Saturday, December 1, 2012

Star Trek & Philosophy: Review

Star Trek & Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant is a collection of essays edited by Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker.  These essays use episodes and moments from Star Trek's various incarnations and feature films to explore philosophical issues ranging from the nature of communication between very disparate species to logical development of Vulcans to the ethical dilemmas found in Deep Space Nine.  The essays use one of the icons of fictional space exploration to explore the philosophies of the human race.

The collection opens with an examination of one of my favorite Next Generation episodes, "Darmok."  It discusses the essence of truly alien communication and commends the popular television show for addressing the difficulties in a very real way.  Most science fiction novels and programs represent the universe as being full of very human-like creatures who all, magically, either speak English or have a language that translates very nicely into English when run through a universal translator.  But philosophers have posited that a truly alien species would probably have points of reference so very different from ours that there may not be the common ground to allow such easy translation.  "Darmok" reflects this idea while keeping it grounded in just familiar enough territory for the average viewer to understand.

Next up are two essays on the nature of Vulcans. One explaining the logic of Vulcan by giving a brief overview of the civilization of Vulcan and its dependence on the teachings and philosophy of Surak.  The second compares Data's wish to be human to Spock's efforts to completely control his human side.  It also discusses the relative merits of being able to control one's emotions versus the complete absence of them.

Other topics covered include revenge (courtesy of The Wrath of Khan) and whether it has a part in a meaningful life--and, ultimately, just what a meaningful life is; issues of morality and how it relates to the Q; the ethics of cloning and genetic manipulation (courtesy of Dr. Bashir and "The Masterpiece Society"; rational moral autonomy vs. full moral autonomy (Star Trek: Insurrection); the consequences and effects of collaboration (Nazi Germany  via the Cardassians and Odo & the Bajorans); Business Ethics 101--can the Ferengi teach us anything?; human nature and individuality (vis-à-vis the Borg); the idea of recognition and importance of each individual (the entire philosophy of Star Trek); fantasy versus reality and the merits of the holodeck; the nature of time; the foundations of faith, and the nuts & bolts of life, death and immortality.

This is a very interesting, but very dense book.  For someone who doesn't have a hefty philosophical background it gets a bit deep at times, but never so deep that I felt like I was drowning.  Thoroughly enjoyable and well worth the time.  My favorite essay?  The one on "Darmok" and language. Four stars.


Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) said...

Sounds interesting, or to quote Spock, fascinating. I don't have a philosophical background but I do have an extensive Trek background!

Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous said...

This sounds excellent! Every so often I miss philosophical discussions from college classes, and this sounds like the PERFECT way to satisfy that itch. And my love of Star Trek, of course!

"Darmok" is one my favorite TNG episodes too--such a fascinating concept of the challenges of language, and I loved the alien method of communication.