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Star Trek’s Prime Directive – A lofty idea with a few wrinkles

Image FET-OPEN call deadline via Twitter

In the fictional world of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is a core regulation of Starfleet. To understand what the Prime Directive means, we have to know how Star Trek depicts its moral universe.

Star Fleet officers usually see themselves as an alliance of “good guys” belonging to the United Federation of Planets, as opposed to the “bad guys” made of up species like the Cardassians and the Borg.

Starfleet is concerned about right ethics, so the Prime Directive stipulates noninterference with other species’ planetary development.

This applies to space exploration through normal time¹ and to time travel. Violating the prime directive results in court-martial, except in extenuating circumstances.

The Prime Directive sounds like a great idea but, we could ask, what exactly does “non-interference” mean?

Extreme causal loop time travel paradox animation

Extreme causal loop time travel paradox animation – Wikipedia

Religious and New Age people, for instance, tend to say that humanity is invisibly guided by advanced beings residing in the universe, astral realms, heavens and throughout time.² If so, a Federation starship crew might have a moral responsibility to help primitive but eligible species develop better ways of living.

Despite its lofty ideal of non-interference, the Prime Directive is often breached. Moral dilemmas are key to dramatic storytelling and, it goes without saying, TV ratings. In real life, St. Paul says that moral dilemmas are best solved by following the spirit instead of the letter of the law.³ So it’s not surprising that the Prime Directive is often messed with.

As any good popcorn popping cultural studies or phony entertainment critic will say, art follows life and life follows art.

A relatively novel mystery arises with The Prime Directive’s treatment of temporal paradoxes. For obvious reasons, Star Trek’s writers never fully answer the tricky question: Could a time traveler going back in time be certain what choice out of many possible choices would be best? Or, for that matter, is there a single, best choice?

English: Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as Borg Locutus...

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as Borg Locutus – Wikipedia

Possible answers to these conundrums lead to notions of a plethora of potential outcomes and universes (to include parallel universes) and a multiverse (which differs from parallel universes).

Tantalizing cosmological questions have been posed by both mystics and subatomic physicists, but no universally agreed upon answers have been found due to their speculative nature.4

But one thing is certain. The Star Trek mythos is no silly fantasy but, rather, provides us with some of the best imaginative thinking in 20th and 21st century science fiction.

Related » Aliens, Angels, Jane Roberts, UFOs

¹ Technically, Star Trek might be at odds with reality because warp speeds are faster than the speed of light but travelers experience no time dilation. But being good sci-fi, fans are obviously willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  They weren’t as forgiving with Space 1999, which was visually interesting but a bit of a bomb.

² For some, demons try to get us off track.

³ Usually associated with St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:6, the idea has other applications. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_and_spirit_of_the_law

4 Sometimes the speculation is forwarded as a hypothesis, which is good, healthy science or mysticism. But other times it is not, as with those claiming to have advanced knowledge that others lack. In religion and the New Age, these mentally unwell characters may be ego-inflated holy men and women or, from my experience, some religious studies professors who do their esoteric “thing” under the cover of academia. In both cases, these half-baked manipulators are blind to their own prejudices and do everything possible to convince you that they know better. Watch out!

 Star Trek Continues, The Trek Show That Fans Wanted (ansionnachfionn.com)

 Star Trek spat: Why did one Starfleet captain block another on Twitter? (mashable.com)

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Psi Spies – A different kind of dark web?

Preamble (skip)

I always feel a bit apprehensive writing about paranormal phenomena (psi). Earthpages is about dialog and change. And none of that will happen if readers are alienated by fringe topics.

If I simply wanted to mirror today’s trends and forget the call to innovation, my words might be a good fit at HuffPost or some other leading site. But that’s not me nor how I envision Earthpages.

Paranormal phenomena may be fringe but for some it’s very real. I know. I’ve met people like that. Actually, there are differences among psi believers. Some, like myself, don’t have a problem with, say, going to Catholic Mass and accepting that paranormal events may occur.

I walk the line, as the song goes. I don’t want to get too close to the paranormal crowd because, frankly, some of them do seem a bit misguided and flaky.

By the same token, I question whether I’d call myself a “Catholic” or simply a “Christian.” I’m a Catholic in the eternal sense but certainly not in the cultural, card carrying sense. You won’t see me parading around with placards condemning the latest moral issues highlighted by the Vatican (funny how those visible protesters rarely get up in arms about other serious things… like corruption, for instance).

