Posted tagged ‘Tibet’

in memoriam Arthur C Clarke (1917-2008)

March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke died yesterday, aged 90.  The obituaries all call him ‘the man who invented geostationary satellites‘ and ‘the man who wrote 2001‘…

Down-to-earth and practical scientist and inventor, visionary prophet, inspirational writer — we owe him our thanks for opening our eyes (and directing them skywards) to so many unexplored possibilities.

I hope it’s not too long for this blog, but I’d like to reproduce a short story which made a huge impression on me when I first read it (40 years ago!) and still resonates in today’s world…

The Nine Billion Names of God (1953)

Arthur C. Clarke

This is a slightly unusual request,” said Dr. Wagner, with what he hoped was commendable restraint. “As far as I know, it’s the first time anyone’s been asked to supply a Tibetan monastery with an Automatic Sequence Computer. I don’t wish to be inquisitive, but I should hardly have thought that your- ah – establishment had much use for such a machine. Could you explain just what you intend to do with it?”

“Gladly,” replied the lama, readjusting his silk robes and carefully putting away the slide rule he had been using for currency conversions. “Your Mark V Computer can carry out any routine mathematical operation involving up to ten digits. However, for our work we are interested in letters, not numbers. As we wish you to modify the output circuits, the machine will be printing words, not columns of figures.”

I don’t quite understand….”

“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.”


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 (more…)