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Headscratchers / Star Trek The Next Generation S 5 E 25 The Inner Light

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"The Inner Light" is a much beloved episode, but it's also as controversial as it is loved.

  • The society of Kataan, over the course of the 40 odd years we're shown, seem relatively primitive, enough to beg the question of why they couldn't build some kind of spaceship to move some inhabitants to a new planet, yet they still had the technology to create a probe to travel through deep space.
    • The latter part isn't too hard to work through. Just because a society is advanced in certain ways does not guarantee that it's advanced in all. Another planet does not need to follow the technological trajectory of our own. Perhaps they could not send people to another planet because none was available, or because they lacked the technology to support humanoid life aboard a spacecraft, or because the Kataanian physiologically was less suited to space travel than other races, or, or, or... And maybe they tried other things but they failed. The probe idea has the luxury of time; once launched, it can float through space indefinitely with minimal support. The episode does not fill in these details because they're extraneous to Picard's experience (it's a very interior, character-driven piece).
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    • Also, the level of technology we see in Ressik may not be the utmost available on Kataan. One does get the sense that we're to understand it as "provincial"; perhaps the Kataanians selected it as a setting because the agrarian existence there struck them as a kind of pure, romantic experience somewhat removed from the values of whatever the metropole might be. It should be understood as a kind of (auto-) salvage ethnography.
    • "Yet they still had the technology to create a probe to travel through deep space." It was an unmanned satellite drifting through space for 1000 years.
  • Why Picard? He's a perfect candidate, given his love of history and artifacts, surely, but how did the probe know to pick him?
    • Could this just be chalked up to luck?
    • It's possible that they were starting to develop the technology, but not to the extent required. Our own planet is a good example; as of 2019 it has been almost a century since the first liquid-fueled rocket and about sixty years since Sputnik was launched, but space travel has not evolved to the point that even a partial evacuation of the planet is possible.
  • Was Kamin ever a real person? Or was he constructed as a character for Picard to play in this simulation? And if Kamin was a real person, how many of Picard's decisions in the Kataan simulation were his own? How much agency did he have over what he was doing?
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    • And if he was a real person, why drop into the prime of his life rather than giving us his life from cradle to grave?
    • And why set it up to "trick" the subject into "being" Kamin? Why not simply show him what Kamin's life was instead of this forced immersion into it?
      • Because it would make the user more invested. And Picard was dropped into Kamin's life at the same age as his own.
  • The probe deactivated after it had one use. Why? If all the people of Kataan wanted was to be remembered, then couldn't they set this program up to use it on as many people as possible? (Hell, would you want to, given how shaken up Picard was after it ended?)
    • It didn't deactivate. It was burned out. It's likely the probe had only enough power for one shot.
      • Riker actually says: "Apparently, whatever had locked onto you must have been self terminating. It's not functioning any longer." That doesn't sound like a burnout but rather something it was designed to do.
  • To what extent did Picard's own mind shape the experience? The Kataanians look human — would a Vulcan subject have seen them as Vulcan-like? And to what extent does the program "railroad" his experience? What if he didn't come around to wanting children, for instance? Did the program carefully condition him towards making what appears to be his own decision?
    • And if the presentations of the Kataanians get radically reshaped by the perspective of the "experiencer," doesn't that sort of run against the concept of "preserve something of our way of life"?
      • Trying to imagine that the Kataanians could have been Starfish Aliens just to find flaws with the concept of the episode seems like it's going beyond the concept of a headscratcher and more just looking to find fault.
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  • Minor point, but does Picard/Kamin have to relearn the skill of iron weaving? Or does he find another profession?
  • Another really minor point: how do the people of the 24th century know the name "Kataan"? Did some other alien species (maybe the Vulcans?) study them in the past and those records made it to the Enterprise? Or were archaeologists able to decipher enough of their language, either by studying their ruins or other messages sent into space?
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