Oct 16 2012 4:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Quality of Life”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Quality of Life“The Quality of Life”
Written by Naren Shankar
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Season 6, Episode 9
Production episode 40276-235
Original air date: November 16, 1992
Stardate: 46307.2

Captain’s Log: Riker, Worf, La Forge, and Crusher are playing poker. La Forge is still growing his beard, which means Crusher is playing with three men with facial hair – something she feels is an affectation. So she raises the stakes. If she wins, all three of them have to shave their beards; she agrees to become a brunette if one of them wins. La Forge and Riker eagerly take the bet, Worf not so much, but then Picard calls senior staff to the bridge.

The Enterprise has arrived at Tyrus VIIa to evaluate a particle fountain that uses radical new technology for mining. La Forge beams to the space station where the project is being developed. They’re behind schedule, and while La Forge is there, there’s a power grid failure. However, the project leader, Dr. Farallon, uses an experimental new device she calls an exocomp to fix it.

The exocomp is a short device about the size of a medium-sized dog. It’s a common repair drone that Farallon has modified and expanded, including a microreplication device that enables them to create tools needed for repair jobs. She and La Forge beam back with an exocomp and she demonstrates how it works. It has an antigrav unit so it can move about unencumbered, and it learns from each repair job.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Quality of Life

Farallon wants to use the exocomps to finish work on the fountain. They can finish the work quickly and bring the project from behind schedule to ahead of schedule, if Picard approves the use of them – which he does.

Data assists Farallon in using the exocomps to speed up the completion of the fountain. They send it to seal a plasma junction, but it returns with the job unfinished. The exocomp refuses to go back in, and it sends feedback to Farallon’s hand unit, causing her to drop it.

Then the plasma junction explodes. They take the defective unit back to the Enterprise. It’s forming new circuit pathways seemingly at random. Farallon says this has happened before – the exocomp becomes useless and they have to wipe it and start over. They don’t have time for that if they’re to make the 48-hour deadline, though La Forge does offer extra personnel to help take up the slack.

La Forge also makes an offhand comment that the exocomp got out in the nick of time, like it knew there was a microfracture in the plasma junction and had to get out before it exploded. Data performs a diagnostic and discovers that the exocomp burned out the interface circuitry deliberately and repaired it two hours later.

Data consults Crusher on the subject of what defines life. Crusher goes with the classics: life is what enables plants and animals to consume and derive energy from food, grow, adapt to surroundings, and reproduce. Data and Crusher both poke holes in it – by that definition, both fire and crystals are alive, and Data is not. Ultimately, there’s no solid definition, as that’s been debated and batted around for millennia.

Beaming over to the station, Data requests that Farallon stop using the exocomps, because he believes they are alive.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Quality of Life

Picard calls a meeting that includes La Forge, Troi, Crusher, and Data, as well as a very pissed-off Farallon. Data explains his hypothesis that the exocomp disabled the control circuits, waiting until it was in a safer environment on the Enterprise to repair itself, out of a sense of self-preservation. Farallon accuses Data of anthropomorphizing (which is pretty hilarious in and of itself, given who she’s talking to, something Troi points out), but Picard feels they should test the hypothesis.

So they put the exocomp in danger a second time to see if it will continue to err on the side of self-preservation. They simulate what happened last time – and the exocomp fails the test, as it doesn’t read the simulated explosion that La Forge programmed, and doesn’t try to rescue itself.

Data runs the simulation a bunch more times, and discovers that the exocomp didn’t fail the test – it saw through it, as it has not only repaired the damage, but also fixed the signal that was simulating plasma leakage.

Picard tours the station with La Forge, and there’s another malfunction – the fountain is surging. Radiation is increasing to dangerous levels. Most everyone gets off the station before the radiation becomes intense enough to interfere with transport, but La Forge and Picard stay behind to try to rescue one of Farallon’s people, Kenta. Unfortunately, Kenta’s dead, and now the captain and chief engineer are trapped.

They can’t launch a shuttle because it won’t get there in time. (What a pity that they’re not in a ship capable of locomotion under its own power, cough cough, where have I heard this before?) They can shut down the fountain with a low-yield torpedo, but it would take an hour to program it – however, Farallon suggests the exocomps, which can be programmed in a minute.

Data, however, objects, only just now telling Riker that the exocomps may well be alive. Data also believes that the exocomps will refuse to complete the mission. But Riker can’t risk Picard and La Forge’s lives on Data’s belief that the exocomps might be alive, and authorized Farallon to make the adjustments, starting by deactivating their command pathways (basically lobotomizing them). Data then disobeys Riker’s orders by disabling the transporter, as he won’t let the exocomps be murdered. He offers instead to beam himself over to effect the repairs, but Riker refuses, as that would kill him. Data points out that if he sacrifices himself to save his comrades, that’s his choice – the exocomps have no such choice.

Riker then throws his own argument back in his face: what if they give the exocomps a choice? They reinitialize the command pathways and Data programs the exocomps to simulate a torpedo – instead, they change Data’s commands to something else, and reprogram the transporter coordinates. Data points out that they have more experience with the systems. They beam over and are able to distort the particle stream enough so that the Enterprise can get a pattern lock on Picard and La Forge and rescue them. The exocomps also allow the ship to lock onto two of them—one has to stay behind to continue distorting the stream—to be rescued as well.

The particle fountain has failed, at least in this phase, but Farallon promises not to treat the exocomps as more than tools while she works to rebuild the fountain. Data tells Picard that he did what he did because he felt the need to act as the exocomps’ advocate, just as Picard did for Data.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: It’s never made clear how the particle fountain works—it seems to be a beam that goes from a space station onto the surface and then, somehow, mines things—but since it’s just a Macguffin for the exocomp plot, that’s actually okay.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Quality of Life

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf looks nauseated when Riker and La Forge agree to Crusher’s poker bet, but says nothing. He also is apparently giving bat’leth lessons to Crusher.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Quality of Life

If I Only Had a Brain...: Data refers to his being alone in the universe and that he can’t reproduce, ignoring the events of “Brothers” (which established that Lore is still alive) and “The Offspring” (in which he created a daughter).

