This is not one of our usual daily history in science posts. Today, we want to pay tribute to an actor who played an extraordinary character that has become an icon: Leonard Nimoy and his alter ego Spock, the scientific officer aboard the starship USS Enterprise.
I was shocked yesterday evening by the news of Leonard Nimoy’s passing. As Spock, he was one of my childhood’s heroes. And not only one of them, Spock was THE hero and role model, one of the main reasons why I have become a scientist. Probably this also holds for many others of my generation who chose a path towards science and research.
When I grew up, one of the very first moments I remember having seen on TV was one of the Apollo moon missions. I was so sure that one day I would become an astronaut, however the only thing I knew about astronauts was that they are doing cool things in fancy suits somewhere in space and other planets. But, I don’t remember having seen anything personal of these astronauts. It was simply because they were riding in space ships doing incredible cool things.
But then one day, I watched Star Trek, the original series, on TV. Now, the astronauts had become “real life” persons. And wow, they were involved in some cool space adventures, too. Like so many of my generation I immediately became addicted to technology, fancying about the possibilities of space travel, warp drive, and teleportation. The main character of the TV series was Captain James T. Kirk, a classical heroic figure that is said to be heavily influenced by C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, but always with a twinkle in the eye. Nobody else but William Shatner was able to bring him to live and we all love him for that.
But for a boy like me, of course the scientific officer Spock,the laconic and imperturbable extra-terrestrial from planet Vulcan, living on perfect logic unable to express emotions, was the much more ‘fascinating’ character. (Almost) nobody was able to raise any visible emotions or anger in him. Well, besides raising one of his eyebrows maybe. While Captain Kirk usually solved conflicts with his bare fists, Spock didn’t need to. He always had his reasoning based on pure logic. Thus, Spock likewise became the centre of Star Trek’s optimistic vision of humanity’s future.
Solving conflicts peacefully by the application of logic. That was also one of the goals that famous mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (futilely in his times) aimed to achieve by applying his logical calculus to language. Today, understanding (natural) language as well as the content of images, audio files, and videos by application of machine learning, statistics, linguistics, and logics, has become one of my main research topics as a computer scientist. And as you might know from dealing with Siri, Alexa, or any other personal “intelligent” assistant, there is still a long way to go…
What later became much more interesting for me about Spock was the constant struggle with his both legacies, Human and Vulcan. He was “struggling to maintain a Vulcan attitude, a Vulcan philosophical posture and a Vulcan logic, opposing what was fighting him internally, which was human emotion.”
Thank you, Leonard Nimoy for sharing with us this optimistic and inspiring character! You taught us to ‘Live Long And Prosper.‘
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/leonard-nimoy-star-treks-spock-dead-at-83-20150227#ixzz3T3YNN3ZJ
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-  Dillard, J. M. (1994). Star Trek: “Where No Man Has Gone Before” – A History in Pictures.
-  Let Us Calculate – the Last Universal Academic Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, SciHi Blog, July 1, 2012.
-  Leonard Nimoy at Wikidata
-  Timeline for Leonard Nimoy, via Wikidata