Cumberbatch? How ’Bout CumberHOT

“Chuck Klosterman wrote that science fiction is philosophy for stupid people. He’s right. But in a room full of philosophy lightweights, the guy who watches Star Trek is a fucking philosophy genius.”  The Mindless Philosopher

I am a fan of science fiction.

If that’s an indication that I’m stupid, I’d be the last person to figure that out.

Like many sci-fi fans, I eagerly awaited the theatrical reboot of the Star Trek franchise. When it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be helming the reboot I nearly soiled my drawers in anticipation.

TMI?

After all, I thought. A Star Trek reboot directed by the guy who did Lost and staring the guy who played Sylar on Heroes could not go wrong.

Apparently my assumption was incorrect.

If you asked the die-hard Trekker crowd, plenty did believe that there was something terribly wrong with a J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek reboot.

Worse than a mining disaster on Praxis wrong.

The “wrong” was that for the first time in Star Trek history, a Star Trek movie based on the original characters created by Gene Roddenberry would not feature the original actors.

This was and is (still) very upsetting to some Star Trek fans.

I don’t see how they could have been angry. William Shatner may be a thoroughly entertaining actor, but there is no way Shatner could pull off playing a young, Starfleet Academy-aged James Kirk.

Not to mention DeForest Kelley and James Doohan are dead.

That alone would complicate getting them to play their original roles.

However, I, unlike many Star Trek purists, enjoyed the 2009 reboot. But then, I liked Star Trek: Nemesis. So there you go.

So when the Star Trek prequel/sequel came out, I bought a fresh pack of Tena and bought a ticket to see the movie.

Ok, I admit it. I’m an action fan. I was raised on Star Wars. There I said it. I said Star Wars.

Those movies had Jedi, and Wookies, and lightsabers, planet battles, the Force and stuff.

This is Han Solo. He is a Corellian badass. Where he goes, action follows.

han solo

This is Surak. He is a Vulcan philosopher. He convinced Vulcans to ditch their emotions.

Surak

Notice the difference between the two?

I do.

I expect a certain amount of excitement in films, especially in science fiction. And honestly, the past few Star Trek films hadn’t been delivering much on the action front. Captain James T. Kirk used to fight the Gorn. The Star Trek: The Next Generation films just had bunch of Captain Jean-Luc Picard talking… and talking… and talking.

Kirk fought enemies like this:

Gorn

Picard fought enemies like this:

malcolm mc dowell

That’s right. Captain Picard fought an old man.

awesome kirk

Of course, the purists hated all the action.

What the purists wanted from the Star Trek reboot was the one thing that set the original Star Trek apart from the standard 1960s science fiction of its day: Star Trek, unlike its predecessors (and most of its descendents), was chock-full of philosophy. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was a thinking man’s science fiction.

I don’t recall thinking too much while watching the reboot.

That may be (in part) due to the fact that the 2009 Star Trek reboot is a pretty straight forward (actually kind of cliché) sci-fi fare about time travel: an unintentional time rift sends bad guy into past intent on destroying the future. It’s hardly an original plot.

It’s not even an original plot for a Star Trek film.

The last time a time traveling bad guy was in a Star Trek movie, the bad guy looked like this:

borg queen 2

Time travel movies usually don’t require the viewer to do much heavy mental lifting, other than the occasional bitch at the newly rearranged plot line not keeping with established canon.

I’m guessing this is what happened when most die-hard Trekkers watched the Abrams’ reboot.

If that’s what they felt while watching the reboot, they were really missing out.

What they failed to realize is, if you could get past the lens flare, they would have noticed a little bit of philosophy going on.

Listen: If those angry Trekkers hadn’t thrown off their Star Trek philosopher’s hats in angry protest, they would have noticed that any time you discuss time travel you automatically bring in the idea of possible worlds.

And any time you bring up possible worlds, you inevitably address philosophical ideas like free will and determinism.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS HEAVY DUTY PHILOSOPHY.

So let’s get down to the philosophy, shall we?

