Perceptions

I finally got around to reading the short story “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. I’d been meaning to ever since I heard that the movie Arrival was based off of it. I’ve written before how much I liked Arrival and the story that inspired it was just as interesting.

At 45 pages it pushes the boundary between short story and novella, but the pace is quick and the writing crisp. I was able to easily read it in a single sitting, which to me is the definition of a short story. If I have to break it into pieces it ceases to be the same kind of narrative experience, so I was glad of the length.

Plot-wise the film version stayed very true to the book, so I won’t give any spoilers except to say that the concept of language and perception of time play a large role. This really got me thinking. How much of what we think of as reality is based on how we express our experience of it?

If by some quirk of fate the Earth had two suns and therefore no night, how much would our inner worlds change? The idea of light and dark is central to how we think, how we mythologize and even how we act. If that was taken from us, who would we be? Or what if our intelligence evolved more along the line of bees with a hive mind- intelligent, but only within the group. How much different would the stories we tell ourselves be?

Yet, in both of the hypotheticals the reality we would experience, write about and think about, would be no less true than the one in which we currently reside. Sort of makes you question the objective nature of things a bit. How much of what is “us” and our “reality” is simply a matter of perception filters?

And if we accept that how we view and interact with our natural environment is largely responsible for how we view existence, should our behavior change? Do we now question objective truth? Or does it simply narrow the scope of where objective truth can lie? This narrowing seems to me to be a good thing as any simplification of reality makes that reality more graspable.

This is why I love science fiction when it is done well. It is philosophy buried in narrative so that our brains can ease onto roads of inquiry that we may otherwise avoid as too perilous or frightening.

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