The Aliens… “Story of Your Life”

Photo courtesy of: ‘Cephalopod’, Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of: ‘Cephalopod’, Wikipedia

A couple of years ago Jack had us read a story for TSK class. In the short story entitled, ‘Story of your Life’, by Ted Chiang, aliens arrive on earth. The new motion picture ‘Arrival’ is based on the short story, but retells the story a little differently, however, both stories, visual and written deal with time and perception in and artful and interesting way.

The aliens, called ‘Heptapods’ are a kind of ‘cephalopod’, from the Greek meaning “head-feet“. Marine animals characterized by a prominent head, and a set of arms or tentacles (muscular hydrostats). Fishermen sometimes call them inkfish, referring to their common ability to squirt.

There is the central character’s story with flash-backs, and within that…her child’s future story unfolds, and both those stories are told within the alien visitation story. A time within a time…within a time and so on. In this telling we see time become NOT so linear as we normally assume…(from past to future, from cause to effect)…we begin to understand that it is WE who make time linear. Each of us parse time in our refining interpretations of perception. While aliens communicate differently, because of a different physiology, but also, rather than perceive in a sequential cause-and-effect way, the aliens perceive simultaneously…”They experienced all events at once, and perceived a purpose underlying them all. A minimizing, maximizing purpose.

In the short story, the issue of free will is dealt with, as to how it applies to humans and aliens who see the future. The protagonist says:

“…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. Conversely, now that I know the future, I would never act contrary to that future, including telling others what I know: those who know the future don’t talk about it.”

I imagined an example, perhaps…a grandfather with almost a century of living behind him sits with his granddaughter on a bench under the turning leaves…she wants to know all the things granddad can tell her, innocent bright eyes filled with pleasure of the moment… He looks down knowing so much more than she could even dream off at her tender years. He sees her innocence, pains and joys, her advances and discouragements, a light that will burn bright and eventually fade. But seeing a future so encompassing, yet so open…could you tell it to someone who’s lived context has not yet grown to conceive it?

My homework for the prior class was posted here:

'Arrival', the motion picture

‘Arrival’, the motion picture

About David Filippone

I have been a student of Tarthang Tulku’s Time, Space, Knowledge (TSK) vision for over twenty-five years. For the past twelve years, I’ve studied TSK and Full Presence Mindfulness with Jack Petranker, director of the Center for Creative Inquiry (CCI). I have also participated in programs offered by Carolyn Pasternak of the Odiyan Center. For the past several years, I have curated the CCI Facebook page, which is often TSK-focused, and I serve on the CCI Board of Directors. The CCI Facebook page can be found at the following link...
This entry was posted in General TSK Discussions, future time, stories, time and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Aliens… “Story of Your Life”

  1. Hayward says:

    Thanks. I too will see it over Thanks Giving week end.
    In a recent discussion with a person who was conflicted about “destiny vs freedom” the thought occurred that perhaps our destiny is freedom.

  2. David Filippone says:

    Thanks for the response, Michael. Absolutely enjoyed re-reading the short story and ‘must’ see the movie again! So much to consider in both, it’s interesting to see how the screenwriter/cinematographer concerns took the movie in the direction of setting up polarities, conflicts between nations, I suppose to build drama and appeal for the widest audience. And how the issue of seeing vs. knowing the future, and living your own truth resolved in the short story.

    It was compelling to me how TSK has taught us to be aware of how we may project a ‘finity’ of imagined futures, constructing towers of babble, however, we can actually ‘know’ the ‘future infinity’…dwell in its transformative edge.

  3. Michael Gray says:

    This is wonderful, David. I’ll difinitely look for the movie, Arrival, and probably reread the story, so I can better appreciate how the film grapples with the task of presenting a mind in which time is unified. I like your image of a grandfather and his granddaughter and how the person with a long span of experience can both care for the future on behalf of another while realizing that they have to live it themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *