aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Interlude ג: Cantors and Singers

Those who speak the Names of God aloud are called cantors and singers. Like everything, these terms have both overt and kabbalistic meanings.

The overt meaning of “cantor” is “someone who chants”.

The kabbalistic meaning is “someone who works with infinity”.

This reading we derive from Georg Cantor, the German mathematician who explored the cardinality of infinite sets. He found that though the natural numbers – 1, 2, 3 and so on – were infinite, still there were fewer of them than there were “real” numbers like root 2, pi, and 0.239567990052… Indeed, not only were there two different levels of infinity, but it seemed likely that there were an infinite number of different infinities (and maybe one extra, to describe the number of infinities there were?)

The overall effect on him was much like the man in the limerick:

There once was a fellow from Trinity,
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits,
Quite gave him the fidgets;
And he dropped Math and took up Divinity.

Cantor began talking about how his discoveries were direct and personal revelations from God, who wished him to preach the gospel of infinity so that an infinite Deity could be better understood. He posited an Absolute Infinite, beyond all the forms of infinity he had discovered, with which God might be identified. Finally, he declared:

“I have never proceeded from any Genus supremum of the actual infinite. Quite the contrary, I have rigorously proved that there is absolutely no Genus supremum of the actual infinite. What surpasses all that is finite and transfinite is no Genus; it is the single, completely individual unity in which everything is included, which includes the Absolute, incomprehensible to the human understanding. This is the Actus Purissimus, which by many is called God.”

When he finally made his discoveries public, he chose a curious notation:

“It has seemed to me for many years indispensable to fix the transfinite powers or cardinal numbers by some symbol, and after much wavering to and fro I have called upon the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph. The usual alphabets seem to me too much used to be fitted for this purpose; on the other hand, I didn’t want to invent a new sign.”

A pragmatic account, utterly without reference to a two-thousand-year-old tradition of using the aleph to signify God. Nothing is ever a coincidence. The genealogies say his grandparents were Sephardic Jews, and if they weren’t kabbalists I will eat my hat.

The overt meaning of “singer” is “someone who sings”.

The kabbalistic meaning is “someone who tries to be good.”

This reading we derive from Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher who explored the depths of moral obligation. He imagined a man in a very nice coat walking by a pond. In the pond he sees a young child drowning, screaming for help. The man is quite a good swimmer and could easily save the child, but his nice coat would be ruined and would cost him $100 to replace. He decides he doesn’t want to ruin his coat and continues on his way, leaving the child to drown. Is this morally wrong?

Of course it is, said Singer, and this is important. It establishes a general moral principle that if you get the opportunity to save a child’s life for $100 you must take it. Yet we have very many opportunities to save a child’s life for $100. There are children starving in India; $100 would buy them food. There are children dying of malaria; $100 would buy them medication. There are children cowering in war zones; $100 might buy them a ticket to safety. If you buy a nice coat for $100 instead of giving it to charity, you’re making the same decision as the man in the story. Indeed, if you use your money for anything other than charity, you’re making that same decision – preferring your luxuries to a chance to avert innocent deaths.

This was not a popular message. His opponents condemned his particular brand of academic philosophy, saying that the time-tested moral truths of religion ought to be enough for anybody. They might have done well to read their Bibles a little closer. Matthew 19:21: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, then follow me.”

Singer called the movement that grew up around him “effective altruism”, and its rallying cry was that one ought to spend every ounce of one’s energy doing whatever most relieves human suffering, most likely either feeding the poor or curing various tropical diseases. Again, something his opponents rejected as impossible, unworkable, another example of liberal fanaticism. Really? Every ounce of your energy? Again, they could have just read their Bibles. Deuteronomy 6:5: “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Then Singer changed his tune. In the 1970s, after the sky cracked and the world changed, he announced that charity was useless, that feeding the poor was useless, that curing tropical diseases was useless. There was only one cause to which a truly rational, truly good human being could devote his or her life.

Hell must be destroyed.

The idea of billions of human beings suffering unbearable pain for all eternity so outweighed our little earthly problems that the latter didn’t even register. He began meeting with his disciples in secret, teaching them hidden Names he said had been vouchsafed to him by angels. Thamiel put a price on his life – quite a high price actually. Heedless of his own safety, Singer traveled what remained of the civilized world, making converts wherever he went, telling them to be perfect as God was perfect, and every speech ended the same way. Hell must be destroyed.

He was killed by a car bomb on his way to a talk in Salt Lake City. They never found the man responsible, if indeed it was a man. They saw Singer’s body, they showed it on all the television networks, but some say he never died, or that he rose again on the third day, or that he speaks to them in dreams, or all manner of strange things. When the Comet King besieged Hell, some say he brought Singer’s bones as a relic, others that Singer was in his retinue, disguised. But the conventional wisdom was that he truly died – which suited conventional people and their conventional morality just fine.

(“But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din,
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—
‘They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.'”)

(“We’re not making compromise with sin. We just want to be less than maximally saintly sometimes.”)

(“Exactly what do you think compromise with sin is?”)

This, then, is the kabbalistic meaning of being a cantor and a singer, a Namer of Names.

A cantor is someone who works with infinity.

And a singer is someone who tries to be good.

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188 Responses to Interlude ג: Cantors and Singers

  1. Daniel Blank says:

    So, who is the Comet King? Judging by the intro song, he either said or will say the Explicit Name, so he will probably show up in the main storyline soon. Theories?

    • pku says:

      I’m guessing an archangel, by the fact that he besieged hell. Probably not Uriel though, since he’s been mentioned separately by name and doesn’t seem to be the militant sort.
      I’m curious to know what happened with the siege of hell – was hell destroyed? is that why the devil came upstairs to hang out with Dick Cheney? Or was that a reference to American Dad?

      • I think that (sadly) the siege was unsuccessful. SA mentioned that there would be at least three political summits with Hell mentioned in the story, and I have a feeling that one of them will be happening in the present.

        Thamiel has also been referred to in the present tense, but it is possible that his is a government-in-exile at present.

        • Daniel Blank says:

          If the siege was unsuccessful, either Thamiel is as powerful as singers of the the Explicit Name (which would make him a viable antagonist for post-Explicit Name Aaron or the nigh-omnipotent AI he is about to create) or the Comet King has yet to say the Explicit Name. Judging by the fact that the Comet King has seen the Adam Kadmon/Source Code, I’m leaning towards the first one.

          • Peffern says:

            I haven’t seen reference to the explicit one before? What is this referring to?

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            The Explicit Name is the longest, most complete Name of God. It is said to bestow omnipotence on its speaker.

            Three people have seen reality’s source code and probably know the Explicit Name.

            Uriel, the Comet King and an eight year old girl.

    • nah says:

      I’m guessing hell is just earth, and the Comet King is this guy:

      • I know that the second bit is a joke, so the first bit might be as well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Earth turned out to be a part of Hell’s domain.

        • Eliezer says:

          According to Adin Steinsaltz, our world is unique in that we are connected to the original Creation, but are also a realm of Hell. In other words, we can increase holiness in our world (arguably in all of creation), but we can also debase it.

