The story of the remaining humans fighting back would be much more interesting. How can you defeat an enemy where learning too much about it makes you automatically lose? I read a story with a similar concept: https://archiveofourown.org/works/6178036
See the stories under the heading "There Is No Antimemetics Division (2015)": http://www.scp-wiki.net/qntm-s-author-page
It's part of a larger universe, but I think it suffices to point out that in the larger fictional universe in question, the organization that the website is told from the point of has ready and established access to drugs called "amnestics", which can wipe memories in much the same style as the Men in Black. The rest you can probably work out.
Is she? She doesn't act to change her fate; she's a passive observer in her own life, which seems to make whatever consciousness she has epiphenomenal at best (and therefore something we'd feel justified in assuming away under Occam's razor, since it has no effect on the world outside her head).
And at the risk of going all postmodern, it's worth pointing out that she is in reality a character in a story and therefore not conscious. One could argue that the point of the story is that characters in a story are not conscious (and go from there to a paradox: since we all tell stories of our lives, can any of us be conscious? But I think that doesn't offer anything that's not already present in the argument that we can't have had free will in the past since our past decisions are now fixed).
Yes, Louise is a character so she cannot be truly conscious, but that's too meta. You could go post-post-modern and argue that since Louise's real name is Ted Chiang, and he is conscious (surely?), then she must also be :)
I suspect that making a decision to seek out a phone that works and placing a call to a phone number you never had access to counts as a conscious effort, rather than being the behaviour of a mindless automaton.
If knowledge of the consequences of an action means taking that action is no longer the act of a conscious being, then what you are suggesting is that people who plan ahead are not conscious.
Vague "efforts to steer her daughter away from climbing" are the Greek-myth workaround. Surely Louise could have told her that she knew specifically that she would die on this trip, this date...
In the story, it is implied the ability to see the timeline all at once, non-sequentially, comes with the loss of free will. It's a different mindset where people think they are play-acting rather than choosing the future. Of course we find this puzzling -- after all, we think sequentially :P Louise didn't warn her daughter because it wasn't in the "script" of the future.
My point is that if she made a meaningful choice to make the phone call and find out the term "non-zero-sum", as manicdee was claiming, then surely by the same token she also made a meaningful choice not to warn her daughter.
I think you might like Charlie Stross' "Antibodies" (short story in the anthology Toast). Without giving too much away, it deals with runaway AI as an infohazard, and provides exactly the "humans fighting back" thread you're interested in.
I attempted a while back to download and read some of that but quit after being frustrated by the awful user experience of every epub software that I tried. I couldn't find one that supported whatever form of linking the book uses. If I wanted to go directly to a story I just had to flip until I got there.
I've always like Calibre for epub reading, but I'd have to try it with that version specifically. The other option might be to use a MOBI converter and hope it cleans things up, but that's a pain for long odds.
This is true for the heptapods (at least in the story), who do not require causal explanation for their actions, but not for Louise, at least in the movie, as her perception of time does have actual (and very significant) consequences, which kind of defeat the entire idea and turn it into a time-travel story. Actually, in the movie this is also not true for the heptapods, who do have a time-traveling causal explanation for their actions (they do what they do because they will need humanity in the future).
You don't need to actually remember the future for you to view life as teleological. In fact, the teleological point of view is central to some human philosophies (of fate and predestination) without turning its believers into p-zombies (at least, not as far as we know). Fatalism doesn't require that you know the future for you to act. In fact, you may believe that the past offers cause, but you believe that it is just a perception, while the "true" (and possibly unknown) reason is teleological.
That "memetic virus" is no science fiction, and has been a part of human philosophy since forever. What is Oedipus Rex (429 BC) or even the bible (esp. in Genesis) if not a teleological view of life? And, of course, the story of Cassandra, who is cursed with the power of prophecy. There's also Macbeth, which is a little different as knowledge of the future is what sets things in motion. I personally found Chiang's story to be a rather poor treatment of the subject compared to other, older and better known ones, and the movie, while better executed, destroyed the story's philosophical point, however simplistic in its treatment.
In any event, teleology provides a narrative for millions of believers to this day, and you don't need to know the future in order to be a fatalist.
The sub-reddit was made in response to Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality", which I also enjoyed. Not everybody likes it, but even if you don't you'll probably find other works you'll like recommended there.
The subtle difference Ted Chaing tried to get at is that humans think knowing the future means we are doomed to enact a choreography; but the hetpapods perceive knowing the future as creating the future.
So maybe in a human's mind, we think of the future as a geographic feature that we are heading towards. And the inability to change where we go to is troubling. But in the heptapod's mind, the future is just an abstract concept they know in their minds, but do not exist yet; and they seek to create it by acting it out.
