The Hypothetical LIEF

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Life on Earth

What do you think life will be like on Earth in the 24th century?

There have been a few attempts to work this out but we know more about life on the Enterprise, Deep Space Nine or Voyager than we do about life on Earth. There is only circumstantial evidence as to what it was like, which mostly revolves around background information about the major characters, their families or their early life.

What do we know about the Earth from Star Trek Canon? Memory Alpha, as usual, has an exhaustive series of links to virtually every reference on the subject in the canon, including one on the different regions.

Frankly, what we see shows little development from the world of today. Other than some changes to the political makeup of the United Earth Government in what is commonly called "the Third World", the 24th century world map would look remarkably similar to todays. The major differences seem to be the European Hegemony or Alliance and the United States of Africa or African Confederation neither of which is well defined. Asia and indeed the rest of the world is ussually only mentioned in passing by a vague reference.

Perhaps though by applying Logic we can infer more about the type of Earth that represents the centre of United Federation of Planets in the 24th century? This fact alone, that Earth is the centre of the UFP, suggests that the Earth, or at least the human race, is of primary importance to the universe. Not only is it the seat of the Federation Council and the office of the Federation President, it is also the location of Starfleet Command, and at least the main campus of Starfleet Academy.

What about everyday life on Earth though? People marry, have children, split up, get divorced, just as they always have. People have not suddenly become saints! Parents have expectations for their children, families have traditions and property that is passed on down the ages.

This last is an interesting point since we are often told that there is no money in this socety. Throughout the whole of Star Trek canon there are contradictory statements as to whether money exists in the federation. On the one hand, in "First Contact" Picard remarks to Lilly that …

"The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century... The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity."
On the other hand we often hear about "credits" being used to buy things, especially from extratellestrial traders. This apparent anomaly is adressed by William B. Swift in his web article, 'The Economy of Star Trek'. It would be interesting to compare the possibilites of whether the economy of the Federation is capitalistic or socialistic ... or a subtle combination of the two.

This is important because it might lead us to an answer about what ordinary people outside Starfleet do on a day-to-day basis. Do jobs for pay exist? Or are they all done just for the love of being productive? Who does the menial tasks? What if you wanted more than the governments standard ration of credits, say if you wanted to collect artworks or travel?

We know that people do have businesses, such as Joseph Sisko's restaurant and Picard's brother's vineyard, but we never hear of any boring, repetative jobs. Who pushes buttons at the power stations or collects the garbage? Automation probably cuts out much of the drudgery. I have always assumed for example that waste was disintegrated to be re-used as the raw material for the replicators - the ultimate trash compactor!

The fact of the matter is that Star Trek is not about ordinary people. It is about the extraordinary people, the Kirks, Janeways and Picards. Epsicokhan's year 2000 piece "Galaxy of the Elite?" discusses much of this ground and comes to the same conclusion, that Star Trek is about elites.

One character who exemplifies the concept of elitism in Trek is often overlooked - Julian Bashir. At age six, Bashir was evidently educationally and physically below average. Just before his seventh birthday his parents took him to Adigeon Prime where he was subjected to genetic engineering that increased his IQ, hand-eye coordination, reflexes, vision, stamina, height, weight, virtually everything! In effect he went from one extreme of the elitist scale to the other. From zero, as it were, to hero!

Unfortunately such genetic engineering was deemed illegal because of the experiences of the Eugenics war and ultimately his father was sentenced to serve two years of minimum security prison in New Zealand for breaking the law. This, and later episodes involving four patients whose genetic enhancements have gone horribly wrong, stands out as one of the few Star Trek episodes which celebrates the falibility of humanity.

However even though Star Trek revolves around the elites of the 24th century, I like to think that it is an elite that recognises that it is morally and ethically bound to serve and protect the interstellar civilisation that it stands at the pinnacle of.

What combination of education and environment could create such an elite though? I wonder …

Thursday, April 21, 2005

This world of shadows

Over my last Summer holidays I found the time to skim “The Philosophical Quest; A Cross-Cultural Reader” by Presbey, Struhl & Olsen (McGraw-Hill 1995) which drew examples from all over the world in a discussion of philosophical principles. It wet my appetite for matters philosophical and gave me the idea for this blog.

If anything it showed me how little I know about philosophy and logic. For example, am I giving myself intellectual airs by thinking that this idea of a series of hypothetical questions and the discussion of their answers is an example of Socratic dialogue or dialectic?

The book started, as most on Philosophy do, with a chapter on Metaphysics, the philosophical study of appearances and reality. As you might expect, it dealt with Aristotle’s parable of the cave which, to oversimplify, states that our world of reality is nothing but a shadow or copy of a higher “world of the mind’.

Now, stop me if I’m wrong, but Star Trek as a whole would appear to be Materialistic. This has nothing to do with it’s common usage implying a fixation with material goods, but refers to the idea that our consciousness is a product of the physical world, the brain.

The technological wonders of each series are based on Science rather than Fantasy. Sure they fly around the universe at Warp nine on Star Ships that are beyond our current technology, but the premise is that it is technology that could be developed over the intervening centuries.

