Data from Star Trek is one of a long tradition of robot characters whose mechanical detachment when interacting with non-robots make for a lovable naivety. When an android is not working to end humankind, we find that really endearing.
Also, the idea of the robot handling human issues without the typically obscuring factor of human emotion is the human’s dream of efficiency. Well, an engineer human’s dream, at least.
Data has quirks, tics, and desires that make him seem human, or like he admires human characteristics, even though he is not. Data does these things, emulating human and organic being behavior, in order to better understand his fellow crew members. It’s a matter of practicality. But he also does these things – especially the more subtler humanistic things – as way to relate, be closer to his crew and for the crew to be more comfortable with him. Data is a robot human replica, but he works in many ways so that his crew members forget the ‘robot’ and ‘replica part of his description.
A lot of these things make no sense. But that is beauty of science fiction and long-lasting series. Creators take chances and make contradictions and the fans choose to care or not, both, and other ways, are fun.
Here are 15 Things About Data That Make No Sense.
15. Data’s Sherlock Holmes pipe
In the episode “Elementary, Dear Data”, Data learns about the fictional character Sherlock Holmes. Upon learning Holmes’ characteristics – his priority for objectivity and how he despises human failings – Data felt a kinship with the detective. That feeling of kinship led to Data acquiring a pipe like Holmes that he would hold in his mouth like an unlit cigar to remind him of his fondness for Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes is aloof in the sense of relationships. As a detective he is calculating, even robotic. Data emulates human/organic beings for more than practicality – he seems to want to connect more deeply; a fictionalization of the robotics-sentience/-ove idea. Holmes is one of the rare humans who struggles in the same high-functioning way Data does.
14. He favors his left hand
This quirk of Data’s is a choice. The fact that Data can make such choices speaks to his more-than-mechanical existence. Why he, a robot that both works to and enjoys emulating humans, would choose his left hand as his dominant hand is interesting.
Perhaps Data accumulated enough observational data to come to the conclusion some have on left-handedness. For example, the vast majority of presidents have been left-handed. Also, from a physical standpoint, being a southpaw is incredibly advantageous. A lesson Data surely quickly picked up on about humans is the power of assumption. That’s why left-handed basketball players and pitchers, no matter how famous they became, slip past right-handed (and right-hand minded) opponents all the time. Data wants in on the left-handed fun.
13. Data paints
Data’s left-handed preference does not share the same advantages in art. But that is the least of what is fascinating about a robot pursuing creative endeavors.
We’ve learned there is a certain to clean and efficiently operating code in computing. It would not be so surprising to find Data appreciating the beauty of some piece of hardware on the ship or some other computing obbjectingon their travels. What’s more surprising is that Data would have the need to express creativity at all, and that his chosen outlet would be painting – an age-old human endeavor that is soaked in emotion.
12. His hair
This is the first of many things about Data that make him a more interesting character, a better shipmate, and make no sense. Data has some base justification for little nonsensical flourishes like hair – he adds little things to his identity to better understand the humans he works with. Ultimately, though, you find yourself walking a hall of the USS Enterprise and bump into trusty Data, a robot with hair slicked back like Al Pacino.
Because Data has computing abilities superior to the human mind and robotic strength that dwarfs any organic being on the ship, he is primarily subservient. There are multiple occasions in which Data uses his abilities to prevent destruction to the ship or peril to its crew. The hair surely doesn’t assist with this in any way, though it may put the viewer at ease with the character.
11. Ion concentration weakness
Although Data’s polyalloy chest cavity provides him with strength that few others on the entire Star Trek series possess (Data’s brother Lore has similar abilities), he does have a weakness. Data’s immense strength has placed him in the position of being the crew’s superhero. And like Achilles and Superman, Data has a singular a weakness – atmospheric concentrations of ions.
Should the atmosphere clog up with ions, Data’s computer chips become overloaded, rendering Data useless. Furthermore, the loss of a crew member/device like a robot the caliber of Data would be catastrophic for safety of the the USS Enterprise’s future enterprises. Like Superman, Data just needs to get out of a cloud of ions and avoid any such cluster at all cost. It’s the only time Data is inefficient.
10. He uses contractions
Though fans and the crew refer to Data with male pronouns, “he” does not have a gender. This anthropomorphization is more than easy parlance for convenience sake – it is a categorical contradiction.
This speaks to the sneakily humanistic aspects to Data – such as his occasional use of contractions despite the established truth that he doesn’t use them. As a walking, talking computer, Data should not be able to contradict himself. His job, actually, is to figure out quantifiable contradiction. But, instead, there are multiple occasions in which Data clearly contradicts himself.
9. Data gets “drunk”
Another thing organic beings love to do? Get drunk! Or, at least, have a few drinks and unwind after a regular long day – like when your ship is attacked and you almost die again but everything is fine. There aren’t many more appropriate situations worthy of finishing up by plopping down to catch a buzz.
Drinking after hours with co-workers – there’s just something about it. Everyone gets a real kick out of seeing the people they work with let loose.