I take the idea that we are capable of doing a lot of damage with our technology. I reason that once we discover the damage we are doing, we usually do something about it. However, that process of fixing our mistakes is much slower. So I reason that over time we will do more and more damage, because our technology is progressing at faster and faster rates. And the fixes will be implemented slowly. Damage will eventually accumulate and be catastrophic. After some major catastrophe, say a few hundred million people dead, we will then slow down introducing technology into the system and be much more precautious about it. However, even then there will be economists which will argue their way out of it, saying the damage caused by not growing the economy is much worse than any sort of damage caused to the environment.
I'm not at all sure that humans even understand the idea of free will either; I've certainly never heard a definition of it that made any sense. Locke famously observed that
> the question itself is altogether improper; and it is as insignificant to ask whether man's will be free, as to ask whether his sleep be swift, or his virtue square
There's a separate question about whether or not volition is purely deterministic, but people don't value randomness, they value having (many of) the causes of their mental states be internal rather than external, and I don't think they're in much danger of disappointment there.
Not that I particularly liked it. It is one not particularly exciting history wrapped around an unrealistic pseudo-physics idea. But I never like those type of stories – you might.
Unlike the movie, the story is vague on whether there are violations of causality. (The movie clearly features them, while the story is consistent with or without them). So I disagree that the interpretation is straight forward.
How could someone know the future and not change it? How could someone let bad things happen?
In fact, it's actually quite zen. Well, I'm not sure if it is really, but let's pretend being aware, accepting, and recognising the beauty/rightness in every moment is zen.
And this ties back to the light path and minimisation. When you have that awareness of simultaneity maybe all your possible paths/options must naturally collapse into that beautiful sequence that you have no need or desire to alter.
Now how this simultaneity of awareness coexists with mortality, well that is a head scratcher.
If you believe that you have the ability to influence how to feel/react about something, then you must also believe you have the ability to influence the thing itself. Which would make a "zen" attitude negligent.
If you believe that you have no ability to influence either an event or the way you feel about it, then the idea of trying to respond in a zen way is as meaningless as trying to influence the event itself.
Now, you might, in fact, respond in a way an outside observer would categorise as "zen". But, within any personal, self-consistent philosophical system, wherein there is no free will, then you cannot categorise your reaction as such or as an "attempt" to do anything.
The part about performative language counters this objection. Yes, attempting to respond with equamnity - and succeeding, or failing - is all part of the script. But the performance of it is the thing itself.
From that perspective, framing action as "performative" is at best hand-wavy. You can reduce the claim to, "An individual can know the future without creating a paradox by choosing not to alter it." But you either have the ability to make decisions or you don't; you can't solve the paradox by introducing a phenomenon that in effect surrenders choice while holding on to the ability to make a choice.
That, like every argument of compatibilism I've seen, attempts to "have one's cake and eat it too" in an incoherent manner. When you reduce the dressings down to the base premises and conclusion, it's a matter of redefining terminology for a semantical victory. That's exactly like the sort of thing Wittgenstein used to criticize, because the conclusions aren't meaningful.
What would it actually mean for someone to somehow have the ability to know the future with certainty, while also retaining the ability to change the future? The ability to express that idea grammatically and to create a compelling narrative revolving around it doesn't make it logically coherent. Simply having the ability in principle means that there is a logical paradox.
That said, I deeply enjoyed the story. I just interpreted it as a story about humans being exposed to the reality of determinism and the process of coming to peace with it over generations, starting with Louise.
> What would it actually mean for someone to somehow have the ability to know the future with certainty, while also retaining the ability to change the future? The ability to express that idea grammatically and to create a compelling narrative revolving around it doesn't make it logically coherent. Simply having the ability in principle means that there is a logical paradox.
I've never understood the non-compatibilist view. The laws of physics are mechanistic almost by definition; the only question is whether they are deterministic or randomized, but the idea that one's decisions could be partly random doesn't seem to make them any more consciously controlled than if they're deterministic.
The thing that I've always found incoherent is the very idea of "free will". What would it actually mean to have free will? How could we distinguish between someone who has it and someone who doesn't?
The closest I can get to it while remaining coherent is the idea that there's some pattern that's "me", and that to the extent to which this pattern is causally entangled with events, I'm exerting my will on those events. Knowing the future wouldn't change that.
It would make a good pairing with many-worlds immortality, another ramification of physics known for it's unsettling qualities.
Like Fermat's principle of least time, it's really just an interpretation that falls naturally out of the best mathematics we have for predicting experiments.
So yes, it is a time travel story, information being relayed to you from the future is information traveling through time.
You're saying it's "travel" because information travels through time.
But a lot of other people relate "Travel" with humans, meaning it's the human that travels through time.
In fact, most people when they hear about "travel" think of human as its subject, not non-human objects like information.
