Science, art, academia: Star Trek

The Star Trek academic symposium will be held at the Faculty of ICT, University of Malta, on 15 and 16 July 2016. This event will be a platform for both academics from various disciplines as well as Star Trek fans to meet and explore the intersection between the humanities and the sciences. There will be inspirational presentations from national and international speakers, with the programme tailored to attract a wide audience. Contributors will be encouraged to explore contemporary issues in medicine, science, and technology as well as philosophical, psychological, and sociological issues connected with the science fiction entertainment franchise Star Trek.

A similar symposium was held in 2014 and which proved to be a worldwide first that successfully drew participation from many international scholars including American philosopher Jason Eberl, UK-based neonatologist and ethicist Neena Modi.

As a result of its success, this second event that marks the 50th anniversary from the launch of Star Trek: The Original Series is being organised. The event will be held under the auspices of the Humanities, Medicine and Sciences Programme (HUMS), a University of Malta programme set up to explore and encourage the interfaces between the humanities, medicine, and sciences. The Science Fiction Symposium will appeal to scientists and fans of science fiction alike..

For more information, visit the website.

The enduring appeal of Star Trek

I am often asked why Star Trek appeals to me and so many others. For me, the answer lies with its founder, the humanist Gene Roddenberry. Humanism is defined as ‘a faith in and commitment to shared humanity’.

Secular Humanism is not an ideology or fixed ethical system but a collection of general guidelines that should allow humanity to increase its knowledge to further its collective wellbeing. The philosophy seeks to establish moral principles that are independent of any mystical sources, though they remain conducive to the freedom and wellbeing of the populace based on ethical reasoning. The term Secular Humanism explicitly rejects the supernatural and the primacy of moral codes based solely on religious convictions. Secular Humanist philosophy offers an alternative to more traditional ethical and moral concepts.

Art by Prof. Victor Grech

Humanism is rooted in the oeuvre of the philosopher John Locke, who asserted that everyone has the natural right to ‘life, liberty, and property’ as well as in the work of philosopher Adam Smith, who addressed the importance of private property and free trade.

Star Trek’s brand of secular Humanism appeals to all since no deities are invoked. When people invoke God or gods this almost inevitably precipitates arguments on which religion is correct or true. Such conflicts are a principal source of past, present, and future contention.

Television aliens can be read as ciphers and metaphors for humanity. Humanism could be interpreted as a belief system that is a useful point of reference to explore human differences. The medium of science fiction combines these two, leading to open dialogue and self-insight to bridge the artificial gulfs that separate us as individuals and as races.

The Star Trek universe continues to offer ‘an alternative, liberal future that not only has eliminated poverty, racism, sexism, jingoism, and colonialism, but also challenges contemporary society to rectify such unacceptable states of affair’.

Star Trek, like other science fiction, has an unshakeable ‘belief in the liberating power of the imagination’ to optimistically create utopian worlds that help us realise ‘our limitations, and thereby to move beyond them toward a more inclusive awareness’ of humanity’s potential.