Arrival, the shape of aliens, and bridging the communication barrier

arrival_movie_posterThis weekend, I watched the movie ‘Arrival‘.  It starts off with the now common scenario of several floating ships appearing in the skies around the world.  But unlike most movies in this mold, it focuses on humanity’s efforts to communicate with the aliens and understand why they’ve come.  The protagonist is an expert in linguistics.

I found this movie to be uncommonly intelligent and high quality science fiction, of a type that we rarely see in cinema.  I’ve heard it’s won and been nominated for various awards.  In my opinion, it’s well deserved.  I highly recommend it.

That said, I’m going to quibble with a couple of its aspects.  I won’t spoil anything that you wouldn’t see in the first act, but if having even bits of that spoiled bothers you, you may want to skip this post until you’ve seen it.

I’m not going to quibble with the existence of the aliens, or why they arrived when they did.  A common criticism I have of alien invasion movies is that the aliens usually choose to show up when we can resist them, rather than any of the previous 4.54 billion years when the planet was a sitting duck.  But I actually think the movie has a good answer for that, which I won’t spoil.

Okay, first quibble.  The movie goes out of its way to portray the aliens as utterly, well, alien.  On the one hand, I very much appreciate this.  Too often, media sci-fi portray aliens as humans with maybe an extra bump on their forehead or in overall humanoid form but maybe with reptilian skin or something, together with all too human emotions and attitudes.  Historically, some of this came from technological constraints on what could be shown.  But with CG technology being what it is today, this excuse, still somewhat plausible for television, doesn’t really cut it for high production movies.

That said, in its attempt to make the aliens profoundly different, I think the movie ignores some simple realities.  Extraterrestrial life would undoubtedly be very different from Earth life, but the laws of physics put limits on just how strange it could be.

For example,we never see eyes on the aliens.  (Or at least I couldn’t ever make out any.)  Now, it’s possible that an alien that evolved in a consistently dark or opaque environment, such as an underground sea or in a thick opaque atmosphere, might never evolve vision.

But we see the aliens communicating visually, which implies some kind of ability to take in information from electromagnetic radiation (light).  And eyes weren’t a one time mutation in Earth history.  From what I’ve read, they evolved several times in independent evolutionary lines.  In other words, eyes are one of the features that evolution tends to converge on.  The aliens didn’t have to be portrayed with two stereoscopic eyes.  They could have had many, like on spiders.

The other is the overall body plan of the aliens.  They don’t come across as having much dexterity.  But as I’ve noted before, the only civilization producing species on this planet needed more than intelligence, but also the ability to physically manipulate the environment.  It’s why a primate species currently rules the planet instead of a cetacean, elephantine, corvine, or other type of intelligent species.

I’m not saying that the aliens needed to have humanoid body plans.  Ant-like bodies with prehensile limbs might have done the trick.  But the movie aliens needed to have better physical abilities than what was portrayed.  Their portrayed bodies might have been dexterous in a liquid environment, similar to cephalopods, but that didn’t appear to be the environment they were in.

My second quibble is with the effort to communicate with the aliens.  If you’ve seen the movie,  you understand this issue’s place in the plot, but the initial decision to translate written language doesn’t make that much sense.  As Seth Shostak of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has pointed out, it makes a lot more sense to attempt initial communication with pictures.

This makes sense when you consider that the earliest human writing evolved from using pictures to convey concepts.  Over time, the pictures got streamlined into symbols for each word or concept.  It was thousands of years before the idea of letters standing in for individual speech sounds developed.  Attempting to jump over all that with an utterly alien mind seems like the hard way to do it.

Of course, conveying complex information with pictures wouldn’t itself be easy.  For example, how do you get across the main question the humans had for the aliens, “Why have you come?”  But a series of pictures showing the alien ships approaching humans, followed by alternating pictures of humans dead or alive might have given the aliens a quick chance to make their intentions clearer.  And once you had a basic form of communication going, a common symbolic vocabulary could be worked out, eventually allowing more sophisticated exchanges.

A much tougher challenge might be if the aliens didn’t have visual senses.  Imagine trying to build a common vocabulary with a bat like alien that sensed the world through echolocation, or one that thought and moved on vastly different time scales, such as conscious trees.  But even then, we’d still live in the same universe, and there would have to be some common overlapping ways of perceiving the world.  It might come down to small model statues arranged in sequences to convey scenarios.

Of course, it’s always possible to engage in rationalizations to explain away these quibbles with the movie.  And as I indicated above, this is a movie that is far more intelligent than your typical sci-fi film.  Not the least because it gave me an excuse to talk about alien body plans and communication strategies 🙂

73 thoughts on “Arrival, the shape of aliens, and bridging the communication barrier

  1. Though it’s a bit kid-oriented, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of “The Future is Wild” for an intetesting and evolutionary-biology-inspired view of what life on Earth might evolve into, 5 million, 100 million and 200 million years from now.
    Also can’t recommend highly enough to read “Figments of Reality” (Cambridge University Press) by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. That’s a wonderful erudite and amusing perspective on how we’re bizarre creatures ourselves (their quest is to explain the evolution of consciousness but that’s right up your alley anyway – again: GET YOURSELF A COPY!) Enjoyed your critique and will possibly watch sometime soon 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Tom! Appreciate the recommendations. Just ordered a used copy of ‘The Future is Wild’.

      I’m looking at the preview for ‘Figments of Reality’. I like their title for Chapter 9: “We Wanted to Have a Chapter on Free Will, but We Decided not to, so Here It Is”. They definitely get points for humor. Although not sure if I’m willing to shell out the price the publisher wants for a 20 year old book.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks Tom, but I do have options. I usually prefer the electronic version when it’s available, but if I decide to read it I can either pay the full price, rent it, or pick up a used physical copy for a few dollars.


      1. Hi Mike … as I peruse your bloggings I may respond to older posts … I hope you don’t mind. The movie “Arrival” is based on Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life”. From the book “Beyond the Dynamical Universe” by Stuckey et al:

        “For example, in “The Story of Your Life” [Chiang, 2002], Earthlings encounter aliens (“heptapods”) from another planet and attempt to unravel their language and their physics. The heptapods, however, experience a block universe, perceiving past, present, and future as equally real. Perhaps they experience the entire block universe, or at least their own worldtubes from birth to death, as one moment like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen [Moore and Gibbons, 1986]. This block universe perspective infects both the language and physics of the aliens, and the humans must overcome this difference in perspective in order to understand their new friends.”

        I hope you get a chance to read my “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs” soon … I’m quite curious to learn your thoughts on the ERL hypothesis …

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks Stephen. I welcome your views on any post.

          I didn’t know Arrival was based on a specific short story. Interesting. I might have to dig it up at some point.

          Thanks for the reminder about your paper. I still have it sitting in my Google Drive for when I have time to imbibe it. (If you’ll notice, my posting has been lite this year due to time constraints.)


        2. Stephen,
          Just finished reading “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs”. You are an excellent writer, able to capture a reader’s attention and hold it through a profound range of reasoning. You really should blog. (If you are blogging, I would very much like the URL.)

          Before commenting, I have to admit that you probably wouldn’t characterize me as a scientific realist. I actually think the distinction between realism and instrumentalism is incoherent, which for a realist, puts me in the instrumentalist camp. (For more info: )

          If the universe is fully deterministic, then I think the block universe hypothesis is correct. (Whether the universe is fully deterministic seems to come down to which interpretation of quantum mechanics you favor. I’m actually agnostic on the interpretations, suspecting that they’re misguided attempts to cram quantum physics back somehow into the classical world, a world which is emergent from the quantum realm.)

          However, I’m struggling with an aspect of the ERL. For reference, your hypothesis:
          “In the block universe in which our lives are embedded, each of us re-experiences
          our lifetime repeatedly and endlessly.”

          It seems like this hypothesis is dependent on a hidden assumption, that there is a time outside of time. If all of the universe in all four dimensions is a timeless structure, then talk about “re-experiences” or “I’m still experience a past event” or anything along those lines seems to assume that there is an external time, a fifth dimension during which an outside observer can conceivably behold the whole four dimensional structure.

          But if the universe is a timeless four dimensional structure, then we, as patterns embedded in that four dimensional structure, can’t take an outside perspective. Consciousness is itself a pattern in that four dimensional structure. Talking about it “continuing” to exist or existing “eternally” or us being “immortal” seems inherently to introduce that time outside of time concept.

          It seems to me that the outside of the four dimensional structure, if that is a coherent concept, would be a place that is utterly alien to us. But maybe I’m missing something here? I apologize if I’m maybe failing to find the metaphor in the language and not offering the proper amount of interpretational charity.

          I will note that my views toward death are largely Epicurean. I don’t think we’ll ever experience death, although unfortunately we might experience the process of dying. But death itself will simply be non-consciousness, a state we were in prior to developing in the womb, and that we visit every night.


          1. Mike, I’m delighted to learn you’ve read “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs” (EB) and thanks for the encouraging compliments. I’ve considered blogging but haven’t yet taken the plunge … perhaps someday.

