as if / Philosophy / Religion / Tsish

At the Edge of the Universe

File:Orion AR 602 radio receiver.png

I have received another message from my extraterestrial friend Tsish. As you might know, Tsish once had an encounter with the arch angel Gabriel. Problems with religion are also nothing new in the communications I receive from outer space sometimes (see Jupiter and Creationists to be sued for blasphemy). It looks like Tsish has met Gabriel again, due to some technical problems. Here is what Tsish wrote to me this time:

Dear Nannus!

I noticed that you hear from me mostly when I have been in trouble. I am a bit sorry about that. Well, the reason is that at other times, my existence up here is rather boring. I have told you before that space flight is very boring. In your – very funny – space flight movies it is portrayed as an adventure, but when you do it, and you look out of the window, there is not much change from one day to the other. The same constellations, the same black sky. The Milky Way looks nice but you get used to it. On the other hand, when I am watching your planet, my job is to write rather dry reports. In my spare time, I am playing around with my asifomat and that is when things are getting interesting.

The asifomat, as you might know, is a piece of asifomatic technology by which I can do as if certain things are there. They are not really there, they exist inside as-if-bubbles, but since I am a product of an asifomat myself, they are pretty real for me. Now, my asifomat is starting to get a little bit old, and developing faults in the mechanical parts. The real problem is that after seeing some old radios from planet earth I had become a fan of that old fashioned vintage technology look. This newly developed love for “retro” design has now caused me some trouble. You may remember that my asifomat has a rotary knob called the “channel selector”. Well, that is a design derived from vintage radio design as well. I had been unable to resist using a variable rotary capacitor connected to the rotary knob through a rubber band. Mechanical technology, totally exotic. Absolutely fascinating. However, something went wrong with the rubber band. You may remember that once a wrong positioning of the channel selector had nearly caused me to encounter the arch angel Gabriel (I think it would have been that particular angel, although I am not completely sure). Now, after some experiments, I tried to put the channel selector to zero again, but apparently it got stuck in a position just before that. A religious channel. The green “magic eye” on the device was glowing misteriously, indicating I had tuned it to that channel perfectly. I tried to turn it further, but…

The first indication that something had gone wrong was that there was suddenly some music. It did not come from any of the speakers my space ship is equipped with, it was coming from outside. Now, there is a vacuum outside, so normally there is no noise (I was not on that science fiction film channel where there normally is a lot of noise in space, produced by spaceships, their weapons and their explosions). I looked out of the window. Lots of little angels, equipped with harps and lyres, where flying around the ship, flapping their wings and playing their instruments. At some distance, I could see a big angel approaching, obviously one of those arch angels again. equipped with a large sword.

I ran over to my asifomat, trying to turn the channel selector to zero, but it was stuck. A sound not unlike that of one of those lyres came from inside the device. I tried to turn the knob the other way around and suddenly felt no resistance again. Obviously, that rubber band inside was severed, leaving that old fashioned rotary capacitor fixed in its position. I had to open the radio shaped casing to get at the real asifomat inside it, but it was too late. Before I had found my screw driver, the arch angel had stepped into my ship. It actually came right through the ship’s wall, wings flapping and all.

“What is this?” he asked. “You should not even exist!”

“Well, same to you! I cannot remember allowing you to enter into my ship”.

“So what do you think you are?”

“Well, I am an extraterrestrial and I came here to observe this planet.” I pointed to the blue ball visible behind one of the windows.

“And where do you come from?”

“From another planet, several thousand light years from here.”

“Such planets do not exist!” The angel said. “So that is not possible!”

“What do you mean, do not exist?”

“There are no other planets several thousand light years from here. There is a sphere beyond the orbit of Jupiter. You see, Earth is at the center. The Moon, the Sun and the other planets circle around it and beyond that, there is a sphere with the stars.”

I was stunned. I did not say anything for a couple of seconds. “And where do I come from if that is so?” I asked.

“That is what I am asking you!” the angel replied.