          The basic mechanism is simple. Generate or debase holiness(this is where that divine soul comes in handy) in a manner that feeds holiness into an upper or lower realm(doing a mitzvah or an aveirah is the simplest way) . This opens a channel through which holiness or profanity may flow. With the appropriate rituals, these may be used for working minor miracles.

          Tl;dr? We live in the bottom layer of heaven and the top layer of hell. We can get power by helping either.

    • rictic says:

      Things known about the Comet King:

      * Quoted in Leonard Cohen’s HaMephorash:
      * A textbook says that they are one of only four kabbalists to have ever gazed on Adam Kadmon, along with the Archangel Uriel, an 8 year old girl (Sohu?), and Rabbi Isaac Luria:
      * in the early 90s the President and the Comet King worked together to create UNSONG:
      * and now, in this chapter, that the Comet King beseiged Hell

      This was slightly tricky to compile because the inscription at keeps Unsong, like the Bohemian Club, from the sight of spiders.

    • Joseph says:

      Going out on a limb here, but the Hebrew word for comet (שביט), has the same gematria as the word for “the reading [the participle, not the verb]” (הקריאה). He is therefore the king of the reading, which fits with what we know of him, in terms of gazing upon Adam Kadmon bare.
      However, “King” is also kabbalistically connected to both equality, via MLK, and sudden disappearance, via Elvis (The King). Taken together, the Comet King probably gained a lot of power via Names, gave the people of the world hope for equality of the Divine Names, only to pull a fast one and help with UNSONG.
      Also, “Comet King” is an anagram for “Noetic mgk”, clearly a shorthand for “Noetic Magic”, or magic of the mind (AKA the Names). The “I” and “a” are removed, adding up to a numerical value of 6. This represents the removal of the non-Sabbath days, leaving behind only the holiest. Perhaps the Comet King has been purified or exalted by the Names, in some fashion?

      Keep in mind that I’m just throwing stuff out there, but, you know, nothing is ever a coincidence.

    • Vadim Kosoy says:

      My guess is that the Comet King is the Messiah. In Hebrew the Messiah is often referred to as King Messiah (מלך המשיח) and the gematria of the Hebrew word for comet (כוכב שביט) is 369 which is pretty close to the gematria of “The Messiah” (המשיח) which is 363. You can probably think of some explanation for the difference of 9.

      • Spoon&Cake says:

        That’s easy, ashkenzai jews say moshiach, so מושיח, so that would settle the difference of 6 that you found.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        I can’t speak for Scott’s intentions (and I’m reading this for the first time, so if they were later clarified, I wouldn’t know), but the connection between the Comet King and the Messiah sounds extremely plausible—not because of your strained gematria, but because in Numbers 24:17, the Messiah is actually metaphorized as a comet: “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.”

  2. pku says:

    “but it seemed likely that there were an infinite number of different infinities (and maybe one extra, to describe the number of infinities there were?)” – In set theory, the set of infinities has too many elements to be a set, so it’s a class. The set of “small” infinities can be considered a set, though it’s existence may be independent of ZFC – it’s been shown that, if it’s consistent with ZFC (assuming ZFC is consistent), this would be impossible to prove (if it’s inconsistent, this might be provable – but people think it isn’t). Reference here
    (It’s been a while since I’ve done axiomatic set theory, So any logicians out there should feel free to correct me if I’ve said something inaccurate).

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I wasn’t going to nitpick the math, since I’m pretty sure what’s written is good enough for the purposes of the story without being terribly misleading, but since now here you are trying to nitpick the math, I must nitpick your nitpick, as you have requested. 😛

      So, first of all: To be clear here, when you talk about “infinities”, you are talking about infinite cardinals. (Which is, after all, what Scott is talking about.) But if we do want to be precise then we should say that, as there are any number of other sorts of infinite things.

      [Everyone who does not care about horrible details of set theory should skip the following, it won’t be interesting.]

      Secondly, the following is a terrible mess of a sentence and I am having a hard time even making sense of it:

      The set of “small” infinities can be considered a set, though it’s existence may be independent of ZFC – it’s been shown that, if it’s consistent with ZFC (assuming ZFC is consistent), this would be impossible to prove (if it’s inconsistent, this might be provable – but people think it isn’t).

      But, if I’m understanding this correctly, you are saying:
      1. Infinite cardinals can be divided into “small” and “large”.
      2. It’s not clear whether the class of all small cardinals is a set.
      3. If it is true that the existence of a set of all small cardinals is relatively consistent with ZFC, it is also (provably) impossible to prove such.

      I don’t know a lot about large cardinals, but as I understand it, where this goes wrong is the first part. There’s not actually such a thing as a “large cardinal”, even though the term is used informally. What there are are large cardinal properties, which are so-called because any cardinal satisfying them must necessarily be very large. And so informally a cardinal satisfying such a property can be called a “large cardinal”, but it’s not a formal term. (Neither is “large cardinal property”, for that matter, but that’s maybe a separate issue.) Although, IINM, any “large cardinal” in this sense must at least be an inaccessible cardinal, so you could say that “large cardinal” sort of means “inaccessible cardinal”, but, well, that’s not really exactly what it means. Part of what’s going on is that even though in logic, properly one speaking, one talks about properties being instantiated or not, in ordinary language we instead talk about possibly-fictitious-objects existing or not (e.g., “Does the devil exist?” rather than “Are there any devils?”), and so in ordinary language you end up talking about “large cardinals” rather than large cardinal properties. Basically “large cardinal” is a very context-dependent term.

      Note, by the way, that large cardinal properties are generally not “closed upwards”! Say you have κ an inaccessible cardinal; κ+ won’t also be inaccessible. So sorting cardinals into “small” and “large” this way wouldn’t make sense, even if all the other reasons it doesn’t make sense didn’t apply. What you could maybe do is, say, call a cardinal “large” if it is at least an inaccessible cardinal, and “small” otherwise. And maybe that’s what you had in mind? I have no idea. It would make #2 true (as then “there is a set of small cardinals” is the same thing as saying “there is an inaccessible cardinal) and would make #3… uh, still not right as far as I’m aware; it’s impossible to prove the existence of a large cardinal[0] if ZFC is consistent, it’s not to my knowledge impossible to prove the consistency of one existing). I don’t think it’s usual terminology, but I’m not a set theorist. Also apparently when you’re working with a specified Grothendieck universe, elements of that universe are often called “small” — but note that that’s context-dependent!

      But… blech. I don’t really want to go further into this. But, like, there’s a lot of problems here.

      [OK, you can resume reading now.]

      Really, point is, I think you would have been better off just leaving out the stuff about large cardinals. Not so much because it’s incorrect, as because it’s just not that relevant, and there’s no way it would be more enlightening than confusing.

      [0]Meant either in the usual informal sense, or the unusual formal sense I’ve just defined. 🙂

      • hamiltonianurst says:

        Hosea 11:11, or more accurately, Hosea 1/9:

        Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt. Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria. And I will bring them home again,” says the LORD.

        is a clear reference to the infinite cardinals.

      • Dacyn says:

        Small nitpick on your nitpick:

        it’s impossible to prove the existence of a large cardinal if ZFC is consistent, it’s not to my knowledge impossible to prove the consistency of one existing

        It is impossible to prove the consistency of large cardinal axioms within ZFC, because that would imply that ZFC can prove its own consistency, contradicting Godel’s incompleteness theorem (assuming that ZFC is consistent, which seems likely).

