- Spock, "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country"
Today marks the end of this life for Leonard Nimoy, a man most famous for his portrayal of Spock -- the half-human, half-Vulcan first officer of Captain Kirk on Star Trek. I'm certain that many fans and non-fans alike responded to the news with some variation of "how sad." I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this is an illogical response.
It is not sad that he has passed on; you may feel sad.
The fact is that everyone dies. The fact is that he was an 83 year-old man. Eventually, whether it be today or 10 years from now, he would have died. Logically speaking, there is nothing "sad" about this.
For a man whose primary contribution to the arts -- Spock -- was the personification of such logic, I felt inspired to do a brief riff on the philosophical implications of logic on our world. Some say acting through pure logic trivializes emotions and, thus, humanity. I argue the opposite. Logic breeds compassion, because it is only logical to care for others. Let me explain.
Supporters of logical thought come from many creeds, time periods, and locations. Vedic traditions in India (3500-1500 BCE) were known for valuing the logical path in life. Buddhism adapted logic as one of its primary tenets. Aristotle, the father of Western logic, included it in his classical trivium, a trio that also included rhetoric and grammar. If you know me, you can see how highly I must value this concept.
Yet it's something we do not see enough of in our contemporary world. So often we are urged to do what we feel like or what we want rather than to do what is logical.
Let me give you an example: Have you ever approached a traffic light while driving on a multi-lane boulevard, only to see that a person near the front of the line has decided at the last minute to turn left instead of going straight? This person might angle their vehicle at a diagonal, turn signal flashing, as they block 3/4 of the lane from which they are trying to escape. The end result is that each and every person behind this car must suffer -- at the very least -- a brief delay and -- at most -- an accident that could lead to injury… all because the person wanted to turn left at that particular light instead of make a U-turn up ahead.
What about a husband who abandons his wife and children for a fling? Sure, the new girl might be younger. Maybe the sex is better (often "newer" is confused with "better"). But most often, the decision to sacrifice the feelings of people who previously relied on you is not done to serve the greater logical good -- it is done out of desire. He wants to feel the pleasure of someone else instead of upholding his commitment to family.
The decision by the driver and the philanderer are both grounded in entitlement. Logic would dictate doing what helped the road function more efficiently, what helped the children and mother thrive. Yet these types of events occur every single day.
Some say that the opposite of logic is emotion. Those responding emotionally are supposedly incapable of adhering to true logic. To a certain extent, this is undeniable. One of the glories of Star Trek was watching Kirk come to his final decision on matters of life and death as the humanitarian Bones screamed emotionally about what was moral while the unflappable Spock detailed the logical implications of any action. Interestingly, though, the right tack often proved to be a healthy combination of the two.
How could that be? How can combining opposites bear a fruitful solution? Shouldn't that create discord? Shouldn't they cancel each other out? ISN'T THE NOTION ILLOGICAL?
To account for this, I propose something else altogether. Perhaps the two aren't, in fact, "opposites." As the two examples above seem to indicate, illogical decisions often reflect an element of entitlement. A delusion of grandeur, if you will. It's as though the agent of illogical acts believes his/her own needs are more important than the needs of those affected by the action. Therefore, I contend that entitlement serves as perhaps a more effective opposite -- if not in literal definition, at least in practice -- to logic.
Buddhism preaches the concept of "no-self." It is one of the prerequisites for a bodhisattva, or one whose purpose in life is to serve for the benefit of all beings on Earth. While these amazing people may not earn much money (if any at all), somehow they find compassion to be enough payment to live a satisfied life. Almost anywhere you look, you'll hear similar stories of contentment through serving others. Yet people still spend their lives going after money, stocking up, protecting their own desires. Logically, wouldn't being compassionate bring greater joy in life?
In that way, logic is truly the most compassionate, human trait.
Rest in peace, Mr. Spock. I'd write more about how the world will miss you, but realistically, your contributions will outlive your presence here. You gave logic a face for so many years, so wouldn't it be most logical, rather than saying "We'll miss you," to merely say, "Thank you"?