Star Trek and Reincarnation

Riker and Worf experience déjà vu, or nIb’poH in Klingon.

I grew up watching Star Trek and still have a special fondness for it. The show has been known for its social commentary, from one of television’s first interracial kisses to an examination of LGBT rights back in 1992. With science fiction as its vehicle, the franchise was a venue for a variety of thought experiments. It may have also presented an allegory for samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth.

In Cause and Effect, the crew of the Enterprise are caught in a loop of time, repeating a day over and over that ends in the explosion of the starship. They experience déjà vu, hear the voices from past iterations, and can predict cards dealt in a hand of poker. Investigation (and several more iterations) reveals their predicament, as well as a way of relaying a short message to themselves in the next loop via the android Data. In another run, Data “subconsciously” manifests the number 3 in a variety of circumstances, including the poker game. He later interprets these “synchronous” events as the message that helps the Enterprise escape the loop.

The correspondence with reincarnation is clear: the crew increases their awareness over successive iterations, experiencing “past-life” memories, eventually gaining enough insight to escape the cycle. Upon reading the episode’s Wikipedia article, I learned that the script called for an even more overt reference, to be sung (but in the final cut was hummed) by Dr. Crusher:

Hello, mama, my name is Jack,
Hello to the world, I’m coming back,
I’ve been here before as an Egyptian cat,
So, hello, mama, welcome me back.

Though almost certainly unintentional, the episode also provides a handy metaphor for my theory about “hacking” the death-rebirth cycle. Using a piece of technology, Data is able to send a message to his future self. This message doesn’t manifest obviously; instead, it unfolds in a sequence of synchronous events that he eventually interprets as the key to the crew’s freedom. Similarly, my soul has designed messages for my current incarnation in the form of synchronous events, interpreted as signposts for the path I should travel.

~ by Grant on August 6, 2012.

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