10 January 2013

Dork Philosophy

Let’s imagine that multiple worlds theory is a serious scientific phenomenon. There are plenty of pseudo-scientific and somewhat scientific debates to at least think about it, but of course, being a humanist, I will concern myself primarily with the Star Trek research data.

Source: eng.wikipedia.org
The fundamental question at hand has to do with choices. My dork philosophical question is this: in a multiverse full of every possibility of every choice in every life, how can deciding to do one thing versus another make any difference whatsoever? What I mean by that is, with every given choice that we make, theoretically, we create an alternative (or a thousand alternatives – my first critique of my student’s work is about showing ‘both sides’, but never considering why there are only two). What that must mean, then is that each decision you might make in a given situation has already been made, so whichever one you happen to be a part of, is just one of many.

I think this is in fact what is so troubling (and comforting) about Star Trek.  It is the lack of individuality, of ego, that makes humanity (or at least Roddenberry humanity) great. The sense of history that Star Trek series (and films) exude, are universal. Universal history is, in fact, an important piece of my dissertation work. Whether we can believe that a historical truth (perhaps not a psychological truth or philosophical one) can be applied across times. That is, when we make a movie like Lincoln, or Django Unchained, and we absolutely must leave historical authenticity aside, whether we can still say something about our own existence, while at the same time trying to better understand their own.

When we make history, I don’t think our efforts are that different from when we make science fiction. We extrapolate, from the only place that we can (the present), and try to imagine what another place and time might be like. Even when not separated by the caverns of history, people do this same thing with geography. In 1811, shortly before he decided to enact a suicide pact with his lover (insert name here), Kleist wrote "Die Verlobung in St. Domingo". The story tries to imagine what Haiti is like, by a young German Romantic who has never been to war and never been to the Americas.

But somehow Kleist captures it. He does understand what that world is like. It is something different from when he writes about Chile. In "Erdbeben in Chile" the world is very much like Europe. A city, devastated by natural disaster who looks for someone to blame, so they choose a young couple in love who may or may not have produced a baby (who is in fact he legitimate baby of someone who was crushed by a wall or some such). In his story about Haiti, however, Kleist minimizes the drama and makes the romance a background piece. The two unlikely lovers (a white Swiss soldier and a mulatto adopted daughter of a black slaver) finagle their way into love and only become a part of the story once they've succeeded (in betrothal at least).

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