In Fall of Hyperion, the Core AI Ummon periodically interjects his koans and oddly-formatted comments with


What does this mean? Is it a made-up expletive? If so, why would a computer AI feel the need to use such a term? Particularly a "philosopher" AI?

Is there a background to this word? I was able to find an author by the name of Paul Kwatz, who wrote a book addressing free will called Conscious Robots. While this seems to hit extremely close to home, particularly with the role that Ummon takes within the story, unfortunately the book appears to have been published well after Fall of Hyperion. Still, is there a relation?

  • You also have the German word "Quatsch": german.stackexchange.com/questions/84/how-rude-is-quatsch – Stoffisimo Mar 7 '13 at 12:50
  • 2
    I fail to understand the close vote (too broad) on this one. The fact that I provided a well researched, accepted answer is incidental to this opinion. The question by Beofett is restricted to a particular SciFi novel series and asks a legitimate question. In what way is the question too broad ? – Stan Jul 12 '13 at 19:50
  • @Beofett Does someone have an issue with your questions ? I went into the review queue today and it had 17 questions in the VTC queue. Every single one of them was a question you asked. I've flagged this one for moderator attention. – Stan Jul 12 '13 at 20:10
  • @Stan Thanks for the heads up Stan. We're looking into it. – user1027 Jul 12 '13 at 20:28

A google search for 'Kwatz' generates quite a number of references within Zen and has a history with it. From what I see, it appear that the term is an exclamatory utterance (a nonsense word ?) that does not allow any analytical or intellectual interpretation. Am not familiar with 'Fall of Hyperion' but you state that the term is interjected in koans and that would be very consistent with the Zen use of Kwatz and makes sense given the context you state.

From Zen:The Solitary Bird

Kwatz! is a Zen stick. When the master does not have the stick with him, this is a substitute for it. He shouts, "Kwatz!". With that shout he his hitting you to understand a simple thing. No question, no answer. Just be.

Kwatz! It is a sound, found by Zen, that shatters your mind. At least for the moment, you simply remain silent, amazed - because it is not language, you have not expected it. ...

From Awakening Way Zen - Kwatz.

"Kwatz" is a term fondly regarded by many Zen students because it humorously and engagingly sums up 9th Century Chinese Zen Master Linji's frustration with the idea that "truth" or "meaning" could be something words could ever hope to represent.

There are records of it's (Kwatz!) use within Zen a millennia ago . I came across a very dry article in the Sociological Quarterly with this tidbit.

The Chinese Zen master Linchi (Rinzai) (d. 866 C.E.) was famous for responding to questions by exclaiming "Kwatz!" which has no literal meaning.

As additional support for this interpretation, your question says the name of the AI is Ummon. This is also the name of a Zen master (Ummon Bun'en Zenji [Japanese]) who lived during the golden age of Zen in T'ang Dynasty China (864-949 AD). He was known as Un Num in Korea and Yun Men in China. See Ummon

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