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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.

Indeed.

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.




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