“But I have recently been beyond the orbit of Jupiter, actually near planet Neptune.”

“There is no planet by that name. Let us see. How fast can your space ship go?”

“Well, it is built with asifomatic technology. Therefore, there is no real speed limit. I can just do as if I am going somewhere”.

“So how long will it take you to go, well, about 50 million miles beyond the sphere of Jupiter?”

“You mean the orbit of Jupiter? That will take me a couple of minutes.”

“I mean the sphere of Jupiter. But it is OK, we will get into the right area. I will then show you the sphere of stars.”

I sat down at the control column of my ship. Not too far from it, I spotted my screw driver on the floor, but I could not get it now. I programmed a course and off we went.

“Now, how many – lightyears – is that your home planet away?” asked the angel.

“About 8000”, I replied, “should I show it to you? We can actually see that star from here”

“No need. You know that there is a speed limit in this universe, if we are not using what you call ‘asifomatic technology’. I mean, you know there is a speed of light as a limit?”

“Of course.”

“Aha, then you will see that what you want to show me cannot be real, don’t you?”

“I don’t understand” I said, because I actually did not understand what he was up to.

“If that ‘star’ was there and it is visible from here, how can its light have ever reached us?”

“What is the problem?” I asked, still not understanding.

“The problem is that that light would have needed 8000 years. But the time since creation is less than 6000 years. And that is the simple reason why you do not come from any such planet. There is no such planet.”

I am sure I looked rather baffled now.

“Ah, there we are”, the Angel said. “Slow down, slow down, stop, stop, stop, stop, ah, OK, now go with very low speed exactly half a mile further.”

“You mean a nautic mile or…”

“OK, to avoid misunderstandings, let us switch to the metric system, I hate it, but, OK, now 400 meters, 200, 75, 20, stop.”

Before us, there was just empty space.

“There you have it.” The Angel said.

“There I have what?” I asked.

“The sphere” he said, with something that looked like a proud smile. “The edge of the universe.”

“But I cannot see anything.” I said.

“It is quite perfect, isn’t it” he said proudly.

“But I can continue moving into that direction” I said. “Or can’t I?”

“Oh you can, but then you will be annihilated. You cease to exist. Like the tip of the space ship. In fact, that room over there does not exist.”

“That is my kitchen”, I said, “don’t you see it? You see that bottle there on the table, filled with flrx?”

“That bottle does not really exist, and that is better because that stuff, its that acetone, er, brew, isn’t it? The sphere is right in front of that door. Go there and stretch one of your arms through the door.”

I went there and not only stretched my hand, but went into the kitchen to fetch my flrx bottle. I came back and pulled the cork (I love real corks, they also give me that nice vintage feeling, one of the nice things of planet earth; of course it must be a real cork because plastic corks dissolve in flrx). The wonderfull acetonic fragrance of that my favorite drink startet filling the room.

“What do you say now?” I asked.

“If I were not an angel and well above such things I would say that stuff stinks.”

“That is not what I mean. I mean I went there and fetched the bottle, so where is that your ‘sphere’?”

“You went into the sphere and you where annihilated at its surface. The image of you in the kitchen was projected onto the sphere. The image showed you coming out of the kitchen, then you where recreated, popping out of the sphere, together with that bottle containing that stinking liquid?”

“What nonsense!” I said, “I remember that I just stayed in the kitchen.”

“Your memories have been created together with you”, said the angel.

“So the light of the stars I am seeing is created by this sphere?”

“Ah, now you are starting to understand. But it is not created by the sphere. It is created at the sphere by our creator. Isn’t it ingenious?”

“So, that your creator is telling lies to us? All of the time?”

“Well, I would not call it lies, not exactly. Originally, we just had a hard sphere here with some bright dots. But then this damned Galileo started looking up here with a telescope. And then this damned Newton found out how to build a mirror telescope. It was hard work to keep up with the technology. We had to increase the resolution several times. Then the people on earth started with space flight. Then we came up with this. Isn’t it great?” He grinned. I was a bit astonished about an arch angel using the word ‘damned’ like that.

