Monday, August 27, 2012

Dinner with an Alien

I try to transcend when I exercise. I transcend with television shows. (I hate to exercise.) While I walk on the treadmill, I tap into Netflix and watch episodes of TV shows -- mostly ones that are not on anymore. Lately, it has been Star Trek: Enterprise. 

It's not a bad show, at all. So far, about eleven episodes into season one, it hasn't delivered any of those mind-blowing sci-fi moments that the original series or Star Trek: The Next Generation are famous for. Still, it is not the worthless drek that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was. (I saw a few episodes of that series. They should have called it "Politics in Space." Or "Poop in Space." Or "Deep Poop Nine." -- Do you realize you are reading the blog of a guy who still thinks "poop" is a hilarious word? I'm actually laughing out loud right now.) 

"Deep Poop Nine." That's funny.

She's even bad in the picture.
Anyway, Enterprise is a well-written show, all-in-all. Its only drawback, on a consistent basis, is the awful actress who plays T'Pol, the Vulcan science officer. Most high school actors could do a better job pulling off a Leonard Nimoy impersonation -- which is all she really does. It's pretty clear she got the gig because the producers were happy with the way she looks in a very (very) tight (and decidedly un-Vulcanish) uniform. (They should have called her T-Poop. SORRY. Sorry. I'll stop.)

The strongest part of the show is the portrayal of wonder in the crew of the Enterprise. Chronologically, this series is set before the original series -- this is the story of the first starship Enterprise -- before Kirk, Spock and the gang.

What I like most about it is the tentativeness of the captain, Archer (Scott Bakula) and the crew. Each time they meet with new beings (they are, after all, the first Earthlings to make contact with other beings in the universe) there is a "How-do-we-handle-this?" feeling to the show. Pretty realistic speculation, I think; there will be no pre-established protocol to follow, when it comes down to it.

But Archer is eager. So, he approaches anyone they find and he unfurls the banner of peace and exploration. In the last episode I watched, "Cold Front," the crew meets a chartered ship carrying religious pilgrims to a something-or-other-nebula-thing (you can tell how much I care about the science in science fiction) that they regard as a sacred event. Archer invites them onto the ship. For dinner. Dinner. (Stick with me.)

They are soft-spoken, personable aliens and they tour the ship and exchange gifts with Archer and the crew. Believe it or not, this get me thinking about the educational philosophies of our world. 

The first time we meet a new species in space -- when we are, someday, capable of that sort of travel -- that's what we will want to do: have dinner with them; ask them to describe where they are from; what they believe; what makes them happy; what they eat. Our first action will not (I hope) be to cut them open and see how they "work." It will be to get to know them. We will want to talk, on and on into the night, before we scan their biosigns. 

This got me thinking about the over-emphasis we put on science and math in our schools' curricula. STOP: I know. Without science and math, we will never travel the stars. Of course that is true. Science and math are incredibly important. That's great. As long as we don't lose sight of the fact that, on the first starship crew, the ship's poet will be one of the most important members in the effective exploration of other peoples' lives, hearts and souls. 

When the subspace messages come home to Earth, I sure hope they include samples of Xancillian zither madrigals, along with the ship's poet's sonnet to the beauty of the exotic welcome dance of the Light People of the Helios cluster.

And, for God's sake, let me know what they have for lunch before you send me neuro-maps and chemical analyses of their blood composition. That stuff can wait.


  1. "This got me thinking about the over-emphasis we put on science and math in our schools' curricula."

    Somewhat like the over-emphasis Caltech puts on intercollegiate athletics? In my day, it was one math class and one science class per year, or about 33% of the core curriculum. Unless you're teaching at the Bronx High School of Science, I doubt math and science form more than 40% of the curriculum.

    1. George -- I meant to refer more to the emphatic attitude. Math and science are emphasized by constant reference to their importance and with programs created to promote improvements in math and science. In the education field, you rarely hear people banging pots for the study of literature and history. Most kids, parents, teachers and administrators see "creative writing" classes and art classes as blow-offs and expendible programs. While science and math are important, there is an implication that, while art and lit. and history are nice ways to become "well-rounded," they are just...nice; science and math are what we really need. I don't really think that there will be a poet on the first starship, but I do really think one should be on it. You can be sure, though, that there will be a geologist, a biologist and any other number or "ologists" on-board. I see this "emphasis" as contrary to true human nature. We want -- and, in fact, need -- to know many things before we want to know how the endocrine system of an alien works.