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Sun, Feb 17, 2019, 10:54am (UTC -6)
Re: DSC S2: Saints of Imperfection


I agree with you completely that it shouldn't be the viewers job to rewatch / reappraise / re-explain episodes. It is absolutely idiotic to be doing what I did, pause after every rat-a-tat-a-tat line of explanation. But there were explanations even to the problems you mentioned in your rebuttal to my earlier comment. (And yes, Daya the infinitely hopeful, pause-watched it once again, just for you!)

They did base the explanation on DNA, and explicitly said "DNA" a bunch of times at around 40:30 in the episode indicating both the "upload" and "download" of Culber was DNA based. About land, I agree there is no reason for land, maybe May created it out of spores since Tilly was going to continue to be human. Or may be the mycelial network has land (Why does V'Ger have a walkable platform around it?). About water / sunlight to grow trees, (a) May said "this used to be a paradise" so maybe situations used to be conducive to growing trees, and (b) the word "tree" and "bark" are just May's attempts to explain her alien world to Tilly. She and Tilly are connected telepathically, so I guess they are not using a UT.

About "why spore world reconstructs Culber into spore Culber and then begins to eat him", spore world did not reconstruct Culber in spore world, Stamets reconstructed Culber in spore world using his enhanced abilities when he is connected to the spore world himself. Only he hadn't realized it. Also, the spore world did not attack Culber. The JahSepp did. They are loosely the anti-bodies of the spore world. The JahSepp are probably low-level entities programmed for "cleanup". Think about human antibodies. If you transplant an organ into a human, antibodies will attack that organ because they recognize it as foreign, even though the transplanted organ would otherwise be beneficial to the human. The antibodies cannot be commanded by the human brain to stop attacking the new organ.

I believe that the scientific plot holes are about as large or small in this episode as any TOS / TNG episode. I think the difference is that Spock / Scott / Geordi / Data really sold the technobabble well. They looked like they believed it. Stamets / Michael / Tilly look like they are play-acting, especially while technobabbling. Or its bad direction. Which is why the pause-watch technique in the first place - to try to understand the writers without the intervening mediocrity.

@Karl Zimmerman

Thanks for taking the time to write a detailed and erudite reply. I did say in my previous comment that when the writers say "energy", they mean "information". You have called it "organization". I agree that energy / Katra / soul are new-age weasel words, and would have loved it if a Star Trek episode would have used more formal words for the same. (They did use DNA, but that is not all the information in a human, of course.)

Also, Karl, I would invite you to think of Cartesian dualism in the following way. To extend your analogy, there is no such thing as software. There are electrons surging through circuits, and bits of magnetized ceramic on spinning discs. But they *implement* software, just through these physical instruments. If you transported my PC, my OS will get transported with it automatically, yes, but that is no reason to deny the existence of my OS in all senses of the word "existence". My OS (Linux, btw) does exist, albeit on a separate plane of existence. When studying software, I will have lines of code in mind, which have no physical existence per se. But I still think in terms of lines of code, not in terms of surging electrons. Thus dualism exists even in a purely materialist world, as useful layers of abstraction.

To continue this analogy, if I put my computer through a transporter, I get the exact same computer back, right down to the exact same molecules in the same places. But if that were not possible, a cheaper and more approximate way to "transport" my computer would be to find hardware that was similar enough, and clone my disc by transmitting digital bits, i.e. just information. I propose that this is what happened to Culber, twice. Once during upload, and once during download. (You may debate whether this is possible for a human without transmitting the entirety of his being molecule-by-molecule, but there are other Star Trek transporter episodes which have assumed at least this level of dualism - The Enemy Within, Rascals, Tuvix - albeit not for the sake of basic transport, but for other plot needs.)

On a separate note, Karl, I would really like to believe for the sake of Star Trek morality and logic that quantum effects are important to the human mind (brain). Otherwise, wouldn't a prudent engineer program the transporter to read->reconstruct->destroy rather than read->destroy->reconstruct. If they used read->reconstruct->destroy, transporter accidents (remember ST:TMP) would never happen. The only answer must be that the only way to read the information is to destroy the object. We know that quantum information cannot be read classically, it can be "transmitted" into a new store of quantum information but cannot be replicated. I propose that at least according to Trek physics, transportation involves quantum information transmission. This also solves the moral conundrum of why the "destroy" phase of a transporter is not murder. There is no destroy phase, it is just a "quantum read". Since simpler objects can be replicated (but humans cannot, they can only be teleported), I would think the human brain uses some quantum physics which cannot suffer decoherence. This is why "pattern buffer degradation" is a big issue, pattern buffers store quantum information, not classical information, and cannot be maintained for a long time (due to quantum decoherence). (Which is why it is surprising that Scotty survived in a pattern buffer for years.)

