Published Apr 26, 2023
The Possibility of Life with Jaime Green
The acclaimed science journalist stops by the latest episode of The Pod Directive.
Star Trek: The Pod Directive is back with a brand new episode! Debut author and acclaimed science journalist Jaime Green is bringing her expertise and passion for life on our planet and others!
Our hosts Paul F. Tompkins and Tawny Newsome get a chance to ask her about evolution on earth and beyond, how our search for life on other planets may be too narrow, and discuss the uniqueness of alien life on Star Trek, in science fiction, and in the real world.
On Our Search for Other Life
In Green's debut book, The Possibility of Life: Science, Imagination, and Our Quest for Kinship in the Cosmos, she presents a spellbinding exploration of alien life and the cosmos while examining how the possibility of life on other planets shapes our understanding of humanity. The science behind the inquiry, "Are we alone?," is a reflection of our values, our fears, and most importantly our enduring sense of hope. As such, there's mention of how Star Trek factors into this examination.
Green shares with the hosts, "Star Trek is just foundational for me. It's foundational to the book and my interest in alien life. It's foundational to me and my relationship to science and sci-fi. I remember when I wrote the first line of the book, which is literally, 'Of course we start with Star Trek," because of course we start with Star Trek. We have to. It's also in the book a lot because it has a lot of really interesting intersections with real science in fantastical and very scientific ways. So it was just really useful for what I was trying to do in the book, but also it's just all up in my heart."
A core concept our hosts and guests taps into is the possibly narrow scope of understanding and search of other lifeforms; its based on what we know of humanoids, our carbon-based searching for water, searching for the types of conditions where a body like ours would thrive.
On Seeing Ourselves Through Others' Eyes
Green highlights one of her favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation — "The Nth Degree" — which features Reginald Barclay, on the podcast.
In "The Nth Degree," the Enterprise-D heads out to repair a telescope and end up investigating a probe found near it. After Barclay is knocked out by an energy surge from the probe, his demeanor, confidence, and intelligence grows. Dr. Crusher discovers the change in Barclay's brain tissue has rendered him the most advanced human being who ever lived. No wonder he's debating with a simulated Einstein in the holodeck. Picard and the crew soon learn the probe was the Cytherians' approach to researching new species. In exchange of their knowledge of tens of thousands of civilizations, Picard allows the Cytherians to scan the brains of the entire crew.
Reflecting on the episode, Green notes, "I love that in the end of the episode's log entry, [Picard] says that they've left with all this information from the Cytherians that it's going to take humans decades and decades to go through. I love that idea of just the ongoing study that would be necessary; yes, there are those snap judgements, and a lot of things happen very quickly and very smooth in Star Trek because of universal translators and the limits of episode lengths, but...now we have their encyclopedia. Now there is a new department at Starfleet that is Cytherian studies. They're going to be scholars, and they're going to be, 'All right, let's learn about this new species and their planet.'"
It's with "The Nth Degree" that Green realizes her appreciation for the character Barclay, stating, "Part of why I love that episode and the other Barclay episodes because he's not charming until... He's so lovable. He's such an underdog, but also everyone else in the main cast is competent. They're always good at what they do, and I realized they're always solving problems that are external. And Barclay is working on Barclay. I just really appreciate how flawed he is. And yes, maybe he shouldn't have made it into Starfleet, but if we think about how many people are in Starfleet, is it possible that there are that many thousands and thousands of people who are as confident and skilled as the main crew?"
In the episode, Green helps reframe what life on other planets would be like, helping us move from "Are we alone?," to "What does it mean to be human?". To hear more on Jamie Green's musings on Star Trek, chat AI, and revisit their conversation on SETI and METI from Season 2, listen to the latest episode of Star Trek: The Pod Directive! Also, be sure to grab Jaime's debut book, The Possibility of Life, out now and available from booksellers everywhere!