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Neuroscience in Fiction: Exhalation, by Ted Chiang

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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, via Wikimedia Commons”]

By Florian Thillmann (de:Benutzer:Flothi) (own work / selbst fotografiert) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (

Once the preparations were complete, I was able to place each of my hands on a nest of knobs and levers and control a pair of manipulators situated behind my head, and use the periscope to see what they worked on. I would then be able to dissect my own brain.”



Our “Neuroscience in Fiction” selection for this Friday is Ted Chiang’s short story “Exhalation” (2008), published in the anthology, “Eclipse 2: New Science Fiction and Fantasy”, and winner of the British Science Fiction Association, the Locus, and the Hugo Awards.

Chiang does not write very often, but when he does the result is usually spectacular. “Exhalation” takes place in a pneumatics-based universe, where a scientist’s discovery reveals the neural correlates of consciousness and the mechanics of the upcoming end of life and time. Best of all, the neuroscience at the heart of the story originates in a memorable self-dissection of the protagonist’s own brain.

We hope that you will read “Exhalation” this weekend, and that you will let us know your thoughts. For extra credit, check out Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life and Others” (Tor, 2002), a compendium of his first eight stories.

Susana Martinez-Conde About the Author: Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik are laboratory directors at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Follow on Twitter @illusionchasers.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. kchaffin 9:34 pm 03/17/2013

    On of my favorite stories! Thanks for referencing it!

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  2. 2. sjfone 11:04 pm 03/17/2013

    “The Merchant and Alchemist’s Gate” first seem interesting and well-paced.
    As for the vivisection, I hope the man character doesn’t get the hiccups.

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