I Believe I Said That: “There is a big difference between Data and a tool.”

“Doctor, there is a big difference between you and a virus, but both are alive.”

Farallon and Data getting all philosophical and stuff.

Welcome Aboard: Ellen Bry is driven and snotty as Farallon, but she doesn’t leave nearly enough of an impression. Like the particle fountain her character has created, she’s just there to move the plot along, to provide a barrier for Data to overcome. J. Downing plays the transporter chief, Kelso.

Trivial Matters: This is the first full script by Naren Shankar (who co-wrote “The First Duty” with Ronald D. Moore), who came on board this season to serve as a science advisor for both TNG and Deep Space Nine. (Shankar has a PhD in applied physics electrical engineering from Cornell University.) He’d be promoted to Story Editor for TNG’s seventh season, before moving on to work on several genre shows—seaQuest DSV, Farscape, The Outer Limits—before joining the staff of CSI as a consulting producer in 2002, moving up to executive producer for six years of the show’s run before departing to become an executive producer of Grimm. One of his stories for CSI was the Star Trek spoof episode “A Space Oddity,” on which Moore guest-starred as himself. (The script for that episode was by Trek alumnae Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, who worked on DS9.)

The exocomps are seen again in Jeffrey Lang’s Immortal Coil, where the immortal Flint from “Requiem for Methuselah” has two exocomps, named Winken and Blinken. That novel dealt with artificial intelligences in the Trek universe.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: The Quality of Life

Make it So: “I have always been a little suspicious of men in beards.” This episode gets points for raising some interesting questions regarding what constitutes life, but then utterly blows it on execution. The fact that the questions aren’t answered—set up by Crusher in her and Data’s talk on the subject, as it’s a question that really can’t be answered—isn’t so much the problem as the wrong question is being asked. Data believes that the exocomps are alive. Well, great – so’s a virus, as Data himself points out. Does this mean he’s going to lock out sickbay’s computers every time Crusher tries to save someone?

The actual issue here, just as the issue was in “The Measure of a Man,” is sentience, and Data does nothing to prove that. And then the episode avoids dealing with it in any depth by having the exocomps themselves come up with a solution that enables Picard and La Forge to be rescued, and two of the three exocomps to survive, with one sacrificing itself.

Plus everything is just so paint-by-numbers. Farallon is too bland a character to serve as anything other than a person in Data’s way, the particle fountain is just a device to give the exocomps a reason to exist, and the climax just seems so incredibly contrived and constructed in order to create the dilemma. Worse, using a shuttle to rescue Picard and La Forge is dismissed as taking too long – yet the time Data and Riker spend arguing about it could’ve been spent sending a shuttle over and hoping they could get there in time to effect a rescue. Options are cut off because the script says they are in order to simulate tension. On top of that, Data’s reasons for being this strident about the exocomps relates, he says, to the fact that he’s unique and alone in the universe, which ignores both Lore and Lal.

Also, Data was completely insubordinate, disobeying a direct order on a hunch. That alone should get him rotated the hell off the flagship. But he’s in the opening credits, so once again there are no consequences (cf. “Brothers”).

There could’ve been a good episode here, but it fails to address its issues as well as it should, and it completely fails as drama. Perhaps the saddest commentary on this episode is that the most interesting element is the teaser, where four characters go on at great length on the subject of facial hair.

Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido had a great time at New York Comic-Con. This weekend, he’ll be the Media Guest of Honor at Albacon 2012 in Latham, New York. Come on by and see him! Here’s his schedule.

1. Nomi
I remembered the Exocomps, but had no memory of the rest of this episode.

(and psst. The gentlemen in question are "alumni" not "alumnae," unless they're both women and I'm massively confused.)
Christopher Bennett
2. ChristopherLBennett
After seeing the teaser, my (bearded) father pointed out that if anything, it's not wearing a beard that's an affectation, because beards come naturally to men and we have to apply artificial measures to remove them.

On November 9, 1992, I mailed in a spec script to TNG, a story in which Data became convinced that a certain computerish entity was sentient and took it upon himself to be its advocate. The following week (exactly 10 days later in my market), "The Quality of Life" aired and I knew I wouldn't sell my script. At least it was prompt enough that I would've had no reason to suspect they'd swiped my idea even if I hadn't already known how unlikely that was. And really, spec scripts are more about proving your abilities as a writer than selling a specific story. Still, the script got rejected, but eventually my DS9 spec script a couple of years later got me a chance to pitch to DS9 and VGR, without success. Although I was able to repurpose some aspects of the SF concept from my TNG spec script in my TNG novel Greater Than the Sum.

I suppose my reaction to the episode was colored by the fact that it was telling a similar story to the one I'd written (right down to the story beat of Data getting the idea that the entity might be sentient after Geordi made an offhand quip to that effect). Beyond that, I can't remember much about my reaction to the episode. Except that I still think my version was cooler. If nothing else, it had Klingons in it.

The exocomp prop appeared in modified form in the Enterprise episode "Dead Stop," as a medical device employed by the automated repair station in that episode. It later appeared in the background of "Future Tense" as an unidentified device in the background of Shuttlebay 2, and possibly in other episodes as well.
Lee VanDyke
3. Cloric
Amazingly, or perhaps not so amazingly, I have absolutely no memory of this episode. But then, I only saw Chain of Command Part 1 in reruns, and only the second half of Part 2 during the original run, so perhaps my VCR was on the fritz when these aired (I had to work late this season).

