In Defence of Spock

[Epistemic status: tongue-in-cheek]

Spock has traditionally had a poor reputation among the aspiring rationalists of the early 21st century; for his poorly calibrated (even anti-calibrated) probability estimates, labelling of actions and emotions “logical” or “illogical”, and difficulty with emotional and interpersonal relationships. I argue that such condemnation, based on televised and non-representative events, is ill-founded.

First, all credible sources agreee that the Enterprise did in fact survive innumerable and hitherto-unknown hazards, which makes it hard to believe the the First Officer (and Science officer) could be so incompetent. Observing the strong effect of selecting events for dramatised television, our confusion is explained away by Berkson’s so-called Paradox: Spock’s probability estimates appear to be anti-correlated with subsequent events, but this is only because the many cases where he correctly identifies an event as likely or unlikely make for dull entertainment and are therefore ommited from the record.

Second, while the destruction of Vulcan makes reliable sources difficult to find, Spock’s World documents the philosophical/​religious idea of , translated as “reality-truth — seeing things the way they really are, instead of the way we would like to see them”. It is unfortunate that, being a scientist and officer but not a linguist, Spock resorts to the concise “(il)logical” when he has trouble translating such nuanced concepts into Federation Standard. Recall that this is a language which conflates (epistemic) rationality with (instrumental) rationality, requires lengthy explanation of foundational concepts such as curiosity, relinquishment, or lightness, and cannot safely dereference the void*.

Third, we might accept as the premise that Vulcans do have emotions, but (like humans) also some difficulty safely expressing them in ways acceptable to both Vulcan and most twentieth-century human cultures. It is therefore unsurprising that the sources where we tend to find evidence of Spock’s richer expressions of emotion and deeper relationships are often disputed or dismissed by historians.

In summary, we can understand Spock as a competent officer disadvantaged by cultural and language barriers and unfairly maligned by the televised medium. I propose that we refer to this half-Vulcan, half-steelman as .