Point is, I straddle different worlds, never really belonging to but participating in many. The same with my regard for psi. I listen to Coast to Coast AM but tune out when the show gets silly. Just as I’d tune out a TV preacher the moment they start delivering that “God loves abundance” sermon with the donation number flashing on the screen.

Psi Spies (back to top)

Psi has become slightly more mainstream over the past few years. I just wrote about psi and so far the piece has 7 likes. Not astronomical but better than none.¹

Most say that psi studies don’t produce reliable results. However, law enforcement agencies still consult with psychics in search of dangerous criminals.

The US government pulled the plug on a Remote Viewing project because, so the story goes, it didn’t produce results. But some of the faithful still practice and write about RV. Researchers say they are honing a technique that will enable anyone to RV.

In this case, seeing really is believing.

Backtracking a bit, an Oxford schooled Indian mystic, Sri Aurobindo, once wrote that humanity is evolving into some kind of uberman.²

If Aurobindo and other gurus are right, a new type of battlefield might arise in the not-too-distant future. After all, information is key. And if certain, gifted individuals could “read” or “see” others at a distance, wouldn’t that be a staggering asset?

Enter psi spies.

Dystopian futurists predict psi spies perceiving the innermost secrets of VIPs. These psychic sneaks would have socially acceptable covers and go unnoticed. Your professor, the charity organizer, the brain surgeon next door.

The hostiles would work up profiles of victims along with their friends and families, using that knowledge to control markets, the government, skim off tax dollars, or some other nefarious scheme. Resistance might not be futile but it would be difficult.

Clandestine psi spies could marginalize and try to stir up conflict among those who cotton on to their creepiness. Like termites chewing away at the foundations of democracy, psi spies would be tough to eradicate. Some might even marry gullible innocents to strengthen their cover.

So it’s all linked in this dark vista—politics, crime, love and the psyche.

Another conspiracy theory best left to sci-fi?

Maybe. But Jim Marrs doesn’t think so. His book, Psi Spies: The True Story of America’s Psychic Warfare Program, notes that paranormal encounters play a principal role in most world religions, to include Native American and Biblical traditions. Marrs adds that several US administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have funded psi studies.³

It’s good to keep an open mind. But maybe not too open. After all, we wouldn’t want to be “hacked” – that is, compromised – by the wrong kind of people!

¹ A mediocre response could be more about my presentation. Working on it… 🙂

² I think Aurobindo was too self-absorbed. He says he helped the Allies in WW-II by virtue of his intense meditation. Interesting, but how could anyone confirm a claim like that?

³ Jim Marrs, Psi Spies: The True Story of America’s Psychic Warfare Program, New Page Books, 2007, p. 16.

Image credit, top – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Spy_FM_Logo.png


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Panpsychism – The Future Calls?

Toaster is in lurve

Toaster is in lurve: Cle0patra “Toaster has a new friend – Ice, they’ve been inseparable since she arrived” via Flickr

Panpsychism is the belief that all things possess consciousness. Some extend this belief to say that the type of consciousness matches the complexity of a thing’s organization.

The idea goes back to ancient times and has appeared around the globe. But it was rejected by a Church that adhered to a speculative, Aristotelian view of matter and which made a sharp distinction between organic and inorganic substances.¹

The Church’s teaching that human beings, alone, have souls complicated things, especially during times when disagreeing with or merely peeving powerful religious authoritarians could lead to ruin—that is, loss of property, torture and death.

After the Church, the philosophy of logical positivism helped to further squash panpsychism in the mid-20th century.

But it never went away.

Interest in panpsychism reemerged in academic philosophy, the New Age, science fiction and quantum physics. Also, it never really left Eastern religions, especially within Korean, Japanese and Chinese beliefs.

Image via Google Images CC

Today, with the rise of robotics, computing and artificial intelligence, a whole new vista of debate has opened up.

A contemporary panpsychist might say that an electrical circuit or machine generates a quality of consciousness in keeping with the degree of that object’s organizational complexity.

Also, the way a thing is organized could affect its consciousness. Not just the degree.

Sound nuts?

Well, let’s remember that human consciousness is demonstrably affected by our bodies and especially the electrochemical pulses coursing through the brain, nervous system and organs. So maybe the panpsychic view is not too far-fetched.

Additional critiques of panpsychism maintain that it is doubtful machines have souls, which many say is an essential component to life.

This might seem like the most compelling critique.

But can we be certain that God does not instill certain machines with souls… if not now, perhaps in the future?