Overall, an episode that seemed to pose an interesting premise, and even managed to make a machine based life form cute. But, yeah, a meh, overall. Although, it may have indirectly led to the Doctor's "I'm alive" story arc later in Voyager.
4. StrongDreams
(What a pity that they’re not in a ship capable of locomotion under its own power, cough cough, where have I heard this before?)

Not a valid nitpick in this case. The question is not, can we get physically closer to the fountain, but can we rescue the crew without endangering hundreds more? A shuttle could fly to the station and dock, allowing the crew to walk on board and fly away. The big-E could fly to the station faster (although that would be like taking a sports car from 0-120mph and back to 0 in a parking lot, so maybe not so practical after all), but once it got there, if it physicallys docked it would place a thousand people (including children!) in harms way of a giant explosion. (If merely being closer would override the transporter interference that would be different, but I don't think that was the issue.)
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
5. Lisamarie
This episode actually irritated me (although I find the question of sacrificing life to save other lives a very interesting and relevant one) if for no other reason I was not really convinced the exocomps were alive. Yes, smart enough to avoid danger, but I don't know if that makes them alive (or sentient). Even bacteria, etc will migrate away from bad things and we don't consider them sentient (although they are alive). And as krad brought up, it's not like Data has any real qualms against killing bacteria, viruses, etc, which are also alive (actually, I learned in school that viruses are NOT alive, but perhaps that point of view has changed).

Plus - and maybe this is a little humanocentric - we know that this scientist created them, and she's no Noonien Soong. So just felt they were very sophisticated computers. I mean, look at all the stuff the ship computer does, is the computer alive?

They do show the ability to learn things not programmed, but I am not sure if that means they are alive or have the rights accorded to living things. I agree that it is an interesting premise, it just didn't seem to do anything for me.
6. RichF
I thought that the exocomp seemingly "failing" the test but actually seeing through it was too transparent (pun intended).
7. Don3Comp
I remember enjoying this one, if nothing else, for Data's desire to extend Picard's advocacy on his behalf to another artificial/robotic life form. And I thought the Exocomps themselves had a neat concept/design behind them.

The plot device this episode helps overwork is the "scientific experiment gone so horribly wrong we need the Enterprise to save our rear ends" bit.

Re Data's behavior: Picard simply is not a Captain who "rotates officers off" the ship for one infraction, no matter how serious. Data is hardly the only officer to cross the line (Worf was reprimanded at least once).
Alyssa Tuma
8. AlyssaT
It's so fascinating how this show often dances on the thinnest line between a brilliant exploration of relationships and issues and sanctimonious morality play.

Throw this one into the latter bucket for me. Felt kind of manipulative (would have been more interesting if the exocomps weren't adorable l'il balls of cuteness) and Data came across as insufferable. I also wasn't convinced that the exocomps were alive.

FWIW, "The Measure of a Man" and "The Offspring" are probably my two favorite episodes.
9. jlpsquared
This one is pretty dull. Typical late TNG boring episode. This is one of those episodes that if it had been done in the first 2 seasons would have been cheesier but 1000 times more interesting to watch. Oh, wait, they did.... http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/07/star-trek-the-next-generation-rewatch-qhome-soilq, I am really surprised Keith never mentioned this episode.

Again, i will take cheese and fun over methodical and lifeless any day of the week.
rob mcCathy
10. roblewmac
I just can't get over the fact that they play draw poker rather than Texas hold em.
Rob Rater
11. Quasarmodo
Is this the only instance of Data disobeying a direct order from a superior officer?
Lee VanDyke
12. Cloric
@11 Quasarmodo

In "Clues" Data disobeys a defies a direct order from Picard to explain what is going on at first, but that may not count because the order conflicted with an earlier order Picard gave him. That's the only case I can come up with, unless he was given a direct order that was ignored in "Brothers," again a unique case.
Rob Rater
13. Quasarmodo
Yeah, I remember Clues, but it was revealed Picard had ordered him to disobey any order, even his own, that would reveal what had actually occurred. I thought about mentioning this episode in my original post, but obviously I did not. ;)
Keith DeCandido
14. krad
roblewmac: Actually, they usually play stud poker, which is the best type of poker to play when you're having a friendly game with no real stakes and just doing it for fun. Hold 'em frankly sucks for that, as it's an elimination tournament, and doesn't work when the game is as much a social occasion as anything, as Riker's game is.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido, who's part of a regular poker game that also includes fellow Trek authors David Mack, Glenn Hauman, and Aaron Rosenberg
Liz J
15. Ellisande
oh this episode. The alive v sentience muddle made me want to put my foot in the tv when I first saw it, and it's one of the few episodes of TNG I remember with that much annoyance all these years later. Pretty sure I jumped on the listserv or whatever it was back in those days to complain, too.

How on earth an actual scientist could frame the question so poorly I have no idea (never realized Shankar wrote this episode before, now I'm even more annoyed with it!) I don't know how this ep managed to push my button so hard, but it sure did.
adam miller
16. adamjmil
I feel like TNG has made all kinds of poker gaffes. The main one that sticks in my mind is Geordi saying he doesn't cheat because he doesn't look through the cards until the hand is over.

It's still considered quite unethical to know what hand your opponent was holding if they didn't show their hand during the round. It doesn't matter that the hand was over.

Then we get to Troi - does she supposedly have the ability to completely turn off her empathic sense? If not, she shouldn't be playing. (Poker would never have evolved on Betazed anyway).
Jack Flynn
17. JackofMidworld
My biggest complaint/dealbreaker for me was Farallon's attitude towards the possibility that she'd just accidentally created a new life form. I remember thinking that made absolutely no sense to me, why would a scientist NOT be excited over the chance that it may be true?
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
JackofMidworld: She had a project with a deadline that she was blowing. That was her focus. I found that part to be completely realistic. The exocomps were created for the express purpose of helping her make her deadline on the particle fountain. Yes, she's a scientist, but most scientists are specialists -- the notion of the "science officer" generalist like Spock is utterly ridiculous -- and Farallon was focused on her specialty and her project. The exocomps being alive only served to get in the way of her project, and that was all that mattered to her.

