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I'm trying to identify a story I read in the last 5 years. The central character was an alien who develops a microscope and remotely operated limbs so they can examine their own brain. They discover that thought processes are patterns of pressure differences and/or vibrations within the brain.

I recall at some point their realisation that this is why their people who run out of air supply, even momentarily, permanently lose their memories.

Towards the end of the story they discover that whatever they have been using as food (something that provides pressurised gas?) is slowly running out.

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This is "Exhalation" (ISFDB) by Ted Chiang.

Exhalation is a short story that has the genre of science fiction, it talks about a neuroscientist living in a pneumatics-based universe wherein the people's brains function by movements of air of the golden leaves. This story takes you to a mind blowing vision while reading through it. The general theme of it could be the start of life and the end of time and all universe, that can you to a euphoric state of mind.

Wikipedia also has a description here that mentions the plot point you mention at the end, that the pressure is equalizing.

Found by searching for alien "pneumatic brain", which led to someone asking if other people had read it and wanted to discuss it.

  • This is the correct answer. Thanks! I'm not sure how I failed to find it... – frodoskywalker Nov 15 '19 at 19:41
  • @frodoskywalker: Google tunes search results to the individual user, and I do a lot of SF&F story searches. – FuzzyBoots Nov 15 '19 at 19:57

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