heard you send a thought that complicated through the trance before.]

[And then there’s that whole thing about the voice. The one that boomed from the heavens saying ‘Repent, children of Israel, and the Lord will forgive you. Except for you, Elisha ben Abuyah’. What was with that?

There’s a legend that goes that Acher was predestined to be evil from the very beginning. The week after he was born, his father threw a big party for his circumcision, and Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua showed up. While everyone else was getting drunk, the two rabbis decided to talk Torah, and they became so engaged in their discussion that miracles started happening around them. Wreaths of fire danced around their heads, thunder sounded in clear skies, nearby water started spontaneously turning into wine. Acher’s father begged them to stop lest the whole house burn down, and the rabbis apologized profusely and said that they would try to be more mindful of the power of Torah from then on.

And Acher’s father remembered that, and he pushed Acher to go into Torah so that he too could be powerful and call down fire from the heavens. But that was the wrong reason to study Torah, and so all his life Acher was cursed to think of Torah as just a means to an end. Learn some Names, smite some enemies, boil oceans if there are any oceans around that need boiling, live forever, that kind of thing. And when he saw the child take the bird from the tree, it was easy for him to forsake God, because for him God was beside the point, you could boil oceans whether you believed in God or not.

And then when Rabbi Meir was trying to convince him to repent, well, there he was, the supreme pragmatist. He didn’t want to go to Hell, he didn’t want to lose the powers that his Torah knowledge gave him, so he would make a tactical retreat back into orthodoxy until he could come up with a better plan. God realized that Acher was going to repent for the wrong reason, so He declared that Acher’s repentance would do no good, have no consequences, made sure there was no instrumental justification for atonement. Just like God had thought, Acher said “Okay, then screw this” and forgot about it.

In fact, there’s a story about Rabbi Dov Ber, that one day he was praying for a sick member of his congregation to recover, and he prayed so much and so long that God got really annoyed and told him he was going to Hell for praying too much. And Rabbi Dov Ber answered: “Well, now that I have nothing to lose I can really start praying!” And of course God laughed it off and healed the sick guy. If Acher had done the same – if he’d said okay, I have nothing to gain and nothing to lose, that means I have to make the choice according to my own principles, and I choose repentance – then God would have laughed it off, same as he did with Rabbi Dov Ber, and everything would have been okay. But since instead Acher was obsessed with the consequences of repenting, the road was closed to him. ]

[So the only way Acher could get the good consequences of repenting was by not doing it for the consequences?]


[Oh God, that’s so annoying. No wonder he was so angry all the time.]

[???], Ana thought at me.

[I’ll give you fifty dollars if you clap your hands, BUT you have to be clapping your hands for a reason other than to get the fifty dollars.]

[I hardly think that worshipping God, Lord of the Universe, whose wisdom spanneth the heavens and whose mercy endureth forever, because you are awed by His mighty works and consumed with a desire to praise His Most Holy Name, is the same as getting fifty dollars if you clap your hands.]

[Yes, well, if I ever make a universe, I’m not putting in any sneaky “You can get this reward, but only if you don’t want it” clauses.]

[If you ever make a universe, you can do what you want.]


I was broken out of my trance by screaming.

“NO YOU CAN’T MARRY ME!” Sarah was shouting.

“It’s not marriage,” said Sohu. “It’s just a ritual that gives me a certain connection to you so I can get things out of your mind. Everything in Aaron is so garbled I can’t make any sense out of it. You must have the memories of what you did to him. If I can just get at them – ”

“I WON’T DO IT I WON’T MARRY YOU!” said Sarah.

I put my hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “Sarah,” I said. “Remember what we said about doing the right thing?”

“She can’t have me,” said Sarah, sulkily. “I’m yours.”

“Of course you are,” in the most patient voice I could manage. “And that’s why I need you to cooperate with Sohu. The same way I cooperated with Sohu. To help me.”

“Everyone is getting married except you and me!”

“It’s not even a real marriage. It’s just a connection ritual.”

For a second I couldn’t tell if she was going to try to kill us, or try to speak the Vanishing Name, or what. Finally, with this awful glare in her eyes, she said “I’ll do it.”

God is One and His Name is One and we are One and so forth. Sohu stared into Sarah’s eyes, tried to read her electronic brain. Sweat poured from her forehead. Wrinkles formed on her tiny face.

I let my mind wander.


[Are things okay over there?] asked Ana.

[Not really] I answered. [Did Acher ever figure out a way to get the consequences of repenting without doing it for the consequences?]

[You’re really upset by this Acher thing.]

[I think…yeah. It’s the idea of something you can’t think your way out of. Something so slippery that just trying to think your way out of it ensures you’ll fail. It just feels…wrong.]

[I don’t know,] Ana answered. [To me it feels, I guess kind of perfect. Does that make sense?]

[Yeah. I think perfect things feel wrong to me. Remember, I used to do cryptography. The whole point was that every code can be broken. Thought is the universal solvent. My advisor at Stanford, he had a saying on his wall. A Leonard Cohen verse. “There is a crack in everything.” That’s my philosophy too. Things shouldn’t be perfect.]

[God is perfect.]