No, that part? Was completely realistic.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Bastiaan Stapel
19. Stapel
We've seen so many great episodes about ethical questions, that this episodes's only excuse is probably that the bar is high. However, I was quite surprised this got absolutely nowhere.

Is there a good reason why Data can irreversably shut down the transporter?
20. Bob Munck
Was anyone else reminded of Huey, Dewey, and Louie from Silent Running by the exocomps?
Jane Smyth
21. Kaboom
@5 Lisamarie

No officially viruses are still not considered alive. Althought the debate has been restarted with the recent discovery of a giant virus (genome size as well as physical size) which seems to even have organelles. Some are hypothesising that it used to be a bacteria which lost a sufficient amount of genes that it is now dependent on other cells to replicate.
Mike Kelmachter
22. MikeKelm
My issue with this episode is that we did it already. Can a machine develop sentience and be a lifeform? Well if you swap exocomps for Nanites we did this at the start of season 3. This time we add Data as advocate for the exocomps (as opposed to just acting as a medium in "Evolution") but I feel we've had this conversation before....

And @19 Stapel- yes, he's the operations officer. Technically he is responsible for internal systems control and systems usage, so it makes perfect sense that he can turn off the transporters. While there is probably some overlap between his responsibilities and other officers (the engineering department, Tactical/Security about weapons/targeting sensors, Medical department about life support, etc), so he naturally can shut them down. He also probably knows the systems of the Enterprise better than anyone except Geordi, so while there might have been some way with several days of effort to restore transporters around Data's block, for purposes of the moment, he had effectivey shut down the system.
Christopher Bennett
23. ChristopherLBennett
@16: Is Troi's empathy really any different in a poker context than any skilled player's keen ability to read opponents' tells? That's really the whole point of poker, isn't it? It's not just about who has better cards, but about who's better at reading people. One could argue the empathy gives her an extra edge in that respect, but a lot of humans are better at reading people than others; for instance, someone on the high-function autistic spectrum, or someone with a form of psychopathy (which is a much more common and usually less drastic condition than the media lead us to believe), would be much worse at perceiving and understanding others' emotional responses than a typical person would, and by the same token there are bound to be people whose ability to read people is much better than the norm, and who could thus be exceptional poker players. There's no real way to level that playing field even among human players; it's just a fact of life that some people are going to be better at it than others.

So I'm not sure it would be fair to try to disqualify people who have an additional edge at people-reading due to alien empathic abilities. After all, it's not just about what you can sense, but how good you are at using that information as part of your strategy in the game. One player's advantage in one respect can be offset by a different player's advantage in another respect. That's just part of how sports and gaming work.
24. jlpsquared
@23 and 16, "Is Troi's empathy really any different in a poker context than any skilled player's keen ability to read opponents' tells?"

Yes, it is. The difference being that one is a skill learned through time and even at its best is still an "artful game of chance" as I have heard it described. Troi KNOWS. It is not a subtle difference, it is a difference. Experienced poker players can fake tells, Troi knows no matter what.

That being said, i am sure there is a trust system that she "turns it off" while they are playing, in the same way that when I am playing and someone accidentelly turns their cards so I can see them I "just don't look".
25. Lsana
Ah, Star Trek poker:


That comment with Geordi drove me nuts too. He was absolutely cheating by looking at the cards, even if he didn't do it until after the hand was over. Unless the group specifically agreed that they would show hidden cards after the hand was over, he was giving himself a huge advantage by looking at the cards after the hand was over.


I don't know. In some sense, perhaps, Troi's empathy doesn't give her much of an advantage over someone who's good at reading people. She's not a telepath, she can't see Riker's actual hand, and so even if she knows how he feels about his hand she still doesn't know if she has him beat or not. On the other hand, she KNOWS how Riker feels about his hand; even the most skilled body language reader is only guessing. Let's put it this way: I doubt Vegas would let her play.


Texas hold 'em can be played elimination tournament style, but there's no reason it has to be. It's usually played cash-game, limit or no limit, just like all other forms.

Interesting that your group finds stud the best form for a "fun" game; my group has found that stud gives too much of an advantage to the people with really good card sense because they just have too much information. We usually go for really wacky forms of poker (2-7 triple draw anyone?Baduji?) because we're more evenly matched at those.
Joseph Newton
26. crzydroid
I have to admit, I always had a soft spot for this one. I think if I had seen it for the first time when I was older and more critical, I would probably agree with a lot of the criticisms. When I first got into Star Trek, I usually just went along with a story and it was fun. But this episode I saw at an even younger age (probably when it first aired). I was pretty intrigued by the show (and maybe that was artificially inflated because my brother was in control of the tv and would flip to other channels, and not come back to this one soon enough for me). Years later, when I was extremely bored one night, I think it was the experience of seeing this episode I was primarily thinking of when I thought, "Well, that Star Trek: The Next Generation is sometimes interesting" and decided to give TNG a chance that night. Thus occurred my Star Trek conversion.
adam miller
27. adamjmil
Troi playing poker against humans would be very different than a human having a superior ability to read people. She (or any Betazoid) has a fundamental physiological advantage over her opponents. It's not as if she's any better than the others of her race - ALL members of her race would have an advantage against humans. Whether it meets EEO criteria to discriminate based on that, who knows, but it makes no sense for her to play.

