Monday, March 2, 2015

A Eulogy for Mr Spock?

spock on  bridge of the enterprise, commanding
What made Star Trek so popular? For the people of my generation, it represented hope for humanity, the ultimate victory of science, logic and reason over mysticism, vampires, werewolves and other ephemera, not to mention the fact that the series with Leonard Nimoy's unforgettable character Mr Spock inspired many to go into sciences and engineering. But the times, they are a-changing. As Leigh Phillips observes:

These debates aside, with the passing of Nimoy, it is worthwhile — as it was at the time of the death of Neil Armstrong two and a half years ago — to take note of the slow and mysterious demise of the Space Age alongside the contemporary turn against rationality, science, and the Enlightenment.

The cover story of this month’s National Geographic speaks to how widespread this anti-modernist phenomenon is, focusing as it does on the growing popular opposition to science in both its right and left varieties, from climate change deniers, creationists, and anti-fluoridation warriors to vaccine refuseniks, alternative-medicine charlatans, and those who oppose all GMO technology in the abstract, rather than just the corporate malfeasance of agribusiness.

crew and guardian
Two episodes of Star Trek deeply affected me. In "The City on the Edge of Forever," I learned that defending or speaking the truth, doing the right thing can not be independent of time, it is a function of it. Naively hoping the right will prevail is too much to ask for (In the episode, Edith Keeler had two alternate timelines: She survives, USA joins WWII too late; Nazis win. She dies; without a peace movement Americans engage Nazis and war is won), as Spock gently reminds his friend and captain.

The second one is "The Paradise Syndrome," where we see Kirk stranded on a planet with amnesia. Again we see Nimoy's character showing us the good human qualities: perseverance, odds-on decision making and prioritizing, as he tackles the problem of asteroid deflection.

As science-fiction fades into fantasy, reason into superstition, a eulogy is indeed in order: Not for Spock, though; but for us all, the humans, unless we once again make peace with reason, embrace logic with an ever critical mind.

Long live and prosper Leonard Nimoy, wherever you are!