Exhalation: What Happens When the Universe Exhales A Breath?

Unlike air pressure civilizations, this world is much warmer.

Book Name: Exhalation

Author: Ted Chiang


From an award-winning science fiction writer (whose short story “The Story of Your Life” was the basis for the Academy Award-nominated movie Arrival), the long-awaited new collection of stunningly original, humane, and already celebrated short stories

This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary “Exhalation,” an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a woman cares for artificial intelligence over twenty years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: “Omphalos” and “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom.”

In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth–What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?–and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.

Book Review:

In a cyberpunk world where everyone needs to change two “lungs” filled with fresh air every day, the saying “air is the source of life” has long been circulated and widely accepted. However, in order to explore the true mystery of life – how consciousness exists, he dissected his own brain and was surprised to find that the invisible airflow is what drives his body’s engine.

The deepest part of the brain is a latticework web of fine blades, and one’s consciousness is encoded as an air current that constantly changes direction and drives the blades, with the mind recording memories in the medium of an air current. When one loses the air, the flow stops, the encoding ends, consciousness ceases to exist, and death ensues.

It is not the apparent air that this type of survival really depends on. Because the entire process of life does not consume air, the total amount of air in the universe always remains constant. Air pressure is the real source of life, and it is the tendency of different pressures to reach equilibrium that generates the momentum that drives the flow of air from dense to thin, that drives the operation of every machine, and that drives the generation of every human thought and activity.

The air pressure is not endless: the world covered by the dome formed by the chrome wall is like a chamber, the source of all the gases comes from the “world lung” buried deep underground, the air used by people accumulates in the chamber until one day the pressure everywhere in the universe reaches equilibrium, the air pressure disappears, the air no longer flows, people are surrounded by endless still air, but can not get energy, civilization also ended.

Such a setting seems awe-inspiring and distant, but it is uncannily similar to reality.

There is a term in physics called “Heat death of the universe”, which is a hypothesis that speculates about the ultimate fate of the universe.

Unlike air pressure civilizations, this world is much warmer.

While exploring the origin of life, people inadvertently glimpse the future end: “air pressure will eventually disappear, and death is inevitable”.

Thankfully, the remaining years were still long enough for people to think. So there were reversals, who devoted themselves to building “compressors” in an attempt to reverse the balance of air pressure, but like the fate of “perpetual motion”, no one could defy the laws of the universe. Scientists try to raise the air pressure in the brain, so that the thinking slowed down a bit, but can not stop the acceleration of the external world.

But fortunately, there is a relatively warm ending to such a story with no way out. As the pioneers wrote in the end.

Seen this way, the mystery of consciousness, which people once struggled to find, now tells the cosmic destiny of all people. Just like the sentiments of the pioneer who learned the truth: “The air that powered me can still drive others, the air that helped me carve these words will one day flow through others’ bodies, and I feel comforted by the thought of this. ”

The creatures of this thousand years ago were once as many as river sand, but we are fortunate to share some water molecule with them millions of years ago, then the meaning of this brief existence can become so romantic before the strict laws of physics.

“The universe began as if by taking a deep breath and then holding it.” What does the next one look like between one breath and another?

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