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Naming Each of the Ten Octillion Atoms in Your Body

Here’s a few paragraphs from my novel-in-progress Hylozoic, along with a note on the math involved.

Passage from Hylozoic

“You just have to listen. Like this.” Thuy teeped him a new mental maneuver she’d invented to convert a silp’s self-image to an English name.

Jayjay listened inwardly to the crabby spirit of the stream. And, yes, Thuy was right, the silp’s name was Gloob. Gloob had telepathically overlaid a face upon the stream’s eddies and lines of flow, the visage of a stern old man with trembling cheeks and flowing beard. He didn’t like their talk of a dam.

The friendly rocks at the stream’s edge had names too: Clack, Bonk, Rollie, and Harvey. And the redwood overhead—her name was Grew. Unlike Gloob, Grew was happy to have Jayjay and Thuy as neighbors. She was looking forward to their fertilizing influence upon her roots.

Intrigued his newly-learned ability to sense the silps’ names, Jayjay teeped down into the aethereal chorus of atoms that made up his body. Each of his ten octillion atomic silps had its own timbre and, thanks to Thuy’s mental gimmick, he could encode each little voice as a name consisting of six English words. Anonymized superabsorbent oratorical sluggardly expectorant. Exoteric velocipedal trigamist township conglobation. Villanous inky gowk curator walloper. Like that. Crazy as it seemed, Jayjay had room for all ten octillion names in his endless lazy eight memory.

Teeping a bit higher up the great chain of being, he perceived that his organs and muscles had voices and names as well. Larry Liver. Ben Bone. They’d still be talking after he died. At least for awhile.

Note on the Passage

Here’s the calculation that a human body has ten octillion atoms has a name. So how does Jayjay come up with ten octillion different names? Well, ten octillion is 10 to the 28th power. According to the Global Language Monitor, English has about a million words now. If I pick five words at random, there’s one million to the 6th power ways to do that, which equals 10 to the 30th power, which is a hundred times as big as the range I actually need. So I can definitely give each atom in my body a name consisting of a five word English phrase. In order to come up with some truly random samples, I found Word Browser, a cool site providing random English words online. (I suspect that the main users of this site are spammers wanting to make filter-baffling email messages, but it’s nice to have it for the rest of us.)

Anonymized superabsorbent oratorical sluggardly expectorant.
Exoteric velocipedal trigamist township conglobation.
Villanous inky gowk curator walloper.

I’ve cheated just a bit and made Jayjay’s sample phrase names for his atoms have a decent grammatical form, but there’s room to do that, given that I only need to use one in a hundred of the possible phrases. If I wanted to craft my phrases even more, I could bump it up to six-word names.

But, oh oh, someone might protest that I’ll need a different set of names for different people’s bodies. In a way I don’t (if I’m just talking to my own atoms), but in a way I might (if I want to talk about other people’s atoms too).

An easy solution would be to use topynymic surnames, that is, to append the name of the owner object to an atoms name, so that Jayjay’s “Villanous inky gowk curator walloper” would have the full name “Villanous inky gowk curator walloper of Jorge ‘Jajay’ Jimenez.”

Or I could bite the bullet and assign a separate name for each atom on Earth. Once again going online, I find there are 10 to the 50th many atoms on Earth, a number which you could also call a hundred pentadecillion. I need to raise a million to the ninth power to get more than that—actually a million to the ninth is 10 to the 54th power, comfortably bigger than I need.

So I can give each atom on Earth an individual name by using nine-word names, and I can be a little picky about which nine-word phrases I use (I only need one out of ten thousand of them).

Going back to Word Browser, I get this name for this one particular atom I just breathed in:

“Hi, lurch nonmental hearty unsteadiness multiplexing putrescent unrepented immoderate nucleoplasms!”

“Hi, Rudy!”

3 Responses to “Naming Each of the Ten Octillion Atoms in Your Body”

  1. ernest ackeramnn Says:

    Very nice deduction and explanation. Suppose a person with multiple personalities all with the same surname needs to name his/her atoms?

    Word Browser is an interesting site. You can use it in a brainstorming session for domain names.

  2. Al Says:

    First if all, WHAT is that feral creature in your bag?
    A Tasmanian Devil?

    I’m curious as to what you think about Ernest’s question. It led me to wonder about cancer and other cellular chaos that organisms are prone to, how that fits into your schema.

    Your earlier comment “Everyone can relate to negative feelings; they’re in some way more universal” reminded me of the first line in Anna Karenina, something to the effect that all families are happy in the same way, but each is unhappy in it’s own way. Lately I’ve been observing the endless ways that a person can feel miserable, whereas happiness seems pretty uniform. Or is it just me?

    Since each cell in your body is in some way unique, could each one generate its own unique name based on some unique (mathematical) quality, like its number of atoms or its position vis-a-vis other cells, etc.? Something that’s encoded in its DNA maybe…. I’m no biologist, and even less of a mathematician.

    I’d like to echo Rudolf’s comment. It takes real guts to share like you do in a public forum. Thanks.

    Lastly (I can hear the sighs of relief): nice shades. Rock on, professor dude!

  3. Rudy Says:

    The feral creature is a Pomeranian named Sydney!

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