As for transporter clones, I believe they are improbable because of the above reason, which is a purely materialist (but quantum) reason. Remember that Thomas Riker always liked the name Thomas, always, not after the split from Will, whereas Will never liked that name. The split thus has copied information inexactly (though I would like to think that usually the effects of human replication are much more grave than just a changed affinity towards a middle name).
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Sat, Feb 16, 2019, 2:07pm (UTC -6)
Re: DSC S2: Saints of Imperfection

Most of people's objections on this thread are actually addressed in throw-away blink-and-you-miss-it lines. So in case you missed it, here is a primer on this episode:

1. Culber rode Stamets' connection into the mycelial network, where his energy merged with mycelial matter to form mycelial-Culber. (More on "energy" below.)

2. The job of the JahSepp is recycling. They are like phagocytes. The JahSepp recognized mycelial-Culber as an anomaly / cancer and attacked it/him. Culber, before he became all PTSD, must have found he could keep the JahSepp at bay by using the bark of a tree poisonous to the JahSepp. Wearing this bark and moving around in the mycelial network hurt and started destroying the JahSepp. In a sense, Culber was like an immuno-deficiency virus.

3. The JahSepp are an organism in the mycelial network, they are not themselves the entire network, nor do they control it in the traditional sentient sense. I speculate that the individual JahSepp may not be sentient at all, it is their "continuum" which is sentient, or has turned sentient in the form of May due to the need to communicate for their own survival.

4. A few JahSepp individuals did attack Tilly shortly after she arrived inside the network (at mark 15:00 in the episode), but the continuum-consciousness embodied as "May" asked them to stop attacking her. JahSepp individuals / phagocytes seem able to accept this command, thus giving Tilly at least temporary protection against them. When Culber was "reborn" in the mycelial network, May probably did not exist yet, and individual JahSepp attacked Culber. Once May existed, she could have ordered the JahSepp to stop attacking Culber, but she already considered Culber the enemy.

5. For Culber to be reborn in the real world, someone needs to resequence atoms using information (rather like a transporter would). Two kinds of information are required -- information about the constitution of the physical body, and information about Culber's mental state. (The first was called DNA in the technobabble explanation, and the second was called "energy".) Both of these informations did exist in the mycelial network's Culber-reborn, and the real-world cocoon was a matter resequencer (it was a transporter after all). The only problem was there had to be some matter (raw-material) to resequence Culber from, because Culber-reborn was made of mycelial-matter, not prime-matter and breaking him down like a traditional transporter does would not have helped. It seems May found a way for the cocoon to cannibalize itself for the required raw material and produce Culber from the physical and mental information of Culber-reborn. In this sense, this episode becomes classic trek - reproducing entire people from pattern buffers after they were assumed to be lost / dead etc.

= = = =

Like most of you, I hated this episode to begin with. But then I went back and painstakingly paused through all the explanations. Now I like it, or at least I hate it less. I think the director or the editor or both did not understand the importance of the technobabble. Sometimes the actors are almost running lines into each other. The editor needs to understand that the audience needs time to assimilate a fact before another is thrown at it.

I hope my comment helps people see this episode in a positive light, because we really need to encourage Discovery to become better. Kudos to the writers for writing something non-trivial for once.

= = = =

There is a reference to Thermodynamics in the episode. The reference is not just new age funk, though it may sound that way at first. A very important quantity in Thermodynamics is Entropy. Entropy is just Information by another name. So as not to confuse the lay audience, the writers use the term "Energy" instead, but they really do seem to mean information here. Reminds me of the "beings of pure energy" that Kirk and Spock will encounter on Organia a few years after this episode.
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Sun, Jan 27, 2019, 1:36pm (UTC -6)
Re: DSC S2: New Eden

Finally, finally, finally, a Discovery episode that was actual Star Trek. Yes, crew meets primitive humans has been done before, but the Prime Directive has not been explored from this angle. A pre-warp civilization shall not be interfered with. But what if the civilization happens to be your own, from just 200 years ago? This gray area is unanswerable -- its legality may be straightforward, but morality is not.

We still encounter lost primitive cultures right on our Earth once in a while. What should we do? Convert them to modern humans and probably push 90% of them into poverty? Or leave them untouched and pristine, and deprive them the chance of modernity? This episode feels like the best of TOS episodes -- episodes that present a moral dilemma without pretending to know the answer. And coming from Discovery, whose entire first season was about simplistic moralistic self-aggrandizement, this realization that not every question has a clean-cut answer is very very refreshing.

= = = =

I wish the writing became a bit more confident at his point. The mixture of religions was nothing more than a curiosity, and in such a busy episode, could have been left out. Or rather than presenting it as "ooh multi-religious stained windows, look!" the curiosity could have been presented sublimely as an evening prayer which casually references multiple religions as well as the red angel, and weaves the world war 3 story into the myth. Oh that would have been so much fun. So TOS / TNG.
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Wed, Aug 22, 2018, 1:45pm (UTC -6)
Re: TOS S1: The Squire of Gothos

It is a quirk of human development that intelligence develops before compassion. Intelligence without compassion is what we usually label "evil". The things that prevent us from labeling children as evil are (a) they don't have enough power over outcomes and (b) we are psychologically programmed to love them more than adults (to find them cute).