St. Jerome produced a 4th-century Latin edition of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, that became the Catholic Church’s official translation – Wikipedia

Also, as our human bodies are increasingly transformed by science and technology even before conception – with in vitro fertilization – where do we draw the line between mankind and machine?

Traditional theology classes would probably not ponder these kinds of questions in a mature way.

It seems they are more geared toward generating revenue, defining intellectual boundaries and inculcating organizational obedience within a financially free clergy.²

But the questions raised by panpsychism are not going away. And soon they will have to be taken seriously.

Our future might depend on it.

¹ (a) This agrees with “Aristotle’s distinction between the mineral kingdom and the animal and vegetative kingdoms.” https://books.google.ca/books?id=KGaghraz8AUC&pg=PA526&lpg=PA526&dq=Aristotle%E2%80%99s+distinction+between+the+mineral+kingdom+and+the+animal+and+vegetative+kingdoms&source=bl&ots=o6Uhhd0oLB&sig=agRCj_3qQwuEsfs99EywODtzNac&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwirkcut4r7UAhVK44MKHQLxBaYQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=Aristotle%E2%80%99s%20distinction%20between%20the%20mineral%20kingdom%20and%20the%20animal%20and%20vegetative%20kingdoms&f=false

(b) “There is no clear or universally agreed-upon distinction between organic and inorganic compounds.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inorganic_compound

² From the perspective of depth psychology, emotionally challenged individuals often want something to cling on to. It might be hoards of money, status, or just something old and familiar. I say “financially free” because clergy who fit the bill are not burdened with financial concerns. How many working people around the world can claim that?

Related » Artificial Intelligence (AI), Strong AI Thesis, Leibniz, Spinoza


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The Q – Star Trek’s mythic gods

Q (Star Trek)

Q (Star Trek) – Photo Wikipedia

The Q is a fictional group entity in Star Trek TOS spin-offs and films. Members reside in an eternal field of space-time called the Q-continuum. Like the avatar in Hinduism, the Q appear in specific moments of space-time to apparently regulate the ebb and flow of events in the universe.

The manifestation of Q that usually appears in the Star Trek franchise is male and played by actor John de Lancie. Simply called “Q,” he conforms to the trickster archetype.

Like most mythological deities, the manifest aspect of Q uses supernatural powers to baffle, vex and test human beings to the point of distraction. And like most otherworldly pantheons, there is a faction of rebellion within the Q-continuum. The rebels are tired of being “good” and politically correct at the expense of enjoying their free will and vitality. These dissenters are prohibited and disciplined through punishment by the Q moral majority.

Here’s how I put it in my entry for Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series in which he first appears:

And then there was “Q,” played by actor John de Lancie, who was something akin to a classical Greek god in that he had powers and knowledge extending beyond our normal conception of space and time. Also like the Greek gods, he often abused these powers in childish ways and even challenged the authority of the Q Continuum (the ruling body of the Q, representing its status quo), resulting in his frequent punishment.

More recently Wikipedia notes that:

The similarity between Q and Trelane, the alien encountered in the Star Trek episode “The Squire of Gothos“, inspired writer Peter David to establish in his 1994 novel Q-Squared that Trelane is a member of the Continuum, and that Q is his godfather.¹

Trelane - with harpsichord (under his arm...)

Trelane – via startrek.com

I’m not sure if this interpretation of Trelane (one of my favorite characters in the original Star Trek) is endorsed by those who define the Star Trek canon. But the literary device of retroactive continuity certainly has become a mainstay in the Star Trek universe.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_(Star_Trek)

Related » Dreamtime


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Romulans – Star Trek’s Nasty Vulcans from Ancient Rome

Romulan fights Andorian for Vlad

Romulan fights Andorian for Vlad by GizmoDoc via Flickr (costumers, not professional actors)

Romulans are an alien, imperial race in the original Star Trek TV show, sharing common ancestry with the Vulcans.

Instead of using their considerable intelligence for the promotion of peace, as do Vulcans, Romulans are bellicose and at perpetual war with the Federation (an interplanetary organization that includes humanity).

The Romulans are notorious for being able to “cloak” their ships with a device that renders them invisible. This makes for dramatic battle scenes similar to the contemporary naval destroyer and submarine.

The creators of the original Star Trek chose the name Romulans to resemble Romans, which subconsciously resonates with ideas of power, military intelligence and forceful acquisition.

As screenwriter Paul Schneider says:

It was a matter of developing a good Romanesque set of admirable antagonists … an extension of the Roman civilization to the point of space travel

The Romulan home world is actually two planets in the same solar system: Romulus and Remus. Again, this is a direct borrowing from Roman mythology .²

In a humorous vein, Romulan ale is a blue, illegal drink that many Federation officers mention during moments of lively banter.

