1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Star Trek, Immortality and Evasive Action

The name of the German philosopher who claimed that all philosophy begins in the face of death escapes my mind. However, this particular episode (even while being the most anti-theistic I can recall) does show the limits of human development, technology and evolution. The final frontier is not space, but death:
"Who Watches the Watchers"

In one of his books Peter Kreeft notes that it is popular to equate religion, magic and superstition as opposed to reason and science. (He then argues that both science and religion are rational, while science and it's manipulative overuse [that which Neil Postman characterized as "Technopoly"]: technology, which he says is a modern version of magic, are fundamentally irrational).

In any case, the above STNG episode reveals more about the Enlightenment Soul of Gene Rodenberry than it does about the future of religion. "Who Watches the Watchers" looks at religion and preaches that men (well, sentient life) simply "evolve" out of religion into rationality and technique. Religion in this view would seem to be - at best - a kind of substitute for science which fades away once a people invents the lightbulb or, say, television.

To go where every man goes...

Despite the episode's superficial and dismissive view of religion, there is a moment rather poignant. After the proto-Vulcans have mistaken Captain Picard for "The Picard, a god," a Federation anthropolgist dies. Confronted with the stark nakedness of death, we hear this bit of dialogue:
NURIA [the Mitakan leader]: Picard, you could not save her?
NURIA: You do have limits. You are not masters of life and death.
PICARD: No, we are not. We can cure many diseases and we can repair injuries, we can even extend life. But for all our knowledge, all our advances, we are just as mortal as you are. We're just as powerless to prevent the inevitable.
It is that mortality which calls into question the "Rodenberry Hypothesis" that humanity is always heading onward and upward toward sunlit peaks. We "do have limits" but we desire the limitless. Not merely the "Bad Infinity" of the galaxy or even the universe, but that total satisfaction without end.

I could be reading something into Patrick Stewart, but I had the distinct feeling that even he might have thought that last sentence above was incomplete. I would end it thusly: Perhaps, though, what is inevitable is not annihilation but eternity. There remains so much we don't know.... 

That would seem to me to be a more scientific view: let the question remain open.

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