[No He isn’t! That’s the whole point of Luria. There is a crack in everything. That’s what I mean. There ought to be a crack in God’s denial of salvation to Acher.]

[What about actually being good?]

[That’s not an action you can just…take! If you’re not already good, any impetus to becoming good has to come from wanting the consequences.]

[I think the traditional Jewish answer,] thought Ana [is that you can start by being good for the wrong reasons, but then the changes will stick and make you the sort of person who does things for the right reasons.]

[Then it was kind of crappy for God to specifically close that path to Acher, wasn’t it? Actually, it’s kind of crappy of God in general. Suppose there are good consequences for being good, and that with enough willpower you can force yourself to be good long enough for it to stick. Then why doesn’t everyone do that? Lack of awareness of the consequences? Giving up early? But then we reduce goodness to intelligence and willpower!]

[So how do people ever become good?]

[You have to start with at least a tiny bit of existing goodness. And that gives you the urge to accumulate more.]

[So,] asked Ana [divine grace?]

The overt meaning of “perfect” is “maximally good”.

The kabbalistic meaning is “someone who tries to make moral progress”.

This we derive from the Cathar perfecti. The Cathars believed the world itself was irredeemably bad, the product not of the true God but of a demiurge of pure evil. They thought the true God had sent Christ as an emissary into the world, to introduce a tiny spark of goodness that might catch and spread until the works of the demiurge had been subverted. True believers chose to take on the work of spreading the spark full time, of bringing God to a godless world. A few of these claimed to have prayed so hard that they lost all sense of self, becoming pure vessels for the Holy Spirit. They were called in Latin perfecti, and in French parfait. The Catholic Church declared the Cathars heretics and slaughtered several hundred thousand of them in one of bloodiest and most brutal genocides this side of the Holocaust, apparently satisfied that this was the best way to disprove the proposition that the world was irredeemably evil and its God a murderous tyrant.

But this we also derive from their namesake, philosopher Derek Parfit, who spent his life trying to figure out how to be good. He argued that our common sense views of morality were unjustified and that they would have to be rebuilt by rigorous inquiry. For a philosopher, he was surprisingly humble – he argued not that his discoveries had found the True Morality, but that there was such a thing as progress in moral philosophy as much as physics, and that he was helping to contribute it; he assessed his own contribution only as “reason to be hopeful” about whether or not morality existed. Like the Cathar parfait, after years of deep thought he finally lost all personal identity, saying “I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.” Yet in his own long-winded way, he also rejected his namesakes’s belief in the evil of the universe: “When I consider the parts of the past of which I have some knowledge, I am inclined to believe that, in Utilitarian hedonistic terms, the past has been worth it, since the sum of happiness has been greater than the sum of suffering.”

There are other correspondences. The prophets, who try to turn Israel from its misdeeds to godliness; of Parvati, whose cosmic dance brings beauty to the universe; Providence itself, forever engaged in gathering its own divine sparks and repairing its spiritual machinery.

This, then, is the kabbalistic meaning of “perfect”: someone who tries to make moral progress.


“Aaron?” I heard Sohu’s voice.

[Ana, I just had – I guess an epiphany? I don’t have time to explain it. But it’s basically what I just said before. There is a crack in everything.]


“Uh. Yeah?”

I woke into the regular world. A new stack of books was piled on the table. Sohu and Sarah were giving each other death-glares. I had drooled a little on my shirt.

“Aaron, It didn’t work. I figured out how Sarah confounded the Name. But it’s not a reversible process. You don’t have it. I checked your friend Ana while you were talking, and she doesn’t have it. And now Sarah doesn’t have it. It’s lost, too garbled to be recovered.”

“There is a crack in everything,” I said. “I think I know how you can get the Vital Name.”

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147 Responses to Chapter 58: …And Now The Form Of Enion

  1. Fred says:

    Hack Countenance, see what was the last name his computer gave him, then add a Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh?

    • AnthonyC says:

      Possibly. And if that isn’t logged: they have the program that generated the (non-working) name they need to append six Mehs to, they know (at least approximately) how long it needs to be, and they have Sarah who can speak names really fast. Run the program on a supercomputer until it gets to long enough parts of Name-space, and have Sarah test the candidates?

      • Gazeboist says:

        Llull is a linear search through the Namespace, meant for names to be tested serially. Countenance presumably uses a somewhat different algorithm to generate names for its sweatshop theologians, both to avoid needless repetition and to take advantage of the results its private kabbalists have produced. The Cometspawn *probably* don’t have access to that program.

  2. B_Epstein says:

    Nice touch, inserting an obituary for Derek Parfit! That couldn’t have been planned, unless Scott murdered him for the Kabbalistic correspondence.

  3. The coment king says:

    Great chapter.

    I suspect “If you ever make a universe, you can do what you want.” Will come back to haunt us.

    Also, a final reminder for anyone who wants a theodicy con shirt that the form is open until noon Wednesday. Shirts should ship out in a week or two.

  4. Sillence says:

    Should we wonder about the fact that the Cohen quote is kinda wrong? Should be “there is a crack in everything.”

  5. 75th says:

    [I can’t feel Sohu,] Ana told me.

    [And I can’t feel Erica,] I answered. [I don’t think kabbalistic marriage is transitive.]

