Category Archives: Star Trek

Philosophical Star Trek Episodes

About 20 years ago, I taught a college course titled: “Philosophy and Star Trek.” I also remember the original Star Trek series premiering on TV in 1966 and I’ve seen all of the original episodes multiple times.

Here are some particularly philosophical episodes from the original series, with the caveat that such lists are subjective and I’m probably omitting some classics. (Episodes in bold are particular favorites.)

Title                                                                     Subject

the enemy within                                          personal identity
the menagerie                                              reality
the conscience of the king                         justice
the squire of gothos                                     power
arena                                                                  mercy
the return of the archons                           society
a taste of Armageddon                                war
this side of paradise                                  happiness
the city on the edge of forever             time
amok time                                                        desire
who mourns for adonis?                          gods 
mirror, mirror                                                   parallel universes
return to tomorrow                                       robots
specter of the gun                                          mind
plato’s stepchildren                                      corruption
let that be your last battlefield                cold war
the cloud minders                                         economics

all our yesterdays                                       time 

As for Star Trek the Next Generation, my all time favorite episode is “The Inner Light.” While I don’t know the series as well as the original one, here are a few I’d recommend for the philosophically inclined.

Encounter at Farpoint                                 humanity
Remember Me                                                memory
Relics                                                                  aging
Best of Both Worlds                                      power
Clue                                                                    lying
The Measure of a Man                               artificial intelligence
Elementary, Dear Data                                reality
Ship in a Bottle                                             reality
All Good Things                                              time
Q Who                                                                 power
Tapestry                                                           choices
Yesterday’s Enterprise                                 time
The Inner Light                                             meaning
Thine Own Self                                               reason
The Drumhead                                               conspiracies
Darmok                                                              language

Star Trek: “The Inner Light”

Yesterday’s post referenced the “The Inner Light” the title of an episode of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode was written by freelance writer Morgan Gendel and is widely considered one of the best episodes of the entire Star Trek franchise. In 1993 the episode won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Morgan Gendel named the episode after “The Inner Light,” a song written by George Harrison and released by The Beatles the B-side of “Lady Madonna.”  Here are the relevant Harrison lyrics:

Without going out of my door
I can know all things on earth
Without looking out of my window
I could know the ways of heaven

Harrison’s lyrics are in turn based on the 47th chapter of the Tao Te Ching:

Without going outside his door, one understands (all that takes place) under the sky; without looking out from his window, one sees the Tao of Heaven. The farther that one goes out (from himself), the less he knows. Therefore the sages got their knowledge without travelling; gave their (right) names to things without seeing them; and accomplished their ends without any purpose of doing so.

Gendel said the song “captured the theme of the show: that Picard experienced a lifetime of memories all in his head.”[6] Perhaps a beam of our own inner light will survive into the distant future—illuminating.

Living on in Future Minds: “The Inner Light”

Yesterday’s post discussed the extent to which we can live on in the future. It reminded me of a previous post and a video clip I shared at the time. The video is of the last few minutes of “The Inner Light,” a Star Trek The Next Generation episode which explored the idea of living on in future minds. It is so profound and moving that I wanted to share it again. Here is a brief recap of the episode.

A probe scans the ship and an energy beam renders Captain Picard unconscious. He wakes to find himself living on the planet Kataan with a loving family and friends who tell him he is Kamin, an iron weaver recovering from a feverish sickness. Picard talks of his memories on the Enterprise, but his wife Eline and their close friend Batai try to convince Picard that his memories were only dreams. Slowly he acclimates to their society, begins living out his life as Kamin in the village of Ressik, starts a family with Eline, and learns to play his beloved flute (The flute was later auctioned at Christie’s in 2006 for $48,000)

As the years pass he begins to notice that the planet is suffering a worldwide drought owing to increased radiation from the planet’s sun. He sends reports to the planet’s leaders who ignore his concerns. Ultimately Kamin confronts a government official who admits that the government already knows this but wish to keep it a secret to avoid panic. The official reminds Kamin that they do not possess the technology to evacuate even a small colony’s worth of people before their planet is rendered uninhabitable.

Years pass and Kamin grows old, outliving his wife. Kamin and his daughter Meribor continue their study of the drought, finding that it is not temporary; extinction of all life on the planet is inevitable. One day, while playing with his grandson, Kamin is summoned by his adult children to watch the launch of a rocket. Here are the final moments of the episode:

We Are Connected to the Past and Future

THE PAST

We are connected with the distant past and the faraway future. The atoms in our body, all cooked inside ancient stars, link us back to the beginnings of time; our evolutionary history imprints our minds, behaviors, and beliefs; and culture, an outgrowth of our chemistry and biology, is itself a creation of the past. The past is embedded within and surrounds us as a shell. Every existent thing, from stars to genes to culture, is the result of something that happened in the past.

THE FUTURE

But culture allows us to escape from and transcend the past. Science, art, music, religion, and all the elements of culture introduce novelty; the arrival of culture transforms. Like a child who progressively constructs new numbers—negative, irrational, and imaginary—we too abstract from the given and leap beyond, fashioning the unconventional in the process. Through our imagination and creativity, along with our care and concern, we connect with the future; we create the future now; we live in the future now. And if anything in this whole world matters, it is this. We carry the past and the future inside us; we are the past and future. And surely there is something profound in this.

THE INNER LIGHT

One finds a moving tribute to these ideas in the Star Trek The Next Generation episode: “The Inner Light.”  In it, a probe scans the ship and an energy beam renders Captain Picard unconscious. He wakes to find himself living on the planet Kataan with a loving family and friends who tell him he is Kamin, an iron weaver recovering from a feverish sickness. Picard talks of his memories on the Enterprise, but his wife Eline and their close friend Batai try to convince Picard that his memories were only dreams. Slowly he acclimates himself into their society. Picard begins living out his life as Kamin in the village of Ressik, starting a family with Eline, and learning to play his beloved flute.

As the years pass, he begins to notice that the planet is suffering a worldwide drought owing to increased radiation from the planet’s sun. He sends reports to the planet’s leaders, who seem to ignore his concerns. Ultimately Kamin confronts a government official who admits that the government already knows this but wish to keep it a secret to avoid panic. The official points out to Kamin that they do not possess the technology needed to evacuate even a small colony’s worth of people before their planet is rendered uninhabitable.

Years pass and Kamin grows old, outliving his wife. Kamin and his daughter Meribor continue their study of the drought. They find that it is not temporary; extinction of all life on the planet is inevitable. One day, while playing with his grandson, Kamin is summoned by his adult children to watch the launch of a rocket, which everyone seems to know about accept him. Here are the final moments of the episode:

The past lives in the present, which creates the future, which represents our hopes.