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I am trying to remember the name of a short story I heard on radio 4 about 15 years ago.

A civilization builds a giant computer to answer their deepest questions. With great fanfare they turn the computer on. As the machine starts all the people gathered to watch the event stop moving, they stop thinking.

The idea is that the thoughts of the people come from their environment. The mind is a filter for the thoughts of the universe, allowing them to be experienced. Hence the mind is not the originator of thought. The computer, being so powerful, sucked the thoughts from the universe before the people. And so the people fell silent, without thought.

I thought it was utter nonsense at the time, but I have come back to revisit these ideas and would really like to read/listen to the story again...

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    Is the answer 42? – Valorum Feb 12 '14 at 15:10
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    For what it's worth, I've seen people refer to the concept of ideas existing as a space outside of human consciousness as the "noosphere", so it would not surprise me if using that term might point you in the right direction. – FuzzyBoots Feb 26 '14 at 21:54
3

The story you are looking for is Song of the Silencer by Brian Aldiss.

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    Can you please add some data points to back your answer and why you think Song of the Silencer is story OP is looking for – HBhatia Mar 29 '16 at 6:02
  • This is it. Thank you very much, I was beginning to think I might have dreamt it! – Marcus Mar 30 '16 at 15:06
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Could this be the Harlan Ellison tale 'I have no mouth and I must scream’ which was broadcasted on bbc r4 in 2002.

This site gives a description:

http://www.otrplotspot.com/bbc.html

Following Humanity's destruction at the 'hands' of a conscious super-computer, five people are kept 'alive' in its belly for its sadistic amusement.

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    No, I've read that story and it has nothing to do with sucking thoughts out of people, nor does it show the creation of the computer. It's just a computer that really, really hates humanity a la Skynet, so it killed off nearly all of them and kept a few as playthings. – Hypnosifl Jul 14 '14 at 23:43
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It sounds like the Multivac from the Asimov books... Franchise maybe ? Or Last Question ?

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    Definite similarities betweens the OPs question, and Asimov's, "The Last Question". Though the only question humanity asks the computer is, "How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?" In effect, how can the predicted end of the universe be stopped? The computer does not suck the thoughts from humanity, but exists in hyperspace and survives when this predicted end occurs. – Firebat Oct 3 '14 at 5:39
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams. It is now a 5 book series, but was originally broadcasted (of course, shorter versions than the books) in I believe 12-13 pieces. The books contradict many of the ideas, but that is pretty off topic. The Ultimate Answer was 42, and took 7.5 million years to answer, then another 10 million to find the Ultimate Question.

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    There's no scene depicted in that book where the computer (Deep Thought) sucks the thoughts out of people, as you said it just takes a really long time and then gives a seemingly meaningless answer. – Hypnosifl Dec 28 '14 at 22:46

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