Karina Pătrășcanu is a third-year PhD student enrolled in the Doctoral School of Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Bucharest, where she is currently working on her thesis titled Subverting Invisible Structures of Power in Post-Cold War American Science-Fiction Novels and T.V. Series
Hololives: Holodeck and Holospaces as Repositories of Life in Star Trek: The Next Generation
This discussion has been copied from the Discord server, names have been reduced to first name, discussion threads have been grouped and edited for better readability.
Karina: Hello! Thanks for joining me! Many thanks for organizing this conference, too. Feel free to ask away or converse with each other (non-trekkies welcome as well, hehe)
Emily: Hi Karina, really enjoyed your paper – I am very much a trekkie and love to see it analysed! I was wondering if you could talk more about the spiritual aspect of posthumanism that you spoke about a bit in your paper? I thought it was very intriguing – could you go into more detail?
Karina: Thanks so much! Sure, first off I had a bit of trouble in the beginning of my research, trying to understand the difference between post- and transhumanism as far as spiritual implications go. So because posthumanism is primarily interested in reassessing humans’ place within the world, and thus renegotiating our understanding of ‘life’, I think it opens up a more coherent, perhaps, and definitely more flexible and nuanced conversation on the idea of the spirit, soul, life beyond death, but also about our connection to all forms of life. We see a growing concern and care on the part of humans towards other forms of life. I think posthumanism allows for a genuine redistribution of rights over life (for example hunting, or animal commerce). So in this respect, a posthumanist will rethink their place not only in the structure of the planet – the ecosystem – but will also renounce claims of a hierarchy where the human is on top, being served by all else (tendency that merges with some religious beliefs that animals, for example, were ‘put on this Earth” to serve us”). Wonderful questions, thank you so much, I will maybe come back with a more comprehensive answer.
Emily: Interesting – in the context of the Borg in Star Trek: Voyager – we see a kind of transhumanist totalitarianism from the Borg presented with Seven of Nine’s much more nuanced posthumanist perspective on the other – would you say she represents the thought of thoughtful humanist perspective you are talking about?
Karina: Yes, the Borg represent a very extreme ideal of transhumanism – although I’m not very sure how badly transhumanists advocate for the total annihilation of individualism – which is how the Borgs function. Seven is definitely a way to express this particular concern, but I wouldn’t say there is a clear posthumanist commentary. Or rather, there is, but I think the conversation moves towards the concern that with a total dependence on machines, we will lose our humanity. So yes, in this resepct, she is the balance that Star Trek strives for in its ideology (I think). Thanks!
Adam: Just first off can I say this was a great talk. I only recently got round to actually watching Star Trek and having watched a lot of Voyager in particular, a focus on the posthuman elements of holograms really hit my recent excitement for it.
Emily: Always nice to meet a fellow Voyager fan – lots of posthumanist things there – Borg and spirituality.
Adam: Not to mention the doctor, who remains my favourite character (I think) :p
Karina: Thank you! NextGen and Voyager are my favorite, and if you liked Voyager, you’ll probably like NextGen too (if you haven’t seen it yet). It’s a bit more philosophical, I think (but then again, they all are to some degree)
Adam: I wondered if, when looking at the Moriarty episode, you had thought much about his literary context. How he plays with your first category of ‘living memory’ because of his nature, and whether this or his ‘villainous’ elements play into his authenticity as a posthuman figure?
Karina: Yes! Voyager does this too – borrowing cultural markers from the real (?) world – either to pay homage or as a nod to the wonderful classical culture of Earth. But yes, there is a conversation in this episode, where Moriarty argues that he has grown, and transcended the evil characteristics imposed on him by the computer. He uses this to prove his humanity, so personally, I would say that his ability to (re)invent himself does make him an authentic person (?). Thanks for the question!
Adam: Now I’m thinking about Voyager again and there’s an episode where The Doctor is revived into a ‘false history’ of Voyager (their excuse for an evil universe) and the idea of the preserving and ‘living’ inaccurate histories is also a danger, due to the authenticity an interactive simulation can provoke
Karina: Yes, this danger of historical inaccuracies is ever present, no matter the medium. Especially since in an environment like this, it’s not only the historian’s bias that we have to account for, but also of the participant’s. Both the Doctor and Picard, in their respective holospaces made their own choices.
Emily: The holo historical exhibit is portrayed here as almost a choose your own adventure… highlighting that history is really very subjective.
Karina: true, although, the main event – the extinction of the Kataanians- did happen. this is how Picard woke up, all confused heh
Emily: Errm… yes – true! More like a character-driven linear rpg with one very fixed plot point…
Karina: yeah haha. I wonder, I think this must add a significant layer of genuineness, as you’d actually feel and think you’re part of the story, since you really do make free choices (to a greater extent)
Emily: Fascinating! Added authenticity through active decision making and actual inauthentic altering of history. woa…
Karina: It would’ve been nice to explore this avenue, maybe with alternate timelines, like Bandersnatch, where we could see what would’ve happened if Picard had remained firm about his identity. Although now I wonder, did he become a Kataanian as well? Since so much of Star Trek is about identity. Thank you!
Carmen: Hi, as a lover of all things Trekkie I loved your paper. Do you think your analysis “holds” for more recent Star Trek shows? The Next Generation, innovative as it was at the time, sometimes feels a little outdated when it comes to our present understanding of posthumanism to me.
