If you want an image of the future as we desire it, imagine a boot stamping on Jonathan Jones’ face… forever

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. BerserkRL
    December 25, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

    There is a certain line of thinking within cosmology that the universe simply could not have come into being out of nothing during the Big Bang, as the idea of something spontaneously emerging from nothing is simply incomprehensible. A more helpful thesis, this account goes, is that the Big Bang is the dividing point between two universes, and that universes exist in a constant, repeating cycle of expansion and contraction.

    The universe (and here I mean everything, so any "previous" universe" would just be an earlier state if the universe) can have a finite history without coming into being from nothing, if the past itself is finite. That way, there's no time when there was nothing, and no transition from nonbeing to being; the universe has existed through all past time without having existed for an infinite amount of time, and so we avoid both a) the paradox of an infinite past, and b) the paradox of coming into existence out of nothing.

    In short, "reality has always existed" is ambiguous, and we avoid both kinds of paradox by affirming it in one sense while denying it in the other.


  2. BerserkRL
    December 25, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

    Christians of Earth seem to remember him as Lucifer the Trickster and Deceiver, though Kirk and Spock remain uncertain that this is his true identity.

    There was a goblin, or a trickster, or a warrior. A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies, the most feared being in all the cosmos. And nothing could stop it, or hold it, or reason with it. One day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world.


  3. BerserkRL
    December 25, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

    Kirk posits a hypothesis unthinkable to Asmodeus: That humanity is capable of improvement and is always learning and growing and has already moved beyond the hatred and fear the Megans experienced, and invites him to peruse the ship's record banks as evidence. Asmodeus is convinced by Kirk's compelling case

    In some post of your that I read recently — but I just went through two months of them so I don't remember which it was — you complained about Kirk's offering the Federation as evidence of human improvement, which seems to be what's happening here also. Is this different?

    My question would be more coherent (or possibly wouldn't need to be asked at all) if I could remember what the other post was.


  4. FlexFantastic
    December 26, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    This is easily the most memorable episode of TAS, and one that I delight in knowing is out there under the Star Trek banner. I'll be curious if/how you draw out the repercussions of this episode on the future of the franchise. To my mind it's always seemed a bit of a (undeserved) dead end. Even DS9, which is probably otherwise the most mystical series of the franchise, doesn't seem to go in this explicitly with straight-up magic.


  5. Josh Marsfelder
    December 26, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

    That may actually have been last time.

    Either way, the difference here is in what Kirk's argument actually is. he's not saying the Federation proves humanity is perfect, evolved and utopian, he's saying the Federation is evidence humanity is capable of growth, is always trying to grow and is already better than the humanity Asmodeus knew, even if it still has plenty of growing to do.

    It's in my opinion a far more tempered and nuanced version of the claim and a far more laudable one (it is, in fact, this very distinction that's going to trip up Star Trek: The Next Generation more frequently than is really comfortable).


  6. Josh Marsfelder
    December 26, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

    I do indeed plan on picking this thread up with DS9. In fact, DS9's ambivalence about how far to go with the magick is going to be one of the things I call it out for later on in its life (although frankly there's enough in "Emissary" alone to go the distance).

    But we're not done with magick for the time being either…


  7. K. Jones
    December 27, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

    This is a gorgeous thread to connect us to future DS9 elements, even in as far as magick being universal connective tissue; or an ability to activate it, and skip to the furthest distances and meet Eldritch races. (God, to say nothing of Celtic influence on everything from Bajor to real life Changelings, or "orbs" shaped like wormholes or incredibly Tralfamadorian prophets who can play Multiple Choice with history.)

    Really, don't all science fiction characters eventually create themselves, or their own fictional universes? Anyway, it's always lovely to see Star Trek shift from immram to echtra. I love it when other worlds are just Otherworld.


  8. Josh Marsfelder
    December 27, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

    Given this, I'll be anxious to see what you think of the post I just finished writing, not to mention today's.

    The connection of all of this to DS9 in the future is of course both terribly exciting and terribly on point 🙂


  9. Iain Coleman
    December 27, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

    I'm afraid most of the physics in this post is wrong. (Fortunately, the rest of the post doesn't depend on this.)

    "Conventional cosmological wisdom holds that the further away we can look into space, the further back in time we see. This is because the speed of light is a constant, thus the light we observe from a fixed location has taken us an equal amount of time to reach us as the distance it is away from us. Thus, the furthest, most distant objects are by definition the oldest."

    – True enough, although "conventional cosmological wisdom" is putting it rather weakly. Relativity theory is so deeply embedded in modern technology that many of the systems we rely on daily would simply not work if it weren't correct to a very high order of accuracy, never mind the many rigorous and precise experiments.

