Names

What we call things

A name abstracts a being. Definitionally, a name simply serves as a key in the lookup table that we project onto the Universe. However, in the turbulent nonlinearity of our minds, names intermingle with experience, sensation, and even our own identity—that which we refer to by a certain name in time imbues the name with its own characteristics. It is no surprise, then, that we use euphemisms to shield ourselves from the naked extremes of experience, and conversely, that we reserve powerful names for powerful things.

The greatest products of this century will likely count superintelligences, starships, and virtual worlds among their numbers. In the past, names have been adopted from mythology and culture—most obviously, for the planets and moons. Similarly, the defining names of the next century will be drawn from those stories that creators find most evocative. In our case, these will likely be 20th-century science fiction and fantasy. For example, Musk plans to name our first interplanetary transport the Heart of Gold—and frankly, what better choice? Any ship built with today’s engineering must pale in comparison to that towering product of Douglas Adam’s imagination, and so here the flow of energy is reversed; the name empowers the creation. It reminds us of the grandeur of our ambitions, however infinitely improbable their fruition may be.

I look forward to the Far Star, the ship that carries us to the outer planets; to Deep Thought, who computes answers to the questions of life encoded in the structure of our genome; to Sauron, who watches over all people in convolutional fury (actually, not this one).