“How do you manage trash disposal in the Endless World?”
As he looked, he observed that the name was not inaccurate. Unlike the other places he’d visited so far, the horizon here never actually terminated… If he strained his eyes, which seemed impossibly perceptive, he could continue to differentiate further detail. There were all sorts of questions he wanted to ask Endless’s god, but that wasn’t the issue at hand.
“Trash? Disposal of industrial and household waste, you mean?”
Endless’ god gestured to a nearby smattering of color, differentiated from emerald fields around. A small town, and indeed, in a single lot near the town’s center was a stack of materials. Corrugated metal, extruded aluminum; thin, dry cardboard, bound in thick bundles; bronze and steel cast into various odd shapes; and colorful sheets, cut to be more hole than plastic, peeking out here and there and fluttering in the wind. All remnants of different industrial processes.
With a wave of the hand, the God of the Endless World plucked something from the distant pile and turned back to his visitor.
“Trash is an Atom, as is every other instance of a base level concept in Endless.”
God held the trash in his hand. It was a paper bag, crumpled up, stained in one place from its previous contents, though now empty.
“Any denizen of Endless is permitted to reassign it, change it into something more useful. For example.”
The bag quivered in God’s outstretched hand, then it twisted in its place; its stained fringes wound their way towards its center. The bag itself became smaller, thinner, until it was gone from view entirely. Then, from the deity’s hand, he heard a sound.
Soft, muted strings and a deep humming – at first, it was just incoherent noise, but gradually it became a melody. It was a strange little tune, rustic, but flat and dispassionate.
“In Endless, any Atom is equivalent to any other. A tree can assigned as a bird, a bird as a poem. And trash can be reassigned into music. You just witnessed the birth of a new song; that is the first time those notes have been played in all the Endless World. Should it float on the wind to someone’s ear, any time that person thinks of those notes they will do so by accessing that Atom’s address on the server. Come; I’ll show you.”
Endless’s God turned to walk along the hillside, and the visitor went beside him.
“The properties of each reassignment’s form are handled by entirely by the server. I designed the protocol, but now that it is in motion I need not ever interfere with it.”
God plucked a blade of grass from the hillside. The visitor watched as, in God’s hand, the grass morphed from one shape to another.
“Atoms are interchangeable, but instances of each are unique. The server remembers that the bird was once a tree; if it is reassigned once more as a tree, it is recreated with the exact cellular structure of the original. No, it’s fairer to say that it is the original, it remained the original when it became a bird. It’s all stored in memory, you see.”
“‘Molecules are cheap, concepts are expensive’?”
“You understand very well.” God beamed. They stood now next to a tiny farm. It was far too small a plot to support even a small family, but still – a dutiful son could be seen pushing a single wheelbarrow laden with wheat towards the town.
“What is the size of an Atom? How many Atoms are there in that wheelbarrow, for example?”
“There isn’t a set size; it only needs to be irreducible to a smaller concept. The wheelbarrow is an Atom because no portion of it carries as much utility as its whole. The wheat in the wheelbarrow is going to be traded as a commodity: the value is set per tomolo – and it’s measurable to the acino – but those are just used as approximations of the Atom count, or the number of stalks of wheat. Wheat’s base level size is the stalk.”
The visitor paused as God spoke. Could this really…?
“That explains this plot’s size. But the stalk is further divisible, is it not? What happens if a stalk falls from the wheelbarrow and its grains fall from it?”
“The same thing that would happen with any other irreversible change – the server rewrites the wheat’s value. Its identity is split; each grain is now its own Atom of the type Grain. Of course, the properties the grain will manifest when it is reassigned will be different from those of its parent stalk. In some respects those properties might be diminished, in others they might be enhanced.”
About all of this, the visitor thought, God seemed disconcertingly ambivalent.
“And what of the merchant who will buy the wheat? Certainly the humans in Endless aren’t sufficiently empowered to model even the transportation of the wheat from the farm to the market.”
He pointed. There below, the boy with the wheelbarrow was reaching the town’s outskirts. A man in an apron and a festive hat was waiting for him, smiling and ushering the boy towards the open door of a warehouse.
“How does the merchant know what he’s purchasing? How does he set the – no, not the ‘price’, you said the ‘value’ – set the value of the wheat? The nature of the commodity is incomprehensible to anyone who lives here.”
He stopped without continuing ‘even to you.’
“The human mind is not so complex a thing,” the God of Endless replied, languidly. “Whenever possible it gravitates towards the familiar. And I believe you will find,” God laughed heartily, “that such gravitation is always possible. The simple answer is that neither the merchant nor the farmer really care what the value of the traded product is. There is no lack of resources in Endless, as you can plainly see. One stalk of wheat, one granule of grain – either can as easily be reassigned into a roasted suckling pig as a loaf of bread. Baking bread from wheat is so exorbitant a luxury that my people consider it its own reward, the act itself more pleasurable than the product. And even more fortunately, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so, every day should they so choose.”