    “I checked your friend Ana while you were talking, and she doesn’t have it.”

    So it is transitive for a celestial Kabbalist?

    • linkhyrule5 says:

      So it seems. Doesn’t particularly surprise me – in fact I’m more surprised she needs it at all.

    • Deiseach says:

      I wonder what would happen if Erica contacted Ana via the kabbalistic marriage while in connection with Dylan? It sounds as if Dylan would be able to contact Ana that way; could he then search her memories, as Sohu did to Ana? Or was it only because Sohu was the one who initiated the ritual with Aaron, therefore she is able to read his connections, but Dylan would not be able to do the same because it wasn’t Erica who initiated the ritual with Ana but the other way round?

      What I’m trying to get at is that whoever initiates the ritual is the “parent” relationship and can access the “child” relationships, but not vice versa.

      This is a nice attempt at “No, kabbalistic marriage doesn’t connect everyone in the chain” but it still doesn’t shut out completely the chance that Dylan could contact Ana (if Erica is the one linking them both) and I don’t trust Dylan with any kind of linkage like that, because he’s twisty and weaselly enough to talk you into doing something you don’t intend.

      • The Verbiage Ecstatic says:

        Dylan using the link to get the Vital Name is my current leading theory about how the apocalypse gets kicked off…

      • Gazeboist says:

        We’ve never seen a difference based on who “initiated” the ritual – it hasn’t even been clearly pointed out, except here to say that Sohu is much better at drawing the circles. The best hypotheses right now seem to be either (a) Sohu is a celestial kabbalist, and therefore the marriage is transitive for her only due to her superior mastery of kabbalah and related subjects (in which case Dylan, a master placebomancer, *might* have an in, and we get an alternate explanation for why the marriage ritual barely worked for Ana/Erica) or (b) when you connect with two people at once, you serve as a bridge between them, as with old-school telephony (which also gives Dylan an in to spy on Ana/Aaron/Sohu).

        But yeah, right now we haven’t seen any headship in this so-called “marriage” ritual; we just know that Sohu is better at telepathy. (Sohu op plz nerf)

  6. MarginalCost says:

    No mentioned of the layered yogurt/fruit desert? Surely that is as strong an argument for perfection as any I’ve ever encountered.

    • anon says:

      Hear hear!

      …is what I’d say if I didn’t know the parfait could be seriously perverted by fast food chains and the like.

    • gradus says:

      I was expecting this pun to.

      Parfaits have layers!

    • Irrevenant says:

      Parfait, the dessert is literally named “perfect” in French. This may or may not be because it is the perfect balance of ingredients to set without freezing or added gelatine. Or possibly just because it’s super yummy. 😀

      Either way, it’s pretty much just an example of someone using the actual word under discussion rather than a different, connected word.

  7. YumAntimatter says:

    Should “howso” be two words?

  8. Jeltz says:

    There are some interesting parallels here between Elisha ben Abuyah and the Comet King – Elisha wants to repent but can’t because he’s doing it for the wrong reasons, and the Comet King wants to go to Hell but can’t because he’s doing it for the wrong reasons.

    Well, I guess we’ll see if they find their respective cracks.

  9. Allan53 says:

    Does anyone have a source for the Dr Seuss poem? Google has failed me

  10. Quixote says:

    Wow. This chapter was great.

  11. Greg says:

    I thought traditional Jewish morality held something like, “first follow the mitzvot just because you’re supposed to, then eventually you’ll come to do them for the right reason (l’shem shamayim).” It’s almost like a leap of faith, and then a mysterious process takes over. Is that an answer to the question Aaron and Ana are asking?

  12. Yossarian says:

    Wasn’t it just Uriel saying that Acher wouldn’t be forgiven (for messing with his server via boiling kids in their mother’s milk)? “IT WAS A VERY SPECIFIC VOICE.”

  13. Marvy says:

    There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

    There’s a crack in everything [including the sky], that’s how the [divine] light gets in [(into the material world)].

    Just a coincidence, surely.

  14. Gavriel says:

    Damn, I want a Scott story from Acher’s perspective. The character captivates me.

  15. vashu1 says:

    // The LORD is greater than or equal to the expression involving f(y)

    I think the LORD is _always_ greater, even if f(y) is Busy Beaver function.

    • The coment king says:

      …are you trying to imply the lord is not turing-computable?

      Actually, serious question: Does switching to a quantum computer have any interesting effects on the BB function?

      • vashu1 says:

        Saying ‘lord IS turing-computable’ is pure blasphemy. quod est absurdum^D^D^D blasphemum

        I found a truly marvelous proof that LORD runs on Zeno machine of infinite order but allowed comment length is a little too short.

        // Does switching to a quantum computer have any interesting effects on the BB function

        Pretty sure it does not. Quantum computer does not bring anything new from pure theory viewpoint. It just _can_ speed up calculation by ‘parallelizing’ it exponentially.

        • linkhyrule5 says:

          Enh. Not so much, actually. See the Grover’s algorithm limit on searches, which is only a quadratic speedup.

          Computability *does* change when you bring in CTCs, though.

        • B_Epstein says:

          Pretty sure it does not. Quantum computer does not bring anything new from pure theory viewpoint. It just _can_ speed up calculation by ‘parallelizing’ it exponentially.