At every turn they seem to have scientifically defined their existence. They have Tricorders, microscopes that can see down to the molecular level, sensors that can measure any parameter. Their universe seems to be one that they can quantify and explain. The Captain only has to turn to his Science Officer to get a plausible explanation of any danger he sees on his view screen!

And yet … Warp Drive can only work because they drop out of this, dare I call it, Einsteinian Universe, into sub-space. They encounter beings of unimaginable, Godlike strength, the Q who exist on another plain of existence, the Q continuum – whose existence cannot be explained by their current knowledge.

Even in the 24th century (to paraphrase the bard) there are more things in Heaven and Earth than can be explained by their philosophy!

One of the things that surprised me from “The Philosophical Quest’ was that Aristotle’s concept of the world as a shadow of a deeper reality had a parallel in the beliefs of the North American Indians.

Black Elk was a Sioux or Lakota shaman whose life spanned a childhood in the growing shadow of the white man and their brief moment of glory, when his cousin Crazy Horse defeated the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Following their defeat and demoralisation, the virtual destruction of their way of life, he decided in his seventies to share something of his peoples’ ways with the poet and journalist, John Niehardt. In an account of how Crazy Horse received his name and his power from a “vision” he had as a boy where he visited “the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything that we see here is something like a shadow from that world.”

In Voyager, Chakotay uses a similar mystical experience to that of the Lakota when he suggests that Cpt. Janeway get a spirit guide. There is no suggestion though that the world of spirit is the “real” world and their existence on Voyager a shadow existence, if anything they seem to look on it as a way of communing with their subconscious.

Occasionally there will be a plot that will play with our perception of what is “real” in terms of the story – for example when what turns out to be a duplicate Voyager starts to dissolve or in any of the various contacts with the mirror universe. We know that the world of Star Trek is really fiction: so which one of the universes is real? The only claim that the mainstream universe has, is that it is the one that has been accepted in all the preceding episodes – it is “Canon”.

As you read this, o' hypothetical reader, you see your existence as real but to me you are just a generalised hope that someone out there is reading this. When I was young I was knocked down by a bus - who am I to say that my whole existence since childhood has not just been a drug induced dream whilst I lie in a hospital bed, kept alive in my coma by drips - sort of a biological "Matrix"

To this extent, how can we say that how we view reality is true and another persons’ view is not?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Vulcan Options - My own view

OK. So it was a very broad ranging topic, but I’m surprised that I got no more than one comment on it. Man, I can see so many possibilities and conflict that I could write a book on it … in fact I am!

Star Trek is about stories set in a technologically advanced future so it is only fitting that Warp technology is seen as a society’s ‘Right of Passage’ into recognition as a spacefaring society. However, just as a boy’s successful advancement to the ranks of adulthood after his right of passage is not a smooth and successful transition, so too a planetary society cannot be said to mature just because it has attained a certain level of technology.

In fact we can say just the opposite in many … ok most cases. Archaeologists now believe that the fall of the Mayan civilization was brought about by declining crop yields, runaway deforestation, and a primitive transport system. The desert that now covers the northern half of the African continent is thought to have been brought about by the deforestation started by the Roman empire. Need I draw analogies with modern society?

It has been used so many times recently it is close to a cliché but “with great power comes great responsibility”. If we assume that the Vulcan’s are an ethically advanced race – it’s taken as an axiom – then, yes, I believe they do have a responsibility to help. Take the analogy with a society – adults have a responsibility to pass on to the their successors the lessons that they have learned in life.

However …

[Question for all the parents in the audience] How often do teenagers listen to your words of wisdom? [pause for bitter, riotous laughter] Yes. Well. I have to admit that not all adults comport themselves in an ethical and responsible manner. The point is though that adults have learned to accept and work with the pressures and responsibilities that they are lumbered with.

On a planetary scale then, how would a mature society pass on the knowledge they have accumulated? Notice I am talking about wisdom here, not technology. The Vulcans could hand over the plans for their advanced spaceships, weapons, medical and food production technology but that is analogous to a rich man giving his child everything. Things that are not earned are not appreciated or treasured … or used wisely.

Certainly the Prime Directive has chosen a technological milestone (Warp capability) but perhaps the reason this is so is because technology beyond that point is capable of destroying civilizations. The idea is that First contact at this point is not meant to transfer new and more powerful technologies to the developing society, but to teach them how to use and control the technologies that they will be exposed to, either from other spacefaring civilizations or from their own development.

I mentioned two extremes - they could take control or they could do nothing. If we assume that it is “the right thing to do” to help those in need, then yes, the Vulcans do have a responsibility to help an immature society to overcome the problems that they themselves have faced.

Is the answer technological? Certainly advanced medical and food technology could save millions of lives, especially on a world struggling to recover from Nuclear War. However it is not the whole answer. Today, here and now, the industrialized western nations have the technology to alleviate the suffering of the developing world but, like willful adolescents, some would rather see their society suffer in their independence than accept the charity of others.

