“Where no one has gone before”
AS most of you know, I am a big fan of fantasy and science fiction stories, movies and TV shows. I know some of you are fans also, and others of you think, here we go again…
Science Fiction and Fantasy books, movies, and stories not only take our imaginations where the impossible, it seems, goes; but we also learn many spiritual and self-awareness lessons from these glimpses into our future.
Any Trekkie will tell you that the communicator on the first episode of Star Trek back in 1966 was the idea inspiration just six short years later when Martin Cooper made the first public cell phone call from a handheld device. He acknowledged that Star Trek had inspired him to develop the technology.
Many other science and technology advancements were first thought of in stories that date as far back as to “True History” by Lucian of Samosata written sometime in the 100’s AD/CE. In this very early book, travels to the Moon, the Sun, and the Morning Star (Venus) were described. It also includes encounters of life forms from these different worlds, advanced human technology, interplanetary warfare and imperialism.
Can you imagine?? In 100 CE, someone was imagining travel to the moon and stars, to other planets. That is amazing to me.
And where does it all start? Where do these writers and inventors begin?
Our imagination. Imagine that! One of our 12 Powers is the start of so many hours of entertainment, and encouragement and innovation. Charles was on to something.
But even more than all that, Science fiction is an existential metaphor that allows us to tell stories about the human condition.
OUR human condition!
Star Trek and shows like it allowed us to take a peek at situations that were not available for us to look at in society for years.
Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, said, “Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
There is a Unity song, “Amazing Things”, we have sung in Sunday Services before, the main line in the song is “We will do amazing things.” Jesus has told us we will do ‘even greater things than he has done.
Yet, we too often believe that we are not powerful enough to make a difference in much of life. We often feel as if we can barely take care of our day-to-day activities.
Yet we are told again and again that we are made in the image and likeness of the Divine, the Creator of all that is.
Well, science fiction gives us a glimpse of what we can be. What holds us back? Maybe this will help us understand what holds some of us back.
These is a story about renowned statistician George Dantzig. He wanted to complete his doctorate under Jerzy Neyman, one of great founders of modern statistics.
This is in1939, Dantzig asked if there was any possibility he could obtain a teaching assistantship at Berkeley. Neyman agreed and Dantzig began to undertake graduate studies. Danzig relates the following story:
“During my first year at Berkeley I arrived late one day to one of Neyman’s classes. On the blackboard were two problems which I assumed had been assigned for homework. I copied them down. A few days later I apologized to Neyman for taking so long to do the homework – the problems seemed to be a little harder to do than usual. I asked him if he still wanted the work. He told me to throw it on his desk. I did so reluctantly because his desk was covered with such a heap of papers that I feared my homework would be lost there forever.
About six weeks later, one Sunday morning I was awakened by someone banging on our front door. It was Neyman. He rushed in with papers in hand, all excited: “I’ve just written an introduction to one of your papers. Read it so I can send it out right away for publication.” For a minute I had no idea what he was talking about. To make a long story short, the problems on the blackboard which I had solved thinking they were homework were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics. That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them.”
Danzig later shared that if he had known that these problems were considered unsolvable, he never would have tried to solve them. In other words, he was able to solve the problems because he didn’t see them as unsolvable. He believed it was possible, because he didn’t know otherwise.
He believed it was possible, because he didn’t know otherwise. Have you ever felt that? So sure of what you were doing you didn’t think twice about it?
It’s a great feeling…isn’t it?
Yet we question ourselves about so many things so often, we stop ourselves. We short-change ourselves.
It’s time to move forward…to stop short-changing ourselves.
That’s what these sci-fi prophets, these leaders in insights do …what we as humans can really be, can accomplish if we just believe in the possible.
I believe writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, many more like them envisioned a world very different from the one we live in.
They all encountered opportunities to show how humanity does interact poorly and then how wonderfully we are able to interact with the ‘other’, the one who looks different, talks different, maybe thinks differently about things.
They did all these things in their writing.
Again, Gene Roddenberry tells us:
“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”
Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek was a police officer turned screenwriter, He saw Star Trek as a Wagon Train to the stars. He created a Universe where prejudice, poverty and hunger were things of the past. And just as Maslow had predicted in his hierarchy of needs, once our survival needs had been met, we took to the stars, to explore beyond our bounds… to go where no one had gone before.
Roddenberry symbolized the progress we had made by the diversity of the crew of the Enterprise. The bridge crew alone was comprised of an African American woman, a Russian, a Scott, an Asian, and a bonafide alien, the Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock.
Interestingly, the original pilot had a woman first officer, which was canned. The producers of the series said no one would ever believe that a woman could be in a position of such power, and authority over men. That was 1966.
Times slowly change.
Eventually, that idea was scrapped with Star Trek, Voyager, which had a female captain, Capt. Janeway
Looking at the political and social climate of today, sometimes I feel as if we are slipping backwards….
Classic Trek was only on TV for 3 years, but it spawned many other versions of Star Trek -movies, other Trek series: Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise and now Discovery.
There are hundreds of Star Trek novels on the shelves today, written by some of the best and most prolific sci-fi writers. There was even a Star Trek cartoon.
So what is the appeal of Star Trek?
I believe, in reaching to the stars and introducing us to countless alien species, Gene Roddenberry actually introduced us to ourselves. Roddenberry was trying to show us that for all our differences, we have just as much in common. We dream, we love, we fear, we laugh, we cry, we have children and families and in-laws. We are born and we die. Star Trek is about the journey in between.
