Star Trek Discovery Title Sequence, 2017. Art of the Title.

Class M Planets

Searching for a world that is hospitable to life

The planet classification used in Star Trek science fiction media franchise uses letters to refer to classes of planets and planetoids with class M planets representing Earth-like planets, and therefore among the most frequented in the series.

Star Trek planet classification

Class M

Earth-like planet, the Class M designation is similar to the real-world astronomical theory of life-supporting planets within the habitable zone. The term is explained in-universe as deriving from the Vulcan term “Minshara”. The atmosphere is composed of nitrogen and oxygen and an abundance of liquid water necessary for carbon-based life to exist. Extensive plant and animal life often flourishes; often, a sentient race is also present. Under this fictional classification, Earth is a Class M world; other Class M planets that appear throughout the franchise include Vulcan, Cardassia Prime, Bajor, Betazed, Romulus, Ferenginar, Qo’noS, and Nibiru.

The starship Enterprise provided a hospitable, self-sustaining environment for its crew of adventurers in the search for new worlds. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, created a television series that captured the imagination of generations of fans. The series started with these words:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

As human beings who are fragile biological organisms, we have basic needs that must be fulfilled to sustain our lives. As it turns out, the environmental requirements that lead to human flourishing are so specific that the likelihood of finding such an environment in this universe are considered to be so remote that a theory of cosmogony has been proposed to explain the existence of our own planet: the anthropic principle.

For this planet and this universe to be habitable for human beings, certain characteristics are necessary for life.

The premise of the fine-tuned Universe assertion is that a small change in several of the dimensionless fundamental physical constants would make the Universe radically different. As Stephen Hawking has noted, “The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”

Fine-tuned Universe

Richard Feynman has described the fine structure constant in these words:

There is a most profound and beautiful question associated with the observed coupling constant, e — the amplitude for a real electron to emit or absorb a real photon. It is a simple number that has been experimentally determined to be close to 0.08542455. (My physicist friends won’t recognize this number, because they like to remember it as the inverse of its square: about 137.03597 with about an uncertainty of about 2 in the last decimal place. It has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it.) Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to pi or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It’s one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the “hand of God” wrote that number, and “we don’t know how He pushed his pencil.” We know what kind of a dance to do experimentally to measure this number very accurately, but we don’t know what kind of dance to do on the computer to make this number come out, without putting it in secretly!

The complexity is beyond my comprehension, and that is just the physical world. If there are also spiritual phenomena to understand, how can we possibly fathom the depths?

Mental Models

Human beings in our world have been likened to blind people, each with their hands on the elephant discerning its different parts but unable to fully comprehend the whole.

Blind Men Appraising an Elephant by Ohara Donshu, Edo Period (early 19th century), Brooklyn Museum

However, comprehension does not preclude existence. The form of the universe has an objective reality apart from our ability to understand it. We know a mere fraction of all possible knowledge primarily by the limitations of our own faculties to perceive. By our six senses — sight, smell, taste, touch, feel, and balance — we assemble a metaphorical or symbolic understanding of the world in our minds. We do not hold reality in our minds. Rather, our minds assemble the combination of experience, memory, conscious thought, unconscious biases, involuntary autonomic responses, and sensory stimuli into an image of reality. We create symbolic representations of reality, mental models, in our minds as an attempt to make sense of our environment.

To better understand the whole, we can learn about the parts by cross-referencing particular pieces of data with other pieces of data. By assembling larger sets of data, we are able to analyze this data and come to better conclusions than if we had a single point of view.

As you can see by the language that I am using, it is impossible to avoid symbols and metaphors as a way to communicate complex ideas. Thus, my fascination with graphic design.

The profession of design grew out of the industrial model of production that led to an economic system that favoured output levels, efficiency, repeatability, homogeneity, capital investment, returns, markets, competition, profit, growth, and technological progress. Design served the capitalist corporate model that has turned human beings into tools of empire to serve the needs of the idol we built. We turned humans into employees and consumers, dehumanizing them through messages about deficiency, shame, envy and scarcity that drive desire and consumption which in turn drives the machinery of production and the hierarchy built to sustain it.

We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.

However, we built a machine that is intent on destroying its creators, as many of our artists have been warning through one of the highest forms of creative collaboration: film and entertainment. Dystopian views of the future warn us of the current war between technology and humanity. The machines are threatening to replace us. These fears drive our politics. The class M planet is slowly being turned into a machine that is inhospitable to life.

Self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence, the creation of virtual worlds, experience design are the new model of the future. The Tower of Babel is being internalized. The idol is ourselves. We can name ourselves, create and curate our own personal brands, market ourselves, manufacture our own identity, our own alternative truth. We forge ahead into the abyss of narcissism without consideration of the consequences. It is an experiment of social engineering. With every technology, there are gains and costs, but who is counting? These technologies transform us, but who are we becoming?

Hierarchies and Networks

The old industrial model of identity is the machine and the hierarchy, embodied by the corporation. The new model of the Information Age is the network, the collective of open-sourced and crowd-sourced knowledge and capability. The politics of our age are a clash between these two paradigms.

Can we forge a synergy and a fusion between these two factions and find an economic stability of a hierarchy that coexists with a creative and innovative network? The only alternative appears to be the destruction of one by the other, and that seems to be the dystopian prophecy that some are trying so hard to avoid while others are trying to fulfill.

Hospitality

Out of this observation and constructed model of the current reality rises a question: what makes this world a hospitable place for life, and not just human life, but for all living things — for this living planet?

Hospitality, art, technology, human flourishing, bio mimicry, and spirituality. Renaissance (Rebirth), Reformation, Transformation. One of our sacred scriptures refers to transformation as a process that begins with the renewal of the mind. So, let’s rethink where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going. We best not rush this process.

The Long Now Foundation gives us the necessary perspective to think not just of ourselves but for the planet and for the legacy that we will leave when we are long gone. We must do better than those who have come before us.

For now, Earth is the only Class M planet that we know of. There is no PLAN(ET) B that we can escape to. While some people believe that their own escape plan is fool proof, they have voted for the fool who may bring us closer to the need for an alternate reality to replace the current one that he and his followers are destroying. I consider their plan to leave the rest of the world behind as heartless cowardice and callous indifference, not the love that should be their core identity.

Earth Manifesto

Let us consider how we can creatively, collectively collaborate in the project to transform our world to be a place of hospitality for all living things. That must be our common ground on this earth that we share. For earth we are and to earth we shall return. We are “adam,” we are but dust.

We are earth.

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design. https://stephenbau.com

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