Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Star Trek, Philosophy & the Kobayashi Maru

Description: Technical detail readout of  the Star Trek series'
starship & titular scenario, the Kobayashi Maru. 
In the Star Trek series, the Kobayashi Maru is both the name of a starship and a training simulation for Starfleet cadets. The scenario goes like this: trainees encounter a civilian ship calling for help, but to help the ship, you would have to choose to venture into a demilitarized zone and violate a wartime treaty. If the trainees choose to honor the treaty, the ship is at the mercy of the warlike Klingons. If you try to meet it halfway, your ship is attacked and boarded. In the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the legendary James T. Kirk was the only cadet in Starfleet history to ever beat the Kobayashi Maru scenario... and he did so by reprogramming the simulation so that is was possible to win. Forbes-- yes, the vaunted business magazine & website-- looks at how this scenario informs and reflects the philosophy of both the science fiction series as a how, and popular philosophy in general.
Is the Kobayashi Maru a good test of leadership, and of the ethical decision-making that’s a part of it? And what should we make of the fact that Kirk seems to have “beat” the test by cheating? It’s good to question whether features of a situation that we take for granted really are fixed, rather than changeable. When faced with two bad choices, it’s good to try to find a third, or fourth, or fifth possible choice that is less obvious but that might be better all around. 
I think the optimism embodied in Kirk’s rejection of no-win scenarios is the sort of thing that can motivate creative thinking about how to do a better job sharing a universe (which, really, is what ethics is about). But I don’t think that’s what the Kobayashi Maru was intended to test.

You can read the rest of the article here. What do you think, readers? Are the larger ideas about grace under pressure, no-win scenarios and the like a useful intellectual exercise, or is it a few torpedoes shy of a spread?

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