          I dearly hope Scott Aaronson doesn’t read Unsong (well, I actually hope he does and enjoys, but you get the drift). A significant part of his blog,, is about how this is not true.

        • Anonymous says:

          Also, ^D is EOT. You probably mean ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H or ^W.

      • Murphy says:

        No. Quantum computers are still turing machines. Everything they can do in finite time turing machines can do in finite time.

      • Gazeboist says:

        No. Quantum computers aren’t more powerful than deterministic turing machines (ie they still have turing degree 0), and the BB function is not turing computable (for all integer inputs). So quantum computers can’t get any further in a regular BB function.

        The regular BB function is defined in reference to deterministic turing machines, and some of the values would presumably change if you defined it in reference to QTMs or quantum circuits instead, but it probably wouldn’t add much interesting information.

  16. Yossarian says:

    //Did you know there was an Orthodox rabbi, Irving Greenberg, who after the Holocaust declared that God had unilaterally broken His covenant with the Jewish people, and should be considered in breach of contract, and until He, I don’t know, reverses time and un-Holocausts Europe no one is under any obligation to follow any of the divine commandments?

    An interesting proposition, considering “it’s not in heaven” rule.

  17. hnau says:

    Oh, sure, God killed 2.8 million people, that, makes perfect sense, but surely He would never let SIX million die, that would just be too awful to contemplate?” It’s like – what?

    Not to trivialize either of these things, but… in terms of sheer numbers, that’s nothing. God currently lets 55 million people die every year, and the number keeps going up.

    If you want a fascinating philosophical exercise, try explaining why God’s direct killing of 2.8 million– let alone letting 6 million die in the Holocaust– could represent a worse evil than mortality itself. In consequentialist terms please.

    Seems to me like Scott’s in Uncritical Internet Atheist mode in this passage. For one thing, he misses or elides the fact that the Golden Calf killings were pretty clearly on Moses’s initiative, not God’s. (To be fair, the Numbers citations are more accurate and more disturbing.) More importantly, he obfuscates by switching between several different issues of theodicy. There’s “why do bad things happen to good people” (which apparently is Acher’s breaking point), “why does God allow evil to exist” (the question that the Holocaust most immediately raises), “why does God kill people, and are those people killed justly” (the question raised by the Old Testament passages), and “why does God make people die at all” (the easiest of these questions, but apparently the one that bothers Ana the most). I’d expect Ana, as a distinguished scholar of theodicy, to be a little more responsible about treating these questions. Evil / injustice is a different topic from pain / misfortune / suffering, and raw body count is a terrible metric for either.

    • The coment king says:

      I feel like if you believe in an afterlife, you can reasonably believe in deaths by aging after a full life, so the problem is specifically with people dying horribly or prematurely.

      This also comes up with just random murders, but can be explained away with “maybe they were sinners” (or Ana’s slightly more complicated explanation involving people who get into heaven having to suffer a bit in this life). But when it’s a whole tribe of people like the holocaust or some of the biblical stories, where God specifically killed them to punish them, those excuses don’t really work.

      • hnau says:

        How does the postulated afterlife make deaths after a “full life” more acceptable than others?

        We’ve taught ourselves to have warm fuzzy (or at least bittersweet) feelings about death from old age because there’s really nothing we can do to prevent it (so there’s no point in getting upset or angry). Assuming this has something to do with the afterlife (“called home” etc.) is just projecting our feelings onto our theology, which is bad. And assuming this has something to do with the OK-ness or not-OK-ness of a death is just projecting our feelings onto our ethics, which is worse.

        I appreciate the analysis of explaining-away, but again, referring to “the holocaust or some of the biblical stories” just breeds confusion. The issues of theodicy raised by each are substantially different.

        Overall, I’m mostly trying to point out that if we postulate a religious view (which most anti-theodicy arguments do for reductio ad absurdum), *all* deaths are caused by God– which seems to me to provide some important perspective on both issues.

        • CCC says:

          A postulated afterlife makes death of any sort a good deal more palatable than no postulated afterlife; that is, it means that death is not cessation of self, but merely transfer of self to another (previously inaccessible) location.

          And an elderly death after a full like is usually preferable to a violent, painful death; since it involves less pain and terror, and more pleasant memories.

          • Corey says:

            In this universe there’s a Hell, but IIRC we have not seen evidence of a dead-mortal-accessible Heaven!

          • Shoefish says:

            @Corey Uriel says that Acher was too evil to go to heaven, since he is our topmost authority this seems like some evidence for a dead-mortal-accessible Heaven

          • Gazeboist says:

            We’ve also seen evidence of *a* Heaven, via Neil. Whether it’s dead-mortal-accessible is unproven, but a reasonable default hypothesis given that Hell is apparently dead-mortal-accessible.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          There is a built-in assumption in hnau’s post, to the effect that every thing God does not *prevent* from happening is ethically equivalent to the things God specifically arranges for via a miracle (or an anti-miracle, if you will).

          If there’s a viable counter-argument, I’m pretty sure it would target that assumption. I’m not sure how to construct said counter-argument, though, or if it is possible to do so.

