Sunday, October 16, 2011

Deep Space Nine Spirituality

There are ample sites that summarize Star Trek episodes, so I won’t repeat the entire story here, but there is part of one that I see differently than anything I have found out there. The episode I am speaking of is the 2 hour pilot of the Deep Space Nine series. This series was a significant break from other Star Treks. For one, it was a space station instead of a ship. It also focused more on politics and religion.

The opening scene a flashback to an important point in the history of Star Trek. Long time fans will recognize the battle at Wolf 359. But if you aren’t familiar with it, the figure of Locutus of Borg, staring at Benjamin Sisko with his red eye conveys the idea of looking into the face of evil. What we need to know for this story is that this is where Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, died.

When then return to the present time for this series as Sisko is taking his first tour of the Deep Space Nine space station. He encounters a Bajoran priest, the priest says, “Welcome, the prophets await you.” In a bit of foreshadowing, Sisko answers “Another time.” A few hours later, the Bajoran attaché introduces Sisko to her religion and tells Sisko that their spiritual leader, Kai Opaka could help unify their people, but she rarely sees anyone. Just then the priest returns and says, “it is time.” He is taken immediately to meet the Kai.

Sisko learns more of their religion and is told that his destiny is to find the Celestial Temple. This kind of thing is pretty common for commanders in the Star Trek series and they usually don’t like it. Sisko is no different, but in this case he is given a vision. Not just a vision, but he fully experiences being back on a beach when he first met Jennifer. The vision comes via a large crystal they call the Tear of the Prophet. Kai Opaka gives Sisko cryptic advice like “I cannot give you what you deny yourself” and “Look for solutions within.” She sends him back to the station with the crystal.

An old friend of Sisko’s, Jadzia Dax, joins the team and applying the power of the United Federation of Planets, immediately finds answers about the crystals. In short order, they head into space and a wormhole opens up in front of them. Not just any wormhole, the first ever stable worm hole. They are pulled into it and they “land” in it, which should not be possible. It probes them and sends Dax back to DS9.

This is where it gets interesting. For those of you who don’t read physics books as a hobby, a wormhole is a theoretical structure in space. For most of human history we have thought of the heavens as something above us. Within the last few hundred years, we have seen that as bigger and bigger, but always as basically a straight line away from us. Very recently, we began to understand that space and time are curved. I don’t really know what that means, but it allows for the possibility that there could be pathways that take shortcuts around those curves, a hole that drops out of normal space/time and takes you somewhere very far away. Science fiction writers love to play with this stuff.

Sisko is left standing on a rocky surface that he knows can’t be real so he just starts shouting, looking for answers. He starts to see what look like familiar faces, but they are talking about him amongst themselves, trying to decide if Sisko is worth interacting with. He manages to engage them but they want to be convinced that he is not a threat. They are non-corporeal and any corporeal being destabilizes their existence.

He uses terms like “experiences”, “memories”, “my past” when trying to explain that he is not a threat. They appear to not understand these terms but talk of living only in the present. Sisko tries to explain that, for him, the future doesn’t exist, that his existence is “linear”.

They show him that his wife Jennifer, is part of his current existence and Sisko argues that she “was”. They say this is inconceivable and act suspicious of him. Their actions are also suspicious although Sisko only expresses confusion. They seem aware of so much, even able to read his thoughts, but their first question is, “what is this ‘time’ that you speak of.” They don’t acknowledge that they know of the vision he has already had or what Kai Opaka said so we don’t know for sure what they know. They are no doubt what the Bajorans call the Prophets, but they don’t call themselves that.

In an attempt to explain himself, Sisko realizes how time is required for logic. He tries to explain how one day shapes another. How pleasure and happiness depend on this. They can see his thoughts and keep coming back to the day he lost his wife and refuse to accept that this is in his past. He is unable to explain “loss”.

They show him a pleasant memory of his wife, it is a sweet proposal, they are planning their future together, then return to the chaos and death at Wolf 359 and say “this is your existence”. They ask why this is difficult. He says he doesn’t want to be there, but they keep saying that he exists there. They ask why, if we can understand consequences, why can we not predict them.

Sisko uses the analogy of a baseball game to explain his linear world. He starts to explain the rules, but realizing that won’t help much, focuses on how each player studies the possible moves of every other player but they don’t know what will happen with each pitch. We use our knowledge of the past to predict outcomes but we enjoy not knowing what will happen in the future. Sisko says, “The game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.” And they ask with surprise, “You value your ignorance of what is to come?!” Sisko explains that is what makes us human, we are explorers. He says, "That may be the most important thing to understand about humans. It is the unknown that defines our existence."

They seem to understand this, and are convinced that Sisko and his linear brethren are not a threat, but they still want to know why he exists at Wolf 359. They bring him there again, and Sisko feels the pain again. He asks for the power to take them somewhere else, but they say that it is he who keeps bringing them back there. One of the Prophets appears to him as the Kai, saying again, “we can’t give what you don’t give yourself”.

Sisko finally starts to breakdown as he explains that he was ready to die at that moment. In a sense, part of him did die. He understands that he never really left that ship. His life has been defined by that moment from then on. The physical death of his wife resulted in a death of his spirit, his will for living. He never let go. His past did not prepare him for that moment. He understands his own non-linearity. He looks around at the faces of the beings and they acknowledge that he now understands them. They understood him all along.

Commander Sisko returns to the station with a renewed sense of life. The wormhole will make this distant outpost one of the most important in the galaxy. He reconciles with Picard and starts planning for the future with his new team.

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