        More subtly, it’s also impossible within ZFC to prove “if ZFC is consistent, then ZFC + existence of an inaccessible cardinal is consistent” (let’s call this statement P). Indeed, it is well-known that ZFC+inaccessible cardinal implies that ZFC is consistent, and so if ZFC could prove P, then ZFC+inaccessible cardinal would prove its own consistency, again violating the incompleteness theorem (assuming that ZFC+inaccessible cardinal is consistent, which seems likely).

        But anyway, I agree that all of this stuff is completely irrelevant 🙂

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Oh, so that is impossible then! I didn’t realize, thanks. (To be clear, the second was what I was talking about; I may have said “consistency” a few times when I meant “relative consistency”, oops.)

  3. I am quite in love with this depiction of Peter Singer. Quite wonderful.

    • Related: I wonder if Singer found more success with his message of destroying Hell. Sure, it’s a lot harder and scarier, but “destroy Hell” is also easier to conceptualize. Hell is a *thing*. At least some people could be more easily convinced of the mission to destroy Hell than of Singer’s previous ambitions.

      • LHC says:

        I can confirm that I would, in this ‘verse, be supportive of Peter Singer, whereas I’m not an EA in reality.

        • Sigivald says:

          I can get behind “Destroy Hell”, but I can’t get behind the version of EA that is “always do maximum good at all times in every way”, any more than “pray without ceasing”.

          (The form of EA that is “when you do good, do so in the most effective way, not the way that you might find most obvious or personally satisfying” [“maximize doing good, not feeling good about attempting to do good”] I am also behind.

          But this is not the place for a long critique of Singer and morality, plus Scott’s talked about it plenty of times.)

  4. ton says:

    I was expecting the old Jewish saying, “Singers sing, and cantors can’t!”

  5. LHC says:

    For the reasons established in this chapter, are “cantors” and “singers” not quite connotationally synonyms? I could picture it being a dark side of the force/light side of the force type of thing, where name-users more concerned with sublime power are likelier to consider themselves cantors and name-users more concerned with perfect correctness are likelier to consider themselves singers.

  6. queenshulamit says:

    Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Yes good
    Hell must be destroyed

  7. Anon says:

    I dreamed I saw Singer last night
    Alive as you or me
    Says I, But Pete, you’re ten years dead
    I never died, says he
    I never died, says he

    In Salt Lake, Pete, says I to him
    Him standing by my bed
    They blew you up you with a car bomb
    Says Pete, But I ain’t dead
    Says Pete, But I ain’t dead

    The Angelic hosts killed you, Joe
    You exploded, Pete, says I
    Takes more than flame to kill a man
    Says Pete, I didn’t die
    Says Pete, I didn’t die

    And standing there as big as life
    And smiling with his eyes
    Pete says, What they forgot to kill
    Went on to altruize
    Went on to altruize

    Singer ain’t dead, he says to me
    Singer ain’t never died
    Where condemned souls are stuck in hell,
    Singer is at their side
    Singer is at their side

    From the ninth circle to the first
    In every bolgia and and tier
    Where souls are tortured eternally
    Says he, You’ll find Singer
    Says he, You’ll find Singer

    I dreamed I saw Singer last night
    Alive as you or me
    Says I, But Pete, you’re ten years dead
    I never died, says he
    I never died, says he

    • That is also wonderful, and makes my heart all aglow and warm-like.

      • Marvy says:

        Hang on just one blinking second. You based your song on the lyrics of a songwriter named …

        Peter Seeger!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

        If things like this keep happening I’m going to turn into a kabbalist or something.

        • Roman Davis says:

          There are no coincidences.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Peter Seeger didn’t write the Ballad of Joe Hill; he just recorded that version. The words were written by Alfred Hayes as a poem, and later set to music by Earl Robinson.

        • Brian says:

          Aaaand I found the lyrics to the original song on a website called “”. Stared at the address bar for a good ten seconds before I realized it didn’t say “Unsong”.

          • rossry says:

            This is now my favorite Unsong thread of all the Unsong threads.

            Joe Hill was himself a [s]inger and one who tried to be good, killed in Salt Lake City by the government.

            And, re: car bomb, from Wiki:

            [On the day of Hill’s execution], a dynamite bomb was discovered at the Tarrytown estate of John D. Archbold, President of the Standard Oil Company. Police theorized the bomb was planted by anarchists and IWW radicals as a protest against Hill’s execution. The bomb was discovered by a gardener, who found four sticks of dynamite, weighing a pound each, half hidden in a rut in a driveway fifty feet from the front entrance of the residence. The dynamite sticks were bound together by a length of wire, fitted with percussion caps, and wrapped with a piece of paper matching the color of the driveway, a path used by Archbold in going to or from his home by automobile.

  8. rational_rob says:

    I feel stupid now. I’ve been reading Worm over the past couple of weeks, and I just realized that the names for the parallel universes stem from the Hebrew Alphabet. Earth-א, Earth-ב. Now it makes sense.

    I like the dichotomy you set up between these two types.

    • pku says:

      Yeah. Which made Worm kinda weird, since I think at one point they implied there were hundreds or thousands of earths, but there are only 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet (the usual way to get around this is gematria, but if they were using that it’s incredibly unlikely that every single world mentioned would have only one letter as its name).

      • ton says:

        The ones that Worm’s characters knew about got named first. When Aleph and Bais met, they must have decided which one to call original (perhaps Aleph was chosen because the effects of superpowers was far less there), and new ones got chosen in order.

        • pku says:

          Those two make sense, but towards the end they start talking about a whole bunch of others (including tav, which should be the last one). While it makes sense they’d be predisposed to be earlier, the others seem to be chosen fairly randomly, and it’s pretty weird that they stop exactly at 22. Weirder when you consider that standard hebrew naming convention would make tav 400, which means they skipped over 378 worlds to get to the one world with only one letter in its index.

        • Placid Platypus says:

          > (perhaps Aleph was chosen because the effects of superpowers was far less there)

          If anyone cares about the actual reason, IIRC the first contact was somewhat strained, and the Earth that would get labelled Bet offered that ordering as a diplomatic ego-stroking gesture.

      • Alsadius says:

        In Worm there’s thousands, but only two that are easily accessed by each other – the rest require very unusual and rare powers.

        • pku says:

          Do they ever explicitly mention thousands? I was assuming there were at most 22, because of the letter thing. I seem to recall changing my mind at some point so presumably they mentioned thousands, do you remember where?

          • Alsadius says:

            Towards the end, when the Big Bad figures out how to world-hop, they say that him destroying entire planets full of people will go on for quite a while, which will give them time to regroup. I don’t know if they ever gave a number, but it certainly implied there was a lot.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Something similar happens in The Forever War, where they start naming black holes (which are used for interstellar transits) with Hebrew letters until the “the damn things started popping up all over the place.” They start naming them like this eventually: “Aleph-587.” The black hole which happens to be a distant trans-Oort Cloud companion of Sol is Aleph, later Aleph-null.

  9. grort says:

    I was briefly confused by the letter sequence — א, ב, ג,: chi something lambda?
    But I realized I could copy-paste the letters into websearch, and Wikipedia tells me it’s the first three letters of the Semitic abjads.