But first, some plot:

In the 2009 reboot, Ambassador Spock and the Romulan bad guy Nero are sucked through a wormhole after Spock attempts (and fails) to prevent the destruction of Romulus by a star gone supernova. When Nero arrives at the other end of the wormhole, he discovers he’s been transported 20-something years into the past. Nero (for reasons that are fairly mystifying and never adequately explained) immediately fires on the USS Kelvin, a Federation starship carrying the parents of the future Captain James T. Kirk.  During the attack, Kirk’s father, Commander George Kirk, is killed an event, as we are told later in the film, that did not happen in the original Star Trek timeline.

I mean, the timeline where Nero doesn’t go back in time through a wormhole created by Ambassador Spock in an attempt to thwart the destruction of Romulus and destroy the planet Vulcan by creating a black hole with red matter and whatever. You get the idea.

An elderly, from-the-future Ambassador Spock informs the young Kirk that in his timeline, Kirk’s father lived long enough to see his son graduate from Starfleet Academy.

Here are a few more things that didn’t happen in Ambassador Spock’s (original) timeline:

  • The planet Vulcan did not receive the Alderaan treatment (i.e. it wasn’t destroyed).
  • Lt. Uhura and Spock are not (and never were) romantically involved.
  • Spock’s mother was not killed during an attack on Vulcan.
  • Kirk did not serve on the USS Enterprise with Captain Christopher Pike.
  • Humans did not know what Romulans looked like until the TOS (the original series) episode “Balance of Terror”.

If we learn anything about the philosophy of time travel (yes, I nabbed that from Donnie Darko) from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, it is that events are not static. The past and future can be changed by a seemingly insignificant and/or random event as a Romulan war bird becoming unstuck in time.

That is to say, events, past and present, are not on an inevitably determined path; events can vary drastically from one timeline to the next. Events in one timeline do not necessarily happen in another timeline. Events are not determined. That explains why it would be totally useless for the Enterprise crew to speculate or base any predictions of events in their time line on information from Ambassador Spock’s timeline.

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

 


But, if determinism is defined as the theory that some or all events and human actions are ordained to happen; that every thing, event or action is the inevitable result of a prior chain of causes, the fact that Nero’s appearance has thrown events a wrench into the timeline suggests determinism is false.

That means all events in the universe are manifestations of free will.

So far, there’s no problem, right?

If you think that, you are as delusional as Chekov after a fall off the deck of the USS Enterprise.

You see, in Star Trek IV, Chekov and Uhura were on the U.S. Naval ship USS Enterprise to get oh, never mind.

Ok. A common complaint with Star Wars fans is about George Lucas’ apparent disregard for continuity. It’s quite a nuisance, but by no means is discontinuity just a Star Wars problem. Star Trek has its fair share of continuity “errors”.

Even philosophical continuity errors.

Remember what I just said about determinism?

That according to the philosophy of Star Trek time travel it’s false, right?

Well …..

In the 2012’s Star Trek Into Darkness (the sequel to the 2009 reboot), the crew of the Enterprise encounters new bad guy, the genetically-altered, super-human, Khan Noonien Singh, a character originally played by Ricardo Montalban in the TOS episode “Space Seed”.

This time, Khan (as he is called) is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.*

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

 

In the movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks Ambassador (original timeline) Spock if he had ever dealt with a man named Khan Noonien Singh.

Because Khan has become a bit of a problem. A homicidal kind of problem.

You can see the determinism problem coming, right?

Just so you know, this is what the German philosopher (and determinist), Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), had to say about determinism and what people do:

… he is connected to universal nature, and submitted to the necessary and immutable laws that she imposes on all beings she contains…Man’s life is a line that nature commands to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant.

Holbach also says:

In short, the actions of man are never free; they are a necessary consequence of his temperament, of the received ideas… by education and by daily experience… Man then, is not s free agent in any one instant of his life.

In the 2009 Star Trek reboot, reboot Spock declares Nero’s appearance in the reboot timeline so altered the course of history, that any event in the original timeline (Ambassador Spock’s timeline) is not applicable to the new timeline. Therefore, one cannot assume continuity between both timelines.

In case you missed it, the dialogue about Nero and predicting the future goes as follows:

Kirk:

You say he’s from the future, knows what’s gonna happen. Then the logical thing is to be unpredictable.

Spock:

You’re assuming Nero knows how events as predicted unfold. The contrary. Nero’s very presence has altered the flow of history beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, cumulating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.

Uhura:

An alternate reality.

Spock:

Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been if the continuum wasn’t disrupted, our destinies have changed.

