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Preview — Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Penetrating computer security is really quite dull; I can see how it might attract those who can’t resist a challenge to their cleverness, but it’s not intellectually aesthetic at all. It’s no different than tugging on the doors of a locked house until you find an improperly installed lock. A useful activity, but hardly interesting.
He considers intelligence to be a means, while I view it as an end in itself. Greater intelligence would be of little use to him.
But no more. Mathematics was inconsistent once it was removed from physical entities, and a formal theory was nothing if not consistent. Math was empirical, no more than that, and it held no interest for her.
He had always had reason to consider compassion a basic part of his character, until now. He had valued that, felt that he was nothing if not empathic. But now he’d run up against something he’d never encountered before, and it rendered all his usual instincts null and void.
He opened his mouth to say that he knew exactly what she meant, that he had felt the same things as she. But he stopped himself: for this was an empathy that separated rather than united them, and he couldn’t tell her that.
I’d love to tell you the story of this evening, the night you’re conceived, but the right time to do that would be when you’re ready to have children of your own, and we’ll never get that chance.
It won’t have been that long since you enjoyed going shopping with me; it will forever astonish me how quickly you grow out of one phase and enter another. Living with you will be like aiming for a moving target; you’ll always be further along than I expect.
That day when Gary first explained Fermat’s principle to me, he had mentioned that almost every physical law could be stated as a variational principle. Yet when humans thought about physical laws, they preferred to work with them in their causal formulation.
Freedom isn’t an illusion; it’s perfectly real in the context of sequential consciousness. Within the context of simultaneous consciousness, freedom is not meaningful, but neither is coercion; it’s simply a different context, no more or less valid than the other. It’s like that famous optical illusion, the drawing of either an elegant young woman, face turned away from the viewer, or a wart-nosed crone, chin tucked down on her chest. There’s no “correct” interpretation; both are equally valid. But you can’t see both at the same time.
For the heptapods, all language was performative. Instead of using language to inform, they used language to actualize. Sure, heptapods already knew what would be said in any conversation; but in order for their knowledge to be true, the conversation would have to take place.
“Your desire for reform does you credit. Let me suggest, however, that there are simpler cures for the social ills you cite: a reduction in working hours, or the improvement of conditions. You do not need to disrupt our entire system of manufacturing.”
“True, but the father’s biological contribution is of minimal importance here. The mother will think of her husband as the child’s father, so her imagination will impart a combination of her own and her husband’s appearance and character to the foetus. That will not change. And I hardly need mention that name impression would not be made available to unmarried women.”
but this epithet was one of the most fully researched in existence; in fact its earliest use was claimed to have occurred in biblical times, when Joseph’s brothers created a female golem they could share sexually without violating the prohibition against such behavior with a woman.
“Why, once we have human reproduction under our control, we will have a means of preventing the poor from having such large families as so many of them persist in having right now.”
“What manner of man have we agreed to help?” exclaimed Stratton as soon as the door was closed. “One who would breed people like livestock?”
No one denies the many benefits of metahuman science, but one of its costs to human researchers was the realization that they would likely never make an original contribution to science again. Some left the field altogether, but those who stayed shifted their attention away from original research and toward hermeneutics: interpreting the scientific work of metahumans.
Hermeneutics is a legitimate method of scientific inquiry and increases the body of human knowledge just as original research did.
For example, imagine if research offered hope of a different intelligence-enhancing therapy, one that would allow individuals to gradually “upgrade” their minds to a metahuman-equivalent level. Such a therapy would offer a bridge across what has become the greatest cultural divide in our species’ history, yet it might not even occur to metahumans to explore it; that possibility alone justifies the continuation of human research.
Like every other non-devout person, Neil had never expended much energy on where his soul would end up; he’d always assumed his destination was Hell, and he accepted that. That was the way of things, and Hell, after all, was not physically worse than the mortal plane.
Now that Sarah was in Heaven, his situation had changed. Neil wanted more than anything to be reunited with her, and the only way to get to Heaven was to love God with all his heart.
it was during the Q&A that she was asked if the restoration of her legs meant she had passed her test. Janice didn’t know what to say; she could hardly promise them that one day their marks would be erased. In fact, she realized, any implication that she’d been rewarded could be interpreted as criticism of others who remained afflicted, and she didn’t want that. All she could tell them was that she didn’t know why she’d been cured, but it was obvious they found that an unsatisfying answer.
Neil wasn’t in their situation, but his first response when listening to them had been envy: if Sarah had gone to Hell, suicide would be the solution to all his problems.
This led to a shameful self-knowledge for Neil. He realized that if he had to choose between going to Hell while Sarah went to Heaven, or having both of them go to Hell together, he would choose the latter: he would rather she be exiled from God than separated from him. He knew it was selfish, but he couldn’t change how he felt: he believed Sarah could be happy in either place, but he could only be happy with her.
A woman in the support group named Valerie Tommasino said they shouldn’t even try. She’d been reading a book published by the humanist movement; its members considered it wrong to love a God who inflicted such pain, and advocated that people act according to their own moral sense instead of being guided by the carrot and the stick. These were people who, when they died, descended to Hell in proud defiance of God.
Their reaction shouldn’t have come as a surprise: throughout Neil’s life, people had attributed moral significance to his leg even though God wasn’t responsible for it. Now that he’d suffered a misfortune for which God was unambiguously responsible, it was inevitable that someone would assume he deserved it. It was purely by chance that Neil heard this sentiment when he was at his most vulnerable, and it could have the greatest impact on him.
After considering it more, he decided that if she, having received a blessing, deemed it appropriate to seek God’s assistance in coming to terms with it, then there was no reason he, having received such terrible misfortune, shouldn’t do the same. And that was enough to tip him over the edge.
Experiments using neurostat allowed researchers to identify the neurological circuit responsible for perceiving beauty in faces, and thus essentially invent calliagnosia.
This is just the latest example of political correctness run amok. The people advocating calli are well-intentioned, but what they’re doing is infantilizing us. The very notion that beauty is something we need to be protected from is insulting.
Calli supporters want to demonize those women who possess beauty.
But then I remembered what Ina said about me and Garrett. I guess being smart and funny doesn’t mean you’re in the same league as someone, you have to be equally good-looking too.
I’ve always liked young people’s willingness to fight for their beliefs. That’s one reason I’ve never really believed in the cliché that youth is wasted on the young.
When every speaker on a netcast has the presence of a Winston Churchill or a Martin Luther King, we’ll begin to regard ordinary people, with their average use of paralinguistic cues, as bland and unpersuasive. We’ll become dissatisfied with the people we interact with in real life, because they won’t be as engaging as the projections we see through our spex.
But remember when I was talking about beauty as a kind of magic spell? It gives you an advantage, and I think it’s very easy to misuse something like that. And what calli does is make a person immune to that sort of spell.
William Gibson once said, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”
One of the basic messages of the book is that virtue isn’t always rewarded; bad things happen to good people. Job ultimately accepts this, demonstrating virtue, and is subsequently rewarded. Doesn’t this undercut the message?
It seems to me that the Book of Job lacks the courage of its convictions: if the author were really committed to the idea that virtue isn’t always rewarded, shouldn’t the book have ended with Job still bereft of everything?