    I guess they can’t all be great insights. ^_^;

  10. Alsadius says:

    I’m reminded of an old story I read, wherein humanity gets the Singeresque position forced upon them. It’s rather silly in parts, but fun overall – is the link to the stories(Armageddon is book 1, Pantheocide is book 2), and is the TVTropes entry for those who want a tl;dr.

    • I remember that! Unsong probably won’t go down road, but here’s to hoping that *some* rationalist story will take that on, because as you say it was pretty silly (not to be understood as “humorous,” as I’d say Unsong is) and failed to grow on me.

      • Alsadius says:

        No argument, it’s not for everyone. But if you’re the sort of person who reads authors like David Weber, you may enjoy it.

    • Psmith says:

      Salvation War cosigned for good clean (cheesy, poorly proofread) fun.

    • DysgraphicProgrammer says:

      I started “The Salvation War” but decided it was basically “Left Behind” for atheists and lost interest.

  11. queenshulamit says:

    I do wonder though
    I both believed and alieved in Hell and I literally went crazy.
    Here we have a whole world full of people who have actually seen empirical evidence of Hell. Everyone knows Hell is real and that they or anyone they care about could go there. And yet… People still do normal stuff? And don’t go insane with guilt/ shame/ fear? When they know eternal torture exists???? And that in this world God IS good and they ARE creatures who DESERVE torture?

    • All good points. Have patience.

      • Deiseach says:

        What happens to the souls formerly in Hell? Do they go on to Heaven, or are they re-incarnated on Earth to live again and have a second chance? Do they change or do they say “Well, I personally don’t think spending all my money on booze so my family got evicted and thrown onto the side of the street was so bad”?

        If Hell is purification, it then is Purgatory, but that does not seem to be part of this universe, unless there are more steps of the ladder to be explored than we have encountered so far (going up the branches of the Sephirothic Tree from Malkuth and Hell then would be the world of the Qliphoth).

      • queenshulamit says:

        Yeah, to be clear, I meant “I wonder how the issue of the psychological impact of Hell will be explained in later chapters” and not “You have made an obvious worldbuilding error by not explaining this yet.” I never doubted an explanation would be forthcoming!

    • In fairness, people starve to death in the streets IRL and most people manage to ignore that fact.

      • queenshulamit says:

        I mean, that is pretty horrifying, but its billions of orders of magnitude less horrifying than Hell existing.

        Also, the reason I am not constantly upset by starving people (if I am brutally honest) is that it’s very unlikely that it will happen to me or anyone I know personally. Whereas Hell, if real, would be a genuine risk for everyone, including me and everyone I love.

  12. K. Darkdiamond says:

    Cato the Elder would be proud that 2000 years later, someone would equate Carthage with Hell.

  13. Chris H says:

    “Thus Singer gathered his confidants in secret laying out his plans. Finishing his speech, Singer spoke ‘Infernum delenda est.’

    Sadly for the anti-Thamiel forces, Singer’s words reached hell. It couldn’t be helped, Latin is a dead language after all.”

  14. PDV says:


    “and with all your soul, and and with all your strength.”

  15. -g- says:

    So this isn’t exactly related to much in this update, and I mean this with all respect (and hoping, although not sure if I’m expecting, an actual answer to this), but Scott:

    You have the Tanach and the New Testament a bunch here — but where the HECK is the Quran?

    I’m hoping that you have something planned for it for later in the plot or something, ’cause that’s really the only good excuse I can think of. But like ????

    • Alsadius says:

      Seems like this story is based quite explicitly on Jewish holy books and sects, not other religions. Has the New Testament even shown up yet?

      • LHC says:

        I’m not sure if anything has confirmed that Christianity is true in this ‘verse, but yeah, there’ve been several references to the New Testament.

      • Anon says:

        People have quoted and done Kabbalah with the new testament as recently as the last chapter – for example Ana got the marriage ceremony from Kabbalah related to Mark 16 and John 7-8, according to her, and we had quotes from Matthew used to argue the removal of letters from the sign from both sides.

        I don’t particularly care about the Quran’s inclusion or exclusion either way – if Scott chooses to use reference to the Quran or to the Book of Mormon, the anagignoskomena or the Letters of Baruch… the inclusion or exclusion of any particular holy writ is unlikely to affect my enjoyment of this work.

      • -a- says:

        … He quoted Matthew in this update.

        They’ve been quoting New Testament since chapter 5. Ana had a whole rant about how the New Testament is unfairly overlooked (apparently despite the fact that both of their first quotes to each other are from the NT, but whatever), and then goes on to have discovered a Name doing so.

        So yeah. NT is canon here.

        Also, maybe because Scott didn’t know this one, but the Angels are also Christian mythos, here. Jewish Angels are… kinda terrifying? Like, Seraphim have six wings in odd places, and they’re some of the more normal ones. No angels have knees. This caused theological trouble in one instance.

        But yeah — the Archangel in luminous white, with two golden wings? Christian. Christianity is part of the canon, here.

        • LHC says:

          No way did Scott not know that one. The Jewish appearance of angels is too WEIRD to not wind up in this book.

        • pku says:

          “No angels have knees. This caused theological trouble in one instance.”


        • Pku says:

          “No angels have knees. This caused theological trouble in one instance.”


          • -l- says:


            [Epistemic Note: Very Rambling. ALSO: Vaguely remembered, so I could be wrong about stuff]
            So you know how the general narrative is that Christianity Arose From Judaism and that Judaism Has Never Changed Ever?

            That narrative is… no exactly accurate. It’s convenient, which is why it’s the general narrative — Christianity really likes the authenticity granted by “see those people? Those are the people who Jesus interacted with! If they’ve kept all their traditions for this long, then Jesus must have been pretty darn convincing to get his people to switch. Donchathink?”
            And Judaism really likes being First. And also, like, tradition is a very major part of, well, Jewish tradition. Very major.

            But that narrative is not exactly accurate — for an example that might hit an amusing spot here, checksum? Were invented, ish, around the first couple of centuries? Like, not well — it was just “this is the middle by sentences, this is the middle by words, this is the middle by characters”. So not particularly cryptographically secure checksums, but anyways.
            Anyways, they… don’t actually match up. So yeah, the narrative is not exactly accurate.

            But the way that plays out here is that, as much as we’d like to pretend, not all the works were written using the same mythology. Which, well, sometimes causes issues for people who like obsessively combing through everything so much.

            This comes up in Daniel. There’s a part where… we get some sort of vague image of heaven, and it talks about “Thrones”, plural.
            This… potentially implies, issues, in a monotheistic religion.

            Now, Christianity deals with it easily — “Thrones”? Okay, Father on one, Son on another, Holy Spirit sort of spiriting it up on a third. Done.

            The general secular opinion on it is that was supposed to be sort of a circle of thrones, like the Sanhedrin, with God being, well, God. And around that were the thrones for for angels, acting as his sort of Sahnedrin. (This interpretation has precedent — in Breishit/Genesis, God says “Let US make a man…”)

            And that interpretation would work for Judaism. Except.

            Angels don’t have knees.

            Angels can’t use thrones.

            Honestly, I don’t remember what the Jewish interpretation is. Just that it’s very roundabout, and not at all intuitive, all because somehow we got canonicalized that angels don’t have knees.

