In the “Star Trek” pantheon of aliens, some stand out above the others. Klingons are widely seen as a warrior race, which is not capable of much beyond fighting and conquering. Cardassians are thought to be untrustworthy — especially after getting to know Gul Dukat in “Deep Space Nine.” The Ferengi, as Data said in “The Last Outpost,” are like Yankee Traders and value money over all things.
The omniscient Q told Captain Picard that Humanity was a “dangerous, savage child-race.” Throughout the various Trek series, humans have been challenged time and again. Picard (Patrick Stewart) told Q (John de Lancie) that Humanity was ready for whatever awaited them. Q snapped his fingers and said, “we’ll just see how ready you are.” This episode marked the first appearance of the Borg, and by the end, Picard asked Q to “end this.”
Q proved his point that Picard and the Enterprise crew were in over their head and were not ready to face the Borg. Some might argue that the Federation was not prepared to fight the Borg until the arrival of the Enterprise-E, which was explicitly designed to counter the Borg threat.
Even though Humanity was seen as a child race and arrogant, there were several other pre-warp societies that humans were considered more advanced than. Even Jake Sisko was amazed at how quickly humans caught up to other space-faring species. In the DS9 episode “Explorers,” as the Siskos operated the solar vessel, Jake reveled that when the Bajorans were launching ships into space, humans were still earthbound.
For most Trek fans, the ultimate group that 23rd and 24th Century Earth compares itself to and measures itself against is the Vulcans. It was the Vulcans who first visited Earth after Zefram Cochrane broke the warp barrier. This was both a fun and beautiful scene at the end of “Star Trek: First Contact.”
Emotions from ‘First Contact’
It was also the Vulcans who provided an officer to help ensure that the Enterprise’s mission (NX-01) was a success. By giving Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) the sub-commander T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) to help guide the crew of humans, the role of the “watcher” or “helper” race for Humanity was cemented.
If fans want to dive deeper, YouTuber Tyler Pilkinton gave an excellent summary of the entirety of Vulcan’s history and of these political shifts.
The History of Vulcan
Vulcans prized logic and steadiness above all else, which was one reason the race split into two species reasonably early. The Romulans represented the Vulcans who chose to embrace their emotions rather than subdue their feelings.
So it might come as a surprise that noted physicist Brian Greene said that, compared to Humanity, Vulcans would be unlikely to reach space. Greene appeared on the Modern Wisdom podcast show back in April 2021 to discuss string theory, gravitons, space-time, and his new book. Fans might recognize Greene from his appearance on “The Big Bang Theory.”
Host Chris Williamson posed a question to Greene, saying that there is probably no race in the universe that is “much more emotional than we are.” This was in the context of Humanity’s responsibility to colonize other worlds since “we” could be the only intelligent life in the universe. Williamson argued that Humanity’s collective high emotions could be one reason we are not more advanced as a collective society.
Professor Brian Greene on “The Physics of Eternity”
Greene disagreed, saying that “I feel that if we were significantly less emotional, that we would be that much less successful as a species.”
“Because if you were a Spock-like species, from Planet Vulcan, and your take on reality was always about logic … all about having a completely unemotional interpretation of the facts of the world, and processing them through a rational … logical perspective, I don’t think that that species, if that were us, I don’t think we would have gotten to this place,” Greene said.
“I don’t know that we would have been able to spread across the world,” Green said. “I don’t know that we would have been able to invent things that ultimately have transformed modern civilization in the ways that they have.”
“I think it’s the creative spirit … the ingenuity … the innovation that comes from not approaching the world in a completely rational way,” said Greene. “That has allowed us to come upon unexpected discoveries and unexpected developments.”
Greene said that Albert Einstein was a “bundle of emotion” when making many of his most meaningful discoveries.
“Too much emotionality … we’d be at each other’s throats even more than we are right now, and we wouldn’t have been able to make any progress,” said Greene. “Much less than that, I don’t think that we would have gotten to the place where we currently have.”
Greene said that if Williamson is correct and that ‘emotional beings’ like humans are rare, then galactic exploration could be very “boring.”
“Yeah, it’s another Spock,” laughed Williamson.
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