Thoughts on “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

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Star TrekA few days ago, I achieved one of my major short-term goals when I saw the new Star Trek movie. This was a thing that I had decided was very important in my life, for I expected the movie to be awesome, and indeed, I was not disappointed. When the previous Star Trek movie came out in 2009, I had mixed feelings about it. As good as the plot was, I wasn’t sure I liked the casting. In particular, it was difficult for me to accept that anyone besides James Doohan could be Scotty. Scotty is my second favorite Star Trek character, and nobody else can be Scotty the way James Doohan can. My very favorite character, of course, is Spock. I cannot imagine how anyone could favor any other character over Spock. Although Leonard Nimoy is just as incomparably cool as James Doohan, Zachary Quinto does a good job of filling his shoes. I wouldn’t have imagined that was possible, but it is. Also, I would just like to point out that Zachary Quinto is an incredibly good science fiction name. All in all, I’ve pretty much come to peace with the current casting, and with that out of the way, I actually enjoyed the new Star Trek movie more than the previous one. And whoever decided to cast Benadryl Cucumberpatch in the movie was a very clever person. (For those of you who aren’t on tumblr, I should probably clarify that we do not call Benedict Cumberbatch by his real name very often because it’s so much fun to make up variations of it. I have admittedly used “Benadryl Cucumberpatch” far too many times, because you’re actually supposed to change it every time you say it.)

Tumblr people will understand why I had to post this. Those of you who don't use tumblr, never mind. There are too many inside jokes to explain.

Tumblr people will understand why I had to post this. Those of you who don’t use tumblr, never mind. There are too many inside jokes to explain.

Although the plot and the acting are obviously the most important things, good science fiction movies are also characterized by explosions and spaceship crashes, a dramatic soundtrack, and technological lingo that sounds so practical that it’s easy to forget that the scriptwriter is just making stuff up and it doesn’t mean anything in real life. Star Trek: Into Darkness definitely had all of those traits. Also, I have noticed that most good science fiction (Doctor Who, Star Wars, etc.) has some very emotional scenes in between the high-action and/or high-tech scenes. I’m not sure whether I think that this is necessary or just an interesting trend, but in either case, the new Star Trek movie is no exception. It was actually something of a tear-jerker, except that I don’t cry at movies when I’m watching them with other people.

Spock 2There was one part that did make me tear up a little, though. It wasn’t one of the sad parts, not even the part where a certain character died. (For the sake of anyone reading this who hasn’t seen the movie, I won’t specify which character died.) It was the part where Spock committed a logical fallacy.

I can’t quote the lines verbatim, which just goes to show that I need to see the movie again. But I can look it up on imdb, which is good enough. Captain Kirk says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and then Spock expresses his disagreement by responding, “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.” This, I said to myself, is an ad hominem argument, and I nearly cried to hear such words come from the mouth of Spock.

When I mentioned this to my sister later, she laughed and called me a nerd, and we agreed that this was entertaining enough to merit a facebook status. But as my hand touched the keyboard, I remembered a thing. Some logicians claim that ad hominem arguments are not always fallacious. Thus was I told in my logic class a couple semesters ago. Google has informed me that these logicians include Doug Walton and Olavo de Carvalho. Neither of these names mean anything to me, but they are apparently people whose thoughts and opinions on logic hold some weight. And if it is true that ad hominem arguments are sometimes completely okay, then Spock’s remark would be one of those cases.  In fact, after giving it further thought, I’m not sure that it counts as ad hominem after all.

Spock 1Spock’s argument refutes Kirk’s statement on the grounds that he is quoting someone who was wrong, and the information that Spock relates about this wrongness is what invalidates what Kirk has said. That’s why my automatic response was to sense an ad hominem, but Spock’s point was actually not irrelevant. He was actually just giving an example of a case in which the maxim did not hold true, which is perfectly logical. The fact that his example involved the person to whom the quotation is attributed doesn’t actually lend any additional logical value to the point; it merely adds a touch of irony that the scriptwriters found useful for the sake of humor, and humor does not cancel out logic. Spock was indeed not wrong.

All of this, I decided, would be too lengthy to make for a good facebook status, and I couldn’t very well accuse Spock of a logical fallacy without refuting my accusation with these further points. So I closed facebook and said to myself, “Self, save it for the blog.”

I am sorry, Mr. Spock. I should never have doubted you.

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Fun Things To Do With a Car

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Five weeks ago today, I got my first car. Her name is Guinevere Saturn and we’re good friends; she’s very awesome. The reasons I need a car are mostly boring not-little-kid things like getting a job off campus and contracting college courses off campus, but I’m also enjoying having my own car for some very childish and immature reasons.

1. As I have seen my parents do, I keep a notebook where I record every time I buy gasoline. Unlike my parents, I call this notebook ‘captain’s log’ and label the column for the date ‘stardate’. I am not quite geeky enough to know or care how to actually convert the date into the Star Trek stardate equivalent, so I just use the actual date, but it still makes my life awesomer to have a captain’s log for my car.

2. Driving on the interstate is like playing chess. Since I only go forward, obviously I’m a pawn. Lane changes are therefore captures. When I reach the end of the board (and get off at the correct exit) that means I’m a queen. When I reach my final destination, that means I won.

3. (To be truthful, I haven’t actually done this one, but I always think about doing it.) When I park my car, I say “Sit.” Then, after getting out of my car and starting to walk away, I turn around, point at the car, and say, “Stay.” If anybody else sees and looks at me funny, I inform them that my car is very obedient and well-trained.

