Tuesday, 27 December 2016

On "Arrival"

Summary: beautifully shot, thought-provoking nonsense that's worth watching. High marks for imagination, but can't we have a science fiction movie that is imaginative, thought-provoking and stays logical for the entire duration?

Some spoiler-laden complaints follow...

The arrow of time is not a Sapir-Whorf phenomenon.

No-one builds high technology without acquiring the same basic mathematics we have.

There aren't indestructible substances that we can't figure out anything about.

Presented with a technology that controls gravity, you'd have scientists and their equipment jam-packed around it monitoring and experimenting 24-7 for years.

We don't need to worry about how to communicate with alien visitors. They'd learn our languages with ease and talk to us if and only if they want to.

I hope in real life the USA would put together a decent-sized science team instead of relying on a couple of quirky individuals.

Why would Louise tell Ian about their daughter's future if she knew he'd leave?

What happens if Louise tries to prevent what she forsees? Maybe this is connected to the previous question.

It was a nice change to have a leading couple in which the man was the superfluous accessory/love interest.

8 comments:

  1. > The arrow of time is not a Sapir-Whorf phenomenon.

    Have you read the story? It's not that Sapir-Whorf makes linear time emerge from deterministic immutable history. Rather, you need to "think different" by learning a different language in order to see the determined future, like seeing across a distance in three-space.

    Physicists are arguing that time as well as gravity may be epiphenomenal: holographic effects if you will (https://www.quantamagazine.org/20161201-quantum-gravitys-time-problem/). De Broglie-Bohm pilot wave theory is back (https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140624-fluid-tests-hint-at-concrete-quantum-reality/). Perhaps Bohr (notoriously pushy) tried proving too much vs. Einstein, and we've been laboring under a false paradigm (quantum indeterminacy).

    I agree they could have conveyed this better.

    > No-one builds high technology without acquiring the same basic mathematics we have.

    Evidence? :-P

    > There aren't indestructible substances that we can't figure out anything about.

    Interstellar travel, ships sliding into hyperspace (or whatever they did at the end), aliens -- I'm ready to believe in unobtainium. See Greg Bear's "fake matter" in "Anvil of Stars", or his "Bell continuum" series (Queen of Angels, Moving Mars, etc.).

    > Presented with a technology that controls gravity, you'd have scientists and their equipment jam-packed around it monitoring and experimenting 24-7 for years.

    Agreed!

    > We don't need to worry about how to communicate with alien visitors. They'd learn our languages with ease and talk to us if and only if they want to.

    They wanted us to learn their language to see the future. That's why they came, Louise said.

    > I hope in real life the USA would put together a decent-sized science team instead of relying on a couple of quirky individuals.

    There were grad-studentish minions, but they got short shrift, indeed.

    > Why would Louise tell Ian about their daughter's future if she knew he'd leave?

    > What happens if Louise tries to prevent what she forsees? Maybe this is connected to the previous question.

    Definitely connected.

    > It was a nice change to have a leading couple in which the man was the superfluous accessory/love interest.

    He was pretty important to "The Story of Your Life".

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  2. Merry Christmas Brendan :-)

    > Have you read the story?

    No...

    > It's not that Sapir-Whorf makes linear time emerge from deterministic immutable history. Rather, you need to "think different" by learning a different language in order to see the determined future, like seeing across a distance in three-space.

    It's a fine conceit for fiction, but it would take a lot to convince me that learning a new language bestows precognition.

    Apparently we read a lot of the same pop science :-).

    > > No-one builds high technology without acquiring the same basic mathematics we have.
    > Evidence? :-P

    You can't describe and utilize the laws of physics without a lot of the key mathematical tools that we use. Nor can you do chemistry.

    > Interstellar travel, ships sliding into hyperspace (or whatever they did at the end), aliens

    Interstellar travel you can maybe get around with e.g. sleeper ships. The hyperspace thing ... yes, that was also a problem. Aliens I disbelieve in due to Fermi's paradox, but at least they don't violate the laws of physics.

    > They wanted us to learn their language to see the future. That's why they came, Louise said.

    Mmmm OK. But it would have been easier if they'd taught their language using our language instead of forcing us to bootstrap. Everyone should have realized they were holding out on us!

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  3. The novella is fun to talk about and is largely built around these "how does this even" questions that a movie adaptation has to ignore.

    In fact... the story is very good. Good enough that, having read it first, I didn't like the movie.

    > The arrow of time is not a Sapir-Whorf phenomenon.

    Well, this is the point of the story, so you have to suspend disbelief a little. But I don't find this even all that implausible! It seems to me real humans go through this analogous thing: you learn high school and undergrad physics, and everything is about integrals and derivatives over time—the key achievement of physics is being able to predict future states of the system using the present state and calculus. It's a view very much embedded in time. Then you do postgrad and it's all about boundary conditions on paths in configuration space; the view is from outside time. I have not actually learned this stuff. But knowing the latter, I expect, changes you and changes the ideas you have.

    So: it's like that. The pop culture conception of Sapir-Whorf probably makes linguists roll their eyes. It's just largely false in the domain of natural languages. But languages can encode deep concepts, and concepts can touch human beings in strange ways.

    Merry Christmas to you, and happy new year. :)

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    Replies
    1. FWIW here's a pop-science explanation of an argument that the psychological direction of time (memory) must follow the entropic direction: http://www.physicscentral.com/explore/action/memory-and-time.cfm.

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    2. Thanks. Stephen Hawking tried to make a similar argument at the end of "A Brief History of Time" but I wasn't buying it. I should re-read it. It struck me as more of a "and this could be one explanation" thing than a hypothesis we're currently in a position to test.

      I'm all for hard sci fi, but if philosophy of the mind is off-limits, we might as well pack it in. :D

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  4. > It's a fine conceit for fiction
    > the story is very good. Good enough that, having read it first, I didn't like the movie.

    Once again, film as medium is too shallow or just plain different enough from text for an adaptation to work.

    Merry Christmas to all!

    /be

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  5. I quite like Greg Bear's early novella, "Hardfought", which has Population II (old, metal poor) sapient life, the Synexi, who in ensembles form natural radio telescopes, see/talk/think different.

    Mochizuki and his inter-universal Teichm├╝ller theory make me wonder how different math might be elsewhere/when. Calculus is fine down here in flatland (shallow gravity wells). Cf. Robert Forward's Dragon's Egg.

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  6. I generally like the film but was annoyed that we never got the details of how the alien language worked - I demand more linguistics in my middle budget sci-fi art films.

    I was also troubled by the implications of knowing the future, I thought the film should have addressed these more. The main character is less sympathetic once you realize her choices (or are they choices?)

    My further thoughts are here : https://sheep.horse/2016/12/film_review_-_arrival.html but I think I covered the gist of them in this comment.

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