            The block universe is not deterministic or in any way dependent on determinism, since nothing happens in the BU. The BU is fixed as-is and it’s existence is a direct implication of the Relativity of Simultaneity of Relativity physics (the RoS of STR). Wikipedia’s definition: “Determinism is the philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are determined completely by previously existing causes.” Relationships like cause and effect, however, are among the regularities we see from what Stuckey et al call the dynamical “ant’s-eye view” of the BU, our stream-of-consciousness-informed worldview. But when considering the BU as an unchanging whole from an adynamical “god’s-eye view,” no event creates or determines any other event—all events simply exist with no dynamical relationships whatsoever connecting them. (BTW, no religious/creator intent is implied by the “god’s-eye view” terminology—the term refers to the consideration of the BU in its entirety).

            To address your main ERL concern, a possibly “hidden assumption” of “a time outside of time,” perhaps you’re still thinking (along with almost all of humanity) that experiencing requires a flowing time in which to do the experiencing. But that’s precisely the illusion! As I wrote, the stream of consciousness—a recognized fact of consciousness—is itself responsible for our illusion of a flowing time. The stream/flow of consciousness is an experience of duration, in which temporally contiguous fixed events in the BU at individual moments of clock time are strung together into an experience of a continuous “movie-in-the-brain.” That duration is a character of the experiencing—it’s a feeling experienced by the conscious organism and is not a “thing” in the BU.

            Expressed another way, the static events “e1, e2 … en” existing at clock times “t1, t2 … tn” are experienced as a unitary flow of perceptions “e1-en”. In our naïve realism we attribute the duration of “e1-en” to a non-existent flowing time interval “t1-tn” in the external world, because the idea of a fixed and unchanging external world is naïvely unimaginable and extremely counter-intuitive—it simply doesn’t feel like we live in a fixed and unchanging external world.

            To summarize, there is no flowing time fourth dimension and no flowing uber-time fifth dimension in the universe. The re-experiencing of ERL requires neither. Because I may not have fully or correctly understood your concerns Mike, I may not have correctly addressed them, so please let me know whether or not I’ve succeeded.

            Liked by 2 people

        3. Hi Stephen,
          I wonder if I’ve got your position right? It seems to me that you’re stating that human perceptions of flowing time cannot ultimately be the case. (And I think beginning with our anthropocentrism is a good place to start in general.) So from a “God’s eye” view there can only be dimensions of existence rather than experienced existence. This is to say coordinates for each state. Thus a (d1, d2, d3, d4,…) for an n number of states of existence. (And I’d add that there may be more than four dimensions to existence, so an n number of those as well.)

          If so then I agree! If you’re saying something else however, then could you appropriately modify this model?


          1. Howdy!
            Per the Special Theory of Relativity, no flowing time exists in the universe and, being non-existent, cannot be perceived. There is definitely experienced existence … we’re doing it right now.

            Here’s a link to my paper “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs” … it may answer most of your questions. If not, please ask away!

            Liked by 1 person

        4. Stephen,
          First, after thinking about it, I’ll concede that I can see the block universe could exist as a timeless structure even if quantum events are inherently random. I’m actually not sure about this point, because I wonder if the randomness doesn’t threaten the cohesiveness of the four dimensional structure, but it’s conceivable all the events are still in that structure.

          On my concern about a hidden assumption, as is often the case with these types of discussions, I suspect that the limitations of language might be getting in the way. I’ll list some points, and maybe you can tell me where I’m going wrong.

          1. In my view, consciousness is a four dimensional structure that exists as a physical process and so requires time to actually be consciousness. If we can speak of an instant in time, we can’t speak of any consciousness happening in that instant. We can speak of a particular brain state in that instant, but consciousness requires a series of those states. (Similar to how a cube actually requires a third dimension to actually be a cube. You can’t have a cube in one or two dimensions. You can provide picture of a cube in two dimensions, but the picture isn’t itself a cube.)
          2. Given 1, that means that an individual consciousness is a pattern that is a subset of the overall timeless four dimensional structure of the universe.

          3. Running along the time dimension of the BU structure, any single consciousness has a point where it exists, but only for very small slice of the overall Bu structure. The pattern of that single consciousness is missing along most of the time dimension of the BU.

          4. The word “eternal” only makes sense if the pattern it refers to runs the entire length of the time dimension of the overall BU. So saying that Julius Ceasar is eternally experiencing his assassination, to be true, would require that his experience of the assassination spans the entire time dimension of the BU.

          5. Likewise, the word “re-experience” only makes sense to me if an experience is duplicated somewhere along the time dimension. As far as I know, the pattern of Ceasar’s experience of assassination exists only one place on that dimension.

          6. Outside of the four dimensional BU, there is no time, therefore nothing that requires time can exist. Referring to the block universe, or anything in it, as “eternal” from this vantage point seems like a category error. We can say “timeless” in the sense of being without time, but not in the sense of being synonymous with eternity. Likewise, using the word “still”, as in Ceasar is still experiencing his assassination, also seems problematic. The word “still” seems like one that requires a time context to be relevant.

          “To summarize, there is no flowing time fourth dimension and no flowing uber-time fifth dimension in the universe. The re-experiencing of ERL requires neither.”

          Related to 1 above, I think this snippet is one I could use more elaboration on. How can experience happen without time?

          I hope this all makes sense, or at least maybe shows where I’m misunderstanding. Philosophical discussion are always difficult due to the limitations of language, and I’m totally open to the possibility that I might just be tripping over metaphorical language.


          1. Mike, I’m too busy today to answer all of your questions, but tomorrow I hope to craft a complete response. I’ll try to provide a quick take on some of your comments here. If you have the time, please try to scan through EB again, since I believe most of your questions are answered there. Particularly about the characteristics of the BU.

            In BU physics, the quantum level business is not random. For a very technical explanation, you can check into “Beyond the Dynamical Universe” by Stuckey et al, a way too expensive book. When I have more time I’ll try to locate some relevant passages from that book to post here. Note the Stuckey quote in the beginning of the “Where Are the Physicists?” section:

            ““We believe that taken together, quantum theory and relativity are really telling us that dynamism, the notion of fundamental entities being evolved in time by dynamical laws, is not the way to think about fundamental physics. …”

            Yes, using ordinary language for time-related ideas can be tricky. By “eternal” I essentially mean “as long as spacetime itself exists.” Your life is a complex structure fixed in spacetime called a worldtube and your worldtube is eternal. Your worldtube’s initial time coordinate is the moment of fertilization and, from the standpoint of your consciousness, ends a the time coordinate of brain death. Spacetime itself must be eternal because, if it ceases to exist, all of spacetime disappears, including our worldtubes.

            More later, but here’s a link to a PDF of Ted Chiang’s story:

            Click to access ted-chiang-story-of-your-life-2000.pdf

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Thanks Stephen. No rush. It took me weeks to get around to reading EB, so I’m completely fine if it takes a while for any response. I did look for answers in the paper, but it might be that they weren’t explicit enough for me. I’m not as well read in physics as you are, so perhaps I didn’t understand a high level reference to some well known concept.


        5. Okay Stephen, I’ve gone through your EB. In many ways I’m very supportive, though not so much in others. Firstly, Einstein is a hero of mine. Once I realized how little the fields of philosophy and psychology (which actually interested me most) had to teach, I went into physics. This was amazing for me, though I’m certainly no genius. My first upper division course, which was in quantum mechanics, soundly kicked my ass. I ended up with a degree in economics, though physics was the subject that profoundly changed me.

          One thing that I love about Einstein is that when quantum mechanics hit, he never gave up his naturalism. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle does not state that causality fails, but rather that things cannot even conceptually be measured perfectly given a duality to matter that makes it neither particle nor wave, but rather both. But the vast majority of physicists, then and today, have gone further to presume that because nothing can be measured perfectly, this must also mean that causality itself fails. And I can’t say that they’re wrong, though given this interpretation they do relinquish their naturalism. Without causality, natural function becomes supernatural function. Here there is effect without cause and/or cause without effect. Like Einstein, I am a naturalist. These other physicists however claim to be naturalists, and yet aren’t given that they believe that causality ultimately fails.

          Regarding your Block Universe, yes I’ve thought about such a “god’s eye” view as well. Here there are countless states of existence, and each of them can be referenced by means of dimensional coordinates. Of course it’s standard to use x, y, z, and t, though I can’t rule out the potential for others simply because I don’t perceive any others. From such a view there is no flowing of time, but rather countless times and other dimensions of existence. And as a naturalist I don’t believe that any of them are random states, but rather causally determined states. One mandates the exact existence of another by means of perfect causality.

          As far as consciousness existing as an instrument from which to make time flow for the conscious entity, well yes, though actually I’ve developed an extensive set of models beyond that. As I define the term, sentience is the crucial element here that essentially “turns the lights on”. Furthermore I believe that this evolved as a teleological form of computer which is outputted by a non-conscious form of computer (the brain), given that there were too many contingencies to deal with in more open environments. Thus evolution effectively said, “Here is punishment and here is reward. Given that existence is now consequential for you, these consequences give you personal motivation to figure out what to do.”

          Another thing about me is that for foundational purposes I’m always okay with reverting back to Cartesian solipsism. There is only one element of noumenal reality that I know with perfect certainty, or that my own thought itself exists. And of course I do not consider myself a god, so it’s from this point that we might see things differently. If my son were to die, would I take any solace that from a god’s eye view outside of time and space, that all states of existence (such as his) remain states of existence? Not at all. He wouldn’t remain for me. And in truth, without consciousness he shouldn’t remain for himself either.


