Intercultural Communication Through Time – By Moriah Baca

This weekend my husband and I watched the film Arrival, it was right up our alley as Star Trek fans.

Communication was the focus of this film, the difficulties that we would face meeting aliens without being able to even talk to each other. Deanna Troi brings up this difficulty in The Next Generation:

Deanna: Actually, the fact that any alien race communicates with another is quite remarkable…We are stranded on a planet, we have no language in common, but I want to teach you mine. The disparity, what did I just say?

Picard: Cup…glass

Deanna: Are you sure? I may have meant liquid, clear, brown, hot. We conceptualise the universe in quite the same way.

Picard: Point taken

Deanna: In your talks, you must be extremely accurate

This idea of how we conceptualise the universe is one of the most significant aspects of how Dr Louis Banks is able to communicate with the aliens in Arrival. The reason Dr Banks has such a hard time communicating with the aliens is that they perceive time differently. Sisko in Deep Space 9 tries to explain time to an alien in the first episode of the series:

Sisko: It can be argued that a human is ultimately the sum of his experiences.

Alien: Experiences? What is this?

Sisko: Memories. Events from my past, like this one.

Alien: The Past?

Sisko: Things that happened before now…You have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.

Alien: What comes before now is no different than what is now, or what is to come. It is one’s existence.

Sisko: Then, for you, there is no linear time.

Alien: Linear time. What is this?

Sisko: My species lives at one point in time. And once we move beyond that point, it becomes the past. The future, all that is still to come, does not exist yet for us.

Alien: Does not exist yet?

Sisko: That is the nature of linear existence. And if you examine it more closely, you will see that you do not need to fear me. In a linear existence, we can’t go back to the past to get something we left behind, so it’s lost.

Alien: It is inconceivable that any species could exist in such a manner. You are deceiving us.

Sisko: No, this is the truth. This day, this park, it was almost fifteen years ago. Far in the past, It was a day that was very important to me, a day that shaped every day that followed. That is the essence of a linear existence. Each day affects the next.



Star Trek dealt with this issue of linear time differently than Arrival. In Star Trek, the alien is taught to understand linear time in order to deal with humans. In Arrival, the heptapods teach Dr Banks non-linear time in order for humans to be able to deal with them.

Both ways the idea of non-linear time is so foreign to us and difficult to represent therefore it makes sense that Star Trek had to opt out for a more simple depiction, however, Arrival takes advantage of their budget to depict non-linear time in an amazing way. Both these stories are hiding their point in plain sight. The issue of language between cultures even between humans there can be a difference in the conceptualization of the universe caused by culture making communication very difficult. Again, we see the way Star Trek brings cultural issues to our attention in a roundabout way.


Blog Author: Moriah Baca

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