by W.H. Burge

They didn't know where they came from when they were born, they called it "Outside". They did not know when a new person would appear, but noticed that they only appeared when space was available. All people were born with the same amount of experience and property which they called an “environment”. When they died, they disappeared, and so did their environment.

There was a ritual called “enter block” which they could perform in order to use a new body. They stored what was left of the old body and its environment secretly, so that no one could interfere with it, and lived their life in a new body. The new body came with a certain amount of experience and property called its “locals”. This was added to the environment of the old body to produce an environment for live in the new body.

When an incarnated body died, there was another ritual called “block exit” in which the old body was disinterred, and life continued in this body where it had left off. The incarnated body disappeared together with its locals.

The process of incarnation was difficult and required much concentration. There were many people who were born and died without achieving it. These were called “FORTRANS” or “COBOLS”. Some of these were compensated for this by having other abilities, for instance, the FORTRANS could run fast and the COBOLS could describe data by a carefully guarded technique only known to them.

Some people who were luck found that among their possessions in their environment were bodies called “procedure bodies”. They could live in these at will by using the “enter block” ritual. It was possible to pass property on to be used in their lives as procedure bodies. This property was called an “argument”.

It required considerable training to keep track of all the interred bodies, and to scoose the correct one to reincarnate by the block exit ritual. This was made even more difficult by the existence of so-called “recursive” procedure bodies or Dopplegangers. These bodies found themselves on their own environment. It was clear that when a body incarnated itself, it could not both bury and use its body (the technique of copying bodies was known but its use was deprecated because it wasted space) and so instead of burying the body, they buried information which said where it was.

When a person got tired of his present life and hankered after one of his previous incarnations, he could invoke a “go to” ritual which would take him back to one of his previously stored bodies. This would disinter and reactivate a body which was not necessarily the last one used. This process invariably lost all the intervening bodies. This go to ritual occasionally surpised people. They would enter a procedure body in order to gain something of value, and find themselves projected by a go to into a previous incarnation, instead.

The ALGOL Men were not only able to change their immediate environment or locals but could also change the environments of their interred bodies. Some people thought it was sacrilege to interfere with the possessions of their interred bodies (or non locals), especially while living in procedure bodies. Others thought this practice useful, and used it.

It seemed that the course of a person's life was mapped out for him in advance, although they couldn't tell for sure. Some said that they must do the things they did in a fixed order, others said that the order was not fixed. Occasionally some of the latter found that changing the order made them do things they didn't intend to. Others argued that they had free will because they could make decisions. Although they tried hard, they could never manufacture a new body. The bodies and environments which appeared seemed to have been lying dormant in their genes, waiting to be activated.

The ALGOL Men had a great book which contained guidance called the “[Revised] Report on the algorithmic language ALGOL 60”. This contained rules and parables which stated how they should behave, and commandments which prohibited certain behavior. The interpretation of certain sections of this report was the subject of much scholarly and theological argument. Part of the report was written in a peculiar language called “Backus normal form”. No one had ever deciphered this part, but it seemed to be explaining how their bodies were constructed. The Report prescribed that if certain rules of behavior were disobeyed then the offender would be put into a state called “undefined” or “hell”. There were legends about certain adventurous spirits who, because they possessed some defect of character, had tried these proscribed acts and as a result had vanished together will all their interred bodies and possessions.

People who were deep in incarnations used a lot of space to hold their bodies and possessions and as a consequence people were taxed on how deep they were. Sometimes people would wish to incarnate but find that they could not because there was no space left in the world. They had to go into a state of “suspended animation” waiting for space to become available.

There were some people who lived the same parts of their life over and over again. Some of these were harmless and were called “ghosts”. There seemed to be no way of finding out whether they would ever break out of their loop or not. Others were dangerous to the community and were called “space thieves”. For these each new life cycle produced new possessions and these possessions threatened to overrun the world. A rule was introduced to detect space thieves and throw them outside. This was called a “debugging rule”. There was a similar rule against “body snatching”. This rule said that if any person interfered with the interred bodies or property of another then both would be thrown outside. A person was said to be “runnince that he too might run wild. Later, special locks were provided for the graves called “lockouts”. These locks could only be opened by the owner. This prevented the whole population from running wild.

A movement sprang up to hard property gained in a body's life so that it should be available if that life were to be re-entered. This hoarded property was called the own property of the body. There was some confusion about the prcise procedure to be followed when hoarding and there was little guidance in the Report about how to do this. Some p procedure bodies. Although this is mentioned in the Report, no details are given, and people were constantly surprised by the forms they took.

It is a shame that this brief account cannot include descriptions of other tribes similar to the ALGOL Men such as the macro people who constructed bodies (or Frankensteins) and activated them, the Ipulvees who listed their property and had an oracle called the Interpreter, and the Lisps who constructed magnificent structures and took them to pieces, and had a strong garbage collector's union.

The tragedy of the ALGOL Men was that they could not communicate with one another nor could they store things which would be useful to future generations. All men were born equal but did different things with their lives. When a man died he vanished, left nothing, and released the space he occupied. It is clear that what these people needed was the ability to store things produced by people in their lives in a library so that other people could make use of them. It is said that the FORTRANs and COBOLs have a tradition of this sort.

Reprinted from ALGOL Bulletin 17, July 1964, pages 8-10

Last updated April 21, 2009

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