Now, either Spock failed to watch the 2009 reboot, or even Spock does not believe that there is no continuity between both (or any possible) timelines.

Because he asks someone to make a prediction. Himself.

That’s right, in Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks original timeline Spock for advice in dealing with Khan.

He asks the guy who said that we can’t use alternate timelines to predict events in other timelines.

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

 

Despite his prior statements, (reboot) Spock assumes that Ambassador Spock has knowledge of and/or knows how to deal with Khan.

Lucky for (reboot) Spock, Ambassador Spock’s advice works.

Of course, we the viewers, are left to assume one thing: whether Khan is played by Ricardo Montalban or Benedict Cumberbatch, Khan Noonien Singh, in any timeline, is the exact same guy.

At least psychologically so.

So psychological determinism is ok.

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

 


It’s not just Khan that is the same. There’s plenty of continuity between the two timelines.

Enough to tell yourself exactly what Khan will do.

We’re told that Nero’s appearance has thrown events into flux, however, given the predictability of Khan’s actions and psychology in both timelines, it seems that no matter what happens   whatever alternate course of action or possible outcome, some events necessarily happen in every timeline.


Here are a few examples:

  • Despite the fact that the death of Kirk’s father has turned him off from joining Starfleet, Kirk still joins Starfleet.
  • Kirk’s insatiable sexual appetite.
  • Kirk and Spock’s friendship (despite a very bumpy start).
  • Kirk Becomes captain of the Enterprise (assuming command from Captain Pike).
  • Captain Pike is injured and paralyzed.
  • Kirk cheats on the Kobayashi Maru test.
  • Kirk meets and begins a romantic relationship with Dr. Carol Marcus (we may be free to assume that Carol Marcus will eventually give birth to a son, David, who will, in turn, be murdered by Klingons).
  • Harry Mudd (and announcement about Mudd is made over the ship’s intercom in Star Trek Into Darkness)
  • Khan meeting Kirk and the Enterprise crew.
  • Khan’s crew and his willingness to kill to protect his crew.
  • Khan’s grudge against the Federation/Starfleet.
  • A “death” in the Enterprise engine room in an attempt to defeat Khan.
  • The “dead” person coming back to life.

In the Star Trek universe, Kirk must join Starfleet, Kirk must cheat on the Kobayashi Maru, Kirk must meet Spock and they must become friends, Kirk must  become captain of the Enterprise, Kirk must meet Carol Marcus, the Enterprise must encounter Khan, the Enterprise must have a problem with the fuel cells, and someone must “die“ realigning the dilithium crystals.

The similar dialogue between Kirk and Spock’s “death” scenes in the Enterprise engine room in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and in Star Trek Into Darkness not only suggests that some events are necessarily determined to happen in every timeline, but what characters say is determined as well.

 

Spock’s “death”, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

 

spock death the first time

 

Kirk’s “death”, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

kirk's death

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.

So… what are we to think about philosophy and the rebooting of Star Trek?

Well, for starters, the philosophical continuity sucks.

But more importantly, despite the high action, new actors, and lens flare (really, they need to cut that crap out), the new Star Trek fits in quite nicely with its so obvious you’d have to have the vision of a mole to miss it philosophical predecessors.

The philosophical lesson we learn from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, is that no matter what alternate reality they’re in, no matter what happens to Vulcan or what Khan looks like, the lives of the crew of the USS Enterprise are locked in an inexorable series of events.

No matter what they do, all roads will lead to the same point.

Star Trek is a determined universe.

It doesn’t matter how Kirk gets command of the Enterprise, he will always be captain of the Enterprise.

Kirk will always cheat on the Kobayashi Maru. Kirk and Spock will always be friends. Khan will always be defeated.

 

And Star Trek V: The Final Frontier will always suck.

 

 

 

*By the way, it is worth noting that neither Ricardo Montalban nor Benedict Cumberbatch is of Indian descent, as the name Khan Noonien Singh would indicate one’s likely national/ethnic origin to be. But hey, the French captain of the Enterprise-D, Jean-Luc Picard is played by English actor Patrick Stewart who does not speak with a French accent despite the fact that Picard was born and raised IN FRANCE.

 

 

Sources:

Baron d’Holbach. “Are We Cogs In the Universe?”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p.681-2

What Does God Want With A Starship?