If you stretch it that far, basically any story with flashbacks is time travel, because information travels to present from the past.
I suppose that we could say that the point of the story is to show that time is not what we though.
"I think free will is what underlies most everything interesting about time travel. And when I say time travel, I'm including receiving information from the future, because that's essentially equivalent to someone traveling from the future."
My assumption that the statement was linked to LessWrong was due to other similar radical statements I've seen posited by members, especially Yudkowsky's ideas around the equivalence of a consciousness and its simulation.
As this article points out, referring to Louise being able to see the
future in the book:
> "she is like an actor following a script, engaged in a
> self-fulfilling prophecy, taking precisely the actions
> necessary to bring about the future she sees. A
> fictional example of this would be Paul Atreides in
> Dune Messiah, whose prescience allows him to see
> visions of the present and act despite being blind -
> but only as long as he executes the actions which
> bring about the vision, thereby keeping the visions
> reflective of reality."
Reportedly Hollywood didn't like that interpretation, so instead her
daughter dies from disease, so the movie doesn't have to explain why
Louise can't just tell her daughter "JUST DON'T EVER GO CLIMBING
YOU'LL DIE I CAN SEE THE GODDAMN FUTURE!".
I think as a result the movie really makes no sense. Seeing the future
can really only make sense if events are either determinate or you
can't or are unwilling to change them. Otherwise you wouldn't know
what future you're seeing or how your actions would impact the future.
In a universe where you can alter the future her vision of General
Shang at the end of the movie doesn't make any sense. How can she see
what General Shang told her in the future, if the only reason he told
her is because of information Shang sent to her from the future as a
result of her current actions, which are only possible due to
information Shang sent her from the future?
In the book it's not as if Louise sees a way to save all humanity and
has to make the hard choice to follow that path like Paul Atreides in
Dune. She just sees things pertaining to her family life, in
particular that her daughter eventually dies in an entirely
preventable climbing accident.
So there you go, a movie that really makes no sense, although they had
the good sense to plaster over the more obvious plot hole with her
daughter now that free will is a thing by making her die from an
incurable disease instead.
I thought this was only in the Heptapod non-sequential point of view. Doesn't Louise say something to the effect of "if you think like a Heptapod, you see everything at once but don't have free will; if you think sequentially, like a human, you have free will but can't know everything at once. They are complementary points of view"? (or something like that, not an exact quote).
> [...] What made it possible for me to exercise
> freedom of choice also made it impossible for me
> to know the future. Conversely, now that I know
> the future, I would never act contrary to that
> future, including telling others what I know.
I think it's a rather bleak story, "woman can see future events,
prefers to live out the spoiler version of her life rather than
changing anything and being surprised", but whatever, at least it's
What I'm pointing out is that the storyline of the movie makes
absolutely no sense, because there she can see the future and is
able to change events based on that information, not lose her seeing
powers, and seemingly create time loops where people in the future
only did certain things because she did them in the present, based on information they gave her in the future because she did that!
The movie tries to evade this problem with a slight of hand. They
change the circumstances of her daughter's death to be inevetable,
otherwise the audience would be up in arms at the obvious
contradiction that she can change the future based on seeing what
General Shang is going to do, but somehow can't tell her daughter not
to take up climbing as a hobby.
> now that I know
> the future, I would never act contrary to that
> future, including telling others what I know.
The difference between the universe of Story Of Your Life and a generic deterministic universe is that in Story Of Your Life free will is not an illusion; it exists, but it can only be experienced from a certain perspective, which is complementary to the timeless perspective.
Very possibly there is a third perspective in this universe which is also equally valid. We could have a sequel (Departure?) where we meet the aliens do exactly what I struggle to imagine: they can observe only the future, and their choices affect only the past.
But it could indeed be that the Heptapod language is some sort of brain virus and any information she gets from the future she's helpless carrying out like some automaton. See the sibling thread about a "memetic virus".
In any case, what I'm pointing out in this thread is that I think at there's no way to make sense of the storyline of the movie, since it's internally self-contradictory in how it treats time travel.
I don't have time to dig this up now, but there were some interviews after it came out where it was made clear that this change was purely made to make the movie more appealing to viewers, at the cost of internal consistency.
The statement "I would never act contrary to that future" is, in my reading, equivalent to you or I saying "I couldn't change the past". Her memories aren't grouped into an ordered list of A causing B causing C, but a jumbled collection of events all happening at the same time, and all happening NOW, as she is looking down at her daughter in the morgue.
In theory Louise could have told her daughter not go climbing because she can see the future and knows her daughter would die but that would probably result in:
1. Mom getting written off as bat shit crazy and ignored.
2. Teens and young adults being teens and young adults tend to shrug off warnings and advice of their parents and she would have died anyway.
