Remembering Leonard Nimoy
The original Star Trek came out in 1966 when I was only six years old. It only ran for three seasons but had a great influence on so many people. Leonard Nimoy lived a long life and did many things; but, to many of us he is still and will always be Mr. Spock. I think I spent my entire childhood watching the original Star Trek, first the original series and then over and over again in repeats.
I’m amazed that for a series that only ran for three seasons for a total of 79 episodes (I guess television series had more episodes back in the sixties). The series covered a lot of topics and became firmly embedded in pop culture. Leonard Nimoy as an actor, even with very little make up certainly came across as rather alien (maybe more so than some of the modern CGI aliens). His character Spock introduced us to a rather rich character with logic, telepathy, the Vulcan nerve pinch and now and then getting quite emotional. After all Mr. Spock is half Vulcan and half human and the battle between his human and Vulcan sides is one of the things that makes his character quite interesting.
Mr. Spock is best known for his pursuit of logic, suppressing all emotion in order to become a purely logical being. This was probably greatly annoying to a lot of parents who now had to put up with kids always pointing out that most things are not logical. On the other hand I think it was a great way to promote critical thinking which is a skill that often seems quite lacking in society in general.
For people looking to fit into a more and more complicated world that is changing faster and faster, I think you could do far worse than adopting a more Vulcan logical approach to life. If you are worried about being conned or deceived often stepping back and applying some logic can be a great way to analyze things without getting caught up in the moment.
Of course one thing to remember is that logic is a way of making deductions based on a set of assumptions. If you don’t start with good assumptions then purely logical reasoning will lead to rather crazy conclusions. This is where critical thinking and science come in. If you start from good solid assumptions then logic will take you far. If you start with ridiculous assumptions then you get the logic often put forward by various politicians and others looking to manipulate you for their own purposes. A key takeaway for useful logic is to always question and refine your assumptions. Mathematics is based on this. Most Mathematics starts with a small set of assumptions or axioms and then builds a theory using logic and mathematical proofs to determine where they lead. For instance Euclid created his Geometry on a few axioms like “It is possible to draw a straight line from any point to any other point.” And from these proved many useful Geometric theorems that we all learn in school today.
Mathematics tends to be a mental exercise where a practical use isn’t necessarily the goal. Science uses mathematics, but everything has to be tested against the physical world. So if you start with a set of axioms and get a theory, but experiment shows some part is wrong, then one of your axioms is wrong and needs to be fixed. Science tends to be very demanding in this regard as Spock would often point out to Kirk.
Mr. Spock was both the second in command and the science officer for the Enterprise. As science officer Spock could apply his logic in a scientific context that was quite inspirational to a generation of budding scientists. He then had use of the ship’s scanners and his trusty tricorder when on landing parties.
One of the Enterprise’s primary missions was scientific discovery. The series was created around the same time as the Apollo moon program was in full gear. The assumption here was that the moon would be the first step and we would continue on to the planets of the solar system and eventually the nearby star systems. As it turns out we gave up on pursuing space and it only seems like we are starting to get interested in it again now nearly 50 years later.
Spock was also the computer expert on the Enterprise and the common use of computers in the Star Trek series also planted the seed for many budding computer scientists. It’s interesting that the people creating the original series were most concerned that their computer technology was the most far out there thing on the series. They were convinced that we would have things like faster than light star ships and transporters far sooner than we would have talking computers that you could ask anything and get an instant intelligent answer. Of course now we have exceeded the computer technology in the original series, but warp drive still isn’t on the horizon.
There were quite a few episodes concerned with completely logical machines who often wanted to wipe out us illogical biological beings in some sort of pursuit of perfection. These episodes would often showcase the relationship between logical Spock and emotional Kirk. Asking the question of what makes us human, our ability to think, reason and be scientific and logical versus our emotional intuitive side? Usually coming to the conclusion that you needed both and that balance is required.
I’m sure we’ll see many more Vulcans and new Mr. Spocks as Hollywood reboots this series every now and then. But to me the real Mr. Spock is Leonard Nimoy and he will be missed.