THE UNTHINKING DESTROYER
by ROG PHILLIPS
Gordon and Harold both admitted
the possibility of thinking entities other
than human. But would they ever recognize
the physical form of some of these beings?
Gordon Marlow, Ph.D.,
straightened up and turned
in the direction of the voice, the garden
trowel dangling in his dirt-stained white
canvas glove. His wide mouth broke
into a smile that revealed even white
teeth. It was Harold Harper, an undergraduate
student, who had called.
"Hop over the fence and come in,"
He dropped the trowel and, taking
off his work gloves, reached into his
pocket and extracted an old pipe. He
filled it, the welcoming smile remaining
on his lips, while Harold Harper approached,
stepping carefully between
the rows of carrots, cabbages, and cauliflower.
Harold held a newspaper in his
hand. When he reached Gordon Marlow
he held it open and pointed to the
headline. ROBOT ROCKET SHIP
Gordon took the paper and read the
item, puffing slowly and contentedly on
his old pipe. His eyes took on an interested
look when he came to the reporter's
speculations on the possibility
of intelligent life on Mars.
Finally he handed the newspaper
back to Harold.
"You know, Harold," he said, "I
wonder if they would recognize intelligent
life if they saw it on other planets."
"Of course they would," Harold replied.
"Regardless of its form there
would be artifacts that only intelligent
life could create."
"Would there?" Gordon snorted. "I
He squatted down, picking up the
trowel and lazily poking it into the
rich soil at his feet.
"That's why I wonder," he continued.
"We are so prone to set up tests
on what intelligent life is that we are
likely to miss it entirely if it doesn't
conform exactly to our preconceived
notions. We assume that if a being is
intelligent it must get the urge to build
artifacts of some kind—pots and vases,
houses, idols, machinery, metal objects.
But MUST it? In order to do so it
must have hands and perhaps legs.
Suppose it doesn't have such things?
Suppose that no matter how intelligent
it might be, it could not do those
"Then it wouldn't be intelligent,
would it?" Harold asked, puzzled.
"We are assuming it is," Gordon
said patiently. "There are other outlets
for intelligence than making clay
pots. As a last resort for an intelligent
being there is always—thinking."
He chuckled at his joke.
Harold held a newspaper in his hands.
"I've often wondered what it would
be like to be a thinking, reasoning being
with no powers of movement whatsoever.
With bodily energy provided
automatically by environment, say,
and all the days of life with nothing
to do but think. What a chance for a
philosopher! What depths of thought
he might explore. What heights of
intellectual perception he might attain.
And if there were some means of contact
with others of his kind, so that all
could pool their thoughts and guide the
younger generation, what progress such
a race might make!"
"And so we see," Ont telepathed,
"that there must be a Whole of
which each of us is a part only. The
old process which says 'I think, therefore
I am,' has its fallacy in the statement,
'I think.' It assumes that that
assertion is axiomatic and basic, when
in reality it is the conclusion derived
from a long process of mental introspection.
It is a theory rather than an
"But don't you think, Ont," Upt replied,
"that you are confusing the noumenon
with the phenomenon? What
I mean is, the fact of thinking is there
from the very start or the conclusion
couldn't be reached; and the theoretical
conclusion, as you call it, is merely
the final recognition of something basic
and axiomatic that was there all the
"True," Ont replied. "But still, to
the thinking mind, it is a theory and not
an axiom. All noumena are there before
we arrive at an understanding of them.
Thought, if it exists as such, is also
there. But the theoretical conclusion
I think has no more degree of certainty
than any other thing the mind
can deal with. To say 'I think' is to
assert the truth of an hypothesis which
MAY be true, but not necessarily so.
And then to conclude, 'Therefore I
am,' is to advance one of the most
shaky conclusions of all time. Underneath
that so-called logical conclusion
lies a metaphysics of being, a theory of
Wholes, a recognition by differentiation
of parts, with a denial of all but the
one part set apart by that differentiation,
and, in short, the most irrational
hodgepodge of contradictory conclusions
the thinking mind can conceive.
This pre-cognition that enables one to
arrive at the tenuous statement, 'I
think, therefore I am,' is nicely thrown
out by tagging it with another metaphysical
intangible called illusion—as
if the mind can separate illusion from
reality by some absolute standard."
