***Spoiler alert for a 23-year old episode of Star Trek: Voyager***
A few days ago I watched season 6, ep 9 of Star Trek: Voyager. In this episode, “The Voyager Conspiracy,” cyborg crewmate Seven of Nine downloads data into her brain from the ship’s database while she sleeps. Each time she wakes up with a new batch of information in her brain, she comes to new conclusions based on the data. She starts uncovering years-long, cross-galaxy schemes and mutiny plots. But none of them are true (except for a few space fleas tucked away in a compartment). Seven is brilliant, and she’s basing her theories on enormous amounts of data, but she overwhelms her cortical implant (brain interface device). She doesn’t have the ability to process that volume of information at that speed and reach rational conclusions.
Seven’s motivation was to assimilate information more efficiently than simply reading or getting verbal reports. She’s a perfectionist, due in large part to having been a Borg for somewhere around two decades (the franchise continuity is tricky) since the age of six. The Borg are a cybernetic race that attacks and forcefully assimilates (including adding cybernetic “enhancements”) every race they think has “biological and technological distinctiveness” that will benefit the Borg collective in their pursuit of perfection. There is no such thing as individuality in the collective. Their catch phrase: Resistance is futile.
The consequence of Seven’s well-intentioned personal improvement effort is that she cracks. She’s suspicious of everyone and everything but herself and whatever her latest theory is. She spins paranoid theory after theory and sows distrust between crew members – people who have become family to each other and her. It comes to a point where she almost destroys herself along with the ability of the Voyager crew to get a little bit closer to home. Captain Janeway risks her own life to intervene and let Seven know she is ill and her spiraling conspiracy theories are “in attempt to bring order to that chaos” of data. She reminds Seven that the crew cares for her and have helped her rediscover her humanity and individuality. Janeway brings perspective, connection, and helps Seven begin to see sense and come back to heal.
There’s a lot people can and do see in this episode:
- The conspiracy theorizing mind without the time or capacity to interpret information in ways that lead us to truth rather than fallacy.
- The quest for knowledge and identity without the necessary perspective and grounding and relationships – context.
- Mental and physical illnesses that inhibit our ability to process and engage in reality. (Seven is dealing with a malfunctioning brain implant and trauma from the Borg killing her parents and assimilating her as well as memories of her own participation in assimilating many other species.)
As someone with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), I also saw sensory overload/overstimulation – when we are receiving more messages and stimuli than we can handle at the moment and it can be perceived as negative. It doesn’t have to be something obnoxious that you generally don’t like. A gentle touch, a friendly conversation, a favorite scent, a song you like – that also can all be too much when you’re having a hypersensitive moment, and it’s harder to process things or act rationally.
Related to the first two bullet points, I thought about the rise of cults and hate groups lately. We all believe things here and there that just ain’t so. We have our biases. Are we more likely these days to fall vulnerable to planting our feet in those biases and refusing to fully consider evidence that debunks our beliefs? I don’t know, and I don’t even know if it is truly knowable. Even empirical research has its limitations.
Whether the answer is yes or no, I am concerned when our search to know and become leads us away from healthy individuality and collectivism – when, as with sensory overload, we see things and people that can and have nourished us as threats. We need time, relationships, and various frames of reference for us to make sense of this world without cracking.
I’ll wrap this up with three thoughts:
“Speculation is not evidence.”Lieutenant Commander Tuvok to Seven of Nine
“Data without proper analysis is useless or dangerous.”me (after watching the episode)
“Quantity [of knowledge] is less relevant than quality. You must be able to interpret the data, enjoy the process..”Seven of Nine to young Naomi Wildman
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