• Reechal Mevada

Excerpts from Exhalation - Ted Chiang

Updated: Apr 2

My friend Christina Lu (who also happens to explore art and science fiction) recently gave me ‘Exhalation’ by Ted Chiang – which raises contemporary issues relating to bioethics, virtual reality, free will and determinism, time travel, and the uses of robotic forms of A.I.


Though I have only just begun to read the book, I can safely say that this is going to be one of the most enjoyable sci-fi books. I wanted to share some bits from the first chapter (The Alchemist's Gate) that inspired me.


I will update the post as I read more.


“Past and future are the same, and we cannot change either, only know them more fully. My journey to the past had changed nothing, but what I had learned had changed everything, and I understood that it could not have been otherwise. If our lives are tales that Allah tells, then we are the audience as well as the players, and it is by living these tales that we receive their lessons.”


“Four things do not come back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.”



“Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.”


“Even though the past is unchangeable, one may encounter the unexpected when visiting it.”


“Like infernal fire, grief burns but does not consume; instead, it makes the heart vulnerable to further suffering.”


“Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has.”


"The very idea must sound like pure madness, I know, and had I told any of my colleagues, they would surely have tried to stop me. But I could not ask anyone else to risk themselves for the sake of anatomical inquiry, and because I wished to conduct the dissection myself, I would not be satisfied by merely being the passive subject of such an operation. Auto-dissection was the only option."


"You won't believe what my Natasha did today! We were at the playground, and another digient hurt himself when he fell and was crying. Natasha gave him a hug to make him feel better, and I praised her to high heaven. Next thing I know, she pushes over another digient to make him cry, hugs him, and looks to me for praise!"

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Will the real AI please stand up?