It’s generally accepted among Star Trek fans that Star Trek V is the worst of the film series.

It’s subtitled The Final Frontier.

 

I suppose it’s because it was supposed to close the franchise. But apparently it was so bad they had to make a Star Trek VI.


With lots of quotes from Shakespeare.

 

Really, there are Shakespeare quotes and references all over that movie.

 

I’m not excluding myself from the general consensus regarding the cinematic quality of Star Trek V, but I don’t think it’s really that bad of a film. It’s really not even the worst Star Trek film (I put my money on Star Trek: Insurrection).

The movie had a good idea, something happened in the execution.

Some people blame the movie’s badness on William Shatner’s direction. I don’t. There are worse actor-directed movies out there.

The Brown Bunny comes to mind.

 

Damn Vincent Gallo.

 

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

 

The movie’s subtitle, The Final Frontier, suggests a pretty deep idea. When you’ve explored everywhere where no man has gone before, what else is there? Is there anything else?

What is the final frontier?

 

THE ANSWER: GOD

 

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier isn’t the first film to ask the God question.

How God gives our lives meaning. How the power of God vanquishes Pazuzu. How God will switch places with an average guy to let him see what God’s life is like. How you shouldn’t open up boxes filled with the power of God especially if you’re a Nazi.

 

GOD HATES NAZIS

GOD HATES NAZIS

 

Sometimes God is sought out. Sometimes The Almighty kind of pops up.

Most of the time in the movies, people are just trying to figure out what God’s plan is for us and the universe. Sometimes the question is about God himself. And sometimes, somebody asks, “what does God want with a starship?

Ok. Now it’s time to explain the plot.

 

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

 

You see, the USS Enterprise’s first officer, Mr. Spock (that’s the pointy-eared, Vulcan dude with no emotions) has an older brother named Sybok.

Nobody knew of this guy until now.

The never-once-mentioned-before-even-in-episodes-that-take-place-on-Vulcan-like-“Amok Time” Sybok was banished from the planet Vulcan because he refused to get rid of his emotions (or something like that).

The movie was pretty bad. I didn’t pay exact attention to the never-existed-until-the-would-be-last-Star-Trek-film Sybok’s back story.

Come to think of it, I guess it worked out pretty good for Sybok to be banished since it probably saves his butt in the J.J. Abrams universe, too. Unless he was banished in time line Roddenberry after the time when Vulcan was destroyed in time line Abrams.

 

Ok. Now I’m off track.

 

Oh, yeah. Ok… so Sybok was banished from Vulcan because he refused to ditch his emotions and he had this crazy notion of this place called Sha Ka Ree.

According to whatever legend Sybok was in to, Sha Ka Ree is where God lives.

Could they rip off a word that sounds ANY closer to Shangri la?

Anyway…

 

Sybok, through some Vulcan mind trickery, manages to wrangle control of the Enterprise from Captain Kirk (of course!) and heads straight towards the edge of the universe.

Because of all the possible places in the universe where God could be, that’s where God would be.

Didn’t you know that?

So…. long story short (too late), when Kirk, Spock, Sybok, and Dr. McCoy arrive at Sha Ka Ree they find that the “God” Sybok has been amped up over enough to heist a Federation starship is a disembodied, big-headed, blue-faced dude, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Laurence Oliver in the original Clash of the Titans.

 

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

 
Sybok discovers that “God” isn’t terribly interested in Sybok, God’s own status as the Almighty, or answering any of life’s big questions. Instead, “God” presents Sybok, et al. with a strange, if not ungodly request:

God wants the Enterprise.

Naturally, this is a problem…  For God.

 

You see, apparently God has never met Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

 

Captain Kirk, unwilling to give up his ship to anyone including God demands to know why an all-powerful God would want a starship.

 

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

Captain Kirk’s failure to immediately acquiesce to God’s demands angers the Almighty. God not only refuses to tell Kirk’s why he wants a starship, He punishes Kirk for his insolence by  promptly striking Kirk in the chest with a lightning bolt.

Wait a minute. Maybe they’d found Emperor Palpatine.

 

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

 

Here’s the thing, though. Sybok might as well have found a Sith lord.

‘Cause he sure didn’t find God.