  2. Good points you raised, which I hadn’t thought of.

    I also appreciated the movie’s unique and intelligent approach, but (spoiler-ish alert) could not suspend my disbelief to accept the big reveal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My seemingly pathological aversion to sci-fi militates against me watching this film, Mike, though I’ll pass your recommendation on to a very close friend who, perversely to my mind, reads and watches little but. As for communication with aliens, then surely we can send Sean Spicer off in a little rocket to do that on our behalf?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. “. . . what typically turns you off about it?” Well, it’s pathological, so it’s going to happen anyway, but implausibility doesn’t help. I can’t abide fantasy of any kind either. I did just read Cloud Atlas which is futuristic in some degree, and it’s very beautiful, but the sections on Futurism felt soporific, and I just couldn’t relate at all to these imagined, fantastical worlds. It’s irrational on my part, like those people who insist they can’t abide broccoli — it’s just an idea they’ve got stuck in their head, like me.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thanks. No judgment from me. Fiction, or any art, is a very subjective thing and I don’t think anyone should force themselves to consume any they don’t enjoy. But as an aspiring science fiction author, I’m always interested in what people find objectionable about the genre.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Have you read Cloud Atlas, Mike? The problem I had with that, for example, was that characters in Futurist chapters were all in contexts devoid of relatability, and what interests me in fiction is (loosely speaking) how characters’ inner experience maps to a given context. In other words, I understand the character through their eyes viewing, and then them responding to, a context I can relate to — like a world I more or less know, or can conceive vividly of. If I can’t do that, then the story feels distanced, and I’m never quite inhabiting the characters. We’re all partial reflections of the context in which we live, and without which, there’s not much but a blank slate, is there? Maybe that’s one reason why sci-fi writers anthropomorphise, as you say in your piece, so we can at least have some relatable context?

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          2. Jumping off of Hariod’s thoughts here, I can see his point about Sci-Fi being hard to relate to, and for me it often is, precisely because I can’t get my head around the characters. It’s not a matter of not sympathizing with them, but just not sensing them as unique individuals. I’ve often wondered why there’s a great deal of what I’ll call voicelessness in this genre. Or, if there is a voice, it feels sort of cliche, like any stock character from a plot-driven action film. In other words, contrived. I can almost hear an editor saying, “You need voice.” So the author tacks it on, which for me is worse than having a purely logical, nearly emotionless character.

            I used to think it was just bad writing. Now, I’m wondering if it has something to do with that lack of a familiar context. What do you think?

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          3. Tina, I suspect a substantial part of it is the writing. Science fiction is a genre where writers who aren’t great at characterization can still find a market if their ideas are sufficiently novel or exciting. And this is against a backdrop where classic science fiction was often written from a male perspective for other males, consequently a lot of women struggle with older books.

            But sometimes the issue could be from an attempt to portray “the other”, a character so different that we might struggle to relate to them, by design. Hariod, it seems possible that might be what you encountered with Sonmi-451. I found her relatable in the movie, but that might have been because there was an actress playing her. (In science fiction media, anytime you want an AI or alien to be relatable, have them portrayed by a human, in voice if no other way, or be cute.) Of course, in the book, simply having her be the POV was probably calculated to make her more relatable, but it sounds like it failed with you.

            But Hariod’s discussion of the character in relation to their environment makes me wonder if the setting matters too. An experienced sci-fi reader is used to starting a book with little or no context and having it slowly painted throughout the story. I don’t think the answer is to bring back the infamous upfront infodumps (although that still happens in a lot of writing), but the often extremely tight stream of consciousness POV feels like it might be withholding too much of the context.

            Admittedly, this is all speculation on my part.

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          4. Speculation is totally fine with me, especially when talking about fiction writing. 🙂

            It might be a matter of audience, as you imply, when it comes to Sci-Fi readers being less focused on characterization, and primarily interested in the ideas behind the story. Of course I’d rather have my cake and eat it too, but I understand that some people might not find these matters as important as I do.

            I just did a short exercise for my writing group in which we tried to write something plot-driven, and as close to voiceless as possible. I ended up writing something Sci-Fi-ish (I can’t really say what genre it belongs to since it was only an exercise and didn’t go very far. It might be more in the Fantasy realm.) I saw this as the only way to get away with voicelessness—to have the story’s interest come alive in the setting and premise of the story. In the end, I sort of liked what I’d written, but I thought it would’ve been a lot better if I’d given my character a unique personality as a lens through which to see this world. But what I noticed about that exercise was the tension came from the world-building and the release of information about that world through the immediate action. It was a sort of puzzle: Why is this happening? What is this character? Human? A hybrid? Enhanced? Why is he tracking someone who’s tracking him? How does he know what’s going on several blocks away? Is he good or bad? Etc. I can see how this could get tedious, and we’d need to have these questions answered and that world opened up sooner rather than later. And then we’re back to character and motivation, which I sense should have (and could have) been building alongside these questions, or rather, integrated the whole time.

            Maybe the problem is that character and context ARE integrated? Maybe the exotic world building that often comes with Sci-Fi doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything in terms of character development, but writers of that genre who don’t create the sort of characters Hariod and I would like to read aren’t quite connecting with the world they’ve built in a lived way? It’s a lot easier to write about our world, to find those details that really make the story come alive, than it is to make up similarly interesting details that reveal character and cohere in a made-up world. Also, when we reference details in our world, the audience is likely to know what these signify without needing an explanation. In Sci-Fi, it’s harder to get close to those obviously foreign details, treating them the as if they were familiar, and there’s an urge to explain things that might not need to be explained.

            For my part, I’d love to write something in Fantasy, but I think I need to work on myself as a writer before I tackle something like that. Sci-Fi would be really hard for me, and I’m sure I’d fail at it, but it would be a great educational experience. I see these as offering a great deal of freedom to writers, but as they say, with freedom comes responsibility. 🙂


          5. Interesting what you say there Tina, and harking back to Cloud Atlas, then something really puzzled me about it. Never mind that you’ve possibly not read it, but it’s constructed as six loosely intertwining stories (through characters being reborn, fwiw), and spans some four centuries in total. Mitchell, in my view, is dazzlingly good at bringing the diverse characters alive, at voicing them so convincingly you’re comfortably inhabiting them within a few pages.

            The one character he gets wrong, and catastrophically so, it seemed to me, is Sonmi-451, who’s a former replicant now ‘ascended’ to full human sentience and self-awareness. She’s living in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic Korea of c.2200. I couldn’t relate to her at all! She seemed somehow lifeless, or one-dimensional, and yet that would surely have been quite the opposite of Mitchell’s intent given he needs to demonstrate her revealed humanity. And I wonder if all this (if correct) is to do with Mitchell himself not being able to emotionally inhabit the futuristic context he’d created. Because frankly, it was inexplicable given his brilliance throughout the rest of the novel in vivifying characters. Such a disappointment in what for me would otherwise have been an exceptional novel.

            We both seem to be thinking this ‘voicelessness’, as you call it, is related to this business of the author not being able to project their emotional sense (something like that?) into the fictionalised narrative context. That would mean they don’t really believe it. So why should I? Then again, given my aversion to this genre I can hardly be qualified to talk on it.

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        1. Like Hariod, I generally avoid most sci-fi films. Some of the FX are fun to watch, but most of the story lines are not that interesting. Plus, most of the sci-fi these days are just action films using FX and futuristic scenarios. Few put forth a plausible storyline and that’s probably because of the writer. What made Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone so watchable was its plausibility and sense of mystery, playing upon many cultural ‘fears’.

          I read Cloud Atlas and was taken in by the beauty of the writing. When I saw the film, it was nothing like the book and really annoyed me.

          The best sci-fi film I’ve seen in recent memory is Ex-Machina. I thought it was very well done.

          BTW, I’ve just returned from the opening reception and talk of Sebastiao Salgado’s photographic exhibition here in Bangkok. Salgado is a force of nature and delivered a very moving talk about his life and work. At his opening talk, he gave two slide presentations featuring very moving music, one being Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony, along with huge projections of many of his best photographs. The effect of his view of humanity, especially the indigenous peoples, the great migration of refugees fleeing war and natural calamities, and the destruction of the earth’s treasures like rain forests, glaciers, and eradication of some animal species is more like a mesmerizing sci-fi movie than anything I’ve ever seen in film. He is a very good speaker as well as a photographer.

          Sorry for the slight detour.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. My head was so filled with Salgado’s images, I forgot to mention that I did see Arrival. Forest Whitaker’s role was so annoying and unnecessary, that it almost ruined the film for me. What I liked most about the film, were the time changes in Amy Adams brain, not the figuring out how to communicate with the aliens or the anti-climactic ending. The psychology of her story was fascinating. The rest, utter fantasy. No linguist would do what they did.

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          2. Jeff, I know what you mean about modern films, although I find that to be true for just about any action movie these days. Many producers don’t even try for plausibility anymore, which is annoying. I can often still enjoy them, but only as popcorn entertainment, the same way I might enjoy a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

            On the other hand, I’m also annoyed by a lot of pretentious films that tout themselves as serious works to be taken seriously by serious people. I find too many of them preachy and unpleasant to watch, with usually far less insight than they put on airs about.

            It seems like we should be able to find some middle ground. A lot of sci-fi literature manages to be both intelligent and entertaining. But Hollywood seems to struggle to get there.

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    1. Can’t say I’ve read Cloud Atlas. I had never heard of it before the movie came out. While I did enjoy the movie, the reincarnation premise would probably have turned me off for the book. I like the science in my sci-fi to be more rigorous than that.