By placing us and our journey on distant planets, Roddenberry was able to explore subjects heretofore taboo on network television. He wrote about prejudice, the futility of war, misuse of power, women’s lib, drug abuse, honor, good and evil – all within scripts about aliens and flying bugs and exploding space ships.
Star Trek: The Next Generation addressed the issues of their decade: gay rights, cloning, medical ethics and genocide.
The writers of Star Trek, and there were many, wrote about our need to believe in a better way, a world without hunger or poverty or prejudice, a world where we are not judged by the color of our skin or the shape of our ears. A world where disagreement was dealt with by discussion and compromise, not by guns and tanks.
Star Trek also explored spirituality. From the prophets of Bajor on Deep Space Nine to the “Q” and their belief in their omnipresence.
Star Trek’s vision of our future inspired countless NASA astronauts and scientists who watched Star Trek growing up.
From rocket ships that take us to the moon, to deep sea submarines, to the space elevator envisioned by Arthur C. Clarke, what these men imagined has been created, or is in the process of being created.
The imagination of these writers sometimes astounds me.
Charles Fillmore understood the importance of Imagination, making it one of his Twelve Powers of Man. In his book THE TWELVE POWERS: “It is through the imagination that the formless takes form.”
Quoting Fillmore: “With my imagination I lay hold of perfect ideas and clothe them with substance. My body is the product of my mind. In my communication with God, the imagining power of my mind is playing an important part. It receives divine ideas, and in dreams and visions reflects their character in the consciousness.”
“Imagination is the ability to conceive, to draw together, to inspire the mind with a sense of newness. It is the mind’s exercise in foreseeing results in material form.” Power of the Soul , Ella Pomeroy.
“….and in dreams and visions reflects their character in the consciousness.”
Like the prophets of our Judeo-Christian tradition, the prophets of sci-fi had a dream and a vision of what the future would hold. And much of what they’ve envisioned has now been brought into the physical realm.
Star Trek is perhaps the most well-known and most obvious example of this phenomenon. Communicators, talking computers, laptops, phasers and transporters are just a few examples of the imaginings of Star Trek writers that have come to pass.
What’s interesting about these relatively recent inventions is how they would appear to our ancestors, or heck, even our great-grandparents! If Ben Franklin, who was an
inventor himself, would come back today and see all the modern conveniences and gadgets that we take for granted, he would probably think we were using magic.
There’s a wonderful Star Trek: TNG episode called “Who Watches the Watchers?” that addresses this phenomenon….
A team of Federation anthropologists, working in a camouflaged outpost on Mintaka III, have been observing the Mintakans — a race of Vulcan-like humanoids whose development is at the equivalent of earth’s Bronze Age. But when an explosion rips through the post, the expedition’s leader and his assistant, are seriously injured. A third team member, a young man named Palmer, is blasted away from the site.
While attempting to assist the injured, the Away Team from the Enterprise is unaware that they have been spotted by a Mintakan, Liko. Stunned by the sight of the injured being beamed up to the U.S.S. Enterprise, Liko accidentally slips and is critically injured in a fall.
To save his life, Dr. Crusher beams Liko up to the ship, although it violates the Federation’s Prime Directive, which states that members are not to interfere with other cultures.
Regaining consciousness in Sickbay, Liko overhears Picard promising to find Palmer. Despite the fact that Crusher performs a procedure to remove his short-term memory, it doesn’t work and Liko returns to the planet describing “the Picard” to other Mintakans as a god, capable of healing wounds and reversing death
To find Palmer and minimize any further cultural contamination, Riker and Troi beam down to the planet disguised as Mintakans. They overhear Liko telling his friends about “the Picard’s” powers and are surprised when three Mintakan hunters walk in carrying Palmer. Liko immediately assumes that Palmer is a servant of “the Picard” and it would please the god if they presented Palmer to him.
While Troi diverts the Mintakans, Riker beams himself and Palmer up to the Enterprise. When Liko and the group realize what Riker has done, they fear that “the Picard” will be angry with them for losing Palmer. To redeem themselves, they seize Troi with the intention of killing her to prove their loyalty to “the Picard.”
Fearing for Troi’s life, Picard has the Mintakan leader, beamed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, hoping that if she is convinced that he is not a god, she will be able to persuade her people of that fact.
Despite all his efforts, Picard is unable to convince her that he is a mere mortal. They return to Mintaka to try to convince the people that “the Picard” is mortal.
Liko, still believing that Picard is a god, attempts to prove Picard’s omnipotence by firing a crossbow at him.
Troi asks Liko, “Are you sure this is what he (Picard) wants? That’s the problem with believing in a supreme being: trying to determine what he wants.”
Only when he sees Picard suffering from his wound is Liko convinced of his mistake.
Troi is freed and after Picard is healed, he bids farewell to the Mintakans, who are left to progress on their own.
This episode beautifully illustrates an interesting paradox: We are told we are created in God’s image…But, We create God in our image. We do it all the time!
Liko wants to believe that Picard is the Overseer of ancient times, because he lost his wife in a flood the previous spring and wishes her returned to him. He has created a God based on old stories and his personal need. This episode challenges us to ask ourselves: What God have we created?
Isaac Asimov once said, “Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinded critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.” – Stargate SG-1
And at the core of science fiction is our belief that through the power of our imagination, our vision of a better tomorrow that works for all, we are able to believe in impossible things…
“There is no use trying, said Alice; one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
— Lewis Carroll
The prophets of sci-fi believed that the seemingly impossible was very possible. Are we willing to believe in six impossible things before breakfast?