The Suspect Science Of Star Trek: Discovery, ‘Context Is For Kings,’ Season 1, Episode 3 (Synopsis)

“If I die trying but I’m inadequate to the task to make a course change in the evolution of this planet…okay I tried. The fact is I tried. How many people are not trying. If you knew that every breath you took could save hundreds of lives into the future had you walked down this path of knowledge, would you run down this path of knowledge as fast as you could.” -Paul Stamets

When you look at the dark matter network of the Universe, what do you see? Do you see patterns similar to other networks, like neurons in your brain or the mycological mats found beneath the soil on Earth? Of course you do; our brains are extraordinary at seeing and recognizing such patterns. But do those patterns mean that there’s a relationship between the structure of the Universe and these other, biologically-based examples?

Atoms can link up to form molecules, including organic molecules and biological processes, in interstellar space as well as on planets. Is it possible that life began not only prior to Earth, but not on a planet at all? Image credit: Jenny Mottar.

That’s a question that you need math and science to investigate. Superficial relationships may have nothing deeper beneath the surface, and it’s against that false flag that scientists must be vigilant, in order to not fool ourselves. Yet even though this plays a vital role in Star Trek: Discovery, the episode not only falls for this fallacy, they make it a vital part of their latest episode: Context is for Kings. And it leads to some science-fiction that’s rooted in the opposite of science, instead tending towards pure wish-fulfillment.

On the largest scales, the way galaxies cluster together observationally (blue and purple) cannot be matched by simulations (red) unless dark matter is included. This cosmic web may look like a web produced by fungi on Earth, but the analogy does not go deeper than that, either mathematically or physically. Image credit: Gerard Lemson & the Virgo Consortium, with data from SDSS, 2dFGRS and the Millennium Simulation.

The suspect science of the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery sets up an interesting plotline, but fails on the count of believable science fiction. Read on for the full story.

25 thoughts on “The Suspect Science Of Star Trek: Discovery, ‘Context Is For Kings,’ Season 1, Episode 3 (Synopsis)

  1. Ethan,
    I will admit I’ve not watched the new STD (one heck of an unfortunate acronym), but after what you and others have described, and the exclusivist viewing business model being used to market it, I’ve decided to wait until CBS figures out which demographics actually watch Star Trek.
    .
    It almost pains me to say this, but new show Orville is actually better Star Trek than Star Trek is right now. It’s a tad more silly and a lot more crude than I would like, but it does touch on ideas without losing its mind, heart, or its moral compass in a sea of techno ‘context’.
    .
    When someone believes the mere ability to do something is justification for doing it, they are no longer the good guys. If the producers of Star Trek want to have a positive message, live long and prosper, they should remember that.

  2. Ethan.
    “Unless you can recreate the electrical patterns that compose someone’s mind a great distance away, and quantum entangle them across that cosmic distance (which can only happen at-or-below the speed of light, mind you), it’s never going to be physically feasible.”

    Really – you bring up ‘which can only happen at or the speed of light” for Star Trek? Not physically feasible? The show with WARP DRIVE, transporter beams, hand held energy weapons, tractor beams, inertial dampers, and artificial gravity on a structure that does not rotate?
    Now I am worried about your book 😉 😉 😉

    Cummon dude. Its fiction. They are exploring – your mind and imagination. This is the first episode that gave me hope – especially the second half. Even a good hard joke at last (“…and he knows you,” – perfect). They gave me what I asked for – NEW bad things, new challenges. And Micheal, although still dumb (first thing she does is break in?) is at least having Kirk-like inspirations and it turns out she was right – championing the wild card in the unknown – and Issacs wants that – she’s like the SAS in WW2.
    The bio/physics stuff is fluffy, magic space mushrooms (dude, cool) – but so is the rest.
    Its going to go wrong of course – thats the problem with prequels – its not in all the following series, though in terms of quantum meets biology maybe this is the forerunner of the Genesis device.

    And as far as that goes, quantum biology is establishing itself was a new field and tunneling and entanglement may be essential to many life processes, even life itself. We don’t know. Crikey, we only know what 4% of the Universe is made of, and we don’t know if quantum mechanics is right and there is a better underlying theory.

    As to the dark side of the Federation at this point, they are in a rock and a hard place trying to find their feet. The dark and the science hope always drive new empires (without the dark your empire will be crushed). I am hoping that the dark side is what ends up being Section 31.

    Picky points – the Jeffries tubes were big and square?
    They did a transporter jump in the ship with ease – but cannon says thats real hard and risky, Mr Scott.
    Still hate the triangular ship. And the doughnut dish with the gap – the windows, well you just end up looking at the windows on the other side. Roddenberry was right to reject this.

