Saturday, November 6, 2010

Politics Has Ruined My Star Trek Watching

In his book The Physics of Star Trek (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), Lawrence M. Krauss suggests that the Star Trek transporter machine raises an interesting theological issue. The person steps into the transporter, and the transporter disassembles, transmits, and then reassembles him or her. But what happens to the person’s soul during this process? Are the person's memories and dreams transported as well? One assumes so (given the way the device functions in the stories). But if so, is the person is nothing more than a collection of atoms? The purely physical nature of the transportation implies that our spiritual nature is simply our physical nature as well: a materialistic interpretation of human being. Krauss states that the shows, wisely, do not address these questions.(1)

The spiritual question of Star Trek transportation is left open. But the other day I watched a Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Borg attacked the enterprise, damaging the saucer extensively and killing several crew. I realized I've been ruined by all the political bickering and nastiness of recent years when a thought popped into my head ....

Who exactly pays for construction, upkeep, and repair of space ships, not to mention salaries, pensions, and settlements to crew members' families?

This led, of course, to other questions. If the Federation funds the fleet, what portion of its budget is the United States paying? Are we paying a disproportionate amount of its budget without other planets contributing their share? Does the U.S. run a deficit because of the space program? Should we run to the aid of every intergalactic species that has a wormhole to guard? Future funding may stall in the face of efforts to overturn previous Federation-related legislation. And amid all the debate, news organizations have picked up a story that the president was born in the Beta Quadrant rather than the Alpha Quadrant...

I'm being dumb and lighthearted, of course. Like the question of the transporter and the nature of the human soul, it's probably a good thing Star Trek never addresses the question of funding!

1. Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), pp. 68-69.


  1. Hmmm, don't remember that there was a US in the 24th century. I only watched TNG regularly, though.

  2. Good point! :-) All I remember is that Star Trek IV visited San Francisco so they could obtain some whales.