Thursday, November 18, 2010

Benjamin Sisko And An Alien Species Discuss Linear Time

In the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Comander Sisko makes first contact with an alien species which communicates with him through his memories in what is one of the coolest sequences I’ve ever seen in any science fiction story. As part of that conversation, if becomes clear that the aliens do not experience linear time the way humans do and here are some selections from the script written by Rick Berman and Michael Piller…

SISKO: You and I are very different species, it will take time for us to understand one another.
ALIENS: What is this “time”?


SISKO: It can be argued that a human is ultimately the sum of his experiences.
ALIENS: “Experiences”? What is this?
SISKO: Memories. Events from my past.
ALIENS: “Past”?
SISKO: Things that happened before now… You have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.
ALIENS: What comes before now is no different than what is now, or what is to come – it is one’s existence.
SISKO: Then for you, there is no linear time.
ALIENS: “Linear time”? What is this?
SISKO: My species lives in one point in time. And once we move beyond that point, it becomes the past. The future, all that is yet to come, does not exist yet for us.
ALIENS: "Does not exist yet"?
SISKO: That is the nature of linear existence.

The aliens later appear to Sisko in one of his memories of a day he spent with his late wife at the park…

ALIENS: "Jennifer".
SISKO: Yes. That was her name.
ALIENS: She is part of your existence.
SISKO: She is part of my past. She is no longer alive.
ALIENS: But she is part of your existence.
SISKO: She was a most important part of my existence. But I lost her some time ago.
ALIENS: “Lost”? What is this?
SISKO: In a linear existence, we can’t go back to the past to get something we left behind. So it’s lost.
ALIENS: It is inconceivable that any species could exist in such a manner… You are deceiving us.
SISKO: No. This is the truth. This day, this park… it was almost fifteen years ago. Far in the past. It was a day that was very important to me. A day that shaped every day that followed. That is the essence of a linear existence. Each day affects the next.

There’s much more to this exchange, including how our actions have consequences, how our past affects our future, and how Commander Sisko personally remains emotionally trapped in one particular moment from his past.

I recommend everyone watch it. It’s some awesome stuff!


Robert Vollman said...

And then the Prophets get covered with manure! Ha ha ha!

... ok that doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Perchance were they called Trafalmadorians? Some inspiration from a Mr. Vonnegut? Also you misspelt manner (or rather misused).

Still, must have been a good episode. Too bad you didn't give the episode name or number.

Cap said...

Reminds me of Slaughterhouse-Five. The Trafalmadorians... I enjoyed the discussions between those aliens and Billy Pilgrim -- like this, puts things into perspective.

Matsby said...

Thanks for the spell check, Anonymous. I corrected the spelling of manner. When I had said in the post that it was the "first episode", I was suggesting that it was episode number 1. Sorry for not being more clear about that.

The alien race is called the Bajoran Prophets.

Anonymous said...

What if Dr. Manhattan from "Watchmen", after leaving Earth, gets bumped on the head causing amnesia. And then during some Star Trek like future encounters humans. Does he qualify as a "Bajoran Prophet"? And another thing. How can a being without an understanding of time be called a "Prophet"? The definition being one who speaks to the masses of the future. The ideas of a past, present and future are alien to him.

Anonymous said...

Finer words never spoken by any human ever.
This has to be the most definitive statement of what is life on earth, being ignorant of the future.
I think at one point the cap is saying
that is the single most important point to understand about us. (teaching aliens the concept of baseball)