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09 December 2003

Nine billion names of god

"This is a project on which we have been working for the last three centuries -- since the lamasery was founded, in fact. It is somewhat alien to your way of thought, so I hope you will listen with an open mind while I explain it."

"Naturally."

"It is really quite simple. We have been compiling a list which shall contain all the possible names of God."

"I beg your pardon?"

"We have reason to believe," continued the lama imperturbably, "that all such names can be written with not more than nine letters in an alphabet we have devised."

"And you have been doing this for three centuries?"

"Yes. We expected it would take us about fifteen thousand years to complete the task."

"Oh." Dr. Wagner looked a little dazed. "Now I see why you wanted to hire one of our machines. But exactly what is the purpose of this project?"

The lama hesitated for a fraction of a second, and Wagner wondered if he had offended him. If so, there was no trace of annoyance in the reply.

"Call it ritual, if you like, but it’s a fundamental part of our belief. All the many names of the Supreme Being -- God, Jehovah, Allah, and so on -- they are only man-made labels. There is a philosophical problem of some difficulty here, which I do not propose to discuss, but somewhere among all the possible combinations of letters, which can occur, are what one may call the real names of God. By systematic permutation of letters, we have been trying to list them all."

From Arthur C. Clarke's The Nine Billion Names of God (thanks Bryan)

Posted at 11:02 PM in Naming | Permalink

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