      Do you think the future chapters might have worked better if they had done a better job describing the setting? I ask because it’s currently fashionable in science fiction to avoid infodumps at all cost, but leave clues throughout the narrative so that readers can piece the world together. It’s fun for some readers, but frustrating for others, and I often wonder if the genre leaves readers behind because of it. It seems telling that most movies have never bought into that, being careful to have establishing material upfront.

      Or would it have helped if the characters had been more relatable, maybe acted more like 21st century characters even though they were in a future century?

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      1. CA is exquisitely written, and Mitchell’s capacity to voice diverse characters with wit and acuity was dazzling, I thought. I’ve not seen the film, but have heard it’s not bad.

        As regards your question about describing the future settings in CA, then that was done comprehensively, and done well in a literary sense too; but again, it wasn’t relatable to me; it wasn’t inhabitable in the sense I couldn’t place myself in the characters’ shoes — I couldn’t map myself into or onto the over-wrought, futuristic context, so everything felt at arms length emotionally. Maybe this is unavoidable when the context is some 200 years’ hence? That said, the story also went back in time almost as great a period, and yet that was relatable. If accurate, then maybe what I’m saying is a reflection of Mitchell’s own flawed capacity to inhabit an entirely imaginarily-projected future?

        The ‘mistake’ I think Mitchell made was not to do as you suggest is in vogue now, and that is in letting the reader do a little more of the contextual imagining by means of suggestion and greater subtlety. If it’s painted too vividly by the writer, and not by the reader, then it seems there’s the risk of this emotionally detached feeling I, and perhaps others, experienced? It’s tricky I suppose, because the context has to be vividly alive so as to be relatable, but it doesn’t become subjectively vivid in reams of descriptive text alone. I suppose the best writers have a capacity to say just enough, without over-egging. ‘Just enough’, I think translates as ‘understated’ — it’s impressionistic, but the impressionism is felt emotionally more deeply than the a sort of painterly realism, if you get my awkwardly analogous drift?

        I think your final point is possibly a compromise worth making on the writer’s half. It’s a cliché, but a novel is something of a conversation between writer and reader, and if they’re talking different languages . . . Besides, I’m not sure we as a species change much at all over a millennia or five. The basic traits are more or less unaltered. So, I don’t know what you mean by ‘acted’, but I think the psychological responses are not going to be much different from one century or millennia to the next. They’ll shift, but it’ll be like the volume changing by a decibel from 86 to 85; it’s not subjectively detectable.

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        1. Hariod, you make a good point about a novel being a collaboration between the author and reader. The author’s job is to invoke and provide scaffolding for the reader’s imagination. It’s why scripts, with their terse precise descriptions, generally aren’t sold as entertainment in an of themselves.

          With that in mind, I’m very much a descriptive minimalist, both as a writer and in what I prefer to read. Long elaborate descriptions tend to make my mind wander and for the story to feel slow. Of course, many readers love long detailed descriptions, Different people have different tastes. But, although I’m a minimalist, I recognize that you can go too far, to the point that the characters seem to be talking to each other in white rooms. A little description can add a lot of color and vividness to a scene.

          But I think what many non-sci-fi readers find challenging about a lot of sci-fi literature, is the slow reveal of the overall world the characters are in, particularly when written in an overly limited stream of consciousness POV, where nothing can be explained except what the character is currently thinking about. It doesn’t come up for historical settings, because an educated reader already has an idea of that world, and can usually quickly orient where the characters are in it, even if they’re learning new details about that period. But a fictional future or fantasy world typically isn’t known yet, and will only be known through the story.

          Cultural norms do make a big difference in how people behave. Yes, human nature doesn’t change that fast (although who knows what the future might bring). But all you have to do is read fiction from the 1930s, not to mention previous centuries, to see how different our expectations of characters are today. The role of women in particular is very different. Most fiction, regardless of what time period it’s set in, has characters behave in the manner contemporary to when it’s written. Although some books (Dune comes to mind) go out of their way to break that mold.

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  4. Tina,
    That sounds like it was an interesting exercise.

    “But what I noticed about that exercise was the tension came from the world-building and the release of information about that world through the immediate action.”

    I suspect that’s a key point. In a lot of speculative fiction, there is something wrong with the world, and the events are world changing ones. It probably allows the author to get by with less character development. Indeed, Lord of the Rings would have limited bandwidth to arc through Frodo’s abandonment issues.

    That said, having read some old early pulp science fiction (late 1920s), character development in many of those stories truly was non-existent, with the characters really just placeholders. Only the grand settings and events kept them borderline readable. (You would likely find them hopelessly unreadable.)

    It’s also worth noting that, in reality, few fantasy and science fiction stories start out with truly unknown worlds. Most adhere to one degree or another with what I call the consensus mythology. Most fantasies are some variation of Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Howard’s Hyborian Age, which are themselves caricatures of the medieval world. Most space opera settings are some variation of Star Trek or Star Wars. (Those franchises didn’t create the consensus space opera settings, they just tapped into ones built over decades of prior stories.) For that matter, even westerns and mysteries tap into common archetypes and settings. Think of the prototypical small western town.

    Stories that rely heavily on these common mythologies might have more space to explore alternate characters, within reason. Someone picking up a book with a spaceship on the cover might have limited patience reading through a character’s existential dilemmas, unless those dilemmas are central to the external tensions.

    I think it takes a certain kind of hubris to want to be a science fiction author. You’ll almost certainly get at least some of the science wrong. (A lot of hard science fiction authors who wouldn’t dream of screwing up spaceship mechanics often show serious ignorance of economics, neuroscience, or other topics.) And even if you do get it perfect, new discoveries will eventually make your speculations obsolete. But you don’t have to get it perfect, only better than most casual readers would.

    That said, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t enjoy reading a lot of science fiction and science. In some ways, fantasy, which itself requires research to do well, is a lot easier.

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    1. The exercise was part of my writing group’s systematic rule-breaking theme which was meant to help us get some insight into new territories, and take risks we ordinarily wouldn’t take (since this was just an exercise). That one happened to my rule break (“Strong voice”), which explains why I found it so illuminating.

      “Stories that rely heavily on these common mythologies might have more space to explore alternate characters, within reason.”

      That’s a good point. If you’re working within a certain framework with certain expectations, you can leave some of that world-building to the imagination, and expand on other ideas. Lord of the Rings is classic in that way. I imagine that hard Sci-Fi would be more focused on getting the science right in that world, which would make the stuff of literary fiction seem somewhat secondary. Not that it has to be, but getting the science right—that in itself—would be a lot to ask of a writer. But sometimes all it takes is a light brush stroke, a little detail here and there that makes the whole story come alive.

      “Someone picking up a book with a spaceship on the cover might have limited patience reading through a character’s existential dilemmas, unless those dilemmas are central to the external tensions.”

      Solaris came pretty close to having lengthy existential dilemmas, but of course in that, they were integrated in the story—your basic “How Do We Communicate with Aliens?” plot with a psychological twist. And maybe that explains why I really liked that novel. I agree that the internal dilemmas should converge with the external, otherwise it might be kind of like reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea in outer space. Wow. That sounds like a really bad combo.

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      1. Now that you mention it, I tried to read a book several years ago about a man whose wife had disappeared in space. The story explored at length his sense of loss and how it was wrecking his personal and professional life. And when I say “at length”, that’s all that had happened by the 50% mark. It seemed more a story about someone working through their grief than about space. I don’t know if it ever got around to anything actually happening in space, because I gave up on it around that 50% point. (I’d probably abandon it much earlier today.)

        Which is to say, as a science fiction reader, I do need characterization. I felt its absence keenly in those early pulp stories. But I also need the story to be about some external thing, about conflicts other than psychological ones. In other words, I need a happy medium. No characterization makes me not care about what’s happening. Nothing but characterization makes me wonder why the author bothered with a sci-fi setting or concept.

        I’m currently reading Babylon’s Ashes, the sixth Expanse book. There is a lot of character introspection in it. So much that the story feels bogged down to me, although the action is picking up in the last third of the book. I’m not sure they could have gotten away with that much inner monologue in the first book of the series. (The one that the TV show is currently drawing from, mostly.) But I have to admit I know the characters much better because of it.

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        1. I’m the same way for the most part, with any sort of novel. There are a few exceptions, but I generally need some external conflict, otherwise I get bored. That conflict doesn’t have to anything crazy or complicated, but it should be tangible. A lot of it depends on how good the writing is, at least for me. The introspection had better be interesting.

          If that show’s on Netflix, I might have to check it out. (I’m getting incredibly impatient with real TV lately. I want to be able to binge watch a show, otherwise I don’t really want to get into it.)

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          1. Finished Babylon’s Ashes last night. On balance I enjoyed it, but boy they really went overboard with the inner monologues in this one, to the extent that many of the action scenes were only relayed by characters reminiscing after the fact about what happened. I mean, connecting with the characters is all good and well, but too much starts to make the book feel like it’s just characters mulling things over, with the external world occasionally interceding.

            Overall it felt like they took 500 pages to tell a 200 page story. (That’s a beef I’m having with more and more books these days.) I wonder if the authors are getting too busy with being producers on the show.

            It doesn’t look like The Expanse is on Netflix yet, which I find surprising. Season 1 is on Amazon Prime if you have that, but Season 2 requires a separate purchase. If you have cable with the Syfy channel, you can watch Season 2 on their site, although probably with commercials.

