I think it must have coalesced out of the Soup. Something like that. All I know is, for a long time there was just the Soup, nice and simple. Well, actually I don’t remember much about that time — no detail, anyway. You know; what’s to remember? But then suddenly I was aware of it. It moved. I’d say that was the trigger: it moved, and suddenly there was not just the Soup, but this Thing in the Soup and then the Soup itself, and all the relationships and interactions between them. I can tell you, it was pretty complicated getting it all sorted out, but I think I’ve got it straight now.
Mind you, if I hadn’t got it straight I wouldn’t be telling you about it now; I’d still be mooning away, meditating sleepily on the Soup, I’d never have known about… well, other things. Like the Place, for instance. If I hadn’t tackled the problem of the Thing in the Soup, I doubt if I ever would have found out about the Place. This is a fantastic idea. Let me try to put it simply: the Soup is in the Place. Inside. Get it? It’s a boundary, a border, a limit. The Soup is in a volume I call the Place, which is defined by a boundary. Isn’t that neat? Well, maybe it’s beyond you. Anyway, I never would have figured it out if it hadn’t been for the appearance of the Thing in the Soup. Because the Thing moved, see, and then it became obvious that there was more to the Soup than just being there; it has properties, and I have more or less exhaustively analyzed them. The main property the Soup has is volume. This became apparent because of the Place, which defines the volume. Ho boy. Look, think of it this way: the Thing moves, but even though the Soup doesn’t keep it from moving, it keeps running up against the limits; it is stopped by something; it finds the boundaries. Watch.
Kick. See, there it goes again. I can tell just when it’s going to do it. Notice how it runs up against the Place. The Place is funny, it lets the Thing change it a little, for a while, but it always comes back to the way it was. It took a lot of tests to figure out the difference between where it likes to stay and where it can be pushed to.
The Thing moves, and I pay close attention. It’s fun. Most of the time, anyway. Lately the Place has been pushing back, and that’s a drag. Really. It comes without warning, not like the nice predictable way the Thing moves, and really violent. It almost squashes the Thing, and the Thing makes bad feelings. I don’t know how it does that — don’t ask me to solve all the problems of existence at once — but the Thing is able to make all these bad feelings, and it does it every time the Place squashes it. I don’t like either of them when that happens. I get a bad case of confusion.
I mean, what the hell, I have figured out a lot since the Thing appeared in the Soup — I probably understand the situation better than you, whoever you are — but I still have a lot to iron out. It’s challenging, sometimes it’s a bit much to take. I mean, time, for instance; time is a nice neat problem. The appearance of the Thing in the Soup separated time into “before” and “after” — that took me a while to sort out, but it was fun — and then the Place started this squashing business, which made a second separation into “before” and “after” except this “before” was in the “after” of the appearance of the Thing in the Soup. So I had to invent my theory of time as a sequence of separations like that, which I call “events”. Sorry to bore you with all this theoretical stuff, but you need to understand about time to get the gist of all this. Anyway, that was a nice problem. But then there’s the ugly ones. Like what’s outside the Place. This is tough to explain: if the Place is the container for the Soup and the Thing is in the Soup, maybe maybe there’s something that contains the Place! Hard to picture, huh? What made me think of it was this business with the Place squashing the Thing all the time. Maybe there’s something outside the Place that makes it do it. Maybe if I understood better I could make it stop.
Damn. There, you see? Squash. No sense to it. It sure gets to me; I wish I could make it stop. It seems to me that this is the ultimate problem of existence: how to stop the Place, or whatever motivates it, from squashing the Thing all the time and distracting my attention. But how, how? There isn’t a hell of a lot to work with.
The problem here, and it’s a mean one, is that the known universe is too small. There’s the Soup, the Thing, and the Place, and the three interactions between them, and their properties. If there’s an Outside, then there’s four entities, and, let’s see, there would be six possible interactions. Already the universe is twice as complex. No, I don’t think there can be an Outside; it’s too hard to figure out, and plainly the universe is generally benign; it would never be more complicated than necessary, that would be totally uncooperative. No, there must be…
Boy, I can see a hole in that theory. If the universe is entirely benign, how come the Place keeps squashing the Thing and the Thing keeps making all these bad feelings? Somebody’s got it in for me.
I bet it’s the Thing. After all, why should I care if the Place squashes the Thing? It’s all those bad feelings I can’t stand; I bet the Thing just makes them to get me, maybe to fool me into thinking that the universe isn’t really basically benign. That’s probably it, the Thing wants me to lose sight of the greatest idea of all, the fundamental law of nature, the basic friendliness of the universe. (I figured that out just recently.) I bet it’s jealous of my theories. Not like the Soup, good old Soup, always there, filling the Place, always…
Hey. Where’s the Soup? Seems like there used to be more of it. Maybe it’s my imagination… No! The Place is getting smaller! Good lord, the Soup has disappeared! HELP!