Through a brilliant artifice, this episode removes both the reasons above, thus blending our perception of evil and child. Let us not underestimate the brilliance of Campbell's portrayal of Trelane. He manages to portray him in such a manner throughout that we will think of him as an evil psychopath, or (in a second viewing) an innocent child at play. The shock to us is that without the crutches of (a) and (b) above, we cannot tell the difference. This episode, bordering on the philosophical, asks whether "innocence" and "evil" (which we naturally would classify as far apart, if not polar opposites) are in fact one and the same thing.

= = = =

Observation 1

One may ask, isn't Spock similar? Isn't Spock all intelligence, no compassion? We may ask, if Vulcan's are purely logical, not emotional, why do they not turn out to be evil? Spock answer's the question in a very matter of fact and brief manner in this episode. His answers are "discipline" and "purpose". Discipline, to rein in the natural needs of the mind, and purpose to create new goals in its place. This is a wonderful exposition of the Vulcan society. A "purely logical" being is still free to maximize whatever he chooses to, such as his own enjoyment over others'. In what Vulcans deem as logic, seems to be embedded a meta-logical approach to choosing goals.

= = = =

Observation 2

Many TOS episodes have trivial resolutions. Parents take the child away. It was all a dream. The computer explodes due to a logical paradox. Aliens were just testing you. The mad scientist falls prey to his own doomsday device. Good adventure stories are where the resolution comes about through a charming and novel combination of the protagonists' heroics, and yes, some luck. Many TOS resolutions seem to come about through pure luck, no heroics. Not very satisfying.

A good way to watch TOS is not to consider the episodes as adventure stories at all. The adventure is incidental, the philosophy is core. With a mind not hooked on seeing an adventure every week, these episodes can be enjoyed more. When TOS does do adventures / escapades, they do them very well. The brilliance of these episodes causes the other episodes to pale in comparison, but only because we insist upon extracting only a particular kind of enjoyment out of it.
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Thu, Aug 16, 2018, 10:05am (UTC -6)
Re: TOS S1: The Conscience of the King

Kirk acts extremely out of character in this episode:

1. Refuses to believe his friend who thinks Karidian is Kodos. Kirk
almost turns hostile in that first scene.
2. Refuses to investigate the possibility that Kodos may be alive.
This is something that Kirk ought to take seriously as a senior
officer of Starfleet / the Federation.
3. Does not include anyone, even his senior officers in his investigation.
4. Declares an investigation into a possible large scale genocide is a
"personal matter".
5. Gets irritated with Spock and Bones.
6. Moves Reilly to engineering without giving a reason, without
putting a security detail on him.

In the view of many commentators on this thread, the above "plot
holes" make this a bad episode. They don't. The above aren't plot
holes. They are central to the plot. In fact they are the plot.

Put yourself in the shoes of the 16 year old Kirk on Tarsus IV. You
hear that Kodos will kill half the people in your colony so that the
other half may survive. What will be your first thought? Was Kirk's
first thought "I hope I am one of the survivors"? When he actually
turns out to be a survivor, what will he think of himself for as long
as he is alive? Does just wishing himself to be a survivor somehow
make him complicit in the murder of 4,000 people? Did he rationalize
it at the time? Did he actually take any steps to prove to Kodos that
he deserved to be one of the survivors? Would that make him more
complicit in the murder of 4,000 people? If the ration ships had not
arrived early, it would have turned out that Kodos had actually saved
Kirk's life. Just because the ships arrived early and it turned out
that the death of 4,000 was not needed, can we just turn Kodos the
saviour into Kodos the executioner? For all we know, Kirk or others
may have died in the time between the executions and the early arrival
of the ships.

These are the terrible questions Kirk has been running away from all
his life. He wants to blame Kodos. But does blaming Kodos absolve
Kirk? Is Kirk's conscience clear? You can now see point by point how
Kirk's out-of-character behaviour emanates from this conflict running
in his mind throughout the episode.

Finally, who is "the King" in the title of this episode? Of course,
directly it is Kodos, the King who had to decide which of his subjects
deserved to live, while others deserved to die. But, the real king
whose conscience we are requested to reflect upon is not Kodos. It is
Kirk. (That Kirk is a powerful king is established through wonderful
lines of dialogue delivered by Lenore on the observation deck.) Should
the new king punish the old king for a crime that if it had not been
committed, the new king would not have been a king in the first place?

This is Shakespearean tragedy at its ironic best. And Shatner is a
brilliant actor. This episode deserves five stars.
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