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          2. I know what you mean about reminiscing after the fact. Sometimes that can work, but that flashback had better be interesting in itself, at least for me, and it had better have something to do with the present.

            I also know what you mean about overly-lengthy books. The worst is when you expect it all to add up, and you get to the end and say, “That’s it? All this for what?” I finished Infinite Jest a while back and that was what I felt about it. There were all these interesting setups, but they were deliberately left hanging, which got on my nerves. Really strong setups too.

            I guess I’ll have to wait for it to come out on Netflix then. We don’t have many regular TV channels (I think we watch HBO and PBS, and a few others for news, but that’s it.) No Amazon Prime. We’ve been going over to a friend’s house to watch a few episodes of a show on Amazon Prime that I can’t remember the title of right now, but it’s about AI (some enhanced or hybrid humans, some robots used as housekeepers, etc.) Very similar to Westworld, without the west, and without all the twists. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve seen it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve just described dozens of shows. I hate how I forget these things!

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          3. On the flashbacks, they used them competently. I just thought they overused them. When I’m reading a flashback, the context of the frame stays in my mind, where it seems like nothing much is happening. And the flashbacks were more summaries of what happened, sacrificing, I thought, a lot of dramatic tension. The overall effect was what felt like a slow moving story.

            On stories adding up, yeah. That’s one reason why I’ve been reading a lot about story structure. I personally get really annoyed with authors who do setups and don’t provide payoffs, particularly when they claim to have done it on purpose. Most of the time, to me, it comes across as rationalized laziness. It feels like a violation of the author-reader compact. I rarely read anything else by someone who’s done it.

            No clue on the Amazon AI show. I actually don’t enjoy most fiction where an AI is the principal subject. Too much of it buys into common misconceptions. That said, I did enjoy Westworld, but more for the overall story (including the twists) than the AI philosophizing.

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          4. A summarizing flashback seems really crazy to me, if it’s a sustained thing. Unless that summarizing is very cleverly written, I can’t see that working. I tend to write flashbacks as a thematic advancement, bookended by real time. I honestly have no idea why I like this format so much—almost a Rashomon thing—but it keeps coming back to me, at least with the novel I’m working on.

            I’m also really interested in story structure, mainly because it’s such a complicated and elusive thing for me. Setups and payoffs are so tricky. Pacing them and choosing the elements of the story that need to be given and hidden, etc., and who needs to be doing the telling, it’s all so complicated.

            I’m with you on dangling threads, and yeah, saying that they’re intentional doesn’t help at all. If they were intentional, then we should feel that in the writing, we shouldn’t be left feeling that something’s missing. I usually end up thinking, “So…what’s the meaning then? Why is it hiding from me?”

            I just read John Gardner’s classic, The Art of Fiction, and he speaks to novice writers who might be tempted to engage in what you’ve aptly called rationalized laziness. There’s a time when the rules don’t apply, he grants that, but he also says you’d better be making a point. Some parts of his book are a bit pedantic, but by and large I got a good deal of insight from it, mostly in hearing what I already vaguely knew articulated differently and with loads of examples. I especially liked the part on structure, which tends to elude me as I make my way through the forest. Any recommendations on the subject?

            Also, I enjoyed Westworld too, but I worried that it might have been more complicated than it needed to be. That said, I couldn’t make sense of it, so maybe I’m the problem. The philosophical stuff wasn’t terribly interesting for me either. I mostly liked the puzzle of it all, and thought it would make for a nice discussion with friends, especially if you get to watch it several times and pause it and discuss directly afterwards, because the details are so important and fun to analyze.

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          1. On the Expanse book, one thing that occurred to me. Science fiction is something of a meta-genre similar to historical fiction, where each SF story also has a sub-genre (romance, thriller, mystery, heist, etc); i.e. a romance in space, a heist in space, etc. The authors admitted in an interview that each book was their attempt at a different sub-genre. This latest book may have been their try at more of a literary tale about character inner conflicts. Maybe.

            On story structure, the most comprehensive book I found on it was K. M. Weiland’s ‘Structuring Your Novel’. She identified more elements than anyone else I’ve read so far. I also got good information from ‘Plot and Structure’ by James Scott Bell. (Bell wrote some other structure books I was less impressed with.) ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder is about script writing, and I don’t buy his overly formulaic approach, but he has some good story pointers.

            He doesn’t really have any unique insights, but I found the attitude of Jim Driver’s various short books on writing a good cure for the intimidation I developed reading the other books. ‘How to Write a Novel the Easy Way! Using the Pulp Fiction Method’ in particular pierced a block I was developing. It seems somewhat a riff on Randy Ingersoll’s ‘How to Write Using the Snowflake Method’, but with a much looser, less top-down attitude.

            But if you only read one, I’d check out Weiland’s book. I plan to circle back to it sometime soon. Also, Weiland, Driver, and Ingersoll all have websites worth googling.

            You’re the third person I know who’s praised Humans. Sounds like I need to give it a chance. It looks like there are eight episodes. Maybe I’ll watch ep 1 tomorrow.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Interesting, a literary Sci-Fi. Now I’m beginning to wonder what ‘literary’ even means. In my mind, it signifies something that could be a classic, or something of quality (not intended to be for pure entertainment) and not genre. But that seems overly broad, doesn’t it? I’m wondering if, practically speaking, it simply means ‘not genre’? And if so, then a literary Sci-Fi would be a sort of contradiction. But possibly an interesting one.

            Thanks for the suggestions. I have come across Ingersoll’s website a few times, but I was probably looking for an answer to a specific question. I’ll definitely check out Weiland’s book. I like to read these books with my novel in mind, to help me spot holes and dangling threads.

            On Humans, I think it’s worth a watch. If you found Westworld entertaining, you might like this one too. It’s actually a lot less convoluted, with a more realistic feel (there are Apple-ish elements to it.)

            That said, I have a low bar when it comes to TV. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been watching Prison Break non-stop for way too long, and I know it’s a terrible show but the cliff hangers get me every time. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          3. I was using “literature” in the sense of the story conflict being dominated by internal character tensions. Maybe it wasn’t the best term. I know literature is also used to refer to political or social commentary fiction, which is there but not dominant.

            I think my primary interest in structure is to ensure that my stories have the right emotional kick in the right places. I’ve been unhappy with the stories I came up with, but wasn’t sure what was missing. Structure seems like one of the things I wasn’t getting right.

            Just watched the first episode of Humans. The similarities with Westworld are striking in that they both appear to be about AIs with emerging consciousness. (In both cases, consciousness seems to equate with human-like emotions.) Their development is too close together chronologically for one to be a riff on the other, but it appears they might both have been inspired by a Swedish show named Real Humans. Humans wasn’t bad. I’ll probably watch some more of it. Thanks for recommending it.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Now a comment on your post, which I didn’t mean to neglect! Your point about communication with aliens and reminds me of a book I bought a while ago called “Teach Your Dog to Read.” I thought it would be interesting to hear what was meant by that. Turns out, you teach your dog a few basic training commands (sit, down, etc.) and then hold up cards with that word on it—in a very very specific and controlled way that I won’t get into—until your dog learns to associate those two, eventually not needing to hear the command.

    Well, long story short, the author claims that she used stick figures to see if the dogs could spontaneously learn those actions. She claims they can. I’m not sure, but it’s interesting stuff. The stick figures looked pretty difficult to decipher, at least to me.

    But in any case, your point about using pictures instead of far-removed symbols for complex concepts seems pretty obvious to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting. Two things come to mind.

      First, I’d have to wonder if this is classical or operant conditioning. The first requires no intelligence. Even some single celled organism have been shown to do it. It’s just repeatedly pairing a stimulus that causes an unconditioned reaction with one that initially doesn’t cause a reaction, until the second stimulus does start to invoke that reaction.

      The more sophisticated one, operant conditioning, requires some degree of understanding, some incipient level of reasoning as to cause and effect. Of course, dogs are definitely capable of operant learning when its about something like finding food. Any conscious creature is. In fact, it’s one of the signs of consciousness. But whether they can reason about symbols on paper is an interesting question.

      Second, I think any endeavor to show pictures to dogs would have to use care and remember that their visual perception is different than ours. Humans see in reds, greens, and blues, and combinations thereof. Dogs see in blues and yellows. And their visual acuity, their ability to make out distinct shapes, if far more limited. A detailed color picture might look like a splotchy mess to them.

      (I always used to wonder why my dogs never found the scenes on TV interesting. Now I suspect it was because TVs are designed for human eyesight, and the pictures on them probably look like nothing real to dogs.)

      Of course, all these issues could exist, and even be exacerbated with aliens. But with aliens intelligent enough for technology, it seems like the pictures could be relatively abstract, simple black on white stick figures, with the aliens hopefully able to map the patterns to reality. But if we’re dealing with aliens who see in a radically different part of the spectrum, I could see all kinds of possible hangups.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fascinating stuff, right? I’m not sure what type of conditioning is involved. The author says that you have to get the dog very well trained with verbal commands only, and she tells you how to do that so that you don’t end up inadvertently giving away the answer with your eyes or gestures. Once the dog is doing the commands without gestures, and reliably, then you move on to the “reading” part of it. You use basic white computer paper, and get the (presumably black) written word commands from her website and print them out—the print is fairly large—then laminate the paper and make sure it’s very clean. She’s adamant about this. No fingerprints or stains on the paper. Don’t try to handwrite it on a small piece of paper and expect that to work. Then you have to be prepared to hold the flashcards in a certain way, and at the exact time that you give the command. There were other things you have to do, but I forget. It’s highly controlled, which is part of the reason why I haven’t tried it (too lazy to laminate). Also, I don’t see any need to do it. Geordie’s pretty close to getting a few basic commands down without gestures and I haven’t really been working on him much, but I still don’t see any need for him to know how to read flashcards. I was more interested in naming objects, but her book is geared toward actions.