> Mom getting written off as bat shit crazy and ignored.
> Teens and young adults being teens and young adults
In the story, she knows the future, not a hypothetical, if-nothing-changes prediction of the future.
It's OK to notice the issues, but if you want to read in this genre you kind of have to get used to just noting them and moving on. Asking an author to write something that can hold up completely has three problems. Nobody could write a non-trivial completely self-consistent story that deviates from reality that much, nobody would be willing to read the resulting story that proves it out because it would require a lot of words to prove that, and in many cases it may not even be possible to be self-consistent in the first place. (Witness the problem we have just coming up with one physics that is consistent with itself and the real world, let alone creating non-trivial new ones from scratch.) It would not be a net benefit to not write those stories.
Most sci-fi or fantasy works have some "gimme" that you just have to
accept, because it furthers the story. Fine, anti-gravity, time travel
or whatever exists. Nobody's expected to explain how it works.
What makes for lazy writing is introducing some world changing concept
that you base your entire story on, and then just conveniently leaving
it out in the very next scene for dramatic effect. That goes beyond having a
gimme, you're just assuming your audience is dumb at that point.
I think the book "Story of Your Life" is just fine. It's consistent with its premise. As my comment
indicates it's the lazy movie adoption I have a problem with.
They depart from the book by making the character capable of changing
the future based on her prescience, she's no longer just a puppet
playing out future events. She's got a choice. Okey, fine, let's run
But then she can see a future where here young daughter dies from some
incurable disease at a young age, but decides to have her anyway. Her
partner then leaves her because she went through with that without
I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the universe of the movie when
they had that conversation. He was probably yelling at her that they
could have just spent a couple of thousand dollars on sperm sorting &
IVF and say had a boy instead of instead of having their young
daughter die at an early age from some statistically improbable disease.
My apologies then; while I stand by the general content of my message I would not have replied to your post with that had I caught that detail.
The movie does a better job of showing the progression of Louise's perception of time. At the beginning of the move, she can see her daughter (i.e., the destination resulting from the first contact mission) but not the journey (i.e., her husband or intervening events.) By the time she calls General Chang, she can see the destination and part, but not all, of the journey leading to that moment (i.e., what he told her during the call). By the end of the movie and the novella, her perception of time has improved to the point that she can see her daughter's entire life (the journey) in the instant she chooses to make love to her husband and thereby conceive her daughter.
(Note that the movie goes with the illness rather than the climbing accident because it's easier to convey to mass audiences. The movie is about Louise's choices and perception of time, not her daughter. However, the novella devotes a significant amount of text to emphasizing the daughter's free-spirited ways, suggesting that the daughter would have gone climbing even if her mother had told her how and when she would die. People like that actually exist, see e.g. BASE jumpers as a direct analogy.)
It is usually when I am trying to think through, or explain to someone else, a concept that has many many variables and the ways that they interact. The current "thought" on my desk has 8 panels, with individual sketch things and 4 colors.
Surely I am not the only one who does this? How else can you explain complicated things without writing a whole book?
"I found myself in a meditative state, contemplating the way in which premises and conclusions were interchangeable. There was no direction inherent in the way propositions were connected, no train of thought moving along a particular route; all the components in an act of reasoning were equally powerful, all having identical precedence…Looking at a sentence like this one, I understood why the heptapods had evolved a semasiographic writing system like Heptapod B; it was better suited for a species with a simultaneous mode of consciousness. For them, speech was a bottleneck because it required that one word follow another sequentially. With writing, on the other hand, every mark on a page was visible simultaneously. Why constrain writing with a glottographic straitjacket, demanding that it be just as sequential as speech? It would never occur to them. Semasiographic writing naturally took advantage of the page’s two-dimensionality; instead of doling out morphemes one at a time, it offered an entire page full of them all at once."
Chiang's story was an exploration of a more Eastern mode of thought in which purpose is derived more from participation. That we are all part of one large tapestry of life and that it is the privilege of participating, not the end outcome of the participation that gives purpose to life.
Louise is placed in a circumstance where these two values come into conflict and, crucially, is given a choice. The crux is that she is given the choice to not have her child and prevent all of the painful memories but also the understanding that the painful memories are a part of the beauty of living life.
The variational physics stuff is all a frame to wrap around these concepts, finding resonance between the idea that there are always two ways of encoding a problem in physics and the reframing of philosophy that comes from encountering an alien culture.
In case there's anyone else out there that, like me: Reads hn comments first to determine if the article is worthwhile, and doesn't really mind being spoiled on the plot of books, but hates being spoiled on the plot of films, beware!
And that maybe predestination is pretty acausal, thus posing a strong problem with science.
So I see it as an article trying to say that the story is under the cover of very scientific words trying like zelazny, hubbard and van vogt to open a new era of mystical science.