Karina: Hi! Thanks so much! Hmm, sure, posthumanist scholarship is evolving, and we’ve come a long way in a very short time, as far as tech goes but also in our ability to better understand our place in this dimension. I must say I am very frustrated that I haven’t got round to watching Picard, so I am unable to say what posthumanist comments the show is making. Maybe you – or someone who’s seen it – can help? But to answer your question: there are some definite posthumanist implications in the recent movies – when the Vulcan council is destroyed, for example – posing the question, again, of how to preserve a civilization’s memories and life, ultimately. Thanks!
Carmen: Oh, I think there’s a lot of exploration of transhumanism in Picard, but a) I hadn’t really thought about it so I would need to watch again and take notes, and b) don’t want to spoil it for you. I do think it is something you wanna watch!
Karina: Star Trek is def. a show to take notes while watching haha. b) thanks haha, I appreciate it. I have to do something about it
Sasha: Hi Karina, thanks for your paper. The episode of TNG you mention where Picard gets stuck inside the memories of a dying world is one of my favourites. It’s interesting to think about in terms of historical memory and transmission, particularly as it’s focused on experience rather than record or conventional understandings of the archive.
Karina: Hi! Yes, that’s why I got all excited, because it opens up so many layers of experience, and I think – in a distant (?) future – it could help us really live memories, though it makes you think of what it does to a person to live two lives. Which one is real? Picard, afterall, fell in love in the holospace…
Damian: Thanks for the talk! One thing that I remembered bothered me about the Moriarty episode was the place of the Enterprise’s computer (AI?) as opposed to the AI that was behind Moriarty. The plot is based on a misinterpretation that the ship’s AI makes, and I’ve always found it interesting how the AI Moriarty seems to be somehow more conscious/human than the Enterprise’s AI. What role do you think the Enterprise’s AI plays in this scenario? Is there a sense that it is also worth considering as a character here?
Karina: Hi! I’ve also wondered why only Moriarty, and not the computer – that ‘birthed’ him – became self-aware. I think this is one of those magical mysteries Star Trek sometimes infuses in its stories. I take it as a freedom for us, the audience, to explore and question. I do think the Enterprise’s AI is a character, and it’s particularly interesting that Geordi only instructed it to create a character worthy of Data. So the AI did take some liberty, but why is that is a good question. Thanks!
Damian: I found myself thinking while i was typing this out – maybe the Enterprise’s AI is jealous of Data or something haha
Karina: Data had a twin! that was a wonderful episode, you should see jealousy there!
Damian: ohhh! it’s been a long time since i watched TNG, thanks for the reminder!
Karina: his name’s Lore, just looked it up and it’s season 1 episode 12 . You’re very welcome hehe
Larisa: Hi, Karina. I was also wondering why holograms of Star Trek are not studied more, being so fascinating. There is another talk later on on holograms, you surely saw it. In Russia, trekkies tend to call themselves trekkers, and I am one of them. You may contact me later via email, if you would like to know more about Trek-lovers here. As for the question about your talk – emotionally “Inner Light” is one of the strongest episodes in TNG and it invariably appears to be the most discussed when I teach a course on Star Trek as an American Culture Phenomenon, the flute from there inspired the Picard theme in the new show. Wouldn’t you agree that this information-induced possibility to relieve somebody else’s life enhances humanity and can serve as an argument of a possibility for a transhuman world to be no less human than ours but may be more? There is a novel by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko Pandem where such a possibility is explored.
Karina: Hi! Thank you, I’m eyeing that discussion haha. Thanks for your availability, it would be nice to talk to trekkies from other countries and see the differences in how we read the show. I’m so glad Star Trek is being taught and young generations get to know it. Picard’s confusion when he woke up hit me hard when I first watched this episode, but to me, the most powerful episode – perhaps in the entire Star Trek – is “The Measure of a Man”, season 2 ep 9. The exchange between Picard and Guinan in Ten Forward is just so heavy, and the whole conversation of the episode could inspire ten different books heh. But yes, I do agree that this kind of immersive and autonomous (to some – very high -degree) experience has the potential to reveal a raw connection between people – through time included -, that could obliterate any harmful interpretations of differences between us. I’m not so sure about the transhuman aspect. In this episode this tech is used as a tool, but a transhuman world would see lives unending, so this tool would serve no purpose. Maybe this episode could be read in a posthumanist key? Star Trek plays a lot with the two concepts, but I feel the overall comment is on balance between tech and the human element, while it still tries to (re)define ‘human’. Thanks for the recommendation as well!
CyberPunks.com: We really enjoyed this talk, Karina — Are you familiar at all with Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck? Great academic work on this space. — The New Yorker, The MIT Press
Karina: Thank you so much! And thanks for the recommendation as well. I know the book. Now that I’m thinking about it, particularly in the discussion on authentic experience and lived history I could definitely draw from her classification of authorship (a kind where you create a world, and another where you perform your imagination but inside a world already created). Especially the second kind merits some thought (applied here) if we look at history as a world already authored – more or less unwittingly – and at holospaces as moderated spaces where one can become creative with emotions, timelines, constructs. It’s interesting to think of us as co-authors of a world that our future fellow Earthlings (and not only, perhaps) will hopefully be able to experience in such a way. Thanks!
CyberPunks.com: We’re very keen on the AR-overlay that’s “coming soon”. Very interesting to think of ourselves as co-authors of that world. We’re already here together in cyberspace – what more is to come?
Karina: haha I was just thinking how fitting it is that we’re meeting for this conference in this kind of space, talking about authors of spaces and players in those spaces reminded me of a project, an animated film – unfinished, whose name I can’t remember-, about a world where people lost their ability to dream, except for one girl who now dreamed up worlds for them. We keep asking ‘what more is to come?’ and I think this is a great indicator of the exciting time we’re living in.