We watched one of the Star Talk episodes last evening, with Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking with another astrophysicist about Tyson’s interview with George Takei, about Star Trek. The interview and ensuing discussion was fascinating at many levels.
Watching Takei (Sulu to the uninitiated) speak of his early WW II experiences made me gasp. Takei’s entire family, including the three young children were basically arrested and shipped to an internment camp for the duration of the war, solely because they were Japanese-Americans. Note, please, that nothing remotely similar occurred to, say, Italian-Americans, or German-Americans. And, perhaps as bad, or maybe even worse, after the war ended, his family was simply released back into the ghettoes of America, with no money, jobs, or places to live. When they were arrested, their entire assets and sources of income were taken away and not returned. Thus when they were released, they had no wherewithal to continue life as it had been before the war. I have worked with one of those detainees, a remarkable woman who helped to found the Japanese-American Memorial Foundation (http://www.njamf.com/AboutUs/AboutUs.html) .
What struck me about the discussion with George Takei, and my own discussions with Cherry Y. Tsutsumida was the calmness surrounding the discussions of this awful period of pure American racist policy. Both had moved on and become strong characters in their own right, and each contributing to our nation’s culture in wonderful ways, Cherry as a public health officer, and Takei as a prominent television actor. Takei was just a little kid—he was interned between the ages of 5-9. Yet, here he is speaking with astrophysicist Tyson about the science of Star Trek and its impact on American life. Remarkable indeed.
Star Trek contributed not only some pretty fancy notions about future science developments, but its cast provided hope for a multicultural universe in our future. We had Caucasian-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Russians, Scots, aliens of several cultures, and both men and women in key roles. Racism, unlike on planet earth, seemed non-existent. There were warring cultures, to be sure. Who could forget The Borg? Yet, there was even considerable hope for inter-species cooperation.
The science behind Start Trek ranged from the wholly plausible—personal communicators, doors that sprung open by themselves, fully humanized robots, microwave machines, laser weaponry, talking computer systems—to the not yet plausible – warp drives delivering multiple speed of light velocity, “beaming” people by disassembling and then reassembling their atomic structure in a different place and time. But the science was more fun than serious. It was the interaction among the staff and between that starship staff and other cultures that provided the most entertainment.
And remember, it was only a few years between the beginning of this show and our actual landing of men on the moon. Science was on the march. Could Mars and other planets be far behind? Indeed, could interstellar travel be far behind?
Well, it turns out that we humanoids preferred war to science—think Vietnam, and then our Middle East debacles (it would seem all enterprises in the Middle East are debacles by definition). We do love our wars. So science has had to take a back seat to killing.
So, watching this program was an exercise in lost opportunities. We could have done so much to advance our knowledge of our universe. But we really do like killing better.