Star Trek: The next century is a television program that aired in America between 1987 and 1994. It is set in 2364 and involves a group of human beings and their alien counterparts who are led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard to explore the galactic universe during missions that are not time bound. The biggest issue depicted in these episodes is one of interpretation and how it impacts how we respond to the world around us. Metaphysics is concerned with the fundamental essence of life and the rational perception of being in existence (Bunge, Rescher and Davis). The key metaphysical problem raised here is not whether evidence exists. The query is what is implied by his life. Data was created to be a machine that mimics human beings in their responses and emotions while remaining extremely objective about the matter at hand. He was assigned the male gender at its ‘birth’. De La Mettrie said in his book once that ‘Man is a Machine’ (La Mettrie). It takes one to know one which explains why a man is able to build other machines. A machine does what the tasks that man can do, only better which is why people are focused on technological development. The only thing they lack is emotion.
When Data was created, he was created with both of these capabilities. He could create human relationships which allowed him to love and to care, to study behavioural patterns and to respond accordingly and appropriately. However, this does not make him a man. It makes him a hybrid of man and a machine. A man must die. A machine cannot die; it can only be switched off. Data lacks the ability to experience death even if he can experience life which prevents him from being a man. The production of more ‘Datas’ would lead to a hybrid race of machine-men.
In normal situations, machines are not given the capacity to be emotional beings as they execute commands that are fed to them. Data is different because he has this ability. When a machine is given the ability to make humane choices, it acquires a right to do so that should not be denied because it is convenient for the human beings. Human beings would refuse to undergo surgery if they knew that the doctors would not be able to put them back together. It is almost as if Data was created to be a better human being, to achieve things that human beings were not capable of. This being the case, his refusal to be dismantled was right because logically speaking, he knew that the people dismantling him might not be able to put him back. He was smarter after all.
This movie is metaphysical. It deals with the nature of reality and the consequences of that existing reality. It shows the ethical and moral problems that can be encountered as a result of Genetic Engineering and any other progressive experimentation with human beings as well as machines. The JAG Officer grants Data the right to choose to undergo the procedure which allows Data the opportunity to rightfully refuse. The Officer was right in giving this decision because certain choices should not be left to the convenience of people who enjoy an inherent right to life and will never be put in a position where they have to accept to die because they were ordered to do so.
Bunge, Mario, et al. “The review of metaphysics.” philosophical quarterly LXX no. 2.278 (2016).
De La Mettrie, Julien Offray, and Ann Thomson. La Mettrie: Machine Man and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press, (2013).