Spock is sexy

On the subject of recreational thinking, I heard this story on the radio some several weeks ago while driving to the airport: Mr. Spock: The ‘Mystery of Masculinity’ Embodied.

Andy Dick as Spock

Spock is my type. Nerdy, skeptical, brusk, and above all he can arch his eyebrow. I think every man I have ever been attracted to has had the wiggle eyes.

This quote about the birth of the Spock character captures it best for me:

“The director, God bless him, said be different from everyone else,” Nimoy remembers. So on the next take: “Fascinating,” in that cool, collected way […] that singular “fascinating” conveyed interest, skepticism and — layered deeply in there — a kind of wonder.

Curiosity, wonder and awe are all features of an agile and hungry mind — which is sexy to a girl like me. It is all part of the Gene Roddenberry vision: to celebrate exploration, to accumulate knowledge and understanding for its own sake, to confront the limitations humanity while promoting its positive evolution, to question, to grow, and to always contemplate the mysterious and profound. I buy into it wholeheartedly, as romantic as it may be.

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and credit it for expanding my thought horizons. It is the most philosophically rich of the Star Treks, and the most engaging drama ever to air on prime time TV. All puns aside, it served to elevate as well as entertain. It introduced me to ideas I would not learn the words for until freshman humanities ten years later:

Solipsism: the Ship in a Bottle episode, where an artificial character entraps the crew in a holodeck simulation, but the real participants don’t know that the setting and the other people aren’t real. The episode concludes with Picard tricking the artificial character into a perpetual holodeck simulation, where he will live out the rest of his life believing that he and his world are “real”, when they’re actually just computer generated. He then invites us to wonder whether any of us are real at all.

Linguistics: Darmok at Tanagra, an episode about a species who communicate by only using referential metaphor. I spent hours as a kid wondering how the universal translators work. This was my first introduction to the fundamental problems of machine translation.

Cosmology: in Cause and Effect, the crew are ensnared in a temporal loop, the start of which begins with the senior members playing poker. As clues in the environment slowly reveal their situation, they have to devise a way to send information from one fragment of time to the other. Themes of time are repeated like this throughout the series, with multiple parallel dimensions in the series finale. It boggles the mind.

– Justice: in the episode of the same name, Wesley beams down to an alien utopia and is sentenced to death for accidentally breaking a minor law. I love a good prime directive episode. This one invites us to ask whether our law ought to be universal, or whether it is only useful in the context of our own society. It hints at moral relativism, which really comes down to tolerance. We accept some foundational human rights, but we release claim to absolute truth on the whole of our laws, and allow for cultural variance in the interest of co-existing. Ideally.

Anthropology: The Inner Light, my favorite episode, describes how Picard is absorbed in a realistic dream state for the duration of a few minutes, during which time he experiences an entire 50 years living among an alien culture, who devised this lifelength dream in order to preserve the memory of their people long after their planet is destroyed. So poignant. This is a lot like how Spielberg ended AI, with the little mechanical boy being the last vestige of human culture. The problem of information preservation disturbs me to this day. How will the future know what we were?

That is the kind of writing that made ST:TNG a cut above the rest. It had poeticism and depth, without being hammy and overplayed. And it was noble. ST:TNG never derailed into the soap operas, action fests, and sexed up glam that dominates the sci-fi television network these days.

Just the recollection of these episodes excites me, as it stirs the memory of first daydreaming about these concepts with my young, immature brain. I had an hour long bus ride in the 8th grade, and I used to amuse myself with fantasies involving the starship Enterprise. What would I say about us if I could transport to their time? What would they be able to teach me if one of them traveled back to mine? If the replicator can knit elements together to make food, why can’t they make everything out of it? And by what mechanism does the replicator function — is it connected to bins of atomic particles? How does it grasp them? What will remain when our sun finally dies? Could I save us if I were an omnipotent Q? Would I?

Star Trek lifts us out of the bland minutia of day to day concerns. The best episodes are tantalizing summations of the Big Questions, stimulating Spockian curiosity, wonder and awe — the flavor of life. I consider Big Think to be necessary maintenance for a healthy and happy brain. Not to get to the answers, but just to feel the enormity of the question.

If you’re not filling your mind with the big, then you’ll never use up the space.


2 comments so far

  1. Bill on

    A great conversation starter after cocktails–what one word would you use to describe people you’re attracted to?

    I think mine is “talented”.

  2. nariposa on

    I think mine is “gay”.

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