 

He would have had better luck finding God if he’d climbed Mt. Olympus.

 

Sybok didn’t find God at the edge of the universe, but Kirk’s question, “what does God want with a starship?” is a question that man has asked about God for centuries. Namely, if God is an all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, perfectly good being, why would God need anything from not-powerful people?

Why does God need our praise and worship? Why does He need blood sacrifices and monuments?

Why would God need $8 million from Oral Roberts under threat of taking Roberts “home” to Heaven if he failed to deliver the money?

We can’t do anything near what the power of God can do. Men cannot create planets or life from dust. We can’t will anything into existence. God can create anything.* God has the power to be in all places at one time.

Which is exactly why Captain Kirk asks the “God” of Sha Ka Ree why he needs a starship.

Of course, we know that Kirk isn’t looking from an answer from “God”. What Kirk is doing is challenging the claim that the blue-faced, Sith lightning bolt-throwing, creature of Sha Ka Ree is God at all. You see, Captain James Tiberius Kirk does not believe that God exists.

You don’t have to watch all five television incarnations and all 12 feature-length Star Trek films to figure out that Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train in space” is a godless universe. Captain Kirk’s universe operates more by the dictates of Darwin than by Deuteronomy.

Philosophically speaking, the Star Trek universe is grounded on the principles of humanism.

Humanism is the 14th-15th century philosophical movement that emphasized the capacity of human rationality and the inherent worth of individuals without reliance on Christian teachings.

Roddenberry’s vision of the future is a universe where testable science and reason is preferred to superstition and religious faith. Throughout the Star Trek franchise science triumphs over religion. In Roddenberry’s future, science answers all of life’s big questions. Hunger, war, sexism, racism, even the common cold, have been done away with through reason and science.

The Star Trek universe is a place where sectarian-driven conflicts have been replaced by a secular peace. Where star dates have replaced our traditional Christian-based B.C./A.D. calendar.

God is no longer necessary as either the cause of cure for human progress or suffering.

In the Star Trek (TOS) episode “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, the crew of the Enterprise dispatch with a “God” by refusing to believe in him. The god simply fades away. Just as God has faded away from Roddenberry’s vision of the future.
Check out what Enterprise-D captain, Jean-Luc Picard, has to say about religion:

 

 

 

The fight against irrational religious belief and superstition plays a part in more than a few episodes of Star Trek:  “The Apple”, “Catspaw”, “Plato’s Stepchildren”, “The Paradise Syndrome”, “Who Watches the Watchers?”, “The Chase”, and “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, to name a few.
The Star Trek preference of the secular over religion is best articulated by Bertrand Russell in his essay, “Why I Am Not A Christian”. Russell writes that religion:

… inflicts all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in he world… Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all of your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing fear of the mysteries, fear of defeat, fear of death.

 

Fear is exactly what the “God” of Sha Ka Ree wants Kirk, Sybok, etc. to feel.

 

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP


And this is how Kirk knows that “God” is a complete fraud.

 

He knows this god, let alone any god, isn’t a real deity.

As a secular humanist, Kirk doesn’t (won’t) grant the “God” of Sha Ka Ree an ounce of legitimacy; especially legitimacy to any creature that issues senseless demands enforced with fear and lightning bolts. So Kirk refuses to believe “God” is God.

Any real God wouldn’t punishment someone for asking a simple question.

Science and reason don’t punish people for being curious.

Obsolete gods do.

So, the “God” of Sha Ka Ree loses his power.

That’s not really all that bad though. God isn’t really what the movie was about, anyway.

 

logical spock

 

 

What Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is about is what every Star Trek show, novel, comic book, cartoon or movie is about: us. It’s not God or even the universe that is the final frontier. The final frontier is people. It’s man himself that is the universe’s greatest mystery. Sha Ka Ree did not reveal God to Sybok.

However, what Sha Ka Ree did reveal was Sybok.

Sybok was arrogant, sinister, and dangerous. His intent wasn’t to find God but to accumulate more power for himself; more like Jim Jones than John the Baptist.

Sybok may have thought, or rather, fooled himself into thinking that he was going to solve the mystery of God. But as things in the Star Trek universe go, Sybok was nothing more than a standard sci-fi villain.