"I believe you're right, Ont," Upt
replied slowly, his telepathed thoughts
subdued with respect. "It is possible
that the concept, 'I think,' is the illusion,
while the so-called illusions are
"Even without the benefit of past
thoughts," Gordon was saying,
whacking off a weed a yard away and
nearly upsetting himself, "a mind with
nothing to do but think could accomplish
miracles. Suppose it was not
aware of any other thinking entity,
though it might be surrounded by such
similar entities. It would be born or
come into existence some way, arrive
at self-awareness and certain other
awarenesses to base its thinking on,
depending on its structure, and—"
he looked up at Harold startled at his
own conclusion—"it might even arrive
at the ultimate solution to all reality
and comprehend the foundations of the
"And eventually be destroyed without
any other entity having the benefit
of it all," Harold commented dryly.
"What a pity that would be," Gordon
murmured. "For the human race
to struggle for hundreds of years, and
have some unguessable entity on Mars
do all that in one lifetime—and it all
go to waste while some blundering ass
lands on Mars and passes it by, looking
"But that is only the start in the
blunders contained in that most
profound philosophical revelation of
old," Ont stated. "After arriving at a
precarious conclusion about existence
the ancients were not satisfied. They
had to say, 'If I am I must have been
created!' Then they go on and say,
'If I was created there must be a Creator!'
And thus they soar from their
precarious perch in existence, soar on
nonexistent wings, and perch on the
essence of evanescence! They do not
recognize the alternative—that to exist
does not necessarily imply a beginning.
They do not recognize it because they
have derived all their tools from reality
around them and then denied the
reality while accepting the validity of
the tools of thought derived from it.
And in this way they arrive at an absolute
existence of Something they
have never sensed or felt in any way,
while denying all that they have felt
and sensed, and give it attributes which
their sense of idealism dictates it must
have, and call it God."
"Then," Upt said thoughtfully, "I
take it you are an atheist?"
"Certainly NOT," Ont growled telepathically.
"But you implied that in your comments
on the conclusions of the ancients,"
"But if there are no artifacts," Harold
said. "And no signs of intelligence
whatever, how could we ever
know that there WAS intelligence some
"There must be some way," Gordon
said. "I've taught logic at the U for
fifteen years now, and I've done a lot
of thinking on the subject. If we ever
reach Mars I think we should be very
careful what we touch. We would be
clumsy bulls in a china shop, not knowing
the true worth of what we found,
destroying what might be found to be
priceless by later and more careful explorers.
Mars is older than the Earth,
and I can't help being convinced that
there is SOME form of intelligence
"I implied no such thing as atheism,"
Ont insisted. "I merely said
that the reasoning used by the ancients
to arrive at the Creator was the most
slipshod and illogical possible. There
was another line used long ago that
was more solid, but still very weak. It
started out with the statement, 'I can
be aware of nothing but thoughts.' External
stimuli, if such there are, must
be transformed into thought before I
can be aware of them. Since I can
never be aware of anything other than
thought, why assume anything except
thought exists? You, and all other
things, exist as thoughts in my mind.
There is nothing except what exists in
my mind. Therefore, by that token, I
"But," Upt chuckled, "by the same
token I can insist that I am God and
you are just a product of my own creation."
"Yes," Ont agreed. "So it presents
a dilemma. To resolve it, it is necessary
to postulate a Supreme Mind, and to
say that all things are just thoughts
in God's Mind. That makes us both
the same then and there is no argument
about who is God!"
Harold kicked a lump of moist
"It seems to me, Gordon," he said
cautiously, "that you are biting the
air with your teeth. If there are intelligent
beings on Mars they will be
aware of us, and make themselves
known. If for no other reason they
will do that to keep us from destroying
Gordon stood up and arched his
back. He placed the garden trowel
and gloves in the hip pocket of his coveralls
and tapped his pipe on the heel
of his shoe.
"You are assuming," he said, "that
such beings can find a way to communicate
with us. But have you thought of
the possibility that if their abilities to
reason are undetectable to us, by the
same token they might not be aware
we are intelligent? A mad bull in a
pasture can think after a fashion, but
would you try to reason with him?
You would run if he charged you, and if
he caught up with you and mauled you
it would never occur to you to say,
'Look here, old boy. Let's talk this
thing over first.'"
