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One of the ties between the (mostly in not-canon stories, by my metric) Doctor Who expanded universe and Star Trek is the burden of omniscience.

This is realised in slightly different ways and degrees. In Star Trek, there's the Q Continuum, a race of fully-omniscient omnipotent transcendi who, having seen, done, and said all there is to see/do/say, have settled down to boredom. The Doctor Who universe has the Gallifreyans, who are simply collectively among the most powerful beings in the universe, with some powers (mind control, limited teleportation, multiple lives, telekinesis, etc) inherent in the species but most of their efficacy coming from amazing education and technology. A novel I'm rereading for the Nth time set in that universe explores this, painting that the possibilities open to individuals and the species is daunting enough that the sterile, bureaucratic nature of Gallifreyan society (as portrayed many times in the series proper) is the easiest ways for individuals and groups to remain functional.

TED and a number of other talk-centric media have been pressing home this point heavily; that excessive choice, while intuitively theoretically good, actually hampers us. There are good refinements on the idea; those of us who like to geek out on a topic and give it our education and attention can handle (and reasonably want) more choice than others in it (which is why interfaces designed for not-terribly-technical people might reasonably follow the Apple philosophy of "no options, we'll decide all the details" and why those restrictive interfaces are irritating for those of us who love to tinker).

I've often struggled with the predictability of life; the premapping of most likely conversations I'd have with particular people, experiences of travelling to a coffeeshop for the fifth time turns into a projection of all the things I might do there and vivid maps of the sensations including each branch of likely events. It's maddening enough a tendency (and automatic enough) that I keep hoping to push things off-script, and thirst for novelty that never seems to happen, and I sometimes wonder why I should bother leaving the apartment at all when my maps have grown accurate and comprehensive enough. The detachment gets worse when I think about it; even the idea of falling in love, maybe having kids, spending the rest of my life with someone, which at this moment is priority number one in my life (yet one I'm not well-suited to meet) feels tamed when mapped; my fingers trace along the possibilities. Maybe the other person really would be *that* into me, as hard as it is to imagine, and things would be great, but there's this feeling of futility and boredom as I trace further, through middle age (even one full of ideas and ideally kids) through old age to death. The other possibilities of being cheated on, or a random unfortunate death, or just drifting apart... and when I become self aware enough of the mechanics of attraction, they stagger and fall back. As the famous quip about humour goes, "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process". So as with love, and life, and everything else. Seeing the big picture is disasterous for our need for meaning in life.

Is brinksmanship with enlightenment a reasonable way to live life? A careful doublethought to keep our heads out of the clouds? A retreat to entertainment? A pretending that decisions in activism and philosophy are more solid than they ever could be as a way to give us traction to give our mind things to spin on?

What do we do when our existentialism fails to comfort because we've learned to deconstruct it too well? If our desires fall away from us?

I suppose we sleep and hope we don't feel that way in the morning.


I find refuge from this "boredom" in acts of creation, tangible contributions to the progress of humanity. building something new, whether it's art or technology or knowledge, provides a direction which to "perfectly predict" would be just the starting point. stuff like falling in love and having kids, while an important motivator, is auxiliary to that.

if humanity ever stops growing completely (as I imagine the Q continuum have done?), I suppose I will lose that refuge, as then I'd be able to question the value of my contribution to humanity, but I suspect my lifespan won't take me to that point. :P

philosophical omniscience turns life into an infinitely large blank canvas, instead of the predefined race course it used to be, and it turns us into artists instead of competitors.

Edited at 2012-02-06 03:00 pm (UTC)