Unfortunately for Data, though, getting drunk is more of a hardware malfunction. When certain polywaters enter his system, it causes Data to get a little loopy. At least he does get to share in another human experience – something he clearly gets a kick out of.
8. Data could catch a robot cold
When Data is not feeling well (maybe he had one too many polywater concoctions), instead of reporting to the engineering dock to have his hardware retooled, he goes to the sick bay with the rest of the organic beings.
Considering Data’s robotic longing for organic characteristics, it’s pretty rough that, of the few humanistic things he gets to experience, getting a cold is one of them. Yet, it is still an organic occurrence that Data can at least learn from. Hopefully the USS Enterprise sick bay is equipped with perhaps polywater-based (there’s a little alcohol in Nyquil, so) remedy that at least numbs him from whatever is ailing him.
7. Data tries to sleep
Data does not sleep. But, as is his wont, he tries anyway. Being a robot – or anything – that doesn’t sleep at all (sorry to the insomniacs) must be extremely lonely.
The middle of the night, when everyone is asleep and quiet, can be wonderfully serene, but that generally comes from the knowledge that being up and alone at night is rare – not your nightly experience.
For Data, who has never been able to sleep as all of his crewmates do, it is precisely the necessity of sleep for others that makes him long for it. He wants to share in his crewmates’ experiences and feel he is like them. Alas, he tries to sleep to no avail.
6. Data can dream
Another human experience Data gets to share in is the randomness of an accident.
Following an accident on the ship, Data enters a dream state that transports him to his creator. After experiencing this and understanding it as a dream, Data attempts to access his dreams and his robotic subconscious through sleep. This accident is the cause for him to dream and for his ability to enter a state of sleep in order to dream.
Experiencing dreams and sleep are a large part of the human experience. On average, a person spends a third of their life asleep. But what is most human is Data’s desire to pursue and understand his dreams – he gets to share in the confusion and wonder of not fully understanding one’s own mind.
5. His emotion chip
Similar to the revelation of dreams that followed an accident, Data the unfeeling robor really just needed the advent of a chip that makes feelings for robots a reality. This is some really circular nonsense.
Data gets to experience feelings, another way he get to relate with organic beings. But he also has the choice. Emotion is a chip that can be installed or removed. Data knows life without feelings and thus can compare and contrast that with the experience of emotion.
Data’s desire for emotions and human experience seem to stem from one thing: all want what we can’t have. But even Data’s beloved Sherlock Holmes himself might relish the chance to live a life without emotions – making Data truly one of a kind.
4. Data simulates aging
Continuing the idea of an a la carte organic experience, one of the things everyone would choose to stop would be aging. Physical aging for Data wouldn’t accompany intellectual or emotional maturity, it would just be external aging, which sounds terrible. However, Data installs a program that simulates aging in his humanoid appearance.
Data does so to understand the feeling of aging that all organic beings know. Perhaps being the only thing that isn’t aging would be weird. Data staying exactly the same over the years would probably distance him emotionally from the rest of the crew. Data abhors being ostracized. Feelings chip or no – Data has a lot of feelings. His practical justification for such things – better understanding his crew – seems to be underpinned by very human insecurities of being left out.
3. Data has a blinking program installed
Blinking is a biological function that a robot does not need, but that any humanoid being would be unsettling without. Data already looks entirely like a human being. Looking at something that could fool you as a human but doesn’t do a little thing like blinking would be wildly creepy.
Data’s job is to be the first representation that crosses the uncanny valley and stands next to humans. Having to live with a creepy robot as a crew member would certainly be a downer for any Starfleet member.
2. Data simulates breath
Breathing is another humanoid flourish, but its absence, at least, does not climb to the creep-out potential of blinking. If Data were not to have the breathing simulator, it wouldn’t be that noticeable – outside of extremely quiet and still moment.
Imagine being up late on night and you head into public quarters to find Data. You sit next to him to talk a bit and relax, maybe quietly read something alongside him. In this situation, it would incredibly weird for complete motionless silence ffrom Data. In these quieter moments, its very nice that Data simulates someone breathing. It’s easier to forget he’s there – or that he’s a robot – when he is breathing than if when is completely silent.
1. Data simulates a pulse
Data is a stickler for the details. On top of blinking and breathing unnecessarily, Data actually simulates a pulse at times.
Only the most intimate scenarios would involve anyone noticing if Data has a pulse or not. Maybe Data has equipped these humanistic, organic being tics as fail-safes or signals for when things go wrong with his hardware.
Data’s version of having no pulse would be when it’s time to open him up and see what’s gone awry in his system. What’s certain is that Data really cares about fully emulating his organic crewmates aboard the Enterprise.
If such an intimate situation should arise, in which another crew member notices Data’s pulse, it would be incredibly endearing to note that Data would cares enough about seeming human to have something as insignificant (for him) as a pulse.
What else about Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation doesn’t make sense? Let us know in the comments!
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