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INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY
I. The title of this chapter comes from a well-known poem by the British Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, entitled, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." Click here to locate a copy, which should be read with this chapter.
A. Wagner perceptively discusses Star Trek as myth; noting that the series dramatizes paradoxes inherent in the human condition from a "rationalistic" humanistic perspective.
B. Instructor note: what myths have you examined that provide clues to what it means to be human?
II. Note that Wagner believes ST to be atypical of traditional epics in that:
A. It relies heavily on science (Myth is usually seen as a pre-scientific explanation for nature,)
B. Its setting is in the future; not the past.
III. On pages 120 and 121, note the definitions and functions of myth--Robinson's analysis is noteworthy for ST.
A. What does she mean by saying myth does not offer plausible narratives?
B. Recall a phrase by Coleridge from the Biographia Literaria that expresses the same idea: "willing suspension of disbelief that constitutes poetic faith."
C. Carefully examine the specific functions of myth that Wagner applies to ST: p, 122
IV. DEATH, THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY:
A. Roddenberry , according to Wagner, was a 'militant agnostic,' suggesting that although science has allowed us to predict much, we still have more to learn about fundamental metaphysical issues including our most fundamental dualism: life and death.
B. Instructor note: Note that the title of this section comes from lines spoken by Hamlet, who in the "To be or not to be soliloquy," debates that our metaphysical vagueness about what is next--what follows death, must of necessity profoundly influence how we behave in the present. Interestingly, one interpretation of TO BE OR NOT TO BE is to accept the Medieval world with its fortune based "slings and arrows," or to embrace the challenge of the Renaissance--"to take arms against a sea of troubles." For Roddenberry ending them implies embracing scientific humanism in a mythological context.
C. In Where Silence has Lease (TNG), Wagner cites Picard as he discusses death with Nagilum--note how the Captain thinks dialectically--what does he believe?
V. IMMORTAL, MORE OR LESS--several episodes that "extend" life are discussed. Recall TOS's Skin of Evil. What did Tasha say in her eulogy to the crew 'after' her physical death? AS Wagner notes on page 125, Dax of DS-9 certainly dramatizes longevity. Even DATA who is a real sense immortal confronts the issue as he wonders how he can be completely human if he does not die?
VII. "HE'S NOT DEAD JIM": TALES OF RESURRECTION
A. This section of the article deals with the resurrection trilogy dramatized in three of the feature films--Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
B. What is the GENESIS project? Instructor's note: Recall McCoy's comment to Kirk and Spock regarding what man now has the power to do and potentially become. The theme is very romantic as dramatized by Mary Shelley in her Preface to Frankenstein and the novel itself.
C. Perhaps one of the most important biblical themes in these films is the debate regarding the needs of the many outweighing (or not) the needs of the one. Note what Spock does in the first film, Kirk's decision in the second one, and Spock's reaction to that decision. The problem of the one and the many has been debated since Greek philosophy.
D. Instructor Note: Does the life of Jesus offer a Christian illumination of the one and the many problem of the films?--Note that Wagner refers to "sacrificial love" on page 128.
E. Of the several episodes highlighted on page 129, perhaps Tapestry (TNG) offers the most illuminating perspective--what does Picard finally think of Q and why? The episode is not without Platonic implications regarding the immortality of the soul and the dialectical process.
VIII. ONE LIFE TO LIVE:
A. Wagner discusses the science fiction staple of the parallel universe--a premise that allows for characters to exist in one world and not the other, so crossing over becomes the question as most notably with Tasha who plays both security officer killed in Skin of Evil (TNG), and her own daughter Sela in Redemption II.
B. Probably one of the best episodes to dramatize the parallel universe concept is Yesterday's Enterprise. (TNG)
IX. LIFE OF THE MIND:
A. Instructor's note: One notion of immortality expressed in Greek philosophy is the relationship between the unchanging world of the forms and the transitory world of sense perception. Plato in The Republic and elsewhere argues for a pre-sensory state of ideas / forms that always existed and always will--the sense world of change derives its existence from these forms--beauty, truth, justice and especially the form of the good upon which all depends.
B. In this section, Wagner speaks of "transmittable minds or patterns" (p. 132) in the context of spirit migration, a favorite Voyager theme, especially concerning Chatokay. (See pp. 104-105). Are these patterns transcendental forms contact with which implies an ontological perspective? As you study the episodes listed, what conclusion do you reach regarding the role of science?
X. THE IMMORTAL MACHINE:
A. Instructor note: In his Defense of Poetry Shelley argues from a romantic perspective that man has ironically become enslaved by the technology intended to liberate. He means of course that as one acquires a dependence on materiality, spiritual values suffer. In ST, Wagner notes that several episodes dramatize the machine as bestowing a kind of immortality.
B. The Measure of a Man (TNG) asks whether Data has a soul? Commander Maddox argues that Data is a machine and can no more refuse a "refit" than a computer. Picard defends Data arguing that he meets most of the criteria for sentience. Do you recall what Guinan tells Picard about Data-like beings? Remember that she is the most philosophical character on the Enterprise, having acquired centuries of wisdom. (The Greeks valued longevity for the same reason; our society does not. Interestingly, Capt. Louvois said that whether Data has a soul is an issue best left for philosophers--something she readily admits she is not. How does she rule and why?
C. Does Seven of Nine have a soul?
D. Note Wagner's conclusion on page 135 about "human consciousness."
XI. AMIABLE SWEET DEATH; NORMALIZING MORTALITY:
A. This chapter concludes by referencing episodes that suggest death is humanizing, and that immortality would not necessarily be desirable. See for example The Mark of Gideon (TOS).
B. A good philosophical / poetic explication of the issue is Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Read the Wordsworth poem that Wagner referenced for the title of his chapter.
See also Plato's Republic and Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Check Coleridge Biographia Literaria and Shelley's Defense of Poetry
NOTE that these works reflect Romantic period values--what do you think Wagner intended by basing his chapter on immortality on a belief system that frequently challenged the scientific utopianism advocated by Roddenberry?