Friday, April 25, 2014

Observing Cthia

I have a pretty awful memory. I've installed all the memory techniques I teach at workshops to mitigate the damage of this. But all the work is done on the encoding end rather than the recall end, so things that happened before I started studying mnemonics, or that I simply fail to encode skillfully, are largely lost to me. 

One of the upsides is that I can read books several times and be surprised by each plot twist again and again. I usually feel a sort of comfortable familiarity when I re-read a book, but that is very often the closest thing to a memory of past readings I retrieve. An effect of that particular phenomenon is that I sometimes completely forget major intellectual influences, and really have no idea how I came to think the way that I do. But I read constantly as a child and teenager, so I know the majority of it has come from books.

For the past few days I've been reading a familiar-seeming Star Trek book called Spock's World, by Diane Duane. I was not completely certain until today that I had in fact read it before.

I was sort of stunned by a particular passage and wanted to share it, because it seems to encompass--and, given I must have read it as a teenager, foreshadow--so much of what's been going on in my life recently. Though this isn't canon, the Vulcans really are rationalists in at least some versions of the Trek universe. I think adopting the term discussed may make my daily life slightly more efficient and meaningful.

[Spoilers: I give away some of the plot of Spock's World below. But honestly, it's not exactly a plot-driven novel, so I wouldn't worry too much.]

Background: Vulcan is considering withdrawing from the Federation, and Sarek, Spock's father and Vulcan's ambassador to Earth, has been called back by T'pau to speak in favor of withdrawing. At this point, he has relatively little information about T'pau's motives and reasoning, so he's not decided whether to oblige her or to resign and be exiled. Upon meeting with members of the Enterprise, the following conversation ensues. [Emphasis mine.]
"This I will say to you Captain: I find being forced to speak against the planet of my embassage immensely distasteful, for reasons that have nothing to do with my history there, my marriage, or my relationships with my son and Starfleet. My whole business for many years has been to understand your peoples and to come closer to them; to understand their diversities. Now I find that business being turned on its ear, and all the knowledge and experience I have amassed being called on to drive away that other diversity, to isolate my people from it. It is almost a perversion of what my career has stood for." 
"But if you feel you have to do it," McCoy said softly, "You'll do it anyway." 
"Of course I will, Doctor. Here, as at many other times, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. What if, as the next few days progress, I become certain that my own people would be more damaged by remaining within the Federation than by leaving it? Must I not then preserve the species of which I am part? But the important thing is that this matter be managed with logic." He blinked then, and spoke again, so that a word came out that did not translate. "No. Cthia. I must not be misunderstood. Cthia must rule this, or we are all lost." 
Jim looked puzzled. "I think I need a translation. It's obviously a Vulcan word, but I'm not familiar with it." 
Amanda [Sarek's wife] looked sad. "This is possibly the worst aspect of this whole mess," she said. "It's the modern Vulcan word which we translate as 'logic'. But what it more correctly means is 'reality-truth'. The truth about the universe, the way things really are, rather than the way we would like them to be. It embraces the physical and the inner realities both at once, in all their changes. The concept says that if we do not tell the universe the truth about itself, if we don't treat it and the people in it as what they are--real, and precious--it will turn against us, and none of our affairs will prosper." She sighed. "That's a child's explanation of the word, I'm afraid. Whole books have been written trying to define it completely. What Sarek is saying is that if we don't handle this matter with the utmost respect for the truth, for what is really needed by everyone involved in it, it will end in disaster." 
"And the problem," McCoy said softly, "is that the truth about what's needed looks different to everybody who faces the situation..." 
Sarek nodded once, a grave gesture. "If I find that I must defend the planet of my birth by turning against my many years on Earth, then I will do so. Alternately," he said, "if I can in good faith defend the Federation in my testimony, I will do that. But what matters is that cthia be observed, without fail, without flaw. Otherwise, all this is useless."