Another Matter of Perspective - Viewing Reality

  I recently re-watched James Burke's excellent video series, The Day The Universe ChangedA very interesting and enjoyable series, and well worth watching, and/or reading the companion book that came out with it.Basically, Burke notes how changes in how people perceived reality caused dramatic changes in society, often in unexpected ways.  However, Burke wasn't merely trying to entertain the viewer--he was trying to make a point.  Ultimately, he seems to be holding to a relativistic view of reality:  "The universe is what we say it is."  I believe this is not correct.

While Burke correctly points out that knowledge is man-made, he mistakes our view of reality for reality itself.  Yes, our understanding or perspective on reality affects our lives and our lifestyles, but it is merely our view or perspective of reality that has changed, not reality itself.

"Starbuck's Pebbles", from the Principia Discordia, a book written by Greg Hill and Kerry Windell Thornley, illustrates this distinction between reality and one's view of reality, I think.

"Do these 5 pebbles really form a pentagon? Those biased by the Aneristic Illusion would say yes. Those biased by the Eristic Illusion would say no. Criss-cross them and it is a star."

My point here is that both views, as a pentagon and as a star, are an illusion, a matter of one's perspective imposed on reality.  The reality is that there are simply five pebbles in a particular arrangement, each in a certain relation to the other four pebbles.  It may help to view them as a pentagon or as a star, but it is a mistake to believe that the pentagon or star are, in fact, reality.  This is the mistake that Burke makes.  He would say that it is a pentagon if you say that it is, or it is a star if you say it is, when neither is true.

Truth and reality are not relative, and do not change simply because our perspective on truth and reality have changed. We can make changes to particular parts or circumstances of reality--we cannot change reality itself. Our perspective of reality may indeed be relative, but that hardly means that all views of reality are equally valid or true.  It is important to learn how to assess the value of different perspectives, and since value is subjective, that means deciding which view will best let you accomplish what you want to accomplish.

It's a mistake to consider everything as either relative or fixed, subjective or objective.  There is a complex, interactive dynamic between objective reality and our subjective views and desires.  If truth seems relative, it is because we mostly spend time in society with other humans, all attempting to gain their own subjective values.  But objective reality is firm, and some people are better able to achieve their desires than others because they have chosen a more appropriate, objective means towards their desires than the others did. Only you can decide what you value, but having determined that, reality forces you to choose an appropriate means, or else you will fail to achieve your desires.

You want to be a millionaire?  You can do it, IF and only if you are willing to do whatever it takes to become a millionaire.  Many people, whether they admit it or not, are simply not willing to go that far; they have other goals and desires that they value more highly.


Catching up on Star Trek Fan videos - Hope for the Future

  I grew up watching Star Trek reruns (i.e. Star Trek: The Original Series) as a kid in the 70s, and loved it.  While I never considered myself a full-blown Trekky (or even Trekker), I was pretty excited when they started the Star Trek movies and then came out with Star Trek: The Next Generation series.  Alas, as the series went on, it seemed to lose that something that made Star Trek great, and I didn't stick with it faithfully, although I tuned in for the finale of the series.

I gave DS9 a shot, but didn't follow it closely, and I don't even think I gave Voyager a decent shot, only seeing the occasional episode now and then.  Likewise, the movies seemed to lose their way, and switching to the TNG cast for movies didn't help.  Worse, JJ Abrams' take on the franchise, while good action movies, seems to have no idea what makes Star Trek special. 

Ultimately, Star Trek is about hope for the future, exploring the nature of humanity and how we might successfully deal with the various problems and moral issues that we face.  Dark and gritty versions of Star Trek, while they may make for exciting action and adventure stories, tend to lose that "hope for the future" part.

Given the latest two Star Trek movies, and the fact that there has been no Star Trek TV series for several years now, is there any hope for the future of Star Trek's 'hope for the future'?  Surprisingly, the answer is 'yes', but from a rather unexpected source: Star Trek fan videos.

I'd tended to avoid Star Trek fan fiction (especially prose) not only because fans tend to be amateurs, but also because they want to play too much with the various Star Trek elements, trying to put too many references in, and engaging in overly-ambitious ideas that their skills simply cannot handle very well.

And with the development of computer technology and digital video and effects, there are more fan videos (both live action and animation) than ever before.  Many of them suffer the same problems as any other fan fiction, but with the added problem of amateur acting and directing, not to mention limited funds for production.

Happily, I've recently discovered a few that have overcome these problems.  "Of Gods and Men" is fan-fiction only in that it was not officially sanctioned and was not intended to make a profit.  With several professional actors involved, including Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig, and with Tim Russ (Voyager's Tuvok) directing, it comes off surprisingly well, and much closer to the heart of Star Trek than the two Abrams movies.  Better still, Tim Russ has a new project called Star Trek: Renegades, and has been busy creating a pilot episode as a proposal for a new TV series.  This indeed is hope for the future of the Star Trek franchise.

There are also fan-produced Star Trek series out there of high quality.  The best of them, I think, is the more recent Star Trek Continues, with Vic Mignogna being the main guy behind it, as well as doing a great job of playing Captain Kirk.  ST: Continues attempts to continue where the the original series left off, and succeeds at many levels at obtaining the look and feel of the original show: great sets, great costumes, good acting, good, meaningful stories, even the lighting of the original series was recreated to mimic the original show.  Yes, there are certain nitpicks one could complain about, but it really does match the tone and style of the original show--you could almost believe these are "lost" fourth season episodes that never got aired. The actors are mostly professional actors, even if they are not well-known or big name actors.

"Starship: Farragut" is another web series that has some kind of relationship or ties with the Star Trek Continues people.  I've only seen one episode of it so far, but while much of the production values are similar to Continues, it lacks the professional actors of Continues, and suffers by comparison.  Still enjoyable, but it takes more suspension of disbelief to "buy into" the reality of the show.

Continues and Farragut are both relatively new web series.  An older and more established fan series has been Star Trek Phase II.  James Cawley is the main guy behind this series, and he, too, plays Captain Kirk in the series.  Being the obsessive-compulsive that I am, I started watching with the pilot episode, and that was very nearly a mistake on my part.  It's very much an amateurish, fan video, and barely worth watching.  The second episode was overly-ambitious, and tried to do too much with too many references, but it was definitely a better production, and much more watchable.  The third episode, which is the last I've watched, was better still, and much more like a typical Star Trek episode.  According to reviews and comments I've read, later episodes are also good (there's something like ten episodes altogether), but I haven't watched them, yet.

Phase II also suffers from amateurish actors, but two or three of them are pretty good, and most of them are good enough to get by, especially with quality of the rest of the production.  All these series have decent CGI effects, but that's almost a given for any modern fan series worth watching.

There are plenty of other Star Trek fan productions, but I believe that the ones mentioned above are the best of them.  However, it's possible I've missed some other high-quality productions.  If you know of an especially good one, mention it in the comments, so I can watch it.

Given the fandom of Star Trek, it's inevitable that people with professional skills can get together to make high-quality fan material like these, and their dedication to Star Trek ensures that they will do their best to capture the heart of Star Trek, that hope for the future I was talking about.

Given crowd- and fan-funding, and improved technology, semi-pro and professional web series may indeed be the future of Star Trek.  With lower overhead expenses, there's no need to create JJ Abrams-style box office extravaganzas, and less concerns about making a profit means they can concentrate on making better Star Trek stories for Star Trek fans, without being overly-concerned about the mass consumer.