Heptapod A is their spoken language, which is described as having free word order and many levels of center-embedded clauses. Understanding Heptapod B, the written language of the aliens, is central to the plot. Unlike its spoken counterpart, Heptapod B has such complex structure that a single semantic symbol cannot be excluded without changing the entire meaning of a sentence.
When writing in Heptapod B, the writer knows how the sentence will end. Banks reminisces and yet she describes it while using the future tense, because learning Heptapod B enables Dr.
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As the story proceeds, we see Dr. Banks and Dr. Donnelly growing closer until it is clear that Dr. Donnelly will be the father of her child. This story grew out of my interest in the variational principles of physics. The QM formulation is interesting in its own way, but I preferred the metaphoric possibilities of the classical version.
I know what will become of my helpless, trusting babies because they are grown-ups now. I know how my closest friends will end up because so many of them are retired or dead now.
Master-E: Seeing, Knowing and Being:Beyond Fantasy, Science Fiction and Physics
Your future will come to you and lie down at your feet like a dog who knows and likes you no matter what you are. Was that novel a direct inspiration, or did you notice the similarity later, after using variational principles in physics to write the story? My story ends on a note that, to me, is ultimately life affirming. The story is about choosing to go ahead with life, even though there will be pain in the future as well as joy.
One character even attempts suicide. They are forced to confront themselves. I read these stories as being about science confronting the problems transcendence poses to an empirical, materialist worldview. For me, those stories are primarily attempts to use mathematics and science as metaphors to illuminate certain aspects of human experience. The characters in those stories internalize their discoveries, in a sense, because they are deeply engaged in their work.
What they learn becomes a part of them in a more profound way than with most people just learning something. The light ray travels in a straight line until it hits the water; the water has a different index of refraction , so the light changes direction. The path is the fastest possible route between these two points. But light travels more slowly in water than it does in air, and a greater percentage of this path is underwater. So it would take longer for light to travel along this path than it does along the real path. It would also take longer for light to travel along this path than along the actual one.
In other words, the route that the light ray takes is always the fastest possible one. And not ordinary calculus; you need the calculus of variations. We thought that some simple theorem of geometry or algebra would be the breakthrough. When did physics become so minimalist? A minimum and a maximum share certain mathematical properties, so both situations can be described with one equation. Almost every physical law can be restated as a variational principle. The only difference between these principles is in which attribute is minimized or maximized.
But all these principles are similar mathematically. Physical attributes that humans defined using integral calculus were seen as fundamental by the heptapods.
Calculus for us; elementary to them. I tried following some of the equations that the physicists were coming up with, but it was no use. What kind of perception made a minimum or maximum readily apparent to them? People have been talking about it since Fermat first formulated it in the s; Planck wrote volumes about it.
Let me think about that for a minute. How does the light go about doing that?
If the destination were somewhere else, the fastest path would be different. I kept staring at the diagram on the napkin. The light has to do all its computations at the very beginning. I thought to myself, The ray of light has to know where it will ultimately end up before it can choose the direction to begin moving in. I knew what that reminded me of. I looked up at Gary.
Yet when humans thought about physical laws, they preferred to work with them in their causal formulation. I could understand that: the physical attributes that humans found intuitive, like kinetic energy or acceleration, were all properties of an object at a given moment in time.
And these were conductive to a chronological, causal interpretation of events: one moment growing out of another, causes and effects created a chain reaction that grew from past to future. And these were conductive to a teleological interpretation of events: by viewing events over a period of time, one recognized that there was a requirement that had to be satisfied, a goal of minimizing or maximizing. And one had to know the initial and final states to meet that goal; one needed knowledge of the effects before the causes could be initiated.
Its limbs had no distinct joints; anatomists guessed they might be supported by vertebral columns. It walked back to the doorway from which it entered, made a brief sputtering sound, and returned to the center of the room followed by another heptapod; at no point did it ever turn around. They join the logograms by rotating and modifying them. Take a look.
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He turned to look at the heptapods, impressed. And the biggest sentences had an effect similar to that of psychedelic posters: sometimes eye-watering, sometimes hypnotic…Comparing that initial stroke with the completed sentence, I realized that the stroke participated in several different clauses of the message. That meant the heptapod had to know how the entire sentence would be laid out before it could write the very first stroke.
The other strokes in the sentence also traversed several clauses, making them so interconnected that none could be removed without redesigning the entire sentence. I had seen a similarly high degree of integration before in calligraphic designs, particularly those employing the Arabic alphabet. But those designs had required careful planning by expert calligraphers. No one could lay out such an intricate design at the speed needed for holding a conversation.
At least, no human could.
Ursula K. Le Guin
The summer after my senior year in high school, I attended a total immersion program for learning Russian; by the end of the Summer, I was thinking and even dreaming in Russian. But it was always spoken Russian. Different language, same mode: a voice speaking silently aloud. The idea of thinking in a linguistic yet non-phonological mode always intrigued me. I had a friend born of deaf parents; he grew up using American Sign Language, and he told me that he often thought in ASL instead of English.
With Heptapod B, I was experiencing something just as foreign: my thoughts were becoming graphically coded. As I grew more fluent, semagraphic designs would appear fully-formed, articulating even complex ideas all at once. Instead of racing forward, my mind hung balanced on the symmetry underlying the semagrams. The semagrams seemed to be something more than language; they were almost like mandalas. I found myself in a meditative state, contemplating the way in which premises and conclusions were interchangeable. For them, speech was a bottleneck because it required that one word follow another sequentially.
With writing, on the other hand, every mark on a page was visible simultaneously.
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Why constrain writing with a glottographic straitjacket, demanding that it be just as sequential as speech? It would never occur to them. They act to create the future, to enact chronology. Similarly, knowledge of the future was incompatible with free will. What made it possible for me to exercise freedom of choice also made it impossible for me to know the future.
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