Unless she can turn her ability off. Can she? Has that ever been established (other than the time she lost it altogether)? We can only voluntarily turn (mostly) off one of our five senses and partially turn off two others. So unless it's been established that she can do that, I don't think we can assume it.

It would not be enough for her to ignore what she senses, because she couldn't really do it once she knew. She'd have to be able to turn it off altogether. Kinda like Geordi....until the hand is over when he then cheats.
Christopher Bennett
28. ChristopherLBennett
@24 & 27: But my point is that it's not just about skill for humans either. We now know that there are fundamental neurological differences among humans that make some people intrinsically better at reading emotion than others. Those people will always have an advantage at poker, not because of training or practice, but because of how their brains are wired. So should we require aspiring poker players to undergo fMRI scans and psychological evaluations and make sure that they're only allowed to play against people with the equivalent neurological construction? There's no practical way to even out such intrinsic disadvantages.

And is there reason to? Do we require all basketball players to be the same height, or all football players the same weight? If all women's tennis players were pitted against opponents of equal strength, then Venus and Serena Williams would have nobody to play against except each other. Some competitors are always going to have built-in advantages, but other competitors may have different advantages that will let them cancel those out. That's part of what makes the contests interesting and diverse.

And yes, Deanna has a sense that other players lack, but does that mean that blind or deaf people shouldn't be allowed to play poker? Conversely, should, say, Stephen Hawking not be allowed to play poker because nobody else can read his body language or tone of voice? Any advantage or disadvantage can be compensated for.

Also, I don't agree that Deanna's ability to sense emotion through empathy, whatever that is, would be that fundamentally different from reading someone's microexpressions and involuntary body language. A person can try to hide one's emotions, but someone perceptive enough could see through any such attempt and know what a person was really feeling -- which is a large part of what makes a good poker player, or a good fake psychic, or a good interrogator, or a good leader. Our brains and bodies are closely interconnected, and our expressions evolved specifically for the purpose of conveying our emotional states to others in our social groups. We may also be able to sense one another's emotional states subliminally through pheromones, though that's unconfirmed. Betazoid empathy would just be another source of sensory input about another person's emotional state -- the ability to detect some kind of signal emitted by another's brain.
Mike Kelmachter
29. MikeKelm
@CLB... We know Stephen Hawking is an awesome poker player. Later this season in Descent, we will watch him wipe the deck with Newton, Einstein and Data. Man is a stone cold killer with the card deck....
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
30. Lisamarie
Can somebody explain why looking at the cards after the hand is over is considered cheating? Is it just because then you know what cards are not in the next hand, or something like that?

I have almost no poker experience, aside from penny poker games with my grandma and her sisters when I was little, and listening to them tell raunchy jokes while drinking espresso and eating Italian cookies. That's what poker is to me ;)
adam miller
31. adamjmil

Because you learn about their strategy and playing style. Part of poker is being able to hide how you handle various situations by not showing what you were playing with until you absolutely have to (or make a deliberate choice to). Just one example: a player who is a really good bluffer (has bad cards but able to trick people into thinking otherwise by bets or behavior), if people know he or she is bluffing all the time the advantage is lost. You have to force exposure by calling their bluffs.

In Geordi's case, he sees the cards and no one else does, so that's another unfair advantage.


"If all women's tennis players were pitted against opponents of equal
strength, then Venus and Serena Williams would have nobody to play
against except each other."

So why don't we allow men to play against them?

I get what you're saying but there has to be a point where you draw a line about what is reasonable and what isn't. I believe that telepathic/empathic poker players playing against nons would be unreasonable. (They could have their own league though). I would also think poker would not be nearly as fun for an empath or telepath.

I guess we agree to disagree.
Christopher Bennett
32. ChristopherLBennett
@31: I'm coming at it from two directions. One, I don't think telepathy, if it could exist, would be as magically all-knowing as people tend to assume, but would just be another sense, another way of gaining impressions from some sort of emission, and it would be as subject to errors of interpretation as any other form of sensory perception. And two, as I've been saying, not all humans are alike in their ability to read people, so the difference between two humans in that regard could be as drastic as the difference between a human and a Betazoid/human hybrid. I'm just generally wary of species essentialism, the assumption that all humans would fit equally in one box and all Betazoids or whatever would fit equally in another. After all, most of the people who've fraudulently claimed to be psychics in real life -- or who have perhaps sincerely believed they were psychic -- were simply extremely good at reading subliminal cues that others would miss. To some extent, "mind-reading" is an innate human ability, a function of our mirror neurons, which give us the capacity to perceive others' emotional states and process them as if they were our own. It's just that that perception comes through facial expression, tone of voice, body language, and the like, including subliminal cues like microexpressions and pheromones that we wouldn't even be consciously aware of. (Heck, I think that a large part of Deanna's empathy is probably just really well-developed mirror neurons rather than anything psychic, since she's able to read people's moods over a viewscreen even if they're thousands of kilometers away.)

Heck, we know that some Betazoids are more powerful empaths or telepaths than others, so there'd be a range of ability among them as well as among humans, and there could be some overlap. Because, again, it's not just about what you're able to sense, but how good you are at interpreting that information and using it in your strategy as a poker player. There could easily be Betazoids who are good at sensing people's emotional responses but bad at poker strategy, so it'd cancel out. Just belonging to a certain species isn't a guaranteed advantage.
33. jlpsquared
@Christopher Bennet, you know I love reading your posts buddy, but you are now just arguing to argue, I suspect. You can't really be arguing that someone who can literally "READ YOUR MIND", is not much more of a threat in poker than people who are really good at trying to figure out how to "read your mind".

