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"Story of Your Life" is horror, about a memetic virus that turns humans into p-zombies. The aliens are infected, and following the meme they infect the main character, who goes on to infect others. Consciousness is impossible unless remembering the future is more difficult than remembering the past, because remembering the future depends on calculations on the state of the entire universe instead of just your own brain, which implies that the psychedelic experience of "everything is one" is literally true. Louise is not human and she is an existential threat to humanity.

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

"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?"

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.

For what it's worth, 'amnestic' is a real class of drugs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug-induced_amnesia), although, as far as I know, they only prevent the formation of future memories, rather than erasing past ones. I've always found it deeply creepy that I once had a painful surgical procedure in which I experienced the pain, but I can't remember it.

Interesting (playful) theory. But how do you define consciousness? It might be hard to know whether a living being that's not you is truly conscious or a p-zombie, but in this case we have privileged information: we are not merely observing Louise's external behavior but we are inside her head and we know she is conscious by any meaningful definition of the word, so she cannot be a p-zombie.

> we are inside her head and we know she is conscious by any meaningful definition of the word, so she cannot be a p-zombie.

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).

I don't conflate consciousness with the ability to change your fate. We all die, after all. The problem is that it's very hard to define consciousness at all. Ultimately the only person you can be sure is conscious is you -- or in this extraordinary case, Louise, since we are privy to her inner monologue (something which cannot happen in real life, of course).

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 :)

She does act to change her fate. In one case, she tells Hannah that she doesn't know the word she's looking for, but then she picks the up the phrase "non-zero-sum" specifically because she remembered that future scene, and is then able to tell Hannah the phrase that Hannah was asking sbout.

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.

If she is willing to make a phone call to find out the word but not to put the same kind of effort into averting her daughter's death, she may be conscious, but monstrous.

In the movie, her daughter's death cannot be averted (incurable disease). In the short story it can (climbing accident), but it is implied Louise's efforts to steer her daughter away from climbing actually encourage her to take it up -- or at least, Louise wonders if it was so...

I haven't seen the movie.

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...

Greek-myth is what literature is all about :) Have you seen Predestination (or rather, read the Heinlein story "All You Zombies")? Stylistically, I rather like the "unable to change fate" trope, which -- like you note -- is a classic from ancient times.

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.

> 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.

In the theater I was really hoping Arrival ended with a mindfuck of an ending involving the death of most of the main characters following the big reveal; sadly my hopes were dashed.

Very interesting summary.

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 believe this is what Bartweiss is referring to: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/toast/to...

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.

Yep, that's it exactly. I ran into the book at a library, but it's cool to see it available online.

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.

The impression I got was that in Story of Your Life's universe, nobody actually has free will, and Louise is just one of the few people who realizes it.

Of course, in a universe without free will, you don't get to choose whether you realize that or not, either.

Even if the psychedelic experience that everything is one (or more accurately, part of a connected whole) is true, that doens't imply that the universe can know its entire state simultaneously. That would imply that the universe has unitary consciousness (which implies incredibly massive information processing capability) or infinitely fast propagation of information. Given that light has a finite rate of propagation and time slows down in the presence of a lot of information in a small space, neither of those appear to be true.

Ah, but the difference between a causal and a teleological view of the universe is just that -- they're different points of view. There is no actual difference in outcome. Variational physics is the same physics expressed differently.

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.

Describing it like that instantly reminds me of Monty Python's "World's funniest joke" sketch. Classic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ienp4J3pW7U

...and now you've just reminded me to re-read Infinite Jest.

Just binge read this. It was great--any other recommendations?

I picked up the recommendation at Reddit's /rational/:


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.

Blah, blah, Babel-17 blah.

For those who might be curious (I was):


The plot summary there is...horrible. Unfortunately, it's been so long since I read the book that I can't improve it.

Such a story, I fear, would devolve humanity right back into the Dark Ages.

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