Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Arthur C. Clarke's The Nine Billion Names of God

Our world has completed six orbits about its Sun without the presence of its most creative and visionary thinker - Arthur C. Clarke.

Arthur C Clarke departed our world and went on his own personal and final odyssey into the infinite on March 19th, 2008.

Today on Far Future Horizons we commemorate Clarke’s memory by presenting an audio recording of one of his most chilling short stories - The Nine Billion Names of God.

This short story tells of a Tibetan lamasery whose monks seek to list all of the names of God, since they believe the Universe was created in order to note all the names of God and once this naming is completed, God will bring the Universe to an end. Three centuries ago, the monks created an alphabet in which they calculated they could encode all the possible names of God, numbering about nine billion and each having no more than nine characters. Writing the names out by hand, as they had been doing, even after eliminating various nonsense combinations, would take another fifteen thousand years; the monks wish to use modern technology in order to finish this task more quickly.

They rent a computer capable of printing all the possible permutations, and they hire two Westerners to install and program the machine. The computer operators are sceptical but play along. After three months, as the job nears completion, they fear that the monks will blame the computer, and by extension its operators, when nothing happens.

The Westerners delay the operation of the computer so that it will complete its final print run just after their scheduled departure. After their successful departure on ponies, they pause on the mountain path on their way back to the airfield, where a plane is waiting to take them back to civilization. Under a clear starlit night sky they estimate that it must be just about the time that the monks are pasting the final printed names into their holy books. They notice that "overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

Arthur C. Clarke's 9 Billion Names of God 

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