4. Ten miles an hour is warp one, twenty miles an hour is warp two, thirty miles an hour is warp three, forty miles an hour is warp four…

5. I’ve alluded to this idea in a previous blog post, and I still haven’t done it, but I will. I’m going to get a cardboard box and use it to make a fake flux capacitor for my car. I will then frequently find reasons to say, “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour…” And sometimes I’ll complain about how hard it is to find enough plutonium to generate 1.21 gigawatts.

6. Another rule for interstate driving: Exit ramps are portals to another set of dimensions.

Thoughts on Time Travel and Stuff

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Most movies or books that involve time travel deal with the premise that the time traveler can cause changes in the past that will affect subsequent events and alter the course of history. The movie Back to the Future is a perfect example of this. (Partly because it makes my point adequately, but mostly because it’s such an awesome movie that I just really want to mention it) By saving his future father from being hit by a car, Marty changes the circumstances of how his parents met. He then spends the rest of the movie plotting to ensure that his parents fall in love anyway so that he doesn’t fade out of existence. What the movie doesn’t mention is that, if Marty McFly ceases to exist, then he never could have gone back in time and messed things up in the first place, so his parents would have met, fallen in love, and gotten married just as they did before he went back in time. And then he would have been born and existed after all. But if he had existed, then he would have still gone back in time and his parents wouldn’t have fallen in love and he never would have been born and… Actually, let’s just stop this train of thought right here. It doesn’t matter whether or not the movie said anything about that because the movie is awesome just the way it is.

Anyway, that’s a pretty common theme in science fiction. Just off the top of my head, I can think of numerous books and movies and episodes of things like Star Trek and Doctor Who that have a similar theme. In my all-time favorite Star Trek episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, Captain Kirk and Spock must decide whether or not to save a certain woman (who Captain Kirk is, of course, in love with) because they know that if they make the wrong choice, the subtle alteration of history will result in World War II never happening and Hitler taking over the world. They just don’t know whether the woman’s death or the continuance of her life is necessary to stop Hitler. I think that one of the things I like most about that episode is that it acknowledges the fact that good guys from the future are just as capable of destructively altering events in the past as relatively normal people like Marty McFly, who don’t really understand what’s going on. As much as I love the show Doctor Who, I feel like it often unrealistically allows the Doctor to meddle in historical events without any affect whatsoever on the future. I can understand the concept that the history of the world as we know it has been shaped by an extraterrestrial time traveler, and that the only reason I didn’t know about all of the alien invasions in Earth’s history is that the Doctor already prevented them. I just think that if we’re supposed to think of it that way, they should explicitly say so more often. In all fairness, they do say so sometimes. The episodes Pyramids of Mars (an older episode with Tom Baker) and Blink come to mind.

This is similar to Douglas Adams’ explanation of time travel, which isn’t surprising because Douglas Adams was one of the scriptwriters for Doctor Who. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Douglas Adams neatly solves the problem by explaining that time is like a jigsaw puzzle. To paraphrase the general idea, the pieces fit together in the same way regardless of the order in which you attach them. If you alter the past, you aren’t changing anything about the present because the present is already there. Even if the things that you do actually do affect subsequent events, those subsequent events have also already happened, so nothing is actually changed. It makes sense if you think of time as being multi-dimensional, just like space, with an objective reality that applies regardless of where or when each individual is. If I pick up my chair and set it on top of my desk, that chair is on top of my desk regardless of whether you’re seven hundred miles away or standing right there next to me and wondering why the camaduka I want my chair to be on top of my desk. Likewise, if you go back in time to 1963 and shoot President John F. Kennedy, he’s dead whether I am also there in 1963 or here in 2012. (Please note that I’m not recommending that anyone go back in time to assassinate people. That would be evil. I’m just saying that if anyone were to go back in time and assassinate someone, the assassination has already happened)

This question of time travel’s role in cause and effect is one of the main ideas behind a book I’m reading right now, called Time and Again, by Jack Finney. I’ve actually read it quite a few times and I always really enjoy it. The book offers a theory which is essentially the same as Douglas Adams’ jigsaw puzzle analogy, although this book uses the metaphor of a twig in a river. The basic idea, though, is that time travel does not result in history being changed. However, the characters are just learning how to make time travel possible, so they aren’t actually sure about that, and that uncertainty is a central point in the book.

Douglas Adams’ theory of time is the one that makes most sense to me. For my own works of science fiction, I use a similar idea by assuming that time is three-dimensional. Maybe sometime I should write another blog post excplaining that. It works really well, because it sounds really technical and science-fictiony, but it makes the theory behind time travel so much more logical. If you’ve read some of my previous blog posts, you’ve probably noticed that I have a thing about making sense. I’m generally in favor of it.

As sad as I am to say it, I don’t really think that non-linear time travel is possible in real life. (Of course, we all travel in time linearly) Time travel serves an important role in fiction, though, partly because it’s really awesome and generally makes for a fascinating story, but also because the questions that it raises are actually relevant for regular linear time. In your life, you may never be faced with a situation in which you, like Captain Kirk, must make a choice that could result in Hitler’s successful conquest of Earthly civilization as we know it, but you will be faced with choices that could result in your failure or success in something, or that could affect details of other people’s lives in negative or positive ways. Like Captain Kirk, you might not have any easy way to know what the right or wrong choice is. Like the characters in Time and Again, you might not even know whether or not it’s really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but you have to be aware that it could be. Like Marty McFly, you might have already made a bad decision without even understanding why it was wrong. But maybe Douglas Adams is right about everything and whatever happens is just the way things are and we don’t need to worry about the subsequent effects. I say we should trust Douglas Adams on this one; Douglas Adams was a pretty awesome writer.