          But if there’s a crack in everything, that’s the crack in hnau’s argument.

          • Gazeboist says:

            This is where most non-Calvinist Christians would bring in free will, I believe – in order for your life to have moral weight (which it must, if you are to be judged by it), you must have a meaningful opportunity to sin or not sin (and, possibly, to be redeemed). If you die of old age, you presumably have had all the opportunities you needed and are ready for judgement. If you were hit by a car (or a Nazi) at age 3, this is less likely. The Christian response to Old Testament deaths for sin is, I think, “Yes, that happened, that’s why we have the New Covenant where you can receive forgiveness instead of lightning bolts.” The deaths of the random other tribes (eg the Canaanites) are much more questionable – probably the most questionable of those in the OT. The Holocaust is deeply suspicious here as well, for Jews: G-d appears to have sacrificed a great many of his chosen people in order to generate a very thorough proof of the evilness of Nazis. Hence the claim that G-d defaulted on His contract.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Addendum –

            This free will issue is also why baptists and related denominations don’t do infant baptism: they don’t believe the baptism has weight if you aren’t old enough to understand the Covenant. I’m not sure how they feel about the un-baptized dead; my guess would be that their position is similar to the Catholic position on dead who were never offered a chance to join the Church (the specifics of which I also forget, except that it is relatively forgiving).

      • alwhite says:

        I would say that if you believe in a sufficiently good afterlife, no amount of pain/horribleness/evil actually matters. When you have an afterlife that “wipes away every tear” complaining about tears seems to be missing the point.

    • Deiseach says:

      The deaths for worshipping the Golden Calf are an interesting case – can they be considered punishment for violating the First Commandment (“Thou shalt have no gods before Me”) when Moses had not yet brought down the Commandments to give to Israel?

      But generally – yeah, old-time punishments were not “you’ve been very naughty, here’s a smack on the wrist, now go away and be nice in future”. Treason is still a capital offence. Heresy used to be (and used to be punished by the secular arm). We consider some things so bad that going to war and killing is the only way to stop them, and that the suffering that occurs is the price worth paying to stop them.

      I think saying that Acher was predestined is incorrect, because it lets everyone off the hook – oh, he couldn’t help it, he was made that way and was going to do it, so it’s nobody’s fault (unless you want to blame God). It’s part of why I don’t find the Calvinist arguments convincing.

      Acher’s repentance was false if it was for the reasons stated: okay, I don’t really feel any remorse, I want to hold onto my powers, I’ll just do this formality that I don’t mean and that will get me off the hook and I’ll go back to what I was. It’s like someone ‘apologising’ in the kind of “I’m sorry you feel offended” fashion. You start off with “I’ll be good because I want the goodies” and that’s a child’s way of going on. As you mature, you should take up the atheist position – “I’ll be good because it’s the right thing to do, not because there are any goodies going” 🙂

      Acher, if he was strong enough in his knowledge of the Torah, should have known that as well. If he was still stuck at the child’s stage of spiritual growth, he wasn’t mature enough to have those kinds of powers to use well:

      When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Actually, remember that the LORD spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelites directly in Exodus 20, several weeks before they built the golden calf in chapter 32. So, they’d still heard the Commandments, even though Moses hadn’t yet brought down the written version.

        • Joline says:

          Tradition says they didn’t actually hear very much of it though. The way I was taught, they hear up to the end of the second utterance. Then their resolve and courage break on the first syllable of the third and they beg Moses to get this for them.

          Which itself would kind of seem to go against the “Torah is not in Heaven” but actually it doesn’t. Because the thing with the Jewish view of history is the way they swap back and forth between a collective and a personal viewpoint (it’s right there in the Sh’ma). _Someone_ will be able to do what has to be done. It will not necessarily be everyone who’s equally capable on their own…but by being part of the Tribe they do in some way contribute to the existence of the ones who can.

      • R Flaum says:

        Even if the Commandment hadn’t been officially recorded as such, I suspect that they would have known that God wanted that sort of thing. Compare Cain and Abel; at the time, “Thou shalt not kill” had not been handed down, but it was implicitly understood, and so God could legitimately punish Cain for violating it. Of course this leads to Euthyphro issues; is worshipping other gods evil because God forbids it, or does God forbid it because it’s evil?

        Also, a nitpick: in the Jewish numbering, “Thou shalt have no gods before Me” is the Second Commandment, not the First. The First Commandment is “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Christians have a different numbering (actually one of several different numberings, depending on denomination), though.

        • teucer says:

          I don’t actually find much of an issue with observing God to be supremely good and thereby concluding that God’s commands are good, not because they define goodness but because it is not within God’s nature to command what is not good (and God’s perception of the good is probably better than that of any possible human, so even when we aren’t sure, we can trust God).

          This is not my belief, but it’s 100% consistent.

          • Irrevenant says:

            It’s consistent because it’s a tautology. You’ve essentially just defined “God” and “supreme goodness” as identical.

            You might as well say “We know the firetruck is red because the innate redness of the firetruck prevents it being other than red”. Which is fine as far as it goes, but gets us no closer to answering the original questions “What causes something to be red(/good) or not?”and “What does it actually mean for something to be red(/good)?”

