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Uncleftish Beholding

The excerpts below are from Poul Anderson, 1989, "Uncleftish Beholding", Analog Science Fact / Science Fiction Magazine (mid-December). It is reprinted (with a translation into more standard English) in Douglas Hofstadter, "Speechstuff and Thoughtstuff", Sture AllÚn (ed.), Of Thoughts and Words: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 92, London: Imperial College Press. These excerpts are printed in Douglas Hofstadter, 1997, Le Ton Beau de Marot: in praise of the music of language, London: Bloomsbury.


For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.

The underlying kinds of stuff are the firststuffs, which link together in sundry ways to give rise to the rest. Formerly we knew of ninety-two firststuffs, from waterstuff, the lightest and barest, to ymirstuff, the heaviest. Now we have made more, such as aegirstuff and helstuff.

The firststuffs have their being as motes called unclefts. These are mighty small: one seedweight of waterstuff holds a tale of them like unto two followed by twenty-two naughts. Most unclefts link together to make what are called bulkbits. Thus, the waterstuff bulkbit bestands of two waterstuff unclefts, the sourstuff bulkbit of two sourstuff unclefts, and so on. (Some kinds, such as sunstuff, keep alone; others, such as iron, cling together in chills when in the fast standing; and there are yet more yokeways.) When unlike unclefts link in a bulkbit, they make bindings. Thus, water is a binding of two waterstuff unclefts with one sourstuff uncleft, while a bulkbit of one of the forestuffs making up flesh may have a thousand or more unclefts of these two firststuffs together with coalstuff and chokestuff.

At first it was thought that the uncleft was a hard thing that could be split no further; hence the name. Now we know it is made up of lesser motes. There is a heavy kernel with a forward bernstonish lading, and around it one or more light motes with backward ladings. The least uncleft is that of everyday waterstuff. Its kernel is a lone forwardladen mote called a firstbit. Outside it is a backwardladen mote called a bernstonebit. The firstbit has a heaviness about 1840-fold that of the bernstonebit. Early worldken folk thought bernstonebits swing around the kernel like the Earth around the Sun, but now we understand they are more like waves or clouds.

Some of the higher samesteads are splitly. That is, when a neitherbit strikes the kernel of one – as, for a showdeal, ymirstuff-235 – it bursts it into lesser kernels and free neitherbits; the latter can then split more ymirstuff-235. When this happens, weight shifts into work. It is not much of the whole, but nevertheless it is awesome.

With enough strength, lightweight unclefts can be made to togethermelt. In the Sun, through a row of strikings and lightrottings, four unclefts of waterstuff in this wise become one of sunstuff. Again, some weight is lost as work, and again this is greatly big when set beside the work gotten from a minglingish doing such as fire.

Today we wield both kinds of uncleftish doings in weapons, and kernelish splitting gives us heat and bernstoneness. We hope to do likewise with togethermelting, which would yield an unhemmed wellspring of work for mankindish goodgain. Soothly we live in mighty years.

For although light oftenest behaves as a wave, it can be looked on as a mote – the lightbit. We have already said by the way that a mote of stuff can behave not only as a chunk, but also as a wave. Down among the unclefts, things do not happen in steady flowings, but in leaps over midway bestandings that are forbidden. The knowledge-hunt of this is called lump beholding.

Nor are stuff and work unakin. Rather, they are groundwise the same, and one can be shifted into the other. The kinship between them is that work is like unto weight manifolded by the fourside of the haste of light.


In case you hadn't guessed, the piece is an exposition of atomic theory ("uncleftish beholding") with all words of Latin, Greek or Arabic origin excised and replaced with pure Anglo-Saxon neologisms. Nice.


Last modified 2002-05- 1 12:40 BST