        Anyways, the surprising thing the author found out was when she moved to action symbols (stick figures) rather than words. Apparently after she’d taught the basic command words (sit, down, etc.) she tried to use doggie stick figures to see what would happen. On the same dog who’d mastered the written commands, she pulled out a stick figure of a dog standing on its hind legs with its paws on a table. She thought she’d have to teach the dog what the stick figures meant, but the dog did it spontaneously in the middle of a demonstration. Hard to believe, especially if you saw the stick figure, which looked really strange to me. And she claims the dog continued to do whatever the stick figure was doing, even when the trainer made a mistake (like, by accidentally holding the card upside down). I’m still incredulous. Also, dogs can learn Chinese, she claims. This seemed amazing to me considering how detailed Chinese characters are, but I’m more inclined to believe it after seeing a documentary demonstrating that dogs can count, and quite rapidly too. That’s another lengthy explanation right there, which I won’t get into.

        As for TV, I’ve heard that older TVs were difficult for dogs to see the way we do, but our newer ones are fine. They see them as moving images rather than a series of stills. I can tell you from my experience with Geordie, he definitely sees the TV. He doesn’t always actively watch it, but he really liked the animal documentary that’s been showing on PBS recently on spy animal robots. (Great show. You should check it out. I think you’d like it.) With Geordie and the TV, he definitely sees the animals on there, since he jumps up at them and barks, usually his “play with me” bark, but he doesn’t understand that they’re not real (or if he does, it’s only after he calms down…I’m pretty sure excitement ruins his ability to think clearly…I’ve seen him bark at his own mirror reflection while in the midst of rambunctious playing, but otherwise he seems to know his own reflection). He often runs behind the wall behind the TV and looks for the rest of the animal, at least at first. Other times (usually after we’ve told him to stop barking) he sits up on the couch with his ears pointed forward and watches with us—only the animal shows—and can sit calmly depending on the kind of animal on the TV, and whether they’re doing something exciting, and whether their actual natural sounds are coming through. The sound is really important in getting his attention. He did once bark at a still image of a fox with no sound, though.

        With dogs it’s easy to find out their motivations, and fairly easy to use those to get their attention to communicate with them. Of course, every dog is different, in my experience, so you know what works and what doesn’t once you spend enough time learning them. (I can say “laser” and get Geordie’s undivided attention 100% of the time, even when he’s very interested in something else, but “treat” isn’t nearly as interesting to him. I imagine that’s different with other dogs.) Aliens, I would think, would require the same sort of understanding. We’d have to know what motivates them, what gets their attention, and, as you say, what CAN get their attention. If they can’t see, it would be hard to show them images, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Mike, to address your concerns and those of Philosopher Eric, I thought it would be a good idea to start a new “sub-thread” for the ERL discussion and start with an outline of the logic distilled from “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs”. For a better understanding of the block universe, I recommend Brian Greene’s chapter 5 “The Frozen River” in his book “The Fabric of the Cosmos”.


    The two requirements for belief in ERL:

    As Einstein said in the Besso quote: You believe in physics. If you have ever used GPS or depend on GPS (which we all do) then you believe in Relativity physics.
    That you believe the mind (consciousness) is created by the brain. It doesn’t matter what consciousness is or how the brain creates it.

    The LOGIC of ERL

    1. That our universe is a block universe (BU, aka spacetime) is an implication of the Special Theory of Relativity, STR, Relativity physics. If you don’t like the BU, you can a) prove experimentally that a flowing time exists, b) demonstrate that lightspeed in a vacuum isn’t a constant maximum or, c) invalidate the repeatedly confirmed Relativity physics in some other way. Good luck! 😉
    2. In our BU, per STR: a) everything exists, including all the events we consider “past” and “future”, b) nothing can change in spacetime, c) neither a flowing present time nor a “now” exist in the universe.

    3. Our experience of a moving, changing world and the feeling of “now” are (can only be) artifacts of consciousness per 2c. The flow/stream of consciousness is a fact of consciousness. We incorrectly attribute our feeling of the flow of consciousness to a flowing present time which does not exist in the universe, so that attribution is an illusion.

    4. Per item 2a, our complete lifetimes are part of the everything that exists in the BU (such a complex object is called a worldtube).

    5. We do not experience individual moments of consciousness but, rather, all of our moments of consciousness are incorporated into and experienced as a stream of consciousness.

    6. All of our worldtube’s conscious streams exist in the BU.

    7. The stream of consciousness we are currently experiencing is not distinguished in any way from any of the other streams of consciousness in our worldtube, again per 2c, therefore all of the streams of consciousness in our worldtube are always being experienced.

    8. Our worldtubes are an unchanging feature of spacetime and exist as long as spacetime itself exists. Spacetime must be eternal—if spacetime ceased to exist at some “future” time coordinate T, we would not be here, per 2b.

    QED: In the block universe in which our lives are embedded, each of us re-experiences our lifetime repeatedly and endlessly.


    I use the term “re-experience” because “Your stream of consciousness as you read this description is pursued by streams you’ve already experienced and is following the streams in your future that you’ve yet to discover. From your point of view, the pursuing streams are repeating the experiencing you’ve left behind and your current experience would be seen as a re-experiencing from the point of view of the streams ahead of you on the timeline.”

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        1. Sorry Stephen. I have no idea what WordPress is doing. I took the liberty of editing your numbers back in, but it modified it each time. It appears to be “helping” us by modifying the formatting. Maddening.

          I think I finally got it in the form you meant, but let me know if it’s not right.


  7. So the question looms: how can we experience a flow of consciousness across an interval of clock time in a static and unchanging BU without a flowing time? Here’s a suggested simple model of physical consciousness created by the brain that is conformant with STR and ERL:

    Any particular conscious feeling (qualia, if you will) IS a particular Neural Tissue Configuration (NTC) in whatever brain structure creates consciousness. The NTC does not “create” a separate consciousness “thing”—the configuration IS the conscious feeling. The “configuration” would be a pattern of neural cells and their connectivity in the ever-present bath of neurotransmitters and other neural regulating biochemicals.

    The idea is not that consciousness is a “something” created by the NTC, but that the conscious feeling and the NTC are one and the same. Imagine a small bundle of cells being “bent” in a specific way and that precise configuration of tissue feels, for example, like a touch. For the interval of clock time during which that configuration exists in the BU, the touch will be experienced as a continuous feeling.

    A simplistic model that I don’t claim is the actual mechanism of consciousness, but it certainly seems workable. Considering the compelling logic of ERL, I believe any hypothesis about the workings of consciousness must additionally conform to Relativity physics and its implications.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Stephen. I’m grateful for the effort you put in providing clarifications.

      On the logic of ERL, I’m on board with what you wrote immediately above and in your ERL logic until we get to 7 and 8, where the verbiage again, it seems to me, implies a time outside of time. I can grant you interpretational charity by simply accepting the romantic use of terms like “eternal” and “re-experiencing”, but then I have to do so for the core proposition, which seems Pyrrhic.

      I don’t dispute that the consciousness of my deceased parents is part of spacetime. My dispute is more whether referring to this as “eternal re-experiencing of life” accurately conveys the situation. As Eric pointed out, I’m still separated from them, with only memories (increasingly hazy simulations) left. The part of my consciousness typing this comment can’t interact with their consciousness due to the distance in spacetime between them. That they are an indelible part of spacetime is intellectually interesting, but emotionally unfulfilling.

      I do agree that the block universe is a fascinating concept. I haven’t read Brian Greene’s description of it, but I did read Max Tegmarks several years ago in his book, “The Mathematical Universe”. It’s a heady concept. But ultimately it seems we’re trapped in the framework that evolution gave us, a view of reality that, while not really accurate, is one we can only transcend intellectually, not viscerally.


  8. Mike, I really don’t understand why you believe that experiencing the flow of consciousness “implies a time outside of time.” I don’t understand the “time outside of time” concept. Since time is simply clock time, one of the dimensions of our 4-dimensional spacetime, that phrase is as meaningless for me as the phrase “a length outside of length.” I’m guessing that you firmly believe that experiencing can only happen in a flowing present time. However, there is no flowing time in the universe, so that belief is incorrect.

    Item 7 says that none of the streams of consciousness in your worldtube are special—all of them are always being experienced as “now-streams” regardless of their location along the temporal dimension. Item 8 is asserting that spacetime never ceases to exist and, in that sense, I believe spacetime and our worldtubes within it are properly described as eternal.

    Everything that exists in spacetime and spacetime itself never stops existing—it’s eternal. I don’t believe my usage here is incorrect or “romantic.” It’s the same as in Einstein’s phrase “the eternity of life.” Perhaps you’re thinking of the common usage of eternal as meaning “until the end of (flowing) time,” i.e., spanning the lifetime of the dynamic universe. Or eternal as a permanent existence outside of the universe, as in the religious belief of an eternal afterlife or deity, as in “God is eternal.” Those are legitimate variant meanings for the word eternal. The proposition that everything we consider past and future exists all at once in the block universe is called Eternalism, and I’m using the word in that precise way.

