Volume II Issue 1 Editorial
There is a Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise encounters a Dyson sphere in space. On the outer edge of that sphere is a small Federation spaceship, and in that ship is Scotty, suspended in a transporter beam for some absurd length of time, awaiting rescue.
As the episode progresses, the Enterprise enters the sphere and begins scanning. After a few minutes, the crew concludes that theres no life there; its been abandoned. They shrug, solve some vaguely nonsensical problems, and leave.
Apparently, the writers thought theyd done a good job with this episodeand, judging from its popularity, many people agree with them. Therein lies the problem.
A Dyson sphere, you see, is a shell constructed all the way around a star, with a radius of over 90 million miles. People live on the inside surface of the sphere, and collect all the energy being generated by the star for use elsewhere. A side benefit is a great deal of space for living. A great deal of spacetens of billions of times the total surface area of a planet.
So, let us suppose that a starship in "Star Trek" can scan a planet, top to bottom, for life signs down to the smallest amoeba in...oh, say, sixty seconds. That's totally ridiculouseven sixty days would be pushing itbut lets say its so. If that were true, scanning a big enough swath of the Dyson sphere to get a rough idea of whats going on inside would take about 38,051 years. And that scan is so rough it would easily miss enough space to tuck away a small populationsix or seven hundred thousand times as many people as are on this planet right nowwho would escape detection.
And that was the least glaring problem with that episode.
Star Trek relies for its popularity on a reluctance of its audience to really think about what theyre seeing. The most glaring logical fallacies and inconsistencies are swallowed whole by a mass of people who have absolutely no idea what it means to think about anything at all.
Were it only Star Trek fans with this problem, that would be fine; after all, theyre just a bunch of Trekkies, anyway. But the problem is universal. We are not taught to be rational or analytical about anything. The world is filled with people who cannot sit on a jury and evaluate evidence as it is presented to them, who cannot read a sweepstakes entry and figure out what it means, who think that homeopathic medicine sounds perfectly reasonable and are content to believe that extraterrestrials have come to our planet from unimaginably far away so they can carve designs in cornfields.
The universe follows rules, and those rules are the same everywhere. One universal rule is that, all other things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the best. If you have the choice between believing aliens have travelled hundreds of billions of miles just to skulk aroud and mow some cornfields, or that the cornfield mowing was done by a couple of bored hoaxters who like to see their handiwork in the paper, the smart money is on the hoaxters.
Another universal rule is that even an infinite number of positive observations does not prove something, but a single negative observation does disprove it. No matter how many times you respond to a solar eclipse by beating on your cerremonial drum to chase the dragon away, and then watch the sun return, you have not demonstrated that beating your drum restores daylight to the world; but if you do not beat your drum, even just once, and the sun reappears anyway, you've just proven your drum does not bring the sun back.
A third uiversal law is that all things which exist do so in some form, and all things which exist in some form have properties that can be known. If your ESP ability dries up in the lab, its not because there are some things that man cannot measure; its because it ain't there. Some things have to be believed to be seen; the technical term for them is "imaginary."
But no. We in this country, Trekkies and real people alike, hate and fear analytical thought. We simply aren't good at it. So we give money to psychics and quacks, we preach "creation science" and look for Elvis in the grocery store. And we watch Star Trek, and swallow it.