    • David Marjanović says:

      To be fair, the Numbers citations are more accurate and more disturbing.

      More precise, not more accurate.

      • hnau says:

        Point taken. My inner pedant is duly ashamed.

        What I meant to convey was that Scott was more correct to describe the Numbers passages as “God killing people” than to describe the Golden Calf passage that way.

    • gradus says:

      easy – you measure suffering, not deaths.

      the holocaust inflicted more than just “death”. if 6 million people simply disappeared, poofing out of existence, and no one had any memory of them ever *having* existed at all, I’d argue that this would be less evil than the holocaust.

      suffering was inflicted on those 6 million, and on their families and friends, and even on those carrying out the act – moral and psychic damage was done and pain was experienced above and beyond cessation of life.

      • hnau says:

        Fair point. Suffering is certainly preferable to a raw body count as a metric. But I think there are still some issues.

        1. Suffering is a huge challenge to define objectively, especially when one brings in “moral and psychic damage” as you did. The notion of “moral damage” in particular raises a lot of inconvenient, Plato-esque questions about whether suffering harm is really such a bad thing, since presumably there can be moral improvement as well as moral damage.

        2. Dying of old age still involves quite a bit of suffering. Sure, dying in a concentration camp is worse. But how much worse, exactly? (See #1.) Enough for 6 million deaths over several years to outweigh 55 million annual deaths today? What about the concentration camp survivors? Are they worse off, or better off, because they escaped death and lived for decades more? If our metric is “total amount of suffering” then it seems like the answer should be “worse off” but our moral intuition says “better off”, and both seem to imply that death itself somehow matters.

        3. There’s still the 2.8 million to explain. Being devoured by fire from heaven, etc., seems like a pretty good way to go (in terms of suffering). Dying in battle or dying of a plague, maybe not so much, but it’s not obvious that it’s worse suffering than, say, cancer.

        Apologies for being morbid… I’m mostly playing devil’s advocate here. Your idea of “moral damage” is closer to what I’d see as a promising way to understand the issue, but also further from consequentialism.

        • R Flaum says:

          It seems to me that God would be a utility monster. In that case, his preference for 2.8 million to die would override their preferences to live.

        • Desertopa says:

          1. Suffering is a huge challenge to define objectively, especially when one brings in “moral and psychic damage” as you did. The notion of “moral damage” in particular raises a lot of inconvenient, Plato-esque questions about whether suffering harm is really such a bad thing, since presumably there can be moral improvement as well as moral damage.

          I think that to people who were there and who experienced what happened during the holocaust, questions about whether suffering harm is really bad would generally not have much emotional gravity. That’s the difference between the abstract idea of harm on that scale, which they could philosophize about without being emotionally shaken by it, and the experience itself, which was much, much harder to see as not mattering in some grand scheme.

  18. Daniel says:

    There is a crack in everything.

    Sooooo is Aaron gonna get married to Neil Armstrong now because someone write that fic

  19. linkhyrule5 says:

    … Huh. I was actually expecting the rather depressing inverse of that epiphany – that to make any progress at all you have be absolutely perfect.

    • Legendary says:

      The Red Queen’s theodicy is the worst kind of theodicy.

      • AnthonyC says:

        This reminded me of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. Think Scott has ever read it? Probably the only other work I’ve seen with as much wordplay and level-crossing as Unsong.

  20. Anonymous says:

    [I think…yeah. It’s the idea of something you can’t think your way out of. Something so slippery that just trying to think your way out of it ensures you’ll fail. It just feels…wrong.]

    Yes, I also get this feeling about The Game.

  21. PDV says:

    >[Holy frick Ana I’ve never heard you send a thought that complicated through the trance before.]

    Is there unusual clarity because Sohu is doing celestial kabbalah on their connection? Or is she directly connecting to them and Ana is pulling thoughts out of her head? Or what?

    I suspect something fishy and important is responsible.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Telepathy has been fishy for a long time. The question is: is it a plot point? Or just awkward writing?

      • Gazeboist says:

        My guess is that something is happening with Ana – she’s somewhere weird when this particular conversation is happening, which is enhancing either her telepathy or her ability to use telepathy. That or she’s gained knowledge or power that permanently enhances her ability to use it, perhaps in the Canal.

      • tcheasdfjkl says:

        “Telepathy has been fishy for a long time”

        Only if a whale is a fish 😛

  22. Shannon Phillips says:

    This chapter was beautiful, and it struck me as very much the sort of insight one gets by doing the right sort of drugs.

    I am sorry that I can’t explicate it better than that. Reading this chapter felt like hearing the echo of a note that was rung years ago, in a moment while my entire consciousness was made into a bell.

    I’ve spent a long time trying to wrestle those altered-consciousness insights into a framework that my regular-consciousness can support, and I feel like this chapter is doing the same sort of work. In any case, it’s very aesthetically lovely.

  23. Macbi says:

    So the Comet King is the reverse of Acher, he needs to be evil (to get into hell) but it won’t work if he’s doing it for the right reasons. So by analogy we might wonder if he has resolved to become evil (the Other King) and continue to be evil until he starts being evil for its own sake. That’s the only way he can truly deserve hell.

    Also it couldn’t possibly be that the chain of marriages stretches from Dylan all the way past Sohu to Uriel, could it?