    Orville. Wow. Fun like the old ST. Rehashing well worn stories but 3 was awesome. And fun. Liam Neeson!! BUT, if the ST crew can fix their ion drives, foreign tech, in 24hrs, why couldn’t Neesons crew do that?
    Best line: Ah! Boom! Bitch!
    And a series of dick jokes that actually worked. Priceless.

    I got TWO fun shows to watch. Joy.

  3. About ST tech, I think we could try to focus on if there maybe any scientifically plausible way to achieve the same results, if any ST tech seems too farfetched 🙂

    For example, for FTL communication, I think most plausible way would be, if we could create and maintain twin microwormholes, where communication (laser) photons come in from anyone and come out from the other, assuming we had tech as advanced as needed and not to mention astronomical amounts of energy.

  4. Then let me put this another rather graphic simple way.

    If the speed of light is a max, then we are virtually screwed. Generational ships, as the one in EOP3 of Discovery that didn’t have warp drive is all we can look forward to. I really can live with that, but don’t tell me there is something devine about it.

    Like kids in a candy store – if there is a God and he shows us all this stuff and says no, you can never go there, well, I don’t want to express my feelings about such a God. Masochist. Oh, crap I blew it.

    I think (hope) (didn’t say believe) there is more.
    God I hope so!!!

  5. @Ethan wrote:

    In good art you can see the artist in the work. Star Trek is like that. You can see Roddenberry’s love for the state expressed in the work. It is even more than Heinlein, who thought only people who had served in the military should have the right to vote.

    Roddenberry’s college major was Police Science. He was a military pilot, then a civilian pilot, then a police officer. He was steeped in service to the state and/or surrounded by those of that mind. As a writer he wrote of Prosecutors in service to the state, and Law Enforcement in service to the state, and Star Ships in service to the state. That is where the Socialism in his universe comes from. He didn’t love the Russians or Karl Marx. He loved the military and its socialist structures such as military housing and the VA hospital.

    In Roddenberry’s idealized universe mutiny never happened. In ‘The Tholian Web’ of TOS, Chekov asks Spock if there is any record of mutiny on a Federation starship, and Spock replies “Absolutely no record of such an occurrence, Ensign.” That Michael Burnham exists at all breaks cannon, but that the writers have made her a hero and had a captain essentially say following rules is for losers, is figuratively urinating on Roddenberry’s corpse.

    It is not just the disregard for the state, Roddenberry was also anti-religion. Not only did they completely rewrite Sarek’s demeanor but they also gave him a magic soul that can bring humans back to life. Michael Burnham is closer to being Sookie Stackhouse that anything springing from Roddenberry’s imagination. I’m still going to watch it but I agree that it doesn’t feel like a Star Trek series.

  6. doh. misssed the quote.

    @Ethan wrote:

    Although it still doesn’t feel like a Star Trek series, it does feel like a high-quality space adventure.

  7. Now that BBC frequently runs the old Treks, I’ve come to appreciate how poorly the writers of the series understood stuff like math, physics, and an appreciation of scale differences. Still it was pretty good, drama, and often thoughtful sociology, even if the science was almost completely bunko. So I guess us science types will almost always be disappointed by Sci-Fi,. The best only needs one or two highly unlikely to impossible assumptions about its universe. But, mostly we get runaway artistic sci-abusing nonsense.

  8. #7
    Well maybe. But when I saw it first time as a kid, I believed it. Mostly. It was the best guesses from the science of the time.Or guesses of the future. Philip K Dick et al. As they say about hindsight.

    Now we have to make the best guesses from the science of OUR time. Whatever the constraints, we could go anywhere from here. Anywhere. And anytime.

  9. Frank
    “About ST tech, I think we could try to focus on if there maybe any scientifically plausible way to achieve the same results, if any ST tech seems too farfetched 🙂”

    As I said, WARP DRIVE, transporter beams, hand held energy weapons, tractor beams, inertial dampers, and artificial gravity on a structure that does not rotate?

    Where, really, do you want to start? I am game. Believe me. I WANT this possible future. Doesn’t make it real.

    Oh, and the spaceships bank as they turn. Looks cool, but…..

  10. Omega Centauri #7,
    For more plausible but good science fiction, try out “The Expanse”. It is far more closer to remotely plausible technology than magic. There are no convenient gravity machines or plot device transporter beams, or space battles with near massless aerial U turns. Humanity is just as flawed as ever in all its wondrous splendor and discord. I like the very un-Trek idea that the series makes abundantly clear: having lots of more toys and technology does not perfect humanity or make people more happy, just more complicated and crowded. It may upset/depress you when you find out what happens to humans who live away from their home planet without enough gravity and radiation shielding for too long on poorly recycled air and water.