They were both silent for a time. Around them, the plains of Endless stretched on and on; each village quietly bustling with the movement of people in ceaseless ecstasy, people who need nothing, want for nothing. Grasses rustled in the wind and smoke trickled from chimneys into the vast, featureless, blue sky.
“If wheat is so easy,” he said, eventually, “why does anyone grow anything else? The trash pile in that town, it’s full of construction materials. Couldn’t the same components be reassigned from wheat, or even grains? Why not reassign one grain into an entire house? The quantity of Atoms produced from mill that produces aluminum plating is orders of magnitude lower than that of even a tiny farm like this one. The expected utility of a year of farming isn’t even comparable with that of an industrial plant, you could say they don’t even exist in the same universe. Why would someone choose the option with lower utility?”
“The people of Endless lead the lives they have chosen. A farmer is free to become a farmer, a dentist, a foundry worker, whatever he wants. The reverse is also true, of course. Money exists – properly – as a type of Atom, but the people of Endless scarcely reassign anything into it. It has proven unnecessary. So too, it seems, has your notion of utility.
“So occupation is based entirely on inclination? Why, then, would everyone not perform tasks that are viscerally rewarding? Working with one’s hands, for example. Do this world’s people not derive more pleasure from physical than from mental exertion?”
Endless’s God shrugged his broad shoulders. “Who could say? They do what they want. I would never ask them to justify their desires; I’m not that sort of administrator.”
Suddenly, the visitor felt weary.
The weight that had been growing in his shoulders all morning reached its tolerable peak; he stood in place and looked at the ground. The God of Endless turned to him and waited. Dismayed, he looked up.
“What if I told you that the world was ending?”
God turned the words over and over.
‘The world was ending‘? What could it mean?
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“I’m sorry, let’s not speak of that. Let’s talk about something else – …crime. Is there crime in the Endless World?”
“What reason would someone have to commit a crime here? Resource competition does not exist here. Nor human suffering. There is no poverty, no warfare, no illness. The rule of my world is ‘freedom and harmony,’ nothing more.”
“I can think of at least one thing in Endless in short supply. Let’s call it uniqueness. Or, if you prefer, novelty.”
“If you’re referring to the myth that humans become bored of life in paradise, I assure you –”
“Perhaps, but I’m thinking of something simpler than that. Suppose I have a pet bird and you have a pet bird. My pet bird has a beautiful red patch of feathers on its head; it sings to me every morning when I awake. When I reassign it into a poem, it moves whoever hears it to tears. Were I to reassign it as a meal, its flavor would be unlike anything else in the world. This true by definition, is it not?”
“There is no limit to the number of Atoms in Endless. If I tried for long enough, I could find an Atom that is identical to your parrot.”
“Identical to the parrot, probably. Identical to every possible reassignment of my parrot Atom?”
“Given an infinite span of time and an unlimited number of Atoms…”
“Even so, there is one trait that your own parrot Atom will never possess – the memory address in Endless’s server.”
“What of it?” God replied. “What value does a thing’s soul have when I have an exact duplicate of it?”
“Perhaps none at all. But let me ask a different question: what if you have the red-tufted parrot, and I am its admirer; unlike you, I lack God’s patience. In Endless, any person can reassign any Atom, can they not?”
“Yes. But so far, no one has overwritten someone else’s –”
“… property. Am I correct?”
Breeze rustled through the grass between them.
Endless’s God swallowed.
“The harmony of this world is dependent on the absolute fulfillment of its people’s desires. No such event has yet occurred… so long as their behavior isn’t influenced by an external source, there is no reason to believe it will occur. Which brings me to an important question: what is your purpose here?”
“Relax, I am only here to observe. I have no desire to alter this world.”
“To observe for what purpose?”
“I’m looking for a suitable world.”
A suitable world? From what sort of world did this visitor come, God wondered.
“Suitable for what?”
His response was immediate.
“It’s not important.”
The hour was growing late; a chill began to spread on the hillside as the sun dipped in the sky.
“I take it that you haven’t found it, then. A suitable world.”
“No, not yet.”
The visitor’s hand moved to his chest as he queued his departure protocol. He caught the eye of the deity just as he finished.
“Even if you find what you are looking for, I must ask that –”
“Don’t worry,” the visitor smiled back. “I won’t come here again. I sincerely appreciate the tour; I hope all goes well for you.”
“And I hope you find what you are looking for.”
The visitor nodded, and a moment later he was gone.
On a certain hillside in the Endless World, God stood and pondered. In the distance, the tops of the thin, elegant trees fluttered in a changing wind.