SOME STAR TREK PHILOSOPHY

 

For Christmas my wonderful wife gave me every second of every Star Trek original series, movie, and Star Trek: The Next Generation series on DVD.  It was a truly beautiful gift.  Since then, we have cobbled together enough time to watch all of the original series and the original six “Captain Kirk” films.  It is all a part of my plan to assimilate my daughters into the nerd collective.

As I watched the original six films again—starting with the Motion Picture, Khan, Spock, Whales, Awful, and the Undiscovered Country’s Ode to Shakespeare I was struck by some profound philosophical and moral teachings that I could hang my hat on.  Here are some of my observations.

  • 1.  Each of the films has a plot or sub-plot of “our past comes back to haunt us” motif.  In the Motion Picture it is an old satellite that returns home.  In Star Trek IV it is the extinction of humpback whales and in Star Trek VI it is age-old prejudice and bias.  Yet beyond this, there is also the “son I never knew” or the “loss of command” that always haunts the characters.  Even though Star Trek V is arguable the worse ever in terms of storytelling, it develops this theme more fully on the personal level than any of the others.

                       

  • 2.  The Kobayashi Maru might just be the most eloquent and simple way of stating an important part of life.  We learn in Star Trek II that the Kobayashi Maru is a simulated test for officers in which there is no way to win.  We also learn that Kirk cheated by changing the simulation and therefore never faced death.  In each film though, Kirk has to face death as his friends and family die.  I know I’m just more sensitive to it right now because of some things I’m working through in our church, but I’ve come to realize life is filled with no-win situations.  Life is a giant Kobayashi Maru.  Other people make decisions or respond to things that inevitably force us to act and the result is no one wins.  Everyone loses.

 

  • 3.   In the original Star Trek films, the notion of change is always a negative thought.  This is often represented by “training crews” or “refits” of the Enterprise.  It is noted in Khan’s world changing as well as the political change brought about in Star Trek VI with the Klingon-Federation peace talks.  The cold war was over, and change is on the horizon. In each film, change is always viewed as negative.  In one of them, Kirk even says, “I liked my old chair better.”  The Enterprise is threatened by the improved Excelsior, the Genesis planet is a bust, and no Vulcan can ever be another Spock.  Is it okay that, as I get older and life gets more complicated that I’m beginning to think that  change is not so good?  I hope so because that is the way I am starting to feel.  I am about the age right now that Kirk was in the first movie. 

 

Okay okay, its Star Trek for crying out loud.  Its not Kant or even Kafka.  Nevertheless, human nature faces these issues and I find they pop up even in our most mindless art. 

  1. My past is always with me even when I ignore it. 
  2. Sometimes I just can’t win no matter what I do. 
  3. The world around me is changing, and quiet honestly I don’t like it. 

Its at this point I turn the television off and come back to reality—the Scriptures.

  1. 2 Corinthians 5:17—in Jesus I am a new creation.
  2. Romans 8:37—even though the situation is tough and I often lose, in Christ Jesus eventual victory is mine.
  3. Hebrews 13:8—I have an anchor in Christ.  He never changes.

16 thoughts on “SOME STAR TREK PHILOSOPHY

  1. You are a truly brilliant man to winnow spiritual truths out of the Star Trek universe. I tip my hat to you, sir. 🙂

    Star Trek VI remains one of my top 20 favorite movies, I think. It doesn’t make the cut for the top 10, but it is one that I could watch over and over and never get tired of….

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  2. Wow, Jamie! This is brilliant. Good insights into the movies I grew up watching. Thanks for challenging me to think a little deeper and probe a little further into things like Star Trek. You have a great blog, my friend.

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    1. thanks david–your encouragement means so very much to me. my wife and i have actually been watching a lot of movies lately in general. we always try to get all the ‘best picture’ oscar nominees watched that we can stomach (sorry, couldn’t stomach 127 hours). have a great week buddy. my next blog will be from Catalyst West in L.A. which i am jazzed about. it starts on thursday.

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  3. Thank you for your insightful perspective. If I may share my perspective of the moral truths.

    1. The nature of the past coming back is merely a way of stating that for every action we take, there are inevitable consequences to face. These consequences may be beneficial or they may be detrimental. It is for this reason that we should be careful in the actions we take, but not paralyzed into inaction either. It is merely accepting that consequences arise that we must deal with as a simple cause and effect.

    2. The kobyashi maru is indicative of reminding us that we are mortal beings, and that when faced with a no win situation we still have a choice to be the best we can be even if we lose. Life is not about winning or losing as we learn from both, it is about living with purpose.

    3. Change is an essential part of the universe, like death it can not be avoided or prevented. What kirk’s reaction is portraying is that we can become to comfortable with our situations to such a degree that when something changes it can surprise us and we resist, even if the change is beneficial. Because in that moment we are not thinking we are reacting instead.

    As far as kirk is cheating is concerned, it is just that because he does not believe in the no win scenario that he is able to find solutions to problems that no one else considers. I have personally practiced this and there is some merit to it.

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    1. marvin,

      thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments. i think you are accurate in analysis, particularly of the mortality endeared by the kobyashi maru. it is hard for me to tell if kirk’s view of life is rooted in confidence or arrogance. shatner always does a great job of exuding both, at the same time.
      it will be curious to see how the reboot portrays this dynamic in the coming film(s).

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