Unfortunately, even Gene Roddenberry couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I know this statement is quite controversial. It seems that it’s not entirely true that God can create or do “anything”. God is unable to create any universe that he does not exist, grossly violate the laws of nature, interfere with human free will, or manifest contradictions (such as a round square) or create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Bertrand Russell. “Why I’m Not A Christian”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Dennon. NY: Touchstone. p 596.

 

 

Captain Kirk Makes Scrambled Eggs! (On Star Trek, Nozick’s Experience Machine, and the Worst Star Trek Subplot EVER)

I was watching Star Trek: Generations awhile ago. It’s not a great movie. It pretty much follows the every-other-movie Star Trek rule. That is to say, it’s an odd-numbered Star Trek movie.

The odd-numbered are the ones that suck.

The every-odd-numbered Star Trek movie rule goes like this: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan  (number 2 in the film series) = great movie. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier  (number 5 in the film series) = steaming pile.

The problem with Star Trek: Generations has mainly to do with the plot. It just doesn’t make sense. I haven’t made a formal count, but I’d guess there’s about 89 equally baffling subplots going on in the movie. There are plots involving Data and his emotion chip, the ample-bosomed, Klingon Duras sisters and their plan to destroy the Enterprise, the usually-entertaining Malcolm Mc Dowell and his quest to get back to something called the Nexus, and a not-so-successful meeting of Enterprise captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard.

There’s also some mumbo-jumbo about Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg) and her relationship with Malcolm Mc Dowell (his character, that is), an opening flashback scene that introduces us to Sulu’s daughter and Kirk’s replacement, the inept Captain Harriman, the crash and explosion of the Enterprise in which the entire Enterprise crew is killed, and some GAWD-AWFUL attempted humor in the holodeck that takes place on the deck of a pirate galleon.

Whoever thought it would be funny to see a Klingon walk the plank was wrong. It’s not.

Now, any honest Star Trek fan will tell you that they’ve not been entirely impressed with every TV show or movie plot line. As much as I was forced to hold back bile while watching the Enterprise crew’s pirate ship shenanigans, if I wanted to be honest, my vote for the worst of the subplots – the worst subplot in any Star Trek movie – has to be the Nexus.

The Nexus is the biggest WTF plot line in Star Trek history.

Although strangely enough, it’s one of the most philosophical.

If you’re not acquainted with the Nexus, the Nexus is a kind of alternate world where you can manifest your ideal reality. Once you’ve entered the Nexus, you can spend an eternity in your ideal world. For Captain Jean-Luc Picard, ideal reality looks like a Charles Dickens novel; equipped with English-accented children (never mind that Picard is supposed to be French) in proper period attire. According to Captain Kirk, ideal reality is riding horses, chopping wood, and making eggs for his unseen girlfriend.

 

captain kirk makes eggs

 

I mean, the audience doesn’t get to see Kirk’s girlfriend. But we’re told that she’s in the bedroom upstairs.

We’re told her name is Antonia.

Who TF is Antonia?

As a Star Trek fan, I gotta say that this Antonia thing is upsetting. Not as upsetting as the new Carol Marcus’ British accent, but upsetting. I mean, every Star Trek fan knows that in an ideal world, Kirk would chose to be with his old love Carol Marcus*.

Maybe even chose to be with Edith Keeler.

 

 

THIS IS WHAT CAPTAIN KIRK'S IDEAL REALITY SHOULD LOOK LIKE

THIS IS WHAT CAPTAIN KIRK’S IDEAL REALITY SHOULD LOOK LIKE

 

Or maybe, since Star Trek is supposed to be philosophical, Kirk or Picard might have chosen a world that included having a little chat with Robert Nozick. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I get the feeling that the film’s writers were trying to squeeze in some experience machine talk to the audience. The Nexus is Robert Nozick’s experience machine.

Robert Nozick’s thought experiment was an argument against hedonism.

Hedonism, according to the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), is the moral theory grounded on the principle that pleasure is the greatest good. Bentham wrote:

“Nature has placed mankind the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure… They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think… By utility is meant that property in any object, good or happiness… to prevent the happening of mischief, pain , evil, or unhappiness…”

Nozick argued that Bentham’s emphasis on pleasure as the greatest good presents us with a problem. Namely, that if we value pleasure for pleasure’s sake, any pleasurable experience will do; we won’t bother to ask if pleasure is what’s really good for us. That is to say, some pleasurable experiences do us more harm than good.