            They also only have one leg, which is why you’re supposed to stand with your legs and heels together when davening the Sh’moneh Esrei.

          • LHC says:

            Please let this whole ramble show up in Unsong at some point.

          • -m- says:

            Argh, but if that’s the plan, I have to actually, like, get more sources than “I’m pretty sure that’s what my cousin said, and it checks out with what I remember, and makes sense”.

          • mugasofer says:

            They should have adopted the Christian solution – St Paul mentions that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world…” and obviously this doesn’t mean The King, because this would make The King very displeased. Instead, it means demons, who are (as we all know) fallen angels.

            Now, elsewhere, Paul mentions that “visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him”. So clearly Thrones and Dominions are the same sort of thing as Principalities and Powers: that is, types of angel.

            And that’s the story how Christianity ended up with Thrones as a folkloric Choir of Angels, alongside the Seraphim and the Cherubim and so on.

          • Deiseach says:

            Angels not having knees throws another light on the parts of Revelation where John says he fell at the feet of the angel(s) to worship them and was told “Do not do that, I am your fellow servant”.

            If angels can’t kneel, then they can’t throw themselves down to the floor either, and so the angel is saying “Please don’t do that because I’d have to do it too and I can’t – no knees” 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Off the top of my head, aren’t the Angelic Choir of Thrones considered to be the Seat of God? All the paintings where God (or a saint) is carried by a cloud of angels, or surrounded by angels in a mandorla – those are the Thrones. (Michaelangelo being very literal about it).

          • Rand says:

            “Just that it’s very roundabout, and not at all intuitive, all because somehow we got canonicalized that angels don’t have knees.”

            What is this nonsense? Every schoolchild knows that when Elisha Ben Avuya entered Paradise he saw Metatron sitting down, scribing away.

            Thus was Elisha driven to heresy and so became Acher.

            Conclusion: Metatron had knees, could use thrones, and did (at least when he was taking notes).

          • Maybe the reason Acher believed Metatron was a god was because he had knees and therefore couldn’t be an angel, ever think of that?

          • Rand says:

            But Acher was wrong!

            Metatron wasn’t a god but an angel, as shown when the Lord had him whipped with fiery rods!

            Ergo, angels do have knees.

          • But Metatron was formerly the human Enoch, so maybe he kept his knees after ascending to Heaven.

          • Rand says:

            It’s also befeirush in the pasuk:

            “And Enoch walked with the Lord.”

            Ergo, he had legs.

            Now, is it Klal-uprat-uklal or prat-uklal-uprat… excuse me, I have to consult some sources.

          • Rand says:

            (Do not read “legs” but rather “legs and knees”.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Mmm – humanoid angels are more popular culture representation of angels (I did a whole rant about that once on another site). And taking Raphael from the Book of Tobit, that is definitely “angel in human form” from the Old Testament, precisely because he needed to interact with humans and the usual appearance would not have done at all. Dante has the humanoid angels, but also angels that are too bright to look at, or gleams of light, or a radiance, so the idea of “winged humans” isn’t the only one out there.

          As they say, there’s a reason the first thing angels say to humans is “Be not afraid” 🙂

          • Andrew M says:

            There are actually plenty of humanoid angels in the Old Testament; the ones who visited Abraham, the one who visited Samson’s parents, some of those who talked to Daniel (who even refers to ‘the man Gabriel’). Even Ezekiel, who is a major source for the terrifying angels, (wheels within wheels, and the like), also meets a bronze man, who shows him round the new temple.

    • LHC says:

      Not even a Neoreacto, but I find the idea of the “Abrahamic faiths”, as opposed to the “Judeo-Christian faiths”, tiresome. Islam is quite a different beast.

      • As different from Judaism and Christianity as those two are from each other? And which variants of Christianity? Islam is probably closer to Catholicism than Mormonism is, but it doesn’t seem like “Mormonism isn’t *really* a form of Christianity” is a big meme in scholarly circles.

        • LHC says:

          I’m going off cultural continuity. Christianity first started in a Jewish community. Islam first started in a pagan community. I’d be fine with Islam or Mormonism showing up, but my aesthetic sensibilities favor the inclusion of Mormonism – because it first started in a Christian community.

          • mugasofer says:

            >Christianity first started in a Jewish community. Islam first started in a pagan community.

            But so did Judaism, so clearly Christianity is the odd one out here 😛

            In all seriousness, though, Christianity claims continuity while Islam claims that most of, say, the Bible is essentially fake/distorted versions of Islam. That’s conductive neither to being lumped in together or the sort of textual analyses Unsong is based around.

        • Deiseach says:

          Islam was definitely regarded during the Mediaeval period more as a heresy derived from Christianity and Judaism rather than a whole separate religion.

      • -i- says:

        With all due respect, that’s just plain wrong.

        Like I’m sorry, but Islam is actually about as different from Judaism and Christianity as Judaism and Christianity are from each other. For example: the Jewish perspective on “Is Islam pagan?” is “Allah is basically Hashem in a funny hat” — on Christianity, the opinion is “We are 90% sure that the Trinity is polytheism, but GOSH those swords look sharp, so sure, okay, fine?”. Like actually.
        And on the subject, the term “Judeo-Christian” is an almost completely useless term — it rarely ever points to something that is (a) common to Judaism and Christianity, and (b) not in Islam (or most other Abrahamic faiths). If you wanna disagree with me, feel free to give a list of “Judeo-Christian” things, and we can go over them and check.

        • LHC says:

          Item #1: not, in general, still stoning people to death for things the holy book says you should be stoned to death for

          • -b- says:

            To death, no. Throwing stones at people?



            (Aside: “Reconstructionist” also describe a sect of Christianity? Darn it. That makes things confusing…)

            There are gross fundamentalists everywhere.

            (And as a minor point — that was neither a list, nor something commonly called “Judeo-Christian”…)

          • LHC says:

            Item #2: adapting well to modern Western civilization
            Item #3: founded by Jews

          • -e- says:

            … y’know, for some reason I’m having trouble finding places where people call “being founded by Jews” a “Judeo-Christian” thing…

            And same for “adapting well to modern society”, really. But the bigger thing about that, is that (a) yeah, there are a lot of Muslims who have cultural trouble adapting to modern society. That is because there are a lot of Muslims. The percentages of Christians and Jews who have trouble adapting to modern society is roughly the same.

            Additionally, “adapting well to modern Western civilization” is a strange way to describe a religion which refuses to use electricity more than 1 out of every 7 days.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            There’s no actual report button, but I’m going to do my best to push it anyway and say: OK, could we get a mod (read: Scott, because he is the only one) to come in and clean up this subthread? Take this to the SSC open thread or something, not here.

            (To be clear, I am saying this not because your comment violates the comments policy — there is none! — but because it threatens to create a terrible black hole, and I am hoping Scott will agree that is a good reason to prune this tree.)

          • Adam Casey says:

            LHC underestimates how much early Islam was connected to the People of the Book. It was not strange that the new capital built at Baghdad was designed mostly by a Jew called Mashallah ibn Athari.