This is an absurd discussion and I am bowing out. Obviously they are just having fun on the enterprise, but I am guessing that if the ST universe actually existed and they still had poker tourneys betazeds would not be allowed to compete, along with any race that can "READ YOUR MIND". further, thinking of Lance Armstrong, I am guessing that if they found out a previous winner hid his betazed heritage, he would be stripped of his poker title.
Chin Bawambi
34. bawambi
^Notice we aren't talking about this awful episode anymore so that's a big plus for me.

Reason to suggest that she should be allowed to play - remember the episode where she takes command because everyone else is incapicated...I'm fairly certain she expresses a non-scientific/mathematical sense. If she has no innate card sense then her advantages are evened out. Also, I'm fairly certain she has indicated that other characters are intentionally shutting her out in the past which means others can mask enough for card play IMO.

Not sure if I'm misremembering though.

Always preferred dealers choice as a social game which it appears they play as Crusher called the game as she dealt. A far better game than holdem with common cards is CrissCross BTW.
Christopher Bennett
35. ChristopherLBennett
@33: Arguing just to argue? I'd rather say that I'm trying to engage in a discussion because there are some interesting questions to be raised and pondered. It's always worthwhile to question our assumptions and consider new angles on an issue.

"You can't really be arguing that someone who can literally "READ YOUR MIND", is not much more of a threat in poker than people who are really good at trying to figure out how to "read your mind"."

Well, that's just it -- before we can talk about "literally" reading one's mind, we have to define what mind-reading actually is. What I'm saying is that I'm skeptical of the usual assumption that it means having exact, perfect, firsthand knowledge of another person's true mental state. For one thing, I don't think any of us even have that perfect an understanding of our own mental states. For another, as I've said, telepathy in the context of an SF universe like ST wouldn't be magic, just another form of sensory perception and communication. It would entail detecting some kind of emission given off by another person's brain and interpreting those signals. It wouldn't be any more mystical or profound or infallible than any other form of perception. It would be an advantage, yes, but not necessarily an unbeatable one. As bawambi points out, there are other talents that matter in poker too, like a grasp of mathematics and strategy.

And of course, we're talking about Deanna Troi, who can't read minds, just sense emotions. My point is that Deanna's psionic "empathy" differs from normal human mirror-neuron empathy only by degree, and that comparable differences in the degree of empathy exist purely among humans. Heck, the whole point of the "Thank You, Counselor Obvious" segment of these rewatches is that often, Deanna's insights aren't any more profound than what a keen human observer, or in some cases even just a competent one, could deduce from a person's body language and expressions. Deanna is simply better at reading "tells" than most people -- but then, Riker's a lot better at reading tells than Data is, and yet they play poker together all the time.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
36. Lisamarie
I can't remember if this has been established or not, but can either Data or Geordi tell (or at least suspect) when people are lying (due to being able to detect various subconcious facial twitches, body language, heart rate, etc)? I can't remember if I am confusing with them with some other science fiction/fantasy characters. If so, that would put them at an advantage too.

I don't think I'd mind playing too much with Deanna, but I actually tend to be really bad at bluffing anyway so I'm sure I would be very easy to read. But I think somebody really good at it could probably mask their emotions enough, and I would also assume Deanna wouldn't go out of her way to 'probe'.

Now, if I remember correcy, Lwxana is much more proficient, as I remember there was an episode where she offhandedly unmasks the guy with the bomb as if it's no big deal, so maybe that would be a different story ;)
37. Robby the Robot
I found this one quite dull. Being very well aware they have to save money on production; the producers could have developed another tired idea besides the Exo-Comps. It was a variation of two other episodes done before. I do remember this. I switched the channels back and forth on this episode quite freqently, only to see the ending. It was pretty good. However, I do believe the show was saving money by doing this low effects , focus on Brent Spinner episode. I suppose if your a Data fan, like myself, you'll watch it to see Data solve the problem.
Christopher Bennett
38. ChristopherLBennett
@36: Geordi said in "Up the Long Ladder" (I think) that he could consistently tell when humans were lying, less so with other species. But it never came up again. As for Data, realistically, as a being without human emotion, he shouldn't even have been capable of recognizing it. It's a mirror neuron thing again. In real life, people whose own capacity for emotion is impaired aren't even able to notice other people's emotional expression. It just doesn't mean anything to them. In Data's case, I suppose he could've spent years studying human expression and nonverbal communication and constructed a set of algorithms to help him recognize emotions; there are books and training programs that can help people with autism or Asperger's train themselves to recognize others' emotions in a similar way. But evidently Data's ability to read others' emotions is still limited, since he has trouble telling whether someone is speaking facetiously or metaphorically (again, something that real-life autistic-spectrum people often have a problem with due to difficulty recognizing the nonverbal/social cues).
39. Robby The Robot
In reference to Chistopher Bennett's post about Data's emotions:

I have to disagree. Data has emotions. Look at his behavior in "The Most Toys", when we had to ask the question if Data didn't fire on the toy collector. I know the ending left a big question mark. However I have to believe there must be some emotion in the early Data. He wouldn't have raised his phaser to the toy man if "everything was just a puzzle" to him. Data did have a reaction to the great injustice when he saw the collectors assistant phasered out of existance.


Data would have never saved Sarjenka if he had no emotions.

Data would have never had "feelings" for Tasha Yar in that first season episode if he were a machine.

Just my two cents.....
Christopher Bennett
40. ChristopherLBennett
Yes, Data has emotions, but not specifically human emotions. The mistake TNG consistently made was treating those concepts as identical, assuming that just because he didn't emote in a human way, he had no emotion at all. Heck, one of the scenes I wrote in that 1992 spec script I mentioned earlier, the one I submitted a week before this episode aired, had Deanna confronting Data about that very assumption, arguing that he did, in fact, have his own distinct kind of android emotion and that he was missing the point by assuming he had no emotion at all just because he didn't have specifically human emotions. (I eventually got a version of that scene into print in my story "Friends With the Sparrows" in the anthology The Sky's the Limit.) So you don't need to point that out to me; I've been making the same argument for 20 years now.

