Brother Cavil: In all your travels, have you ever seen a star go supernova?
Ellen Tigh: No.
Brother Cavil: No? Well, I have. I saw a star explode and send out the building blocks of the Universe. Other stars, other planets and eventually other life. A supernova! Creation itself! I was there. I wanted to see it and be part of the moment. And you know how I perceived one of the most glorious events in the universe? With these ridiculous gelatinous orbs in my skull! With eyes designed to perceive only a tiny fraction of the EM spectrum. With ears designed only to hear vibrations in the air.
Ellen Tigh: The five of us designed you to be as human as possible.
Brother Cavil: I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to – I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to – I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me! I’m a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I’m trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!
(BSG Season 4: No Exit)
Yes, I’ve been binge-watching Battlestar Galactica, I admit it. I love to watch it, twice in a row if possible. There is so much in there. I wish I could write like that.
There are many themes I like: How the characters change over time. How people are supposed to act heroic, and how some do, and later forget all about it. Some don’t and later learn to do it, and some just muddle along. I love how Gaius Baltar is mirroring, predicting what we’re about to become: self-centered, narcissistic, attention-seeking opportunists; the selfie-generation. I love how President Roslyn tries to maintain softness and femininity at the same time as developing a hardened heart, knowing there are things that have to be done, people to be sacrificed ‘for the greater good’ — and how she barely realizes that this hardness changes from an unwanted duty to second nature. But most of all I love the Cylons.
I always liked the theme of artificial intelligence, of computers developing consciousness, of the way they treat us, and we treat them. Of course this is the SciFi-equivalent of the theme of racism and discrimination. In most SciFi universes, humans have developed beyond sexism and racism. Instead, SciFi has Aliens, or conscious computers who can be hated, enslaved and treated as inferiors.
BSG is developing that theme very well, I think. From calling the Cylons Toasters to talking about “that thing” — it’s all there, together with the appropriate quotes about creating things and then forgetting one’s responsibility. There is too much to write about in detail, and I’m sure cleverer people have done that already.
But that quote above, that is special. Cavil, Cylon #1, doesn’t want to be human, and yet, he speaks like one, feels like one, has desires like one. Those of us who are fascinated with space exploration will understand this quote. Who hasn’t yearned to be there, be part of the moment, to see gamma rays and smell dark matter? Just like Cavil, we are stuck with our gelatinous orbs and prehensile paws. So far, so good, right?
But then he forgets who and what he is. “I’m a machine!” he says. “And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I’m trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!”
He is a machine, true enough. But machines are built, just like humans have evolved. How can he possibly be ‘part of the moment’ when he’s always limited by the tools his creator gives him? We evolved, we can build things, figure out things. We have machines that detect gamma rays, physicists have figured out how to detect the elusive dark matter — but there is so much more out there we don’t know about yet. And things detected with tools probably can never be a part of us, be part of our senses, or can they? We’ll see where the development of virtual reality will lead us.
When you follow ESA and NASA, read about comets and other galaxies, dust clouds, nebulae… or the Hadron collider: There is new knowledge gathered every day. Effects, events we can guess at, calculate, but can’t measure, nor detect. Cavil could, with better tools, find things faster, but for him, too, there’d be things he doesn’t know yet, so how can their detection be part of him? How can he, then, be part of it all? In that, he is exactly like us. Knowledge leads to better tools leads to more knowledge leads to wonder and amazement and wanting to be part of it all. He has to use this method like we do. No matter which shape he has, his desire to know, to experience, to explore makes him be as fascinated and amazed as we are, and feel like we do. It makes him human.