In the short story “Exhalation,” Ted Chiang writes about the successes of a mechanical creature to understand the thinking process by tracing its origin and linking it to air supply. These musings are triggered by a curious event when a problem with the clock is detected. According to one of his peers, it starts to speed up unexpectedly, and no one can tell why it happens (Chiang, 2019). After hearing about this issue, the cyborg decides to make an experiment implying dissecting his brain to see how it works. During the study, he is surprised to learn that the mystery is connected to slower airflow (Chiang, 2019). This occasion confirms his ideas of the link between the breathing patterns of living beings and their memory. By coming to this conclusion, the main character states that all creatures depend on air in the universe and, thus, can hardly control their lives on their own.
Considering the plot, the two main themes in the story are people’s free will and the value of time, and they are interconnected by the common source of origin, which is the desire to predict fate. In a manner similar to the robots attempting to socialize while sharing air in their lungs, individuals tend to gather in groups to perform activities related to socializing (Chiang, 2019). From this standpoint, their willingness to cooperate is no different from the mechanical processes since their brains are wired to do so. This aspect highlights the seeming necessity to act for common benefit while the time is limited, which means that events happening to humanity are not under their control. Thus, the intersection of one’s capability to manage life and limited resources alongside the unpredictability of external circumstances show that the connection between the themes is in their significance for the failed attempts of predictions. In this way, they affect the story by demonstrating an analogy of a mechanical brain with human thinking, whereas both instances are not in individual power.
Chiang, T. (2019). Exhalation. Penguin Random House LLC.