But that's the key point in the above post: that Data doesn't experience emotion in the same way that humans do, and thus his ability to recognize and engage with the human form of emotional expression is impaired.
41. Robby The Robot
Ok, Now I see your point.
42. DianeB
Oh, ya know, I have a soft spot in my heart for this episode, and not so much for the exocomps, but for the teaser, because it inspired me to write my very first piece of fanfic ever: "Only Her Hairdresser Knows for Sure," which ended up in an Orion Press printed 'zine (raise your hand if you remember those) and that you can now read over at fanficdotnet. All 282 words of it. Har!
43. NullNix
ChristopherLBennett@40, I completely agree. I hold with Pinker here that emotions are essential for anything we would recognise as a sentient life form. Emotions are crucial: they are how we set our goals, large and small. (Just because autistics don't recognise them in others doesn't mean they don't have them: some results suggest that emotions are much *stronger* in autistics than in others, so strong that over decades they eventually cause physical brain damage to the amygdala -- and anxiety, and control of anxiety, is a huge part of the condition).

Pinker said, in _How the Mind Works_, right after pointing out that Spock is not in fact emotionless even in canon but using him as an example anyway, "Something must have kept Spock from spending his days calculating pi to a quadrillion digits or memorizing the Manhattan telephone directory... what would Spock have done when faced with a predator or an invading Klingon? Do a headstand? Prove the four-color map theorem? Presumably a part of his brain quickly mobilized his faculties to scope out how to flee and to take steps to avoid the vulnerable predicament in the future. That is, he had fear. Spock may not have been impulsive or demonstrative, but he must have had drives that impelled him to deploy his intellect in pursuit of certain goals rather than others."

And so must we all. Emotionlessness is not even a fairy tale: I doubt it's even possible to depict it without internal contradictions. Data's varying emotional repertoire is one sign of that.
44. Robby the Robot
I didn't know there was a difference between android emotion and human emotion. Seeing that androids and robots were built by humans.
Christopher Bennett
45. ChristopherLBennett
@44: Well, we know that Data didn't experience things like joy or sadness or anger or humor the same way that humans do, so clearly he didn't have human emotion, though other androids like Lore, Lal, and Rayna Kapec did have the capacity for it, as do sentient holograms like Moriarty and Voyager's EMH. But as stated above, Data clearly had motivations, drives, hopes, preferences, dislikes, etc., and therefore he did have emotion. Emotion is simply motivation; they come from the same Latin root meaning "to move." An emotion is something that moves you to make an action or decision, that makes you want to achieve one outcome or avoid another. Studies have shown that even the most dispassionate decisions, like solving a math problem, engage the emotional centers of the brain, since there's a desire to get the right answer or to have things make sense. So any thinking being that's capable of decision, that's not merely driven by deterministic programming but has the freedom to make choices, must have some form of emotion to motivate those choices. But human emotion is not necessarily the only kind. A being with different needs and a different nature might be motivated by different things.
46. jlpsquared
This discussion on whether Data has emotions or not is interesting, but I never found datas search for emotions "THAT" interesting. As Nullnix mentioned, fear is nothing more than an evolved response to help stay alive, and further, love empathy, probably all emotions, have similar reasons. So I think you could argue that the only difference with a modern computer for example, is that it does not have an instinct to stay alive. Since data does, as he has claimed and demonstrated repeatedly, I would argue that he is alive in every sense of the word. I have never found this aspect of data that intriguing.

Back to the poker, I will concede to you that Troi is maybe a bit different since emotions can be masked, but I am sticking to my guns on full-betazeds, I honestly don't think Lwaxana Troi would ever be allowed near a card game. She can literally read thoughts. I honestly do not know how you continue to argue this?
Christopher Bennett
47. ChristopherLBennett
@46: I'm not "arguing" it, I'm discussing it, because it touches on some interesting topics pertaining to psychology and perception. We're talking about something entirely imaginary, after all -- neither of us is ever going to be in the situation of playing poker against a telepath, because they don't exist -- so there's no point treating it like some controversy with anything genuinely at stake. It's merely an opportunity to explore and contemplate ideas.

And one of those ideas is racial discrimination. A ban on all Betazoids? Is that fair? We know they don't all have the same level of telepathy. We know that not all humans are equally adept at people-reading or other skills that are of use in poker. So I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of banning people on the basis of their race. It seems anathema to the values of the Federation. Maybe the problem is real to a degree, but that's a very, very ugly way of solving it. There's got to be something better, some kind of handicap or rules change to level the playing field.
48. jlpsquared
@47, now we are talking the meat of the discussion, discrimination. By banning Betazeds, am I discriminating, YES, I guess I am. I agree with you also, that that is not the type of world Gene Roddenberry was trying to create. But I am frankly one of those mean pragmatists who thinks that as awesome as Star Trek is, believes many of the tennants of Star Trek are naive and sometimes just plain wrong.

I do not believe discrimination is always wrong. Should black men be denied jobs because of their skin? Obviously not, but what if a witness saw a white guy with red hair kidnap a kid in some town, should then schools not allow white guys with red hair onto their properties until he is apprehended? I would argue schools are well within their rights.

Probably less clear, but is it fair that in Israel Palestinians are often denied access to air travel simply on the basis of their background? I think this is less clear cut, but at the end of the day, Israel has not had a single hi-jacking or other incident since implementation of this policy.