Both men laughed. Gordon started
walking along the row he was standing
in, toward the house. Harold kept
"I see your point," he agreed.
"There are so many things we assume
unconsciously when we speculate
on the possibilities of intelligent life
on Mars," Gordon went on, stooping
over to pull a weed he had missed in
his earlier weeding. "Rate of thinking
is most probably a function of the
material organism. Some other thinking
creature might think faster or
slower—perhaps so much so that we
couldn't follow them even if we could
tune in on their thoughts directly.
Imagine a mind so ponderous that it
takes a year for it to think as much as
we do in a minute! Speed wouldn't
necessarily have to be a function of
size, either. Something incredibly
small might take ages to think a simple
thought. Have you ever heard the
German tale called The Three Sleepers,
"No, I haven't," Harold replied.
"Well, in a small town in Germany
there were three men so fat
that they could barely walk. They
spent nearly all their time sleeping.
The only trouble was that every day
or so someone would disturb them by
singing or walking by, or some other
trivial thing that is always happening
in a small town, no matter how dead
"One time when they were disturbed
three days running they got mad and
decided to go to the hills. They looked
in the hills until they found a nice
dry cave. There they relaxed with deep
sighs of contentment and went to sleep.
Day after day, week after week, they
"Then one day a dog wandered into
the cave, saw the three breathing
mountains of flesh and heard the din of
their deep snoring; and, scared half
to death, let out a shrill yip and skedaddled.
"A week later one of the three
sleepers stirred, opened his eyes briefly,
and muttered, 'What was that noise?'
Then he promptly went back to sleep.
"Ten days later the second sleeper
stirred, muttered, 'Damfino,' and went
back to sleep.
"Nearly a month later the third
sleeper opened his eyes suddenly,
stared at the roof of the cave for a
moment, and said, 'I think it was a
dog.' Then he went back to sleep.
The way the story goes nothing ever
came near the cave again, so they are
still there, fast asleep—still fat, too,
"I see what you're driving at," Harold
said, chuckling over the story. "We
assume that any intelligent being whatever,
if it exists, thinks at the same
RATE we do; but it might not."
"That's right," Gordon admitted.
"And there are even more subtle assumptions
we make unconsciously. For
one, we assume that a thinking creature
must think in the same way we do. We
might not even be able to recognize
thinking when we meet it, on another
planet. No—" he held up his hand to
silence the question on Harold's lips,
"—I don't know exactly what I mean.
I'll put it this way. We have steam
engines and gasoline engines. We also
have electric motors. Suppose we have
steam-engine thought. How would we
recognize electric-motor thinking?
"Or perhaps a little closer to what
I'm trying to express, we have arithmetic
and algebra. Suppose with our
arithmetic minds with no slightest inkling
of the existence of a variable, we
run into an algebra mind? We might
mistake it for something far removed
from thinking or intelligence. We go
on the assumption that anything that
doesn't stomp up, give a salute, and
solemnly announce 'How', is unintelligent."
"It might just be more interested in
its own thoughts than in the visitors
from Earth," Harold suggested.
"It might," Gordon said. "Or it
might be intensely curious and studying
the Earthmen very closely with
senses other than sight and hearing."
"But," Ont added thoughtfully,
"although the conclusion that we
are all thoughts in the mind of the
Creator is logically unshakeable, it
isn't very satisfying, from a logical
point, because it makes God nothing
more than the compromising of a cute
dilemma. It places the Creator in the
same light as the final decision to locate
the Capitol of the United States
"Where's that?" Upt asked quickly.
"I don't know," Ont said testily.
"That's just something I picked up
out of the blue, so to speak. Inspirational
thought. For all I know it's just
a figment of my imagination."
"I've had inspirational thoughts
too," Upt said excitedly. "I haven't
spoken of them to you because I was
afraid you might think I was becoming
disorganized in my thoughts."
"I've done a lot of thinking about
the inspirational stuff I get now and
then," Ont said matter-of-factly. "If
it came all the time I would be inclined
to think it was the Voice of the Supreme
Being Itself! But it doesn't
come that way."
"Neither does mine," Upt said. "I
often think there must be angels that
hover over us at times and bless us
with their wise thoughts, perhaps looking
into us to see if we are 'ready' yet.