A female Romulan Commander in 2268 via Memory Alpha

A female Romulan Commander in 2268 (via Memory Alpha)

In this image (immediately right) we see a Romulan Commander whom Captain Kirk seduces in order to gain freedom from captivity. When she finds out their mutual affection was a ruse on the part of Kirk, she’s hurt and he feels a bit badly.

Interspecies love is no big deal in the Star Trek universe. People with a true eye as to what sci-fi is all about tend to be less concerned about things like gender, age, sexual orientation and race.

However, some sci-fi buffs still seem to be hung up on these conventional categories. Maybe they like to fantasize about a better world but are not mature enough to put their fantasies into reality.

¹ See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulan This reminds me of an arrogant man I once knew who felt that North Americans lacked “culture.” He (somehow) physically escaped the grip of his communist country to benefit from living in our free society. But ideologically, he was still imprisoned. He had no appreciation, other than his visible excitement at the mere mention of scanners and computers, for the depth and innovation of North American culture.

² Read my notes for more: http://marker.to/anwBFm


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Religion – As diverse as peoples of the Earth?

What is religion? With so many different religions out there can we come up with a concise or, for that matter, comprehensive definition? It seems not.

In fact, there are many different definitions of religion in encyclopedias and other educational works. In the simplest sense, some writers focus on the afterlife component, others on the inspirational.

Here’s a brief (and by no means comprehensive) survey:

Religion has been defined as any belief or activity that moves the soul, activates, energizes or inspires. For example, Marxism, sciencescientism and athleticism have each been portrayed as religions. Some scholars argue that the TV show Star Trek is a religion, which adds science fiction to the list.

The Economist published an article suggesting that Google is like a religion.¹ Others maintain that religion must refer to ideas like God, gods, goddesses, spirit beings, transcendence, the miraculous, the numinous and the afterlife.

Follow the Star by Michael Clark via Flickr

follow the star by Michael Clark via Flickr

Meanwhile, some insist that religion refers to a group, not a mere individual. Western jurisprudence outlines that a religious group must exhibit some degree of organization and be legally registered for legitimacy.

Other scholars insist that religion needs scripture, rites, ritual obligations, representatives, leaders, as well as a path to transcendental – no just social – liberation or salvation.

William James, Max Weber, Rudolf Otto and several other classic religion scholars suggest, each in their own way, that religion differs from magic.² This distinction is complicated by the recent move toward being open to whatever one believes in, and seeing these diverse beliefs as “new religions.”³

Just today while driving home from Mass I happened to hear a radio talk show about the new face of religion. A representative from the United Church said:

Some believe in God, that’s great.
Some do not believe in God, that’s great.

For the person on the radio, the essence of religion was respect and kindness towards others. I have to admit, when he said not believing in God was great I quickly changed the station to some pop hits. This was more spiritual for me that listening to someone say that it was “great” to not believe in God.

My bias, admittedly. But hearing him say that felt like being dumped on. I briefly wondered if I was being narrow-minded and should switch back. But I was driving and didn’t want the voice on the radio to bring me down. So I stuck with the pop hits.

Cate Storymoon - Nothing short of everything will really do - via Flickr

Cate Storymoon – Nothing short of everything will really do – via Flickr

¹ Now a dead link, this was active for the previous update of this entry (2009/11/23) »  http://www.ipdemocracy.com/archives/001018google_as_religion.php . It seems any new thing, if it gets big enough, is described as a religion or, at least, discussed in the context of religion. Today, for instance, it’s about kids staring into their phones. But instead of being described as a religion, the Vatican actually warned in 2008 that this was bad for the soul! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/3531418/Vatican-warns-mobile-phones-are-bad-for-the-soul.html I find this silly. New technologies should be integrated with spirituality, not demonized.

² Some argue that religion and science share a distinction from magic. See:

³ Articles about religion at Earthpages.org


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Odo – Change is the name of the game

Image credit – Wikipedia

Odo is a character in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine played by actor René Auberjonois. He belongs to a race called “changlings.” Basically a shapeshifter, he can assume practically any form he likes.

This idea is similar to the changlings and shapeshifters found in mythologies and folklore pretty much around the world. The idea is also found in literature. Sometimes one changes shape against their will or by surprise, as in Franz Kafka‘s Metamorphosis, other times the change comes through choice or perhaps divine intervention.¹

¹ A good list here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shapeshifting#Fiction