This is precisely what Nozick’s experience machine shows us.

Nozick describes the experience machine as follows:

“Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired… you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank with electrodes attached to your brain.”

If you’re feeling that this is the idea behind The Matrix and/or Total Recall, give yourself five bonus points.

You have seen this one before.

 

I NEVER THOUGHT I'D LIVE TO SEE THE DAY WHEN I'D SAY THE ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER VERSION IS BETTER.

I NEVER THOUGHT I’D LIVE TO SEE THE DAY WHEN I’D SAY THE ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER VERSION IS BETTER.

 

Although Nozick knows that some people would not hesitate to climb into the experience machine, he tells us that the wrong choice would be to climb inside. You see, Nozick says that there is more to life than mere pleasure. We should value the quality of our life experiences, not just the quantity of the pleasurable ones. Nozick argues that only is life worth more than pleasure, Nozick also says that the artificial experiences we live in the experience machine lacks authenticity. Nozick says:

“We want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them… we learn that something matters to us in addition to experience.”

In the movie, Picard realizes that he can’t stay in the Nexus. He feels the urge to leave his ideal world, even though the Nexus’ “reality” is exactly the life that Picard wants. Picard knows that the Nexus isn’t real – that life inside the Nexus is, in reality, a denial of life. Picard eventually convinces Kirk to leave the Nexus (Kirk is also aware that life inside the Nexus isn’t “real”), and the two men rush to save the Enterprise from – well, you see, this is where the plot of the movie gets really convoluted.

 

WHO THOUGHT TWO OLD DUDES FIGHTING WOULD BE ENTERTAINING?

WHO THOUGHT TWO OLD DUDES FIGHTING WOULD BE ENTERTAINING?

 

 

Anyway, long story short. Kirk dies.

But here’s the thing: even though Kirk dies, it was better that he left the Nexus. According to Nozick, Kirk’s life in the Nexus was kind of living death. Since Kirk wasn’t actually chopping wood, riding his horse or making eggs for his girlfriend, he wasn’t really experiencing anything. We’re tempted to say that Kirk’s authentic death outside of the Nexus was qualitatively better than any thing he had experienced inside his artificial reality.

I guess unless you’re Thomas Nagel. You’d probably think Kirk’s death was pretty messed up.

But then, Nagel said any death is pretty messed up.

Ok, we get it. Nozick wants us to value authenticity over pleasure and we shouldn’t want to hook up to the experience machine. Nozick’s argument works fine if all we want to do inside the experience machine is to avoid the real world or to fulfill our desire to get tag-teamed by Megan Fox and Mila Kunis.

Or if you’re Kirk, shagging a couple of Orion slave girls.

But, if the quality of our experiences matters in the real world, why wouldn’t the quality of our artificial experiences matter as well?

If we choose to take private philosophy lessons from Socrates or to sit on a meeting of the Vienna Circle or choose to spend our time in the experience machine in deep philosophical contemplation, would we say that we wasted our lives away doing nothing of real value? If the circumstances of our lives prevent us from doing what we want to do, why should we reject an offer to spend time in the experience machine?

Would Nozick say that a person who is physically incapacitated shouldn’t want to experience climbing a mountain or taking a long walk along a beach? Would it be wrong if a woman living in a nation that oppresses women uses an experience machine to have a kind of life she is not permitted to have at home?

Is there ever a circumstance when good, albeit simulated, experiences are preferable to one’s shitty, all-too real existence?

I don’t know what Nozick would say about that, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for jumping into the experience machine if it meant you didn’t have to watch Star Trek V.

 

 

 

 
* It would also seem correct that Kirk’s ideal world would have included, along with Carol Marcus, Kirk and Marcus’ son David. Kirk did not meet his son until David was an adult (in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Unfortunately, David Marcus was murdered by Klingons in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It seems quite reasonable that a man would want to spend an ideal eternity with his long-lost son.

 

 

 
Sources:

Robert Nozick. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. 1974. NY: Basic Books.

Jeremy Bentham. “The Utilitarian Calculus”. Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 2007. 5th edition. Ed. Louis J. Poijman. Belmont CA: Wadsworth. p. 143.