    As for the choice of “re-experiencing,” I don’t see that as a “romantic” word usage either. Again, the thinking is that your worldtube is You from conception to brain death. Your experience of reading this sentence is a permanent fixture of your worldtube at your current spacetime coordinates and you feel that experience of reading over and over and over, always and eternally as a component of the stream of your consciousness that exists at these spacetime coordinates. As I pointed out, we can’t call this a Nietzche-style recurrence because to recur is to happen over again and nothing happens or has ever happened in spacetime. So I chose instead to use the word re-experience to describe that repetition. The word choice was difficult, but, for me, “re-experience” expresses the idea of the endless repetition of the streams of consciousness in your worldtube. I’m open to suggestions for any other term that captures the idea of feeling a single experience “repeatedly” or “over and over”. Any ideas?

    Of course you cannot escape from your current stream and you cannot experience anything at spacetime coordinates different from your current spacetime coordinates. That’s why you’re currently separated from your parents—their worldtubes exist but have a terminus at spacetime coordinates in your past. The fact remains, however, that all of your experiences behind you on your timeline that include your parents exist and are always being experienced. I don’t find that emotionally unfulfilling, but, rather comforting. It’s precisely why Einstein said that death means nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Trapped in some evolutionary framework? Although I have my inclinations, I’m not certain what to think about our ERL reality, but here are a few observations to consider:

    Your life has never happened because nothing happens in spacetime. Your life was created in its entirety and none of it by you. You’re not doing anything and you never have. You haven’t made any decisions. It’s absurd to be proud of accomplishments or disappointed by failures. If your life was constructed with religious beliefs, they are all false. Your life has no purpose and no meaning—it’s “just there” exactly as it is. Not only does death mean nothing—nothing at all means anything.

    But the pleasant parts feel pleasant and the pain and suffering parts feel bad. Over and over again.

    The experiencing of a life in the BU is akin to a being a consciousness inhabiting an automaton in a pre-scripted part in a movie, which is probably why I’ve concluded that my own life experience is best seen as entertainment. For me, no other interpretation makes any sense. How about for you? Ignore the reality and embrace the illusion?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen,
      Maybe the part to focus on here is the “re-experiencing” aspect, since the other parts come down to differences in language usage. How am I continually re-experiencing my seventh birthday? Granted, my experience of that birthday is part of spacetime, and my consciousness at the time experienced it, but after that initial experience, when does the second iteration take place, the third, etc?

      On your last question, I actually think the word “illusion” here is wrong. It implies that one reality is correct and the other false. I don’t think that’s accurate. What I think is accurate to say is that we have to use different models when considering reality from different perspectives.

      From the first perspective, the one considering the whole system, there is only the structure we call the block universe. It has at least four dimensions. From this timeless perspective, it is a static structure. There is no change. There are sub-structures in it, which are equally static and unchanging. There is no time, no consciousness, no life, just the unchanging reality.

      But from the second perspective, that of one of the sub-structures within the overall structure, we have a three dimensional universe that is dynamic and ever changing. From this perspective, consciousness exists, as does life, and a wide variety of dynamic physical processes. From this perspective, we have limited visibility in one direction of the fourth dimension (time) and none in the other. We imagine possible consequences of our decisions in the direction of time that we’re blind to, and then make the best choices we can, or we fail to, and experience the consequences.

      I don’t think it’s right to say the second model is an illusion, at least not in the sense that it doesn’t exist. Both models are right within their particular epistemic domain. If you insist that it is an illusion, then life and consciousness are also illusions.

      I also think, when pondering the first perspective, we have to be honest with how stark it is. You don’t get to have its timelessness with some desirable bits from the second perspective. It leaves no room for that. Indeed, the idea that we could even have such a perspective is, itself, an illusion, a fancy of the imagination. We are systems within the structure, and so are constrained to what such systems can be.


  10. AHA! Thanks for clarifying Mike! I’m dividing my response into two parts. Here’s PART 1:

    Perhaps your difficulty is in transcending your feeling that your current “now” stream of experience—right now as you’re reading this—is somehow a special stream, maybe the only “active” stream. But it’s not—all of the streams of experience in your worldtube feel like a “now” as they are being experienced. Now is a feeling; it’s purely subjective; it’s not a time and there’s no now in the universe.

    A clue is in your word choice: after saying that your “experience of that birthday is part of spacetime” you then use the past tense of experience in the phrase “my consciousness at the time experienced it.” You are saying that your experience of that birthday went away? That experience is a memory in your current stream, so it’s legitimately seen as past tense relative to your current stream and all of the streams located forward on the timeline, but it’s not “past tense” in the BU. Nothing “goes away” in the block universe.

    Your experience of that birthday exists at that time and place, at those 7th birthday spacetime coordinates. To state it more accurately, though, we must change your second phrase to: “my consciousness at that time IS experiencing it.” Actually that’s a bit fuzzy because your consciousness doesn’t experience experiencing—your consciousness IS your experiencing, so it’s precisely correct to say “At those spacetime coordinates (i.e., “at that time”) I AM experiencing it.”

    You ask, “… when does the second iteration take place?”. Your experience of the birthday is located at the same time coordinate—the same “when” in spacetime it always is—nothing changes in spacetime. However, it’s important to understand that re-experience is a RELATIVE term that’s applied to any stream of consciousness relative to other streams of consciousness in your worldtube. As I wrote in EB:

    “Your stream of consciousness as you read this description is pursued by streams you’ve already experienced and is following the streams in your future that you’ve yet to discover. From your [current] point of view, the pursuing streams are repeating the experiencing you’ve left behind and your current experience would be seen as a re-experiencing from the point of view of the streams ahead of you on the timeline. Given this perspective, because all of those streams are “you” (albeit the you as you exist at multiple unique spacetime co-ordinates), the experiencing of any of your conscious moments can be understood as a re-experiencing.”

    PART 2 of my response soon …


  11. You wrote about “considering reality from different perspectives.” According to our best and repeatedly confirmed physics, the first perspective—the existence of the unchanging 4-dimensional block universe—is an accurate point of view because the BU exists. The second perspective is an incorrect idea because the dynamic, ever changing 3-dimensional universe, essentially the universe of Presentism, does NOT exist.

    Explaining our experience as a consequence of living in an alternate “perspective” doesn’t work. A perspective is defined as “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view” … a perspective is a mental construct, not a thing in the world and not something we can exist in.

    You wrote: “[In the BU] There is no time, no consciousness, no life, just the unchanging reality.” Physics says that’s incorrect. There IS time—clock time is one of the four dimensions of spacetime. No life? No consciousness? The BU is the universe we live in—everything exists in the BU. All of the events in the universe exist in the BU. There’s no place else for life and consciousness to exist.

    Because a flowing time does not exist, it’s perfectly correct to say that the Presentism “perspective” is an illusion, an illusion being “a deceptive appearance or impression” and “a false idea or belief.” Aside from being false because a flowing time does not exist, Presentism is not a “structure” that we as systems exist in, it’s a belief. Life and consciousness exist and are not false ideas or beliefs.

    Mike, that the universe we perceive is not at all like the universe that exists is exactly the difficulty that ERL attempts to address. From EB:

    “The major conundrum and most significant challenge posed by the BU of Eternalism is this:

    How do we explain our own experience of our lives, our feeling of “now” and a flowing present
    time and our perceptions of dynamic and ongoing change wherever we look in a universe
    where nothing happens, indeed, where nothing has ever happened?”

    So, Mike, my question for you is, “How do you explain our experience of our lives in the block universe?”


  12. More readably formatted:

    How do we explain our own experience of our lives, our feeling of “now” and a flowing present time and our perceptions of dynamic and ongoing change wherever we look in a universe where nothing happens, indeed, where nothing has ever happened?”


    1. Stephen,
      Each of our perceptions of now is a four dimensional structure in the block universe. “Now” is simply the location of that perception along the timeline. I think we agree that “now” is a relative concept, relative to the location of the pattern that contains the models of the surrounding patterns, what we call the consciousness of that moment.

      That said, from within that pattern, as the pattern, “now” is a coherent concept. It is predictive of our environment and serves as a dividing line between the two directions of the timeline. It is evolutionarily adaptive. It is useful. A divider between what we can know and what we can’t yet. From a pragmatic point of view (and ultimately I think it always comes down to pragmatics), that makes it true, as true as the existence of a table, even though, from a certain perspective, the “table” is really just a pattern of fermions and bosons.

      Now, it is true that many of out intuitions about “now” are not true. My feeling of now, while useful and predictive for my immediate surroundings, starts to falter as distances increase, to the point that speaking of what is happening “now” 100 billion light years away is an utterly meaningless exercise. But dispensing with the whole concept because of that strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bath water.


  13. Mike, there’s no problem with the common usage of the word “now” to refer to the current clock time: “let’s do this now!” … for instance. And, yes, most certainly we agree that “now” (as in what we observe at the present time) is a relative concept, particularly noticeable over enormous distances—that’s the Relativity of Simultaneity implication of Relativity physics.

    The “now” that doesn’t exist is the moving “now” of flowing time that presumably separates the newly non-existent past from the yet to exist future. That ever-moving “now” is apparently responsible for (as Stuckey might phrase it) “bringing new events into being that were never real before.”

