Philosophy from a space amoeba

Carter Haydu
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Imagine a titanic single-celled space amoeba, consuming energy from both technological and natural forms, and destroying everything in its path.

In the Star Trek: TOS episode “The Immunity Syndrome,” the brave Enterprise crew finds itself trapped in a dark realm within which a giant simple life form sucks the ship and her crew closer to certain demise, and drains everyone and everything aboard of energy in the process.

(Spoiler alert!) On Kirk’s order, Scotty prepares an antimatter bomb to act as an antibody to the large creature, which is both invading the galaxy and preparing for reproduction — as mammoth asexual single-celled space-dwelling organisms tend to do.

In the end, the starship crew destroys the space amoeba before it can further infect that region of the cosmos.

This episode has all the makings of great Star Trek. Despite the Sululess nature of “The Immunity Syndrome,” it is nonetheless the epitome of the entire TOS series. There’s sexual innuendo, space probes, Vulcan mind stuff, and the episode includes a pleasingly-lengthy discussion between the show’s three main characters — the Star Trek ‘Holy Trinity.’

In the end, Spock and his antithesis Dr. McCoy let show the true affection they have for each other despite their antagonistic façade (Spock requests McCoy offer the human superstition of wishing him “good luck” before the Vulcan embarks on a shuttlecraft journey to the centre of the space creature; proud McCoy offers his friend the desired wish only after Spock is out of earshot), and Kirk of course rocks the sparkle-trim green wrap-around deep V-neck alternative Starfleet ‘captains-only’ tunic.

The use of “monsters” in Star Trek is done so in a classical sense, in that the hideous creature in question is used to depict some potential flaw within the human condition. Later Star Trek series would employ the Borg as a metaphor for any cultural movement that tries to assimilate individuals away from their individuality.

The salt vampire from the TOS episode “The Man Trap” represents the truly destructive nature of unhealthy fantasizing, longing and escapism a person can find him or herself trapped in regarding an unattainable object of affection.

The space amoeba is perhaps a bit tougher to deconstruct. However, the Star Trek writers have never been anything short of thorough in their use of symbolism and metaphor.

It is interesting that once Kirk realizes the mass size of the bacteria-esque organism actually makes the Enterprise the infection rather than the victim, taking advantage of this fact to destroy the organism is as easy as launching an antimatter bomb. As is so often the case in the realm of Star Trek, a simple answer typically resolves almost any paradox.

The amoeba monster is a metaphor for the trap of conventional thinking. McCoy is fairly quick to identify the creature as a single-celled organism, and so that sets the crew in the initially-mistaken mindset of viewing it as the infection rather than the potential host of infection.

It is only through a willingness on Kirk’s part to entertain a reverse relationship that the Enterprise can take advantage of the creature’s fairly simple biology to destroy it. Quite frankly, perception is more important than science in defeating the monster.

This classic episode of Star Trek teaches viewers the importance of employing unconventional thinking, despite the seemingly familiar nature of a problem. The space amoeba is an extension of those everyday conundrums with which one might find him or herself dealing.

Certainly, looking for the predicted pattern is a useful survival tool for the human ape. In the time of Cro-Magnon the problems were those of basic survival — finding food and avoiding becoming food. In such a realm of raw, organic necessity, it makes sense humans would evolve to see the expected patterns within problems and employ effective “in-the-box” solutions.

However, at some point in the relatively recent past, human beings evolved beyond animal biology and the natural food chain. With the development of civilization and advanced technology, people have come to deal with a variety of daily dilemmas largely unrecognizable in a prehistoric context. We cannot rely on our instinctive ‘common sense’ alone, given this array of modern problems.

Our continued survival as a species comes from our ability to rise above our own pattern thinking, and consider possibilities no other animal could even fathom. At the risk of sounding a touch irreverent, this is what makes us gods of the Earth. No doubt, it will be our ability to use this knack for dispassion and reason that will eventually save us from our own destructive nature.

If the answer is not immediately apparent, sometimes the best resolve is to take a proverbial step back and objectively consider with disregard for what seems otherwise predictable.

Sometimes the solution will appear as clear and straightforward as a mere antimatter bomb.


Carter Haydu can be reached at 691-1265.

Organizations: Star Trek

Geographic location: Holy Trinity

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page