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The final scene of The Thing (2011) and the opening scene of The Thing (1982) both show a dog-Thing running from the Norwegian base to the American base in Antarctica. The dog-Thing is fleeing the Norwegians in a helicopter who are trying to kill it before it can reach another base.

The two bases are 80 km away from each other and the next base is a Soviet one about 50 km away. Sensing a base from 80 km away is not easy, but the dog-Thing gets there.

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How did the dog-Thing know which way to run when it fled the Norwegian base? Or did the dog-Thing just run off in a random direction and happened upon the American base?

Possible source materials for answers about the dog-Thing's sense of direction. I listed the movie screenplays on top since I am more concerned about the movie adaptation than the books or comics, but if you have insights from the books or comics that answer the question but don't contradict the movies, then go for it.

  • Any version of the screenplays for either movie.

  • A novelization of the film based on the second draft of the screenplay was published in 1982 by Alan Dean Foster.

  • The original story, Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

  • Peter Watts published a short story called The Things which retells the film events from the alien's point of view and paints it in a much more sympathetic light by describing the Thing as an alien with an innocent impulse to share with the human race its power of communion and its frightened, not to mention severely saddened, reaction when they attack it.

  • Any of the Thing based stories published by Dark Horse Comics. (Four comic sequels to the 1982 film about MacReady chasing the Thing from one place to another.)

I am less interested in answers from these sources, but would consider them in lieu of answers from better sources.

If this question is not covered by any materials, please don't speculate, but just say the answer is not known yet.

2 Answers 2

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In Who Goes There? the alien is telepathic and learns a great deal of what the humans around it know. Of course, in the original story, the Norwegian base and the dog-thing do not appear. However, if the creature in the film has the same telepathic abilities as the one in the novella, it could easily have learned by reading the Norwegians' minds where the American base was located. (Although the two outposts are not in contact, they are aware of each other.)

The key passage identifying the creature as telepathic.

Barclay shook his head. "I didn't care to listen much. You can if you want to. But I gathered that the blasted idiot had all the dreams McReady had, and a few more. He slept beside the thing when we stopped on the trail coming in from Secondary Magnetic, remember. He dreamt the thing was alive, and dreamt more details. And -- damn his soul -- knew it wasn't all dream, or had reason to. He knew it had telepathic powers that were stirring vaguely, and that it could not only read minds, but project thoughts. They weren't dreams, you see. They were stray thoughts that thing was broadcasting, the way Blair's broadcasting his thoughts now -- a sort of telepathic muttering in its sleep. That's why he knew so much about its powers. I guess you and I, Doc, weren't so sensitive -- if you want to believe in telepathy."

"I have to," Copper sighted. "Dr. Rhine of Duke University has shown that it exist, shown that some are much more sensitive than others."

Rhine, by the way, was a real scientist who claimed to have demonstrated telepathy in a number of experiments.

The humans take the thing's mind-reading ability into account as they plan ways to fight it.

"Say, couldn't Norris or Van give Connant some kind of a test? If the thing is brighter than men, it might know more physics than Connant should, and they'd catch it out," Barclay suggested.

Copper shook his head wearily. "Not if it reads minds. You can't plan a trap for it. Van suggested that last night. He hoped it would answer some of the questions of physics he'd like to know answers to."

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  • Can you provide quotes from the novella if you have it? That would really support your answer! :-)
    – RichS
    May 10, 2017 at 2:20
  • @RichS Now with quotes culled from the online text at Outpost 31.
    – Buzz
    May 10, 2017 at 2:30
  • Thanks! I upvoted this answer because it provides a reasonable explanation based on an original source. Unfortunately, the movies mention nothing about telepathy. And there are several scenes where the Thing could've defended itself better if it did have telepathy. (e.g. - When MacReady tested the blood of the Palmer-Thing in the 1982 movie or when Carter-Thing pointed to the wrong ear in the 2011 movie.) I think we can safely rule out telepathy in both movies.
    – RichS
    May 10, 2017 at 3:21
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    @RichS I can't say anything about the 2011 film, but the blood testing scene plays out in somewhat the same way in the Campbell's story and Carpenter's film. Some of the infected individuals keep pretending to be human right up to when their blood is tested: Garry spoke in a low, bitter voice. "Connant was one of the finest men we had here - and five minutes ago I'd have sworn he was a man. Those damnable things are more than imitation." Garry shuddered and sat back in his bunk. And thirty seconds later, Garry's blood shrank from the hot platinum wire.
    – Buzz
    May 10, 2017 at 4:52
  • If the blood test scene plays out the same way, and the Things act human right up to the second they are proven otherwise, I wonder if the lack of using telepathy in the blood scene was an oversight in the original story. Thanks for pointing that out.
    – RichS
    May 10, 2017 at 4:56
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This is easily answered: It had already mimicked at least one body of the Norwegian crew, and that body could have been someone aware of the other base and its direction. This can be easily assumed with minimal knowledge of what happened on the Norwegian base, and fits with what we already know (just from the '82 movie) of the Thing's mimicking abilities, which include having the speech, abilities, and memories of its victims.

Telepathy or some form of biological radio interception are great or fun theories, but completely unnecessary. Also, the Thing remembers its past life (lives?) enough to rebuild a ship while in a mimick's body, even if an infection happens from just one cell (I mean, this seems to be logically consistent with the '82 and '011 movies anyway).

I haven't read the book or comics or played the video games, just seen the '82 The Thing, the '51 The Thing from Another World, and the '011 The Thing. I consider the '82 version my canon, because I love it so much, and I try to fit anything else into that canon. I think the Thing just having the memory of a mimick on the Norwegian base of another outpost and its direction and distance is reasonable enough to explain the dog's behavior, even only considering the '82 movie.

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    Is it possible the mimicry in the film could be explained in terms of it observing people externally when it was in dog form, as opposed to absorbing their knowledge and experience when it took over their form? Are there any scenes in the film where the Thing in its disguise as a particular character displayed knowledge or memories that it would have been unlikely to have picked up on by observing them as a dog, or observing the real person when it was disguised as a different person?
    – Hypnosifl
    Jul 14, 2022 at 20:55
  • Since there's nothing showing that the Thing in its full mimick form doesn't have the memories of the being it mimicked, I don't see how the idea that it learning from observing is in conflict with it also having the memories of the beings it's mimicked. Why can't it be both? It inherits memory, learns new things, and remembers everything. I mean, having memory across beings, even from a single-cell mimickry starting point, implies its memory is either encoded to each cell, or its memory is hyper-dimensional. I love the hyper-dimensional explanation for many of its supernatural attributes. Jul 20, 2022 at 19:25

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