Trekonomics and George Jetson

Star Trekking for February 28, 2021

Welcome to Star Trekking, my weekly attempt to share points of interest and random intersections in the final frontier.

The ongoing thesis of this newsletter is that, whether you’re actively looking for it or not, Star Trek is everywhere.

And in a recursive loop, it was other newsletters that provided random Trek links.

For instance.

The first one came in an economics-focused newsletter called Strange Loop Canon. In it, the author reviews a book by Tyler Cowen, who’s appeared in previous issues of Star Trekking, including the very first one.

Strange Loop Canon reviewed Cowen’s book, Stubborn Attachments, the thesis of which is that “you should try to increase economic growth as much as possible, since that's the best thing we can do as a civilisation. It's not just a good idea to make us wealthier, it'll make us healthier and wiser as well! Ah but there's a caveat. It's not just growth at any cost that matters. We don't want to lose whole cities and countries to smokestacks and sweatshops.”

The review then goes on to list some examples as food for thought, including this one:

…a company discovers the secret behind Star Trek like replicators. It's going to revolutionise the world, and make us all live like Jetsons. The problem is that it comes from a horrendous mining process that'll kill Papua New Guinea as we know it. But it's a short term pain, as we only need to mine enough over a decade or two. The long term calculus, even if we discount the longer term benefits, is massive!

That feels like an example of a Star Trek episode on its own. Planet invents something awesome except it is going to cause short term damage, so Captain Picard needs to negotiate to figure out how to proceed.

Or Captain Jetson.

All this reminds me of the wonderful book Trekonomics by Manu Saadia, which may sound like a snooze but is not. Absolutely worth a read.

Searching for a Jetsons Star Trek image also led me to this.

Captain Kurt bravely descending in his bubble pod.

And speaking of the Jetsons.

The second random Trek reference that landed in my inbox came from Maddie Stone’s The Science of Fiction. This issue includes a fascinating interview with MIT scientist Dan Novy.

he wants us to be able to see, feel, and interact with the fantasy worlds we love. He wrote his PhD thesis on “programmable synthetic hallucinations,” or how to trick the human brain into thinking it’s been transported into an alternate reality. There are no mind-altering drugs involved, just magnetic fields stimulating the right parts of the visual cortex. 

It sounds like something out of science fiction—and in fact, it kind of is. Novy’s dissertation was inspired by the Penfield Mood Organ, a device from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that allows users to dial in any mood they want to experience. Novy suspects we’re still a few decades away from being able to write holodeck programs directly into our brains without invasive hardware, but thanks to Dick’s passing mention of a consciousness-altering device in his novel, along with other sci-fi examples like William Gibson’s Neuromancer, there is now an MIT doctoral thesis describing how it might be done.

The interview goes onto discuss the link between science fiction and innovation with, not shockingly, this example.

Please do read the whole interview.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Leonard Nimoy’s death. Here’s the opening of a piece I was commissioned to write back then.

Somewhere around third grade, I developed a habit of clasping my hands behind my back, “at ease”-style. I took to saying “Fascinating” whenever the situation even vaguely warranted it. And if I squinted one eye and tilted my head, I could just about fake raising a single eyebrow.

Armchair psychology tells me I identified with Spock because I, too, was the “other,” the outsider, the new kid. But come on — the logic, the dry humor, the ears. What’s not to love?

The article goes on to talk about how Nimoy’s career wended through my own life. He was much more than Spock. And he is still missed.

Heres a link to the article: Being Leonard Nimoy.

Speaking of Leonard, Neil S. Bulk pointed me to this performance.

I have no additional comment to make at this time.

Some other folks sent me random Trek references this week. Christine encouraged me to watch the new Superman & Lois show for this (screenshot by Joe).

And Rick sent me this image, which made me demand where he got it so I could buy some for myself, only to be told that he didn’t take the picture.

Oh well, I guess I will remain a teetotaler for now.

You know I love Trek fashion.

Almost time for me to display my Federation flag.

But not yet. Don’t want to risk what happened to Thad’s.


The future is coming.

Love Suzanne’s artwork of a treasured Federation historic site.

And finally, this is everything.

That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading.

Have you come across some random Trek this week? Let me know!

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Star Trekking is written and edited by Neil Shurley, except where noted.
Star Trekking logo art by James H. Dargie.
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