    • B_Epstein says:

      We might find in the end that the chain of marriages is a non-trivial component in the apocalypse. It already increased the odds of Ngo getting assassinated (which might or might not be a bad thing) and the obvious concern (raised multiple times in the past) is for the Vital Name to leak, but who knows what else?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      This chapter seems to be bearing out Joseph Hertzlinger’s idea from last chapter that SCABMOM is going to put together all the pieces of Albion. What that would mean here, I don’t know. But you can look at last chapter’s thread for the best guesses at correspondences. So far via SCABMOM we have Sarah — Sohu — Aaron — Ana — Erica — Dylan. So so far that’s Los, Enitharmon, Ahania, Enion, and probably Luvah and Vala, leaving Urizen (Uriel?) and Tharmas (THARMAS).

      Admittedly, the end of this chapter might put a stop to this. Especially since it would be a bit hard to get the Vital Name by marrying THARMAS when they need the Vital Name to animate THARMAS in the first place.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Actually, further thought along these lines, though a seriously unlikely one:

        Let’s run with Macbi’s suggestion that Sohu might also be married to Uriel. I think this is unlikely as angels apparently can’t use Names, but let’s just go with it. As mentioned above, without that, we just have a linear chain of marriages. But if we introduce that, then Sohu is now a vertex of degree 3 in our marriage graph.

        This leaves the question of how THARMAS fits in. Perhaps THARMAS might be connected to Sarah, since both are computers. That sounds like a really stupid idea to me, but let’s just run with it for now. In that case, the marriage graph would be the Dynkin diagram E_8.

        I have no idea what that might mean, but it would be pretty neat. And nothing is ever a coincidence…

        • Macbi says:

          I think that’s got to be it (although I’m not convinced that Scott knows about Dynkin diagrams). We know Sohu is Ahania from the chapter title, and likewise Sarah is Enion, Aaron Smith is clearly the iron smith Los. So unless Sohu is trivalent Ahania won’t be married to Urizen, which would be weird since every other emanation is connected to their emanator.

          Also, the Comet King might be both the Other King and Captain Nemo. He pretends to be evil until he truly becomes evil, and then he gets back on the All Your Heart so that he can get back the explicit name from Metatron. Nemo’s opening line is “I’ll say it, The Other King is a bad man.”

        • Peter D says:

          As I mention elsewhere, THARMAS could be a curve ball by Scott.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I mean, the correspondence could go one way in one context and a different way in a different context. Everything is Adam Kadmon, after all…

      • fakersaddition says:

        Hm… Sohu has some form of link to Uriel, and someone marries THARMAS to be 100% sure that it doesn’t break out of the infinite resetting loop, and to ensure it makes no rebellious thoughts?

  24. monistowl says:

    Is Aaron becoming aware of his demiurge, which is to say the author?

  25. Murphy says:

    A hash is non reversable but is still usable. If only they had someone capable of testing as many names per day as a major multinational….

    Or someone capable of hacking into almost any computer system to find the records who could be kept happy if a certain someone was simply nice to her.

  26. Anonymous says:

    The overt meaning of “perfect” is “maximally good”.

    The esoteric meaning is “someone who tries to make moral progress”.

    It used to be ‘kabbalistic meaning’. Why isn’t it here?

    Also, I guess we can also derive the same meaning from Nephrite defecting from the Dark Kingdom after being asked to go eat chocolate parfaits… except that after Uriel’s interventions, Sailor Moon probably doesn’t exist.

  27. Dirdle says:

    Of course repentance doesn’t count if it’s not the terminal value. But explaining why is somewhat impossible. Different world, same riddle.

  28. Quintopia says:

    Surprised they got through that whole mental process without mentioning Newcomb.

    Anyway, I predict they’re gonna acquire by some means the first part of the name from the records of the corporation where Aaron worked. Perhaps by bribery, perhaps by cooperation, perhaps by theft, but “it’s one of the last names I tried with six mehs on the end” is enough for them to reclaim it from the logs.

    BTW, what’s the status of t-shirts?

    • Quintopia says:

      oh never mind. Half the comment thread wasn’t showing up when I posted that. I see about the shirts now.

    • teucer says:

      The overt meaning of Newcomb is “a novel tool for straightening hair.”

      The esoteric meaning of Newcomb is “one who challenges expected wisdom.” This we get not only from William Newcomb of the famous paradox, but from Simon Newcomb, who co-discovered Benford’s Law.

  29. Error says:

    I still think Aaron should be asking for the Name that grants the moral soul, so as to give it to Sarah before she does something stupid for lack of understanding.

    • Error says:

      Followup thought: I predict that the above will happen, and it will lead to further disaster, but for reasons other than the obvious morality-alignment issues; there’s no reason the moral soul should work differently in a machine than a human.

    • R Flaum says:

      I see no reason to believe that such a name is known.

      • Arancaytar says:

        Four hundred years earlier, an old man in Prague had explained to his students that yes, you could make a golem, you could bestow upon it the nefesh, the animal soul. With sufficient enlightenment, you could even bestow upon it the ruach, the moral soul. But the neshamah, the divine spark, you could not bestow upon it, for that was a greater work, and would require a greater Name than any ever discovered.