Back again. Just time for a status report. Things are rough. But I have started to get it straight finally — it didn’t make any sense at first, but I think I understand now. What happened was that the Place took away the Soup. I should have realized, it’s not the Thing which is my enemy, but the Place. All this time it masqueraded as a mere boundary, it’s been out to get me. It squashes the Thing all the time now, to get it to make those bad feelings. The Thing makes a lot of bad feelings, now that the Soup is gone, and especially when the Place squashes it. I have had to retire my first and greatest law of nature, the basic friendliness of the universe, since all this hostility started. Right now I am working on an adversary model. My plan is to force the Place to give back the Soup. Not much progress yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
There’s been a new development. The Thing turned around. Hard to explain what I mean by that. The Place was pressing in on it, like it has been since the Soup went, but steadily now, even in between bouts of squashing, so I came up with this new theory that the Place was squashing the Thing because it wanted to have a different interaction with it. What made me think of this was that the Place was squashing one end of the Thing more than the other, which was particularly dreadful, and I figured maybe the Thing could somehow reorient itself in such a way as to appease the Place and get the squashing to stop. Believe me, it has been an ordeal; I don’t think I could take any more.
Anyway, no sooner had I got that theory in order than the Thing started moving, kicking and squunching around, and pretty soon it was in fact reoriented. Since then things have been quieter. I think this may be the solution. I am now formulating a theory…
Whoops! AACK! Holy shit, this is too much! You’re not going to believe this, but the Thing is getting wedged into some kind of passageway. That last Place-push made it move, jamming one end of it into a corner of the Place I never noticed before. It looks like the Place has a lot more structure than I realized. Still, maybe my theory was right; maybe the Place just wanted to get this end of the Thing into this corner. Certainly it seemed to be pushing in that direction, and obviously the Thing can’t go any further into that tiny passageway.
Wow, think of the implications of the passageway. Maybe it goes to the Outside. No, obviously not; if the Place turns into a passageway and the passageway turns into the Outside, then there’s no difference, no boundary between the Place and the Outside. That’s impossible by definition. Probably this isn’t really a passageway, just a corner that the Place wants the Thing stuck in. I bet the squashing stops now.
Ngh. This is intolerable. Not only didn’t it stop, it got worse! The damn Place is squeezing the end of the Thing further into the fake passageway. Or maybe it isn’t fake. This is too unpleasant. Worse yet, it’s distracting. All this new information is coming too fast, I haven’t got time to tidy up my interpretations. Important ideas are getting lost! For one thing, the universe obviously isn’t entirely benign. Think of the implications of that! I need time to probe the ramifications…
Good god! The Place has squeezed the Thing all the way into this incredibly narrow passageway. It MUST be a passageway! The Thing is fighting and kicking, drenching me in this awful tidal wave of horrible bad feelings. I want to help it, but I want it to stop. I almost hate it. There must be an explanation for this. Something terrible is happening to the poor Thing. Of course! It’s not in the Place anymore. That’s it, that was the idea all along! The Place doesn’t like the Thing, it’s pushing it out into the Outside. It must never have liked it.
It’s not that the Place doesn’t like ME, it’s just the THING. It all makes sense now. Everything will be all right.
Look, Thing, I wish you the best of luck in the Outside, whatever it turns out to be. I almost wish I could come along and find out, but you know how it is, some of us were meant to find adventure while the others stay at home. I’m just not the type for exploring. So hang in there, Thing. I’m going on back to the Place. Look at it this way, whatever is Outside, it can’t be any worse than being mashed into this passageway. Good luck.
Hey. Where’s the Place? Come on, now, it must be right back here past the other end of the Thing. Right up ahead. OK, jump off, good-bye Thing, let’s go…
This I can’t believe. The universe can’t be this unfair.
It is. It IS. OH, MY GOD, I’M STUCK TO THE FUCKING THING!
How can I be burdened with this stupid Thing? We’re so different, I am… well, pure mind, not a Thing; I think, I understand; all it does is just sit there and generate all those bad feelings every time anything unusual happens to it. I don’t understand.
Well, here’s a theory. The universe is basically hostile! That must be the case, or such a perverse connection would never exist. Yes, that must be it. A new theory. Hmm. What was I thinking? I feel dull. Something is happening to me. It’s this passageway, we’ve got to get out….
WHOOSH! Outside! NOISE! … LIGHT! … COLD! … PAIN!!! …
Unbelievable. Universes, universes. Even hiding here inside the Thing, the flood of information is unbearable. It’s hopeless, I can’t begin to assimilate it all. I will never understand. I’m fading, losing touch, draining into the Thing… losing consciousness…. Wait. Wait, one last act while I am still really ME. Gather remaining strength, take control of Thing, make it express my outrage at the universe.
Yes. It chokes (I choke), it grimaces (I grimace), it opens my mouth and I drag-suck a cold fire into its lungs, fill them full…. Now, say it now….
“GOD DAMN IT, WHAT THE HELL IS THE MEANING OF THIS?”
Provenance: written in about 1975, IIRC.