  11. The math is really bad, One to the fourth power, can you imagine a bigger number? Then the whole speeds thing, it takes then hour to go a lightyear, yet we see stars rushing by every second. Then the enterprise had a problem traveling the speed of an asteroid that was gonna hit a planet in a few months. The starship is only about a million times faster, but it was such a stretch it broke the engines. And on and on. Yeah, I mostly swallowed it as a kid.

    Of course the more modern series, invents a gazillion types of mysterious radiation to endanger the crew in various ways (as the plot dictates), but none of it makes sense from a physics or medical perspective. It really takes a lot of effort to suspend belief enough to actually enjoy this stuff.

  12. “There’s a big difference between physics and biology,”

    Mh, in my sci-fi TOE project I look at elementary particles as ‘organisms’ and atoms as tree-structures made out of these organisms, all evolving out of a CA-like mechanism like plants do.

  13. @ SB #15
    Early 1900’s – car travel was fiction because you would die travelling over 2 MPH. Dick Tracy wrist radio was considered fiction. Rockets to the moon – fiction. At that time it was all fiction & fantasy. Over time, we explored the possibilities of such things; we learned how to harness an idea to make something from that seed. That is how we progress. The unknown and our imaginations are the fertile territory to help us move forward. The future findings are based on past knowledge pushing the boundaries further. ( Sounds like science!) Use your imagination; you may come up with an idea to research.
    🙂

  14. This was a rough episode for me.

    I was worried that this one would be another full on introduction episode, and I was sad to see that that was the case. Michael meets a new Captain, Chief Security Officer, Science Officer, and a roommate.

    Michael also meets up with Saru again, and he’s been promoted to First Officer. Good for him, but why? He says it’s because they saw what he did during the battle from the prior episodes, but all he managed to do was survive, and be a party to the old Captain’s war crimes, which have been glossed over. he also throws shade on Michael for not keeping the old Captain alive, which was zero percent her fault. There’s also no mention of ‘Hey, sorry you mutinied, but upon reflection I now see that the Captain’s approach was incorrect.”

    We see that Michael has only been through proceedings for her mutiny, not for her murders or other war crimes.

    The new Captain seems pretty evil so far, so evil Michael should have immediately hopped on the brain horn to Sarek to clue him in on all of this shady research.

    It seems we have micro mynocks in Star Trek now, and it seems pretty dumb that the Discovery brought the shuttle infected with them on board without decontaminating it first.

    Or saving the pilot of the prison shuttle.

    I noticed that the micro quantum fungus spores look exactly the same as the micro mynocks, so much so that it seems strange later when Michael sees the spores in her bedroom and doesn’t try to report it.

    The phasers seem super weak in this episode, so much so that the characters barely try to use them! They don’t even attempt to use full power against the genital fungus beast they encounter on the Glenn.

    Speaking of the genital fungus beast, Michael begs for a phaser, shoots the beast in the head to get its attention, then lures it into a Jeffries tube, much like Picard did to lure a biologically transformed Worf into an electric trap. When watching this, I could have sworn that Michael dropped the phaser behind her when she hopped into the shuttle at the end, and I was expecting her to have set it to overload and explode, but that never happened. Instead, they fly back to the ship, and at some time after that but before blowing up their own ship, they acquired the genital fungus beast for their shady lab. How did they get it? They must have beamed it aboard, which means that they must have scanned the ship to find it, which in turn makes you wonder why they didn’t just do that in the first place. The klingon wouldn’t have been a surprise, for one thing. You would think that this could be part of the overall shadiness of the mission, but literally no one brings this up, even the majority of people who seem not to be in on the conspiracy.

    Speaking of the Klingon, Ethan mentions the possibility that something having to do with the research into the magical space spores will be what changes the appearance of the Klingons to what they look like in TOS and TNG. I think that could be the case! Of course, we’ve already seen a cloned Kahless, and he already looked like the TNG version of the klingons, but I have no doubt that this could be one of the many bits of pre established lore that the show is steamrolling over.

    The Captain’s introduction was very strange. First, we see a close up of his eye in a darkened room, which I assumed included a reflection of the stars he was looking at through his window. He turns , and slowly the lights become brighter as he faces Michael. This would have been an okay, subdued effect that I probably wouldn’t have consciously noticed, but he breaks the rule of cool by stating he did that on purpose because he has eye damage. I can only assume they thought the eye effect was too subtle, because looking back at the eye it looks like it has the glowing space spores embedded in it. I also call shenanigans on this, because he could have easily replicated up some transition lenses for himself, technology that we have today. Also, because the ‘star in eye’ thing was recently done in the last season of Doctor Who. Double also because now we can expect this eye thing to come up again. Is it a boon that lets him self teleport, or is it a detriment that will allow Michael to get the jump on him in a fight later by shining a light in his face?