            LHC also weirdly underestimates how hard it was to make Christianity compatible with modernity. Like, the wars of religion after the reformation were … savage. Heck, Christianity hasn’t been totally made compatible today, to the extent that the advanced nation which is the most obviously Christian is the least culturally modern.

          • mugasofer says:

            >yeah, there are a lot of Muslims who have cultural trouble adapting to modern society. That is because there are a lot of Muslims. The percentages of Christians and Jews who have trouble adapting to modern society is roughly the same.

            Is this actually true? Christians are *more* numerous than Muslims, but you don’t see e.g. modern Christian theocratic states executing people for adultery.

            (I’m not sure you can apply a similar argument to Judaism, though, because it’s so much smaller.)

          • Susebron says:

            This is not a matter of theology, but rather a matter of having sufficiently large groups of people who a. take the bits about stoning people literally and b. have states that agree with them. One could, of course, point out that Christianity does not tell people to stone anyone, but this is just one more reason that it is Christianity is the odd one out rather that Islam.

    • nah says:

      Seeing as how Islam basically retconned everything in Judaism and Christianity, it wouldn’t make much sense to have a universe where all three faiths are true. But I dunno, maybe he does have something planned.

      • Neither Judaism nor Christianity are completely accurate in this ‘verse, though. In fact, I would suspect that the Bible is useful for kabbalistic purposes at all because most or all of it had been delivered by Uriel.

      • -d- says:

        “Islam basically retconned everything in Judaism and Christianity”

        … Christianity literally canonicalized Supersessionism from almost the very beginning.

        • mugasofer says:

          Supersessionism is different to explicit contradiction.

          It’s the difference between “here’s a more complete theory of the movement of the planets” and “the government is hiding the evidence of Flat Earth”, to use an unnecessarily insulting example.

          • -a- says:

            Canonically in Islam, all the books and prophets and everything are exactly as canonical and divinely inspired as in Judaism or Christianity (as applicable).


            Obviously, if there are contradictions, the Quran holds — so yeah, it is exactly like “here’s a more complete theory of the movement of the planets”.

    • The very simple answer is that I don’t know anything about the Koran, and I wouldn’t expect my characters to either, for much the same reason. If they did, I’m sure they could do interesting kabbalah with it, the same way they could do interesting kabbalah with anything else including the phone book.

      • -i- says:

        You weren’t able to ask around and find anyone who’d studied, or had small experiences with, Sufism? (Which incidentally, people are pretty sure, influenced early Kabbalah.)
        You have (I think) a not-small set of casual acquaintances — I’d be really surprised (Large Numbers) if you didn’t have at least a small set of Muslims within two hops of you…

        • Aris Katsaris says:

          What usefulness do you perceive in Scott having a Muslim acquaintance “two hops” or even one hop away from him, in regards to the writing of this story?

          If he asks a modern Greek translation for some text, I can help because I know modern Greek. But if he asks me “find me interesting ways to use your knowledge of Modern Greek in a kaballistic story”, I would probably come up empty.

          Do you have any particular question that you suggest Scott ask some muslim acquaintance?

          • -n- says:

            The implicit assumption was that one of them might be or know “[someone] who’d studied, or had small experiences with, Sufism”.
            Which would be exactly the right question, because Sufism is the Islamic equivalent of Kabbalah, and again, research shows that it probably influenced (and was influenced by?) Kabbalah.

            Look at Nomghost’s comment right below this.
            (Although in response to that one — there are also a certain set of Jews who don’t have much of a sense of humor about the kind of stuff. And like, as long as nobody violates an actually-not-that-difficult rule of “this one guy — don’t draw his face”, nothing Scott does in this text-based medium is going to break any 1500-year-old-rules.)

      • Nomghost says:

        There’s this enormous fascination among Muslim scholars with the esoteric (baṭini) meanings and layers of meaning in the the Qur’an, particularly the fact that it’s not compiled in chronological order. There’s supposed to be a deep abiding logic in the order in which things are laid out and the frequency with which certain themes appear, etc. etc. I saw one website dedicated to the idea that if you take the first ayat of every sura and discarded the rest, you get a summary of Islam’s core message. Heaps of stuff floating around like that that you could work with.

        Then again, Scott, there are a certain (small) set of Muslims who don’t have much of a sense of humour about the kind of stuff you’ve been doing with the Torah and New Testament and probably wouldn’t appreciate it done to the Qur’an, which has in the past turned out to be a bit of a bummer for certain artists and writers :/

    • Sniffnoy says:

      The real question is, where’s the Book of Mormon? 😛

    • nil says:

      In a similar vein, at some point I’d love to read an aside about how Malik Tous lives and maintains a very thoroughly enforced peace in Sinjar.

  16. Quixote says:

    This is brilliant and very very funny.

  17. TK-421 says:

    On average, sets are of finite cardinality. Georg Cantor is an outlier adn should not have been counted.

  18. Buck says:

    I’m kind of annoyed at the mischaracterization of effective altruism and Singer as being focused on human suffering–many people involved in EA don’t think that the focus on humans make sense, and Singer of all people is aware that billions of beings already live in tremendous suffering at the moment in factory farms. I know this is a story, but you consistently forget to care about non-human animals in all of your writing and it is quite unimpressive.

    • In this universe, do animals have an afterlife?

    • anon says:

      You’re not entitled to have your curious belief, that non-humans matter anything like humans or superhumans do, respected.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        But whether Singer believes or not that non-humans matter is a question of fact, not just about respecting a curious belief.

        I think “mischaracterizing” EA and Peter Singer is such a way that they match Mathew and Deutoronomy is justifiable in a Rule of Cool sort of way, but I understand that it could annoy some people.

    • zensunnicouchpotato says:

      You’re probably right that even an alternate universe version of Singer should mention non-human suffering.

      You might even have a point that non-human animals are relevant in other places Scott doesn’t mention them. But why the level of vitriol at someone who, as I am 100% sure you know, has grappled with the question several times which, I’m fairly confident, is quite a bit more than most people who ever taken pen to paper in the history of human writing?

      • Buck says:

        I certainly appreciate Scott’s willingness to occasionally engage with the moral weight of animal suffering. (One of those blog posts you linked is Scott writing about his thoughts after a discussion with me.)

        But he’s grappled with it badly, come to conclusions which I think are far sillier than most conclusions he comes to, published them wildly, and then repeatedly made thoughtless comments about animals which make it clear that he forgets that he says he cares about them.

        I write this here because unlike many, I don’t think that Scott would upon reflection agree that it’s a good idea to ignore animal suffering when he writes. But he consistently does it anyway. This is unimpressive enough that it’s worth noting, and Scott is a good enough guy that I think there’s value in pointing it out.

        • zensunnicouchpotato says:

          I realize that one was about your exchange with Scott, I’m familiar with your own writings and activism, and I’ve been consistently impressed with your ability to be an unapologetically radical vegan while managing to be charitable and open-minded.

          Which is why I was surprised to see an argument that looked like you designed it to Inflict Damage to Status Points. Maybe you think the stakes are sufficiently high that a harsher tone is needed, but I just don’t see what calling something “unimpressive” is supposed to add other than inspiring defensiveness.

          The guy who completely ignores animal suffering wouldn’t have anyone show up to call him out. The guy who actually tries to get people to do things to reduce animal suffering gets called out in the comments section of his fiction writing project.