    "There is a certain line of thinking within cosmology that the universe simply could not have come into being out of nothing during the Big Bang, as the idea of something spontaneously emerging from nothing is simply incomprehensible. A more helpful thesis, this account goes, is that the Big Bang is the dividing point between two universes, and that universes exist in a constant, repeating cycle of expansion and contraction."

    – There's nothing odd about time starting at the Big Bang, any more than there's anything odd about north starting at the North Pole. It is true that there have been oscillating "Big Bang – Big Crunch" models proposed, but these are not considered seriously any more, as all the evidence points to the Universe continuing to expand for ever.

    "Current quantum physics theory posits there are at least eleven dimensions of space-time. This hypothesis is a response to a kind of particle behaviour known as “quantum tunneling”, where particles appear to disappear from one location and reappear in another. The theory goes they're not phasing in and out of existence, but travelling in higher dimensions that humans cannot measure."

    It's string theory that posits a higher number of dimensions (often eleven), with all those above four compactified. This is not quantum theory, it is a specific kind of theory within particle physics that attempts to explain the different types and masses of elementary particles within one unified mathematical structure. There is currently no evidence that it is true, and the indications from the Large Hadron Collider are that at least some versions of string theory may be ruled out. However, even if string theory turns out to be completely wrong (as I rather suspect), that will not affect quantum physics one jot.

    String theory has nothing whatsoever to do with quantum tunneling, and tunneling has nothing to do with particles moving through higher dimensions. Tunneling is a basic consequence of the fact that quantum particles do not behave like classical billiard balls, but instead have wave-like properties. As a wave is a non-localised phenomenon, a quantum particle cannot be completely confined in any finite system. No other dimensions required. Indeed, a quantum particle exhibits this behaviour even in one dimension.

    "At a certain point quantum physics ceases to behave like physics as humans comprehend it."

    – No, quantum physics is physics as humans comprehend it. Unless you think I'm a Time Lord?


  10. Josh Marsfelder
    December 27, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

    I was afraid this wasn't going to go over so well.

    Physics is not my strong point. It's clearly yours, which is why I'm glad you chimed in to provide the necessary context. I intentionally went out of my way to try and avoid making any firm declarative statements about physics here: The opinions I cite are quite expressly meant to be just that, things people have said over time about different aspects of a developing field. I went with assorted quotes, hearsay and populist press from different decades for a reason, and it seems to have backfired on me anyway.

    What I was trying to aim for here was some sort of general framework that would allow me to compare the language of physics and magickal symbolism. I was trying for Miss Hawthorne.

    Clearly I failed.


  11. Iain Coleman
    December 31, 2013 @ 9:01 am

    "What I was trying to aim for here was some sort of general framework that would allow me to compare the language of physics and magickal symbolism. I was trying for Miss Hawthorne.

    Clearly I failed."

    I don't think it's something that it's possible to succeed at, if that's any comfort.

    Magic is about forms of symbolism (and associated activities) that accord with human intuition. Human intuition is pretty good at the task it evolved to carry out (survival in East Africa), but it is far from an accurate depiction of the natural world. Even in its own domain it has some very significant failure modes, such as a tendency to erroneously ascribe intention to intentionless processes, but when we study nature at larger and smaller than human scales we find that the modes of thought, explanation and symbolism that come naturally to us simply do not correspond to the way the Universe is.

    (A colleague of mine was fond of saying that physicists have no common sense for a very good reason: the Universe does not act according to our common sense, and the process of becoming a physicist is one of having common sense trained out of you, as it is a hindrance to understanding.)

    So instead of these patterns of thought and symbolism that correspond to intuitive human notions, we have developed an entirely different esoteric structure based on mathematics. You aren't going to find much relationship between mathematical physics and magical symbolism, because one is designed to describe the Universe as it is, while the other is designed to depict how human beings instinctively imagine the Universe to be, and there is not much relationship between the two.

    You can't understand physics without mathematics, but if you want a very good (short, non-technical, well-written) book on why physics is the way it is, try "The Character of Physical Law" by Richard P Feynman.


  12. Daru
    February 9, 2014 @ 10:05 am

    Wow. Thanks Josh for this post. I am so looking forwards to this episode when I finally get round to it and for a major injection of nostalgia. Although I was not in any way on the spiritual kick I use to approach life in recent years, inspired in a lot of ways by Star Trek and my own interpretations of it, I can see that this will be very interesting to watch and that I may have quietly been influenced.


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