This episode is about cognitive dissonance, and what we do when confronted with facts we can’t believe. The psychological stress results in a battle characterized by belief, speculation, and observation.
Life vs Work
The miners, I mean the terraformers, believe that life is important and shouldn’t be harmed. Before they can even start their work, they have to be sure there is no life on a planet and no prospects of life.
They also believe work is important. Their psychological make up includes work obsession. Consider, for example, Bensen’s reaction to Data’s destruction of the laser, a laser that was trying to kill Data. Bensen said, My laser! A year’s work down the toilet. Or something like that.
So when confronted with a phenomenon that puts these two beliefs at odds, they struggle to sort it out. Since like everyone else in the Federation, they believe life is organic, they stick with their belief in their work. They assure themselves, despite evidence, that they’re not violating their beliefs about life.
Relating to Data
Boy I felt a kinship to Data. He beams down to the planet, and the first thing Bensen says to him is, hey you’re an android. That happens to me every time I meet a new person. Well, not exactly that, but being an American living in Japan, you can imagine the details.
Bensen is surprised Data is an officer, and a well-written Tasha Yar says, hey he’s a person. Well not exactly, she says, He’s third in line to the throne. Or captain’s chair, or whatever. Basically she means, he’s one of us, and that doesn’t jive with Bensen’s beliefs about androids.
Geordi has his own little cognitive dissonance when Data asks him, could this be alive? Geordi answers, how could it be, it’s inorganic. Data must’ve been thinking, Hello! I’m alive and I’m inorganic. Remember? I’m just a different type of machine! But I’m sure he’s got quite the thick skin about it.
The main point, though, is that the terraforms and the crew miss the fact that Data is inorganic life because their belief systems haven’t caught up with the fact of who he is in light of what he is, and their own preconceived notions.
Prejudiced New Life
The new lifeform isn’t that much better since they believe all the humans are the same. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary that Picard is different and trying to help, they cannot believe what they’re observing.
How about Data’s speculations? How would he know, prior to the laser trying to kill him, that the machine had acted as if it had a will of its own? Later when Picard asks him about it he says he is certain. Not speculating. How could he be so certain?
Even the Enterprise computer makes a huge leap. When asked to explain the source of a light, it says life. Really? How does life cause light?
They’re making all these wild speculations because of their creative thinking abilities. Look at Geordi. He says the flashes are musical. What an impressively creative thing to say. (Though it makes one wonder why he couldn’t make the leap that something inorganic could be alive.)
These creative speculations eventually lead to a solution for the aliens having control of the Enterprise. (The speculations about how the new life form gets power). So clearly they’re important, but what makes them better than unyielding beliefs?
Dr. C tells us straight up the key is the scientific method. If our beliefs aren’t matching the mint that’s going down, we’ve got to observe, speculate, and attempt to prove it. If through speculation we can create new beliefs that hold up against experiences, we can resolve conflict caused by cognitive dissonance. So speculation has a transformative power. Paired with observation, it changes beliefs.
Interestingly, the crew has to do all kinds of observation. Tasha was working as a detective, researching the terraformers. Geordi was again the eyes of the crew, answering Data’s call for visual assistance.
Deanna was rocking out this episode. She was used well in this story. She puts Picard onto the fact that something was going on. Planetside, she pegged Malencon and Bensen for Riker, and caught onto Malencon’s trouble before anyone else. Not her fault they couldn’t help. Then she revealed the complexity of Director Mandel’s feeling when confronted with the fact that they were murdering the new life form. He’s not just an evil guy.
Morals, messages, and meanings
- Be better – If you realize something you think or do is bad, improve yourself.
- Speculation is important
- Use Scientific Observation – follow facts not just preconceived notions
- Be wary of cognitive dissonance – and the rationalization that follows
- Don’t lose sight of right and wrong
- Respect life in all its forms
- You don’t have to be organic to be alive
Does it hold up?
It’s not bad.
There are a few things that make me cringe.
- The obvious one is that it’s very similar to the original series episode with the Horta. I guess if this series is supposed to be a continuation of that one they should probably remember the Horta.
- The hair
- Terrible lines: like “Is this true?”, “Why was I never told?”, “new-fallen snow”, and “We come in peace.”
- Wesley – He seemed dumb, asking what’s wrong with the translation circuits even though Picard had already figured things out. It’s like we can never have all the characters used well.
The story and the themes, however, are tightly focused. Those bad episodes tend to feel like they’re trying to do too much, and the result is that the different themes pull them apart. This doesn’t have that.
It’s progressive and interesting, and today the themes and messages are as valid as they were then.
Actually when it comes down to it, these themes are to me what Star Trek is all about, fairness to the other and constant revaluation of yourself, your behavior, and your beliefs in order to improve yourself.
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