The Ecphorizer

The Pond of Kabbalah
Gareth Penn

Issue #36 (August 1984)

Lovecraft would have loved it!

It narrowly missed being the title of a book by Henry David Thoreau. It missed it, in fact, by only a quarter of a mile. It had to defer its claim to fame for a century and a half. Now it is high time that Little Goose Pond receives the recognition that it is due.


...odds against such a thing must be astronomical.

Goose Pond is a small body of water at Walden Pond State Reserve in Massachusetts. There is nothing particularly remarkable about it physically. All it is is a depression in the landscape, and not a very big one at that, which is filled with water. Nearby, there is a larger pond, which is called simply Goose Pond. At one time or another, these ponds may have been visited by migratory eponymous geese. It seems likely, however, that all of the ponds in the vicinity of Concord, which is the nearest city, would have been used by wild geese. Neither of these two ponds, then, is distinguished by being the exclusive local habitat of geese. Probably when names were being given to the local geological features, all of the likely names for ponds had been used up, and these two got the name "Goose" by default. But it is this name which, appearances aside, makes them so remarkable.

The planet on which we live is criss-crossed by imaginary lines of latitude and longitude. The fact that they express a division of the circle into 360 degrees, and each degree into 60 minutes, and each minute into 60 seconds, is a matter of arbitrary happenstance; mils or radians, or any other system of mensuration of the circle, would have done as well. Each of these lines is assigned a number, based on the further arbitrary convention that the Equator is zero degrees of latitude, and that the meridian passing through Greenwich, England, is zero degrees of longitude. While this arrangement is more systematic than the nomenclature of ponds in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it is no less arbitrary.

The numbers of geographic coordinates can, like any other numbers, be written to any base. By convention, they are written to the base ten. But they can just as easily be written to the base two. Base-two numbers are interchangeable in form with Morse Code, which is a system of writing letters of the alphabet with a binary set of symbols. Substitute the numeral "1" for dash, "0" for dot, and you can write any word as a number (excepting those beginning with the 13 letters of the alphabet which start with dot in Morse).

Little Goose Pond is about 4 seconds west of the meridian 71° 20'. It is a somewhat greater angular distance north of the parallel 42° 26'. Rounded off to degrees and minutes, its coordinates are 71° 20' West, 42° 26' North. Here is a comparison of the spelling of those numbers in binary and two common words in Morse:

 7120 =  1101111010000
 GOOSE =  1101111110000
 4226 =  1000010000010
 BASIN =  1000010000010

It isn't perfect. "7120" and "GOOSE" differ from one another by one digit (out of thirteen). And "BASIN" is only a synonym for "pond" (my Webster defines "basin," among other things, as "an enclosed body of water"). "Pond," incidentally, is one of the words you can't write as a number, since the Morse "P" is 0110. Even so, the coincidence is startling. The statistical odds against such a thing must be astronomical. There can't be more than a handful of such coincidences per planet, and there are probably no others on this one at all. Is the invisible hand of Kabbalah at work here? Or did the Massachusetts pond-naming authority figure out the longitude and latitude of this pond, translate the resulting numbers into binary, and then examine them for permutations that spell words in Morse Code? It must be nothing more than coincidence.

But even coincidence can be ominous. When something happens whose probability is vanishingly small, it means that all the permutations of chance have been used up. At any moment, the White Queen will exclaim, "Something is about to happen!" and there is no telling what it will be. Next weekend, at a church social potluck somewhere in Nebraska, everyone will bring orangeade. Some Dyak mother in central Borneo will give birth to a child who has one of your great-grandfather's fingerprints. All bets are now off; anything can happen.

As this issue is being assembled and uploaded in October, 2007, my web site analysis program, Mint, has shown an awful lot of searches on the name "Gareth Penn."  He even has his own entry in Wikipedia.

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