When I seem to sense these powerful
thoughts about me I try to feel humble
and worshipful. I hope in that way one
of them will see fit to reveal himself
to me someday."
"They might," Ont said hopefully.
"I wouldn't mind actually talking to
one of them myself. But speaking of
that, we don't know for sure that these
inspirational thoughts aren't actually
our own. They SEEM different, but
that may be because they arise in some
part of our deep subconscious thought
processes. I've been trying to extend
my sense of awareness in order to reach
into my subconscious mind and actually
plumb it to its depths. One thing I've
found is that most of my REAL thinking
goes on there, and only rises to the
surface of consciousness when it is
completed! That lends probability to
the theory that ALL such voices of
inspiration are merely my own subconscious
mind giving me the end products
of carefully thought out trains of
reasoning it had dreamed up."
"I think I'll try that line of development
myself," Upt said. "I'd never
thought of it. Maybe inspiration is
only subconscious thought rising to the
surface of consciousness. Maybe it is.
But if so, I'll be very disappointed. I'd
hoped sometime to be able to commune
with some intelligence infinitely superior
to mine and really learn the true
nature of things."
"I sincerely hope I'm wrong
about it," Ont said. "I too would
like to believe that there is more in
reality than just us. I wonder if other
kinds of entities are possible? I mean
thinking beings with different forms,
different senses, perhaps different types
of thinking. It may be they exist and
we aren't equipped to detect them.
They may be around us all the time,
aware of us and our puerile thoughts,
but so superior to us in every way that
they don't think it worth while even to
consider our feeble cogitations."
"I wouldn't call YOUR cogitations
feeble, Ont," Upt exclaimed admiringly.
"That is a point of relativity," Ont
said, somewhat flattered. "It does seem
in vain, though. We spend our existence
in solving the problems of reality,
and when we have solved them we have
no need of the solution. It gives us a
feeling of satisfaction to gain the theoretical
basis of reality from our point
of view. But I for one would feel much
better if we could be of service to some
entity who is unable to accomplish
that himself, but might be able to comprehend
it if we taught him."
"All very noble," Upt said skeptically.
"But I can't even imagine a
thinking creature different from us in
"That's why it's so difficult," Ont
said. "In our own minds we tend to
become absolute rather than relative
in our conceptions. Some other entity
might, for example, think much more
slowly than we, or with incredible rapidity,
so that our thoughts would be
sluggish to him, or so swift that he
would never be able to grasp them
until long after we were gone.
"Also, we tend to think that thought
as we experience it, is the only possible
type of thought. In reality there may
be others. Different mental principles.
Different material structure. Perhaps
concepts outside our ability to grasp,
while ours might be outside the ability
of such creatures to grasp also."
"I don't believe I grasp what you're
trying to say," Upt hesitated.
"Well, put it this way," Ont said patiently.
"All things are relative. Why
not thought? It might be possible to
have two thinking minds which are
relatively non-thinking. Each, from
EVERY standard of the other, being
totally thoughtless and without intelligence
"Now you're going too far," Upt
said. "Thought is thought, I think,
and—it's real. If any other entity
thinks, its thinking must be real too."
"Of course," Ont murmured. "You
miss the point entirely. If from every
possible angle, some entity, to YOU,
can't think and doesn't, it is non-thinking
and unintelligent. Right?"
Gordon and Harold paused at the
edge of the garden.
"Nice crop of vegetables you have
there, Gordon," Harold said appreciatively.
"Thanks," Gordon said. "Say,
wouldn't your wife like some fresh vegetables?"
Without waiting for an answer he
stepped back into the garden, taking a
knife from his pocket.
"These are nice now," he said, bending
over and cutting. "Won't be much
longer though. Brown spots developing
already. I'll scrape off the brown
stuff for you, but tell your wife to cook
them right away. In a couple of days
"Upt!" Ont exclaimed, exasperated.
"Why don't you answer me, Upt?
Upt! Where are you, Upt? Why don't
"There you are," Gordon said,
smiling, as he handed Harold the
head of cauliflower.
"Thanks," Harold said, accepting
the white, fresh head, and balancing it
in his palm.
The two men continued up the walk
to the house.
"As I was saying," Gordon took up
their conversation, "when men get to
Mars, if they aren't careful they may
destroy a civilization, or even thousands
of intelligent beings, without
Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories December 1948.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.