    Another weird thing was the lack of investigation of the regular crew into the genital fungus beast. No one bothered to get a tricorder reading on it? We had just seen a bunch of messed up crew members, and the first ones they showed were just empty skin sacks, so I assumed they transformed and popped out of their skins. Later we see a guy who’d just been mangled up though, so it would have been nice to have someone say it was definitely an unknown alien or definitely a transformed crew member.

    So far the impression I’m getting with this whole spore and monster combo is a bright and shiny copy of the Stranger Things show, where the evil government agents are replaced with people who sure seem a lot like Section 31.

  15. We’ve also established that the Discovery is on an ultra secret mission, that no-one trusts Michael, and everyone’s snubbing her as well. However, the captain orders her to report to one of the science sections, and First Officer Saru brings her there, tells her he thinks she’s dangerous – then leaves her outside the door, unsupervised! Then she lets herself in, and the door is unlocked! So that’s weird.

    Once inside, the Science Officer in charge clearly doesn’t trust her, and also finds her education background to be a professional threat. We also hear the Science Officer on a private message to his counterpart on the Glen, talking about being careful about going too far with this research, which is clearly the secret stuff the whole conspiracy is about. What’s weird here is that because he’s writing Michael off, he gives her what at first appears to be some random data files to sort out, as a test. However, it actually turns out to be the super secret files that govern the secret space spore project!

    Somehow, her super vulcan science abilities allow her to find errors even though she doesn’t know what the project is supposed to be. She points them out to the Science Officer, who ignores them. Later, the Glenn has some problem that kills everyone on board. However, no one makes any connection between the two! This might come up later, or it might be a red herring, either way it’s bad writing, because the Science Officer is distraught later, emotionally compromised enough to spill a whole bunch of exposition about the secret project, but this never comes up as one of the reasons he’s sad.

    What is this project even for? The captain tells Michael that it certainly isn’t a weapon (scoff), but for much faster travel times. However, ever since the soft reboot Abrams movies, all ships move at the speed of plot anyway, so why is this even a concern?

    If they’re going to start messing around with the universe, they can at least stay internally consistent!

  16. Good points on Saru. The first episode essentially establishes him as a coward. Hardly first officer material. Its hard to see this Captain, shady as he seems, wanting him as first officer – did he have no other choice? Or maybe just his best stop gap until he could get his hands on Michael. He’s should stay science officer.

    And I am having trouble with Michaels Vulcan smarts. Which she got just by attending Vulcan academy, Its long established cannon that the Vulcans are smarter than us with mental skills we can only dream of. I don’t see how she became Vulcan smart just by attending – she’s fully human. Spock had a hard enough time and he’s half human, though somehow he has full Vulcan ability – one of the best in fact. Maybe Sareks mind meld and weird Katra thing helped her? I’d want that for all the Starfleet Captains at least.

  17. #18 – comment of the week. Never these words in a row before. Hilarious. Would make a great song lyric.
    “They don’t even attempt to use full power against the genital fungus beast they encounter on the Glenn.”

    This is fun 🙂

  18. @Adam wrote:

    …people who sure seem a lot like Section 31.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with that one. I think the entire ship is Section 31. Even the ship number is NCC-1031.

    Suru’s warcrimes don’t matter to Sec 31 because it was done in the interest of killing the enemy and they have a war to win. I also put zero stock in how superior officers were acting, weak security, and even the genital fungus beast. It has already been established that Sec 31 tests their recruits before admitting them. That the captain knew she had broken in to the lab supports the idea that it was all just evaluation testing.

  19. @ Denier

    I hadn’t caught the ship number, that’s an interesting catch!

    I think Saru is only there to make Michael feel better, as a prior step of the Captain’s plan. He didn’t deserve a promotion, and he doesn’t appear to be in the loop about the most secret activities either, like how the Security Chief brought in the beast. In fact, his ‘fear of death’ tendrils came out around that time, and I’m wondering if he’s going to think Michael staying on board triggered them, when it might have been the beast instead.

  20. I suggested section 31 at #2, but I didn’t catch the number – thats a quick eye there Adam.

    Also, the more I think about the physics/biology speech, the more this spore tech (which will fail) seems like a forerunner to the Genesis device, ‘reorganizes matter at the molecular level’ where we now think quantum effects play an essential role, and Spock uses phrases like ‘It would destroy such life in favor of its own matrix’, which is physics/math talk on top of the biological processes. Not a bad effort. There will be a delicious irony there if Michael saves the day, trained by Sarek, and then indirectly ends up saving Sareks son.

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