    Interestingly enough, one of the arguments against that version of “now” (as a divider, as you say) is that if the “now” has any finite length in clock time, no matter how short, like 1/1000th of a second or whatever, that length can always be divided by 2, leaving the earlier half belonging to the past and the later half belonging to the future. Therefore, if that moving “now” exists, it is necessarily of zero length. That being the case, how can Presentism possibly work without any moving time slice in which to perform the magic of bringing-into-existence? That’s a question that no one has answered ever: What’s the physical mechanism that brings non-existent future moments/events into existence? How do existing events manage to stop existing as they disappear into the past?

    A variant of physicist Brian Greene’s movie reel metaphor might help folks to visualize consciousness in the BU. He imagines that each successive still frame on the movie reel that is your life, in itself unchanging and unmoving, is “illuminated” as it passes through your consciousness, so that the experienced effect is, metaphorically speaking, a movie—a moving picture. Now imagine that, instead of containing just picture and sound, each frame is an Experience Frame that contains the complete feeling of embodied existence in that unchanging and unmoving frame. As your consciousness then “illuminates” successive Experience Frames, you feel the resultant moving, flowing experience as a “movie-in-the-brain,” to use the neuroscientist’s (Damasio, Sacks, etc.) metaphor for consciousness.

    Greene points out the limitation of the movie metaphor, which is that the “illuminated” or “made conscious” attribute cannot change in the BU so that all of the Experience Frames in your worldtube are always “illuminated” for the version of you at each E-Frame’s spacetime coordinates. Any frame which is experienced by you must have already been “illuminated” and stays that way, which is to say all of your Experience Frames are always being felt by you. That’s ERL.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. By the way, Mike, as regards writing science fiction, another topic much discussed in this thread, I’m a sci-fi nutball for over five decades now and I have never read a sci-fi work that deals with the block universe reality directly. It’s completely virgin plot territory … no sci-fi plot I’ve ever encountered concerns itself with the BU and its scientific underpinnings in Relativity physics.

    Of course, ordinary time travel plots—the ones that don’t involve “alternate timelines”—are set in a BU because the time traveler’s destination, whether past or future, already exists. That’s Wells’ “The Time Machine,” the “Back to the Future” collection and many others. The alternate timelines time travel plots are essentially Presentist. The BU also shows up indirectly in Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians, as something they somehow directly perceive. Doctor Manhattan of “Watchmen” and Ted Chiang’s heptapods (“Arrival”) are other instances of that.

    But no one has dealt with the BU as a reality—with Einstein’s “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

    A possible sci-fi scenario involves the invention of a Time Viewer that samples some laboratory generated events in the near future and confirms that the future already exists. It’s easy to make a Time Viewer too, since all that’s required is a manipulation using a tachyon flux, just like Commander Data would do it. 😉 After the existence of the future is experimentally confirmed, the existence of the BU is not just an implication of Relativity physics, but a certainty. Eventually some wag remembers Einstein’s remarks about the “stubbornly persistent illusion” and the “eternity of life” and proposes the ERL hypothesis, which seems irrefutably certain at that point. The plots I can imagine involve individual’s and society’s reactions to the BU’s emotionally unsettling implications, a few of which I’ve already suggested:

    “Your life was created in its entirety and none of it by you. You’re not doing anything and you never have. You haven’t made any decisions. It’s absurd to be proud of accomplishments or disappointed by failures. If your life was constructed with religious beliefs, they are all false. Your life has no purpose and no meaning—it’s “just there” exactly as it is. … nothing at all means anything.”

    As to those possible individual and social reactions to an unchanging BU? Just dipping a toe in the waters, I can imagine suicide and hedonist cults, the billion member Eternity of Life Congregation, etc.

    It’s possible as well to get creative about the origins of the BU, which is probably an evidence-free proposition, but that’s never stopped sci-fi writers. Perhaps the BU is the result of an unimaginable computation, using rules like Fermat’s Principle of Least Time as explained by Chiang in “The Story of Your Life.” The result of the computation is instantiated holographically (aha! … the Holographic Universe). The unimaginable universe creators, fantastically advanced even beyond Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee, can easily readout the consciousness sections of any organism’s life from the hologram and experience it themselves as embodied-quality entertainment. How entertaining to experience the life of a dolphin, of Queen Victoria or Genghis Khan; a medieval leper, a Siberian Tiger or an eagle! What engrossing fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen, one of the things I’ve learned from studying a lot of good fiction, is you rarely want to deal with philosophical or scientific issues “on the nose”, that is by directly lecturing the reader or audience on it. An example is ‘The Dark Knight’, which explores the prisoner dilemma without ever explicitly labeling it or giving a dialectic on it.

      In that sense, it seems like Arrival (which came on today and I re-watched parts of it) is pretty close, which I suspect is why you chose this post to comment on. Although my own take on that movie is that for the aliens and Louise to see time (including the future) non-linearly, it would require some form of dualism, albeit possibly a form where the mind used an as of yet unknown physics.

      The Star Trek show Deep Space Nine also had aliens, living in a wormhole, that existed throughout time, and were shocked in the pilot episode to discover a form of life (us) that didn’t.

      Also, I saw this TED video today and thought of you. It might be too introductory for you, but I thought I’d share it.


  15. I actually haven’t seen the movie Arrival, Mike. My comments about heptapods are relative to the Ted Chiang story the movie is based on, the PDF of which I provided a link for previously. I truly hope you get a chance to read “The Story of Your Life”.

    I’ve temporarily shared a PDF of Chapter 1 of “Beyond the Dynamical Universe” (BDU) by physicist Stuckey et al at:

    Please download a copy. This chapter is very readable (no physics equations) and does an excellent job of describing the “Dynamical versus adynamical explanation” of physics. Stuckey discusses heptapod physics and Tralfamadorian perceptions, among other things. I suspect that heptapod physics didn’t make it into the movie Arrival in any meaningful way, although it’s the heptapod’s BU perspective that’s at the heart of their inscrutable language. In any case, the chapter will give you a much better understanding of the adynamical physics approach than I could ever provide. (Have I mentioned that Stuckey emailed me that nothing in their BU physics ruled out ERL)

    [By the way, the Michael Silberstein, the Philosopher co-author of BDU, the author of Chapters 7 and 8 of the book about consciousness, is strangely enamored of Wm. James’ neutral monism as a way out of the Hard Problem and as having explanatory value, without ever providing a definition of the consciousness he’s talking about, among other failings. He curtly dismisses Searle’s Biological Naturalism on the ridiculous grounds that we haven’t yet identified the Neural Correlates of Consciousness. He also insists on using, or misusing, the phrase “time as experienced” as if our feeling of a flowing time must be accounted for in the physical universe, even though a flowing time doesn’t exist. I recommend his philosophical approach be either ignored or taken with the dump truck of salt that it deserves.]

    I wasn’t recommending including a BU or consciousness lecture in a science fictional work—I wouldn’t enjoy reading a story with that deficiency. The focus I envisioned was on the reactions of humanity as they learn of and understand the consequences of the BU as their reality and, as a second perspective, an exploration of the BU’s creators.

    One last thing … about your previous question “When do I re-experience my seventh birthday?” … recall from EB my remarks about someone living in our future, born in the year 2520. In the block universe, when does a person experience their seventh birthday? We don’t flowing time our way to, or “get to” 2527—that person’s worldtube is already there in spacetime. The only possibility is to answer that their seventh birthday must be experienced always and to notice that the experiencing of the birthday is a feature of the worldtube in spacetime and, consequently experienced repeatedly at those 2527 spacetime coordinates.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow! This looks like something I’d like to come back and spend time reading — lotta good stuff here based on a quick skim. (Alas, I’m having trouble with concentration these days. I think living in Trumpworld has done genuine damage to my mind.)

    In passing for now I’ll just say I took to Chang’s short story the first time I read it. I loved the implications. I was particularly taken with the idea, which is strong in the short story, that even knowing the future doesn’t take away the joy of its performance. Think actors in a play. The idea of choosing a path you know will have joy followed by tragic anguish is a powerful one to me.

    As for the debate about time in general, it’s certainly one that interests me. There was a very long-running debate on Sabine Hossenfelder’s blog about the nature of time (which inspired me to write my own blog post about it), and the bottom line is we just don’t know and can only guess.

    My guess, FWIW, is that time is fundamental, not emergent, let alone “imaginary” in any sense. I think spacetime is a real thing, and I think (just maybe) it’s smooth, not quantized. But that’s just my guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I need to check out that Ted Chiang story. Interestingly enough, I’ve never cared about seeing spoilers. They’ve rarely, if ever, taken away from my ability to enjoy a movie or story. But, going by the movie, I don’t know if I could have a child knowing they would die young. On the other hand, if I could see her, the idea of choosing for her to never exist might be far worse.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Heh. I’m like you; absent certain stories, such as The Sixth Sense or Usual Suspects (or a mere handful of others), I don’t mind spoilers, either. In some regards, it can even be nice not “worrying” about what’s going to happen to the heroes and to just sit back and focus on the storytelling.

        As for the tragic choice, part of the irony here is that if the block universe is true, there isn’t actually any “choice” involved, although that opens that “free will” can of worms… (That’s a bone I’ve been chewing on a while and don’t quite know what to think. I took a stab at exploring compatibilism in a post recently… ended up in one of those long debates that ends where it started with no one the wiser… something I’ve tried to swear off!)

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