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Ted Chiang Part 5: Tweaks to the Human Mind
May 30, 2021 at 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm EDT
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Étienne Fortier-Dubois leads a series of thematic discussions on the work of science fiction author Ted Chiang. In Part 5, we discuss deliberate modifications to human psychology. What if we could affect the way we perceive attractiveness, or the way we remember things?
Ted Chiang ranks among the best living authors of science fiction. Though he cannot be described as prolific — his entire published oeuvre since 1990 fits into just two books — he manages the rare feat of achieving consistent quality across his short stories. With his clear, lucid prose, Chiang plays with fascinating ideas in a fresh and often uplifting way.
In this ii Book Club series, we discuss most of Chiang’s stories over the course of several months. Each monthly Salon focuses on two to three stories, united by a common theme.
This fifth session covers two stories in which a specific feature of human cognition has been tweaked somewhat.
The first, “Liking What You See: A Documentary,” imagines a neural procedure that removes our ability to perceive other people’s attractiveness. Told as a documentary with several people’s points of view, this story explores the idea of discrimination on the basis of beauty, and whether seeing it is itself valuable.
The second story, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling,” is about memory. In a world where everybody records their life by default, a new search algorithm allows people to access any footage at any time. This is far more accurate than natural memory—but is that a good thing?
This book club is open to everyone, whether you’re interested in Ted Chiang’s work, torn about whether we should seek to improve our own brains, or simply fond of good science fiction stories.
- Liking What You See: A Documentary, also included in the book Stories of Your Life and Others
- The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, also included in the book Exhalation
- Optional: read up on lookism (discrimination based on looks) or watch the Black Mirror episode “The Entire History of You” about replaying memories.
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