          I guess that just seems like a bummer to me.

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, we’ll assume that this-universe Singer called for the harrowing of Chicken, Cow, and Pig Hell. More dead non-human animals than human animals and their souls are all suffering eternally. Happy now?

    • Alsadius says:

      Unless animals go to the afterlife, the dead human population(estimated at ~100 billion) will likely exceed the captive animal population(chickens, which are by far the most numerous, are about 50 billion per year, and most don’t live nearly a year). Further, as bad as the conditions of chickens are, it’s not literally Hell, and whatever moral weight you assign to a chicken, it is less than or equal to that you assign to a human. Thus, the sufferings of the damned ought to outweigh the sufferings of the animal population.

    • mugasofer says:

      As something of an aside, we know that this universe uses a mashup of the animal soul/divine soul distinction from kabbalah and the animal soul/rational soul distinction from … Aristotle, I think, originally, but it was adopted by Catholicism.

      (As an aside, the Divine Soul is supposed to be unique to Jews, and to provide a conscience; so it appears to operate somewhat differently here.)

      This probably implies all sorts of interesting things, especially since the first two can be synthesized relatively easily. For a start, I’m pretty sure it means vitalism is true in this universe.

    • Deiseach says:

      I know this is a story, but you consistently forget to care about non-human animals in all of your writing and it is quite unimpressive.

      And then radical evangelical vegans wonder why the hell they don’t get anywhere. “I can’t figure it out – I gratuitously insult people broadly on my side, I call meat-eaters rapists and torturers and accuse them of getting perverted gratification from animal suffering, yet nobody will take my completely reasonable points on board and engage with me in a productive manner, they all ignore what I have to say!”

      • mugasofer says:

        I’m pretty sure none of those things are contained in the statement “you consistently forget to care about non-human animals in all of your writing and it is quite unimpressive.”

        I’m not sure if it’s a *fair* criticism, exactly – Scott mentions his belief in animal suffering fairly often in the course of plugging his “ethical offsets” thing – but it’s certainly very restrained.

      • queenshulamit says:

        I don’t see any rape and murder comparisons here. Are you alluding to something Buck said elsewhere, or are you blaming Buck personally for every single stupid thing any vegan has ever said?
        (I think he’s being a little unfair, although it is odd that Scott didn’t mention Singer’s veganism. Perhaps a reason will be revealed later. But nobody said anything about rapists in this particular thread until you.)

        • Deiseach says:

          If someone self-righteously pops up to make accusations of not caring about animal suffering (“consistently forget to care about non-human animals in all of your writing”) then yes, I’m going to mete out to them the same measure and hold them to the standard of “every single stupid thing any vegan has ever said”.

          Someone presents themselves as Sole Representative Speaking For The Non-Humans And Only Humane Caring Person On This Site, they get the fun parts of defending their movement for every thing anyone in it has ever said or done – just like pro-life people get hammered with “So this one person in 1986 said women should be arrested for having abortions, so that means you people want to imprison all the poor women who had an abortion because their life was endangered by continuing pregnancy, just admit it!”

    • PedroS says:

      ” I know this is a story, but you consistently forget to care about non-human animals in all of your writing and it is quite unimpressive.”

      I believe a key point in writing/reading fiction is that the author is in control, and talks about whatever they want. Anyone who wants a story where care about non-human animals is paramount (as you do), or where an advocate of effective altruism other than Peter Singer was canonized (as I might have preferred, due to Peter Singer’s positions on the moral weighing of killing a child vs. killing an adult) is free to write it. As a reader, I have no right to berate any of the author’s choices: it is the story THEY want to tell, and that they kindly offer for our amusement/edification/enjoyment. We simply have to decide if we want to read/hear it.
      If we really enjoy the broad strokes (though not all of the particulars) of the world the author offers, we may simply write our own version of that story where our concerns are addressed. everybody wins 🙂

    • Susebron says:

      Given that souls are, canonically, shown to exist in this universe, and that humans have three souls whereas animals only have one, and that it is very likely that going to Hell requires the moral soul (which humans have, but not animals) if not the divine soul (also exclusively human), it makes perfect sense for Peter Singer to focus on the huge number of humans being tortured forever compared to the quite possibly smaller number of animals being tortured for a relatively short time. According to this there were about 24 billion livestock alive as of 2007, and about 107 billion people have ever lived. If at least 1/4 of all people go to Hell, which is easily possible, then the total population of hell is greater than the total population of livestock on earth. Since Hell is almost certainly worse than the average livestock experience, Hell is probably a greater moral ill than animal suffering even if you don’t give humans more moral weight than animals.

    • Buck, you know I’ve donated thousands of dollars to animal charities, recommended ways to help animals on my blog, and talked frankly about my confusion around animal-rights related ethical issues. I think your accusations are false and uncalled for.

      I totally reject your claim that I “should have” talked about animal rights here. The fantasy genre lends itself to the story of the Comet King besieging Hell a lot better than to the story of the Comet King protesting factory farming, and even if it didn’t this is my book and I’ll tell the story I want. I didn’t invent the drowning child argument, it’s the standard introduction to EA, discussion of child poverty and disease is the standard couple-paragraph way to explain the concept, and so I stuck with that and didn’t include anything else, including (for example) x-risk causes – which you’d have a hard time accusing me of being biased against.

      And if you want to nitpick, fine, let’s nitpick – Singer wrote Famine, Affluence, and Morality in 1971, and didn’t write Animal Liberation until 1975 – as you’ll see later, this timeline has a *huge* discontinuity around 1974, and it very much fits my description of Singer moving into anti-Hell causes in the early 1970s.

      I’m generally willing to discuss these topics, but not here of all places, and not in response to that kind of tone. I request less of this kind of comment in the future.

  19. I figured it was only a matter of time before someone called for regime change in Hell.

  20. John Sidles says:

    Those who speak the Names of God aloud are called  cantors and singers  DEVO:
    Twist away the gates of steel
    Unlock the secret voice
    Give in to ancient noise
    Take a chance a brand new dance
    Twist away the gates of steel

    Twist away
    Now twist and shout
    The earth it moves too slow
    But the earth is all we know
    We pay to play the human way
    Twist away the gates of steel

    A man is real
    Not made of steel

    Ever since the sky cracked, the only unsong that matters. 🙂

  21. hnau says:

    Douglas Hofstadter makes the same pun about “cantor” in Godel Escher Bach. That book is deeply related to hacker culture, so I might have expected to find its analogue on the Ithaca bookshelf– and its main themes include the mathematical manipulation of symbols and the importance of encoded meaning. Very kabbalistic, if you think about it.

    TINAC BNIEAC. Or Scott’s writing is hopelessly derivative… take your pick. 🙂

  22. Sniffnoy says:

    My immediate thought is “How old is Peter Singer in this universe?” As far as I can tell, all of the things that you refer to that he’s known for postdate 1968 here in the real world. I guess we should just assume he did all this earlier, and maybe was born earlier?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      …though the drowning child was 1972, so maybe before all the stuff about Hell became totally clear. Also regardless we just have to assume that “effective altruism” as a recognized idea started much earlier in this universe than in ours.

  23. Murphy says:

    Wait, so the devil puts hits out on people in this universe?