I suddenly had an idea and it now paid off that I had once been exposed to a lot of preachings of many different religions.

“But if I am right, your holy scripture is saying: ‘Thou shalt not lie’, isn’t it?”

“Quot licet Jovi, non licet bovi” he said in Latin. My translator switched itself from its standby mode and blared “What is permissible for Jupiter is not permissible for an ox”.

“Shut up!” I said to the translator. The translator translated this into latin “Tace!” it said. I ignored it and turned to the angel.

“Oh, Jupiter it is?” I asked. The arch angel actually turned red, wings hanging down. “Ah, well, that is just a saying. It means that mortal humans have no right to…”

“Ah, I understand.” I said. During this discussion, I had managed to get nearer to the asifomat. Maybe if I could shake it a little bit… I was near enough to it now to kick it with one of my feet, and that is what I did. The arch angel seemed a little bit distorted for a moment, and there was a buzzing sound.

“Ah thank you” he said. “I am sure he told you that ‘sphere’ theory, didn’t he?” I did not know if this was good or bad. Obviously, the channel selector had moved a little bit and the arch angel was not the same as before.

“Yes, he did” I said, “and he told me that the universe is less than 7000 years old”.

“Oh yes, that is true”, the arch angel said, “actually, we considered that sphere method, but then decided it was better to create the universe actually as big as it is, you know, several billion light years across. However, it is true, it is less than 7000 years old, as the scripture is saying.”

“But that is impossible”, I said, “look at that star there, it is about 8000 light years away.

“Ah, OK, no problem. We created the light between that star and earth just as if it had come from that star. So everything looks as if it is much older but of course, it isn’t”, he said.

“So there is no sphere, no screen in space, but there is one in time?” I asked. I started feeling fed up with this.

“Of course, that is how it is. There are laws of nature and everything looks like it is nearly 14 billion years old, but actually it is just 6000 plus some. Isn’t that ingenious?”

“So your god is lying? Everything that looks older than 6000 years is fake? Everywhere in the universe, scientists are coming up with that 13 billion and some years result and then, unbeknownst to them, there is an old book on one planet in one corner of the universe that tells you that they are wrong and actually it is just  6000 something years?”

“Ingenious, isn’t it?” the angel said with a big grin.

“Isn’t that a lie?” I asked.

“Well, it is a miracle” he said. “Don’t tell me you don’t believe in miracles.”

“Oh, I sometimes doubt,” I replied, “and how is it possible. According to the theory of relativity, there is no way for things in the whole universe to happen at a defined time because you cannot establish any notion of simultaneousness, so how is that ‘screen in time’ possible.

“Ah, this Einstein thing. Gave us quite some headache. But that was a small technical problem. Let me demonstrate a miracle to you”, he said. “Are you sick, do you need any miraculous healing?”

I got an idea. “Oh, well, I need something repaired. Could you do that?”

“No problem, what is it?”

“A severed rubber band in that device.” I pointed at the spoiled asifomat. “It somehow got stuck.”

“No problem,” said the angel, “very easy”.

There suddenly was music again from outside, sounds of harps and lyres, a heavenly choir. A strange glow surrounded my asifomat. Little baby-faced angles where looking in through the windows. Had the artificial gravitation gone bad or was the asifomat actually levitating?

“Try it.” the Angel said. I turned the knob to zero. It worked perfectly. The music stopped. The glow was gone. I turned around. No angel again. What a relief. It was over.

I took my screw driver and opened the radio shaped casing. The asifomat was inside. I disconnected it from the capacitor and took it out. What a pity, that beautiful vintage radio casing. I put it into my glass cabinet, a little private museum of my favorite items from Earth. Will I ever like it again the way I did?

Yours truly


 (The picture is from Note that this is an “Orion” receiver!)

11 thoughts on “At the Edge of the Universe

    • Thank you. I am considering collecting the best ones into a book but I hope to write a few more first.

