Between the Future and Fate
Between the Future and Fate
  • Lee Joon-hee (IME 17)
  • 승인 2018.10.10 18:21
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Lee Joon-hee (IME 17)
Lee Joon-hee (IME 17)


We have all experimented with putting a straw into water at least once. The fact that near the top of the water line the straw appears to be bent is caused by a different refractive index of light. The light entering a medium with a different refractive index will be deflected and bent.

However, if you look at the same phenomenon on Fermat’s minimum time principle, a new interpretation emerges. Fermat’s principle is that when light travels in the form of a line between two points, the path taken is the one that takes the least time. Light travels through the water as a path for the shortest passage of time. In other words, light perceives the starting and arrival points.

Heptapod, an alien in Story of Your Life, a Ted Chiang novel and based on the movie Arrival, is a living being aware of both the past, the present, and the future. Each of them ask fundamental questions about what life exists to pursue. Since Heptapods know their fate, their lives are focused on the ‘process’ to move on to that fate. It is very different from the way we think in that our own actions bring causal results.

Human beings and Heptapods’ other ideas are also described by their language. Heptapods use a language of letters. As they recognize the beginning and the end, the shape of the letters connects the beginning and the end like a circle. But, we use words to convey meaning. Speech-language is attributed to time, so the meaning is extended by adding one word in order. But their language uses non-linear language that has nothing to do with time. That’s because their way of thinking is not like humans.
So then, does a Heptapod know the future? Then why do they act just as they’ve been taught?

Louise Banks, the main character in the novel, who tries to talk to the aliens, explains the concept of a ‘performative sentence.’ For example, a wedding. Everyone now knows that the officiants will declare “The bride and groom have become a couple”, once they become married. However, the two are not married until the sentence comes out. That is, the function of the sentence is not fulfilled until it is ‘literally’ complete.

Heptapods will understand what to say and what will happen. But that was not done until it actually happened. Heptapods language is described similarly to reciting a poem; they recite it line by line. It is to walk toward the fate step by step.

In a conversation with a Heptapod, Louise also shares the same as them, becoming aware of her past, and her future. She is also aware that in the future, her daughter will die in an accident, but she has also decided to move toward her fate. Why does she choose to experience the entire future of her daughter’s death?

“There can be good things and bad things in our lives. It could be good at first, but it could eventually fail. But that’s our life. The parts are all connected. If there was a moment full of happiness, and it was so beautiful that we couldn’t change it, we could live one life to the last.” reflected Louise.

Her daughter was present and the most valuable. With her smile, Louise would give meaning to her remaining days.

In order to provide happiness and meaning to her birth and give birth to a daughter who will leave, she calmly follows and lives her life.

Living for the moment that can never change. So do we, I believe. We climb up stairs every morning and sometimes get angry or depressed for unexpected reasons. Even if we realize that some parts of the future are unwanted, we will live to be ourselves again and to raise others through ourselves, and that’s why we must do our best for the moment we are never going to change.