    Some of the big religions still exist right now that large parts of their dogma has been proven true?

    I’d have expected that anyone who attracted a hit from Satan himself would easily get massive backing and protection from many of the worlds major churches.

    Also, we’d expect that in a world where people know there is definitely a hell the price of murder would increase dramatically since the assassin would be weighing the payment against eternal damnation…. unless the devil can offer indulgences as part of his bounties.

    • mugasofer says:

      Ah, but the government is in league with the Adversary. There are treaties.

      I’m mostly curious about what happened to Hinduism.

  24. Sonata Green says:

    It occurs to me that major governments might have a Name of God that directly enables them to stay in power. A sort of artificial Mandate of Heaven; a Name of Thrones.

  25. no one special says:

    The genealogies say his grandparents were Sephardic Jews, and if they weren’t kabbalists I will eat my hat.

    Is this the first time we’ve seen the narrator speak personally?

  26. sohi says:

    And thus it was written that Thamiel put a price on his life so high that Singer himself took pause and had to figure out whether he should turn himself in and donate the reward to efficient altruism instead

    • WhatWouldEnderDo says:

      All of the +1s, thumbs ups, likes, upvotes, etc.

    • Ninmesara says:

      With sohi’s permission, Scott should reaaaly add this sentence to the text. Singer would ultimately refuse to turn himself in, of course, so it wouldn’t have an impact in the story. It would make this chapter 66.6% more awseome.

      • sohi says:

        I wrote it initially as a joke but on thinking about it more, I have a suspicion that was intending to hint at this and that it will be revealed later that Singer faked his death to collect the reward and used it for “Hell-abolition charities”. Law of conservation of detail: why mention that the reward was large, why a carbomb which seems like a decent way of faking one’s death. Though I would assume Thamiel has some creepy angelic way of figuring out if you are lying or not when you collect the reward.

        • Ninmesara says:

          Damn, on rereading it makes total sense… Why would “they” show his body on TV? It seems like the major networks were helping the assassin collect the reward, thus hiding Singer AND collecting the reward. I bet there is a cloning name that can clone a human without the divine spark, which you can kill to produce a decent body. Even if there isn’t, you only have to fake a body for TV which is ridiculously easy,

    • queenshulamit says:

      Were there Hell-abolition charities?

      • Ninmesara says:

        Does Hell have oil reserves the Military-Industrial Complex might be interested in? Is it a viable place to dump nuclear waste? Can we establish trade agreements, integrate it’s population into mainstream capitalist economy, sell them trashy novels, drugs, booze, p0rn and open the doors of our casinos? That’ll hook them, deplete the suckers’ capital and disrupt traditional norms. Soon, they’ll be rebelling against Thamiel and will replace him with a new corrupt leader who will allow them a glimpse of the perks of western society, and who might even be on our side. Unleash the power of Moloch! One demon against another! Infernum delenda est!

  27. Jack V says:


  28. Somewhere in the Dungeon says:

    While we’re talking about sets, I just noticed something interesting.

    I predict the next interlude will be between chapter 12 and chapter 13.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      What pattern are you seeing? I’m looking for one now that you mention it and the one I see is that so far the chapters with interludes after them are all 1 greater than a square. But I am pretty doubtful this will continue (at least I hope it doesn’t, I would like them to be more frequent than that). But yeah, what’s 1,2,5,12? (Or 2,3,6,13?) I mean, OEIS turns up several results for each, but I have no idea which one you’re thinking of…

      • Dindane says:

        If you number chapters and interludes (ignore the existing chapter numbers), the interludes appear as numbers 2^n for n > 0. I don’t believe this is an intentional pattern; the later ones would get spaced out too much.

        • Somewhere in the Dungeon says:

          That was the pattern I noticed. (Powers of two jump out at me.) It would get very sparse as time went on, but that’s also the first and most basic pattern to the points we have so far. Given the subject matter, I’m inclined to think that there is a pattern.

  29. Daniel H says:

    So has anybody found the significance of 0.239567990052? I can’t find out what that’s supposed to be about, but I doubt it was just a random sequence of digits.

    • Tested it on a few reverse symbolic calculators and search engines and no results. Using continued fractions the simplest rational number that rounds to this number is 280887/1172473, which doesn’t seem interesting. Still seems random.

    • aphyer says:

      Converting 0.23956… to base 26 gives [ 6, 5, 24, 16, 21, 9, 18, 2, 17, 5, 23 … ], which transliterates to ‘FEXPUIRBQ…’ — not very promising.

      But if we use the Hebrew alphabet, which has only 22 symbols, converting that decimal to base 22 gives [ 5, 5, 20, 20, 5, 5, 16, 19, 1, 1, 17…], which looks much more promising. The first six symbols of this in particular are reflected in a manner reminiscent of the word ‘kayak’ in Uriel’s interlude. The fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is ‘Hey’, the twentieth letter is ‘Resh’. The gematria of ‘Hey’ is 5, that of ‘Resh’ is 200. The total gematria of the first 6 letters is 5 + 5 + 200 + 200 + 5 + 5 = 420.

      So we can conclude that…Georg Cantor was hella high when he started thinking about infinity? (And there are obvious implications for why cantors would be very common in the Bay Area…)

      • aphyer says:

        (In the spirit of Uriel’s ‘A PULSE OF ENERGY FROM BINAH TO HESED, THEN A RETURN PULSE FROM HESED TO BINAH,’ the sequence ‘Hey’, ‘Hey’, ‘Resh’, ‘Resh’, ‘Hey’, ‘Hey’ seems to describe a neat bouncing-back-and-forth pattern upon the Sephirot, but I don’t know those well enough to attempt a kabbalistic interpretation).

  30. boris says:

    (“But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din,
    List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—
    ‘They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.’”)

    (“We’re not making compromise with sin. We just want to be less than maximally saintly sometimes.”)

    (“Exactly what do you think compromise with sin is?”)

    Who is speaking?

  31. Friend says:

    Where am I right now?

  32. Winter says:

    Well done to think of someihtng like that

  33. Thanks for your kind words about our group version of TT. I will be talking about Tinkers on Friday so I hope you can join us. It’s been a different book for me to read but I can’t complain about the writing in it. It’s beautiful.

  34. please i am desperate for i im using an old N73 as a computer 2 communicate. My friends laugh at me. Its so bad im a single mum i take care of my mum and son and cant spare a cent

  35. Pingback: Drowning children and the love of God – Tree of Life

  36. GreatWyrmGold says:

    There was only one cause to which a truly rational, truly good human being could devote his or her life. Hell must be destroyed.
    I can get behind this logic. It’s basically Pascal’s Wager for altruism, except with empirical evidence rather than replacing evidence. Also, it’s a hell of a premise, pun intended.

  37. BRANDO says:

    Truly quite intriguing post. I was searching for this sort of data and appreciated perusing this one

  38. Quasar Tsar says:

    William Blake was definitely a singer (not to mention his “Songs of Innocence and of Experience”):

  39. Tux1 says:

    > Then Singer changed his tune. In the 1970s, after the sky cracked and the world changed, he announced that charity was useless, that feeding the poor was useless, that curing tropical diseases was useless. There was only one cause to which a truly rational, truly good human being could devote his or her life.
    > Hell must be destroyed.

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