MOVIE REVIEW: “Arrival” [¡¡Spoiler Alerts!!].
NOTE TO READERS: This movie review is an expression of my personal tastes and views. It does not necessarily represent the views of the F.E.D. Office of Public Liaison, of the F.E.D. General Council, or of Foundation Encyclopedia Dialectica at large.
I recommend that you see the new movie “Arrival”, which was released on 11-11-2016.
For a Hollywood movie, it has exceptionally-advanced cognitive content, explicitly referencing, for example, “Non-Zero Sum Games”, and “The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis”.
Indeed, the plot features an inter-human[oid]-species instantiation of a ‘‘‘positive sum game’’’, and an application of Sapir-Whorf to the grammar of an extraterrestrial human[oid] language.
This movie, I found, was gripping, moving, riveting, despite -- ¿or because of? -- the fact that it featured a female protagonist -- a professional linguist and language-scientist -- and was devoid of all nudity [except, perhaps, for the aliens -- probably not very sexy to Terran tastes] and devoid of all sex scenes!
The aliens offered we humans a “gift”, or a “tool”, or an “instrument”, or a “weapon” -- translation of their symbol for this offering was particularly difficult -- in exchange for a promise of help to these aliens from Terran humanity around three thousand years in the future: these aliens operated on a ~ 3,000 year negotiating horizon for their proposed positive-sum, win-win deal-making!
Spoilers Alert: The movie also inculcated a -- potentially racism-withering -- vision of the vast variation that we might expect to encounter in the bodily morphologies of other self-conscious human[oid] species that evolved, e.g., in stellar/planetary systems other than our own.
The aliens, in this movie vision -- based upon a short story by Ted Chiang -- were called “heptapods” -- towering, seven-footed, octopus-/squid-/elephant-like mammoths, whose tentacle-like limbs ended in star-fish-like “hands”, which, from the center of their “palms”, emitted octopus-ink-black, swirling clouds that coalesced in circle-motif, continually-flowing characters, suspended in these aliens’ misty gaseous or liquid atmosphere -- shimmering, metamorphosizing, ‘semaphoric’ symbols, smoke-ring ideograms -- perhaps -- hanging, and continuing to flow, mid medium.
These aliens were soon understanding everything we said and wrote to them, except our algebra!
The language-scientist heroine finally figures out what these aliens are offering us.
They turn out to be a race of ‘extraterrestrial Leibnizs’.
What they are offering us is, indeed, a ‘‘‘weapon’’’, if only in the sense of a ‘weapon of understanding’.
They offer, yes, a gift -- a gift of immense value -- but an intangible one, and one offered in exchange for our promise of future help from us to them.
They offer, yes, a tool -- a tool of great power -- but only in the sense of an “instrument of thought”, indeed, an «organon», such as that of which Leibniz dreamed -- an extraterrestrial «characteristica universalis», a written universal language, but purged of all human[oid] idiosyncrasies, so as to be maximally fitted to reality.
These aliens offer us a ‘weapon for deciphering experience/reality’, a language so apt that, when one uses it to describe, e.g., the past, and/or the present, it let’s one see also the consequences thereof -- ‘‘‘let’s you foresee the future’’’.
The writers of this movie, and of the short story upon which it was based, seem to me to be -- rather fully -- cognizant of a salient fact about Terran ‘human[oid]ity’, and, I expect [and they expect too, I think], about other ‘human[oid]ities’, birthed in other stellar/planetary systems, as well: Language -- spoken, then written -- is a core technology, and, indeed, a core presupposition, of ‘human[oid] phenomes’; of the very possibility of any human[oid] species as such, at all.
Their work made me think also of F.E.D., of what we too -- though we cannot claim to embody extraterrestrial ‘heptapodicity’ -- are offering to the rest of Terran humanity: a dialectical, algorithmic-heuristic «characteristica universalis», “a language so apt that it empowers you to ‘pre-construct’ a description of your probable future, while living still within your present”.