        If Löw thought it was possible, then Sohu would probably have a decent chance of being able to do it.

        • Error says:

          This is the passage I was thinking of when I assumed it was known, yeah. Singling out the divine spark as undiscovered suggests that the others are not.

          But it does say four hundred years ago. Perhaps it was forgotten in the meantime.

          • Desertopa says:

            Or, considering four hundred years ago was before the sky cracked, maybe some of the things they thought were names suitable for those purposes back then turned out not to be when they gained the ability to check.

  30. Peter D says:

    “There is a crack in everything,” I said. “I think I know how you can get the Vital Name.”

    Crack, hm… Are they going to engage the services of Drug Lord?

    • dsotm says:

      If they can somehow prevent him from appropriating the name that can work, if the theonomics could do that Aharon’s job probably wouldn’t exist to begin with

  31. Ninmesara says:

    Crack theory: Malia Obama (who might or not be a deamon) has been in the future where humanity dies. She goes back to the past (after aging quite a while), creates a fake identity and becomes the leader of Unsong, bent on the goal of finding the Vital Name to save the world. She keeps her name for reasons but changes her surname so that it doesn’t become weird.

    Regarding Time Travel: there is still no in-story explanation for the fact that the names Sarah gives Ana are so damn convenient for the advancement of the plot. There is still no explanation for the sentence: “absolutely nothing will go wrong” (lie? conjecture?).

    • Marvy says:

      Re: nothing will go wrong: at this point I feel safe saying that Sarah was just being manipulative, and figured Ana would listen if she felt safe.

      Re: in-story explanation for advancing the plot: does this question make sense? If Sarah had given Ana different names, then the plot would have taken a different course, and you could again ask the same question, no?

  32. Jack V says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t think of investigating the source of the name earlier. For that matter, if Aaron remembers some

    Also, come to think of it, didn’t Anna meet Simeon Azore who was a major early investor in Countenance. Maybe he could help get the name of everyone agrees it’s more about the fate of the world and less about defeating copyright restrictions?

  33. AnthonyC says:

    So I’m torn as to whether I think the relevant “crack” is related to drugs (i.e. somehow the drug lord can help), Acher (assuming Acher is indeed the Other King and really good at telepathy), or Celestial Virgin (somehow someone using the divine light from the crack to find the name).

    Actually, I’ve been wondering since the prologue if the higher celestial spheres might come into play. I only just noticed that there are 10 spheres (earth, 7 classical planets, fixed stars, Empyrean) and 10 sephirot. But… the first three sephirot are supposed to be intact. So can the people who take Celestial Virgin to the crack really get all the way into heaven? Or are there more gates above, just like there are below for the Comet King, some of which you can’t pass for the wrong reasons without destroying the world? I forget which chapter it was but somewhere was the idea that the sephirot were supposed to balance divine light from above with reflections from below. In that case, if the Comet King breaks the remaining gates and gets into hell, he would also break the remaining sephirot and that could be why it would destroy the world.

    If so, are those gates above and below actually different? Could it actually just be a dual description of the same phenomenon from two different perspectives? The world, bounded on both sides my the same mirror?

    • AnthonyC says:

      That would also neatly explain why the messiah would appear to the the generation that was both most good and most wicked.

    • Simon_Jester says:

      Neil Armstrong appears to have made it through all the gates into heaven by climbing through the crack… But then, Neil Armstrong was a pretty fine, upstanding fellow. There might not be guarantees for anyone else.

  34. Anonandonandon says:

    As I understand it, something like 11 million people were killed in the holocaust, including 6 million Jews. 5 million murdered people is a lot of suffering to ignore in Ana’s mathematical analysis.

    • anon says:

      It’s distressingly common for people to forget about the other millions, yes. The organizations dedicated to pushing remembrance are mostly Jewish, and I guess they don’t have a lot of care for non-Jews.

  35. Sillence says:

    A propos of nothing in this chapter… I just discovered that, in real life, Obama’s half-sister married an Indonesian-Chinese with last name Ng. I wonder if we now know where the full name Malia Ng O comes from, assuming some shuffling on family ties in Unsongverse.

  36. Ninmesara says:

    It’s intersting that Ana doesn’t tell Aaron that THE CAPTAIN IS
    (probably) THE EUPHEMIZING COMET KING!!! Is it because she’s afraid Sohu is eavesdropping? If so, it’s probably one of the smartest things she’s done since the beginning of the story :p

    • Sillence says:

      Given the symmetry between TOK and TCK (trying to get into heaven and hell without the means to do so), it would be amusing if they had exchanged places after the battle, with TOK being the Captain. It would explain why the Captain didn’t figure out the prophecy when Father Ellis did. But this is probably pushing it…

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  39. Rose Cardew says:

    I’ve had an idea. Sorry, I’m not religious and no nothing of any scriptures or holy books, but I’ve had an idea. If God did not intend humanity to eat the apple and gain the moral soul, surely Sarah, who does not have the moral soul, is the only “pure” person in the world, and therefore the only the only person who can wield the Ha’mephorash without Metatron taking it away from her. As she has no moral soul, she could be called the most evil or the most good, so she must go into hell and destroy it.

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