Back to Star Trek, how about boxing and Klingons? Realistically, if we let Klingons box, then would a non-klingon ever win again? If you were not Klingon, would there even be a point trying. Unless you separate by race, which would be discrimination. But if you don't discriminate by race, than what about Q? Should Q be allowed in any type of tournament? Would you not be discriminating by race if you denied a Q, simply for being a Q?
Christopher Bennett
50. ChristopherLBennett
@48: The flaw in your argument is that you're treating entire species as monolithic things with uniform attributes. That kind of flawed thinking is the basis of a wealth of discriminatory beliefs. Like the old myth that boys do better at math than girls. In reality, the bell curves of the two sexes' math performance, IQ, whatever overlap almost entirely. The average for one might be slightly higher than the average for the other (probably due to social factors rather than innate ability), but because the curves overlap so much, there are still plenty of individual girls who do better at math than a large percentage of the boys. It's inept and unfair to treat the difference between the average members of two groups as an absolute and universal difference.

So yeah, Klingons may be stronger on the average than humans. But by definition, for any average there are going to be people who are above it and people who are below it. A lot of humans are above average strength, and surely a lot of Klingons are below average strength. So there are bound to be cases where a given human is stronger than a given Klingon.

After all, the sport you picked, boxing, has its own built-in mechanism for taking different strength levels into account -- namely, weight classes. Boxers are assigned to a competitive class based on their individual size and strength, and pitted against other individuals who are comparable. The exact same strategy could work for interspecies boxing -- just add more weight classes to take the varying strengths of other species into account. Sure, as the classes go up in strength level, you'd get fewer humans who would qualify, but that's fair because it's based on individual performance rather than illegitimate racial generalizations. And certainly some above-average humans could hold their own in a weight class consisting of "featherweight" Vulcans or Klingons.

It's always a mistake to treat averages as real things. An average is just a mathematical fiction created as a convenience. The average position of a car on a circular racetrack is the center of the circle -- a point the car never actually occupies. An average can be convenient for giving you an idea of the general range occupied by a class of things, but it's useless unless you also keep in mind how much and how far the class deviates around the average.
Joseph Newton
52. crzydroid
@51: His statement about averages is NOT mathematically incorrect. Assuming a continuous bell curve (which most people do, even though it's an approximation to a population for which it would be impractical to use a discrete distribution) the mathematical probability of an individual posessing the average level of the trait being measured is 0. Why? Because the "width" at the average is 0, and 0 multiplied by anything returns 0. Now, you can take the interval of the average plus or minus some distance, delta, and calculate the probability of being in that interval by taking the integral of the distribution over that interval. In a bell curve, the average is the location at which the height of the curve is greatest. So yes, the probability of someone being in a fixed interval around the average is greater than being in a fixed interval of equal width around any other point, and can and does represent a best guess of the ability if we have no other information available on an individual besides, for this example, race. But what that means for pitting Klingons against humans depends on the overlap of the distributions for those species, as he was saying.

In distributions with very little overlap, I think you can raise concerns of fairness in sports. But you cannot discount his argument out-of-hand in cases where there is a lot of overlap, as in the example he was trying to present. In those cases, taking a random draw from each distribution, we have very little guessing power about who will come out on top. If there is sufficient overlap, we might expect that in extended trials, there is some sort of balancing effect.
Bridget McGovern
53. BMcGovern
@jlpsquared: Your comment at #51 has been unpublished (in keeping with our Moderation Policy); I understand that discussions of race and discrimination can be a slippery slope, but making sweeping claims or generalizations about large groups of people isn't the best way to get your point across, in this case. Please tread more carefully, moving forward--thanks.
56. DPC
After the classic "The Measure of a Man" and the first retread ("The Offspring"), the law of diminishing returns hit hard for this "Quality" story.

"The First Duty" was a classic, so to see "Quality" be not just a retread but a "by the numbers, inanely" escapade, I felt season 6 was really on the way down.

Right down to the forced ending, with Data disobeying Picard (as I vaguely recall, mostly because the scene was so outlandishly bad and contrived). Seasons 5 and 6 in particular became very shallow and forced in their presentations. With certain exceptions, but the show was going downhill, with redoing old stories (again) being the writing on the wall...

Even "Rascals" was better, and it is true hokum. But at least it was engaging and didn't try to shamelessly bask in former glory.
57. lorq
This episode feels a little like a stealthy pro-life abortion fable. Farallon -- a woman driven by personal ambition -- is willing to sacrifice the exocomps in the service of that ambition. Data leaps to the excomms' rescue because, as he says, "they have no one to advocate for them."
Christopher Bennett
58. ChristopherLBennett
@57: I doubt it was about abortion, since it was about the preservation of a species, not individuals. To me it suggests more of an animal-rights allegory.

And as I've mentioned elsewhere, "Up the Long Ladder" is a pretty strong pro-choice allegory, when Riker and Pulaski exercise their right to terminate their unborn clones and protest having their control over their own bodies taken away.
59. Ashcom
Beards are awesome. That's really all I have to say about this episode.
60. Kresling
Why has Riker always wanted to see Crusher as a brunette? Crusher herself compares beards to make-up, so why isn't the bet for Crusher to stop wearing a pound of make-up for a change? In fact, one of the most depressing aspects of the 24th century for me is that the women still cake their faces in it.
Brickhouse MacLarge
61. Midnightair
I'm very late to this conversation, but I don't mind!
@ 42 DianeB: "Only Her Hairdresser Knows for Sure,".... Yes, and her lover, I guess! \(^.^)/
The very cute Exocomps in this episode reminded me of the Harkonnen Devastator unit in the PC video game Emperor: Battle for Dune! I swear, they are extremely similar in shape!
This episode was interesting, the only thing I liked were the cute exocomps, and Data being told he wasn't a tool.
63. Stargazer4
Ha. Looks like I am the only one who actually liked this episode. Maybe because this is the first time I saw it? In any case, I enjoyed it.
64. ChuckL
"The Offspring" established that Data could not successfully reproduce ...

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