      I am not sure abouot the gender of Tsish🙂

        • I just observed that if you don’t give any explicit cue, most people will just asume male gender. Its an interesting effect. I think I will leave it open. Who knows if there is a male-female gender system everywhere?

          However, Tsish is explicitely fictitious; not only is the space ship generated with “as-if-o-matic” technology, Tsish is as-if also, so I can go on the meta-level sometimes and mix it with the story. It gives a lot of freedom. I can even introduce open contradictions. I am trying to have a few constants (like Tsish’s love of flrx, for example). The main point is to explore different philosophical ideas, and also to look at human culture from the outside, through the eyes of an outsider who can see immediately how absurd many of its aspects are. But I mix these serious aspects freely with jokes, nonsense, adventure, satire or whatever.

          Precursors of this are in some books of Lem (which I don’t claim to reach), e.g. the Cyberiade and the Stardust Diaries, which are philosophical, humoristic and satirical. There are some stories by Kurd Lasswitz, e.g. “Wie der Teufel den Professor holte” (When the Devil Took the Professor (see that come to my mind as some kind of antetype. Maybe even Voltaire’s philosophical tales (but I have not yet read much of Voltaire) and some other stuff, like Swift,or even Zhuangzi.

          Since Tsish is an as-if-ologist, a topic in several of the pieces are different ideologies, including religion. But Tsish’s as-if-o-scope is sometimes also tuned to other things. I also think about bringing out Tsish’s poetic side in the future a little bit (at least experiment in that direction).

          This is not really science fiction in the proper sense, but maybe this is real science fiction, the type of it I would enjoy to read myself.

          However, I will not force myself to write these things, but wait until they suggest themselves, so that book will grow slowly.

          • I can see leaving the gender open…the only problem is with pronouns. You could get around that since you’re writing in the first person, but if anyone refers to “him/her”, you could run into problems.

            I have to admit, I thought Tsish was a he. Maybe it’s the voice? It strikes me as masculine for sure.

            “I can even introduce open contradictions.”

            Good idea!

            I like the idea of having these letters to you…so something like an epistolary novel. That way too you can make it more like short tales that may or may not lead to an overarching plot. That would be fun to write.

            Well as you know, I loved Solaris. I think it would be quite a task to match those imaginative descriptions. But it’s always a good idea to read great books like that for inspiration!

            Kurd Lasswitz…I haven’t heard of him. I’ll check out your link there.

            The only Voltaire I read was Candide and I was a little pissed about his misunderstanding and ridiculing of Leibniz, whom I admire. I do like the “tend the garden” quote at the end of that book.

            “I will not force myself to write these things, but wait until they suggest themselves, so that book will grow slowly.”

            That’s the best way. I’m starting to feel the same way about writing. Not that long ago I was much more industrious and I’d push myself to do something each day, but I’ve learned through all this medical crap that it’s really not the biggest deal in the world if I don’t write for a while. Besides, ideas are always cooking away on the back burner.

            • That Lasswitz link is a link to a rather obscure SF magazin from 1953 that happens to contain the only English translation of that particular story I was thinking of. He was a pioneer of SF in German and his works are now open domain (he died, I think, in 1910) and are slowly being rediscovered.
              I think Voltaire did not like Leibnitz’s theory of the best of all worlds and made fun of that. Since he was a deist, he hat trouble reconciling the idea of an ifinitely wise, almighty and loving good with the suffering in the world. On the other hand, he did not want to give up theism and fought atheism as vehemently as the church. He just made fun of everything, so everybody is pissed of a little bit, but some of his satirical writings are really funny. You never know what he really thinks. But in the end, I think he achieved some positive changes in our culture.
              I don’t want to write something with a long plot about Tsish. That would become boring and does not fit the figure.
              The Lem books I mentioned are totally different from Solars. Very intelligent, very funny, satirical, philosophical, witty.

    • I have seen it (and read it to the end🙂 ). Tsish has a different metabolism from us (his favorite drink is based on acetone, I think). But such a soup based on words might be the right thing for somebody with an as-if nature who is investigating ideologies and religions.

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