Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Nine Billion Names of God

Arthur C. Clarke, "The Nine Billion Names of God".
Salahsatu cerita sains fiksi terbaik di dunia.

This short story tells ..
of an Asian monastery whose monks have long sought to list all of their very numerous names for God, as 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.

Centuries ago ..
the monks created a writing system in which, they calculated, they could encode all possible names of God in no more than nine characters each, according to a set of constraints. (For example, no name could have the same character repeating more than three times consecutively.) Writing the names out by hand, as they had been doing, would take another fifteen thousand years.

The monks wish to use modern technology in order to finish this task more quickly. They purchase a computer capable of printing all the possible permutations, and they hire two Westerners to install and program the machine. The computer operators are skeptical, but play along with the monks.

The operators engage the computer. After three months, as the job nears completion, they fear the reaction of the monks when existence will fail to end. The men decide to flee the monastery some hours before the computer finishes its task. They know the monks won't bother to chase after them, because the computer is finishing its task automatically.

After their successful escape, they pause on their way back to civilization at about the same time the computer prints the final name. They look back to the vast black sky, and notice, that "overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.."

1967 - in Clarke, Arthur C. The Nine Billion Names of God: The Best Short Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967.
Reprint: Amereon, Ltd., 1996.

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