Logos on Human Vulcan thinks there is no ethical compulsion to share the knowledge and experience that made them affluent. You could say that Western society might be on shakey ground assuming that it was their own efforts that made them affluent, as Jared Diamond does in "Guns, Germs, and Steel". You could also have a point that it encroaches on the weaker party's freedom. In this you have the classic arguement: am I my brother's keeper?

I would say that any technologically advanced society has an obligation to offer to help those who they think are less fortunate. If that help is accepted then they can assume an invitation. For them to try to force their lessons on a society that does not want their advice is both futile and unethical (remember Vietnam?). To force change upon others defies the ideal of IDIC, for how can you respect others differences if you want to change them?

Secondly they need to tread a fine line between educational aid and technological aid. One without the other is a waste of time. Giving technological aid without teaching how to use it is as bad as giving a desert Bushman a lawnmower. Education without technological aid is a lesser crime, since education can create technology, but technological aid can definately speed advancement.

Just as we can teach other societies what we believe to be the “right way”, they have much to teach us also. I’m not just being P.C. when I say that. The educational process needs to work both ways: we are all students in one way or another.

Discussion on these hypotheticals is always open, I welcome comments on the Blog: any sentient being is welcome!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Post Prime Directive - The Vulcan Options

In my general discussion on the transition from Anarchy to Utopia in Star Trek I made the blanket statement that, after the Vulcans landed in 2063 they were faced with a ‘Post-Prime Directive" dilemma. They were faced with what was to them a primitive society which had just discovered warp technology, what should they do?

First of all, let us be clear on what the prime directive is – it is a rule that no spacefaring, warp capable civilization should make itself known or in any other way interfere in the development of a society that is NOT Warp capable. The reasoning behind it is that the unique value of a society would be contaminated if it knew that interstellar travel were possible. Warp technology is seen as a society’s ‘Right of Passage’ into recognition as a spacefaring society.

The Prime Directive has been studied and debated many times before and we will consider it here at a later point in time but just for now let’s talk about what happens afterwards. I mean, when a planet, in this case the Earth, shows that it is Warp capable what should be the next step? The reasons for the Prime Directive are still there, the planet is still vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the more technologically superior race that has contacted them.

One thing to consider is that the reason for Warp capability being chosen as being the milestone for contacting a planet is that if you don’t say hello to them, they’ll soon be saying hello to you! Indeed, by catching them at the moment that they hatch from their native system, they could be getting the jump on a potentially aggressive race.

So what are the Vulcan options? Well, the two extremes would be …

They could take control. After "First Contact" they could easily take over Earth, especially since it was weak from the nuclear wars they had just survived.

They could do nothing. They could simply observe the Earth’s "natural" development and monitor their actions.

On the one hand, no matter how honourable their intentions, they would be cast in the light of invaders, imperialists, and aggressors. They would face resistance to their policies and philosophies, no matter how logical and proven they were. The first course would mean an extended and intrusive operation that would be expensive in manpower and resources. It would go against the spirit of the Prime Directive" in that, after showing the restraint of not interfering with their society before their "First Contact", they would then be destroying that society to remake it in their own image.

Does that mean that they should do nothing? It is interesting to note that the Prime Directives milestone, Warp Capability, is a technological milestone. The Vulcans do not gauge a system’s readiness for First Contact by whether they have a World Government, whether they have done away with war or any other moral, ethical or philosophical milestone. Should they perhaps simply keep them under observation? The advantage here is that by not interfering the Vulcans would not be contaminating their social development. Bearing in mind the Vulcan idea of IDIC, they could reap the rewards of interacting with, and perhaps learning from, a unique and vital society.

The drawback here is that human society could take any number of false trails, dead ends and set backs on the road to enlightenment. Do they, the Vulcans, not have a responsibility to help an immature society avoid the same problems that they themselves have overcome? And what about their technology? The introduction of advanced medical and food technology could save millions of lives, especially on a world struggling to recover from Nuclear War. Would they not have a moral or ethical responsibility to save and preserve lives?

Pretty obviously the answer is somewhere in between, but where? Should an advanced society keep its influence to a minimum and let a less technologically developed society make its own mistakes? Or should they take a strong leading role, like a mentor or a master and apprentice? What is the balance point? What specific rulings would you apply? Would you supply medical and food technologies but not military technology?

I invite readers to leave comments here or repost this on any forum they choose for discussion – contact me with a URL to link to - I will be re-posting this for discussion on ST Philosophy: any sentient being is welcome!


Are you one of those people who thinks that life is black and white, that there is always a right answer, a right course of action, you just have to find it? The reality is that, to paraphrase Captain Picard, there are always options and each has its’ consequences, some of which are more appropriate than others.

The idea behind this Module of the LIEF Erikson is to take a hypothetical question and examine the possible answers. Simple as that. It’s not necessarily to find the perfect answer – is there such a thing? – Sometimes you can learn more by considering the worst answer, to see why it is the least appropriate.