The Hypothetical LIEF

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?