Has Data ever held an image in his mind?
January 30, 2013 10:56 PM   Subscribe

In Star Trek: The Next Generation: Are there any explicit examples, in either the show or the non-canon supporting materials, of Data holding a specific image in his mind? Does he ever say anything like, "I am picturing ____" to explain, in visual terms, what he's thinking about? Does anyone ever direct him to "picture" something?
posted by Greg Nog to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
There's the episode where he develops the ability to dream.
posted by XMLicious at 11:03 PM on January 30, 2013

Data's dream program gives him nightmares, including dream images he sees while awake in this episode of TNG
posted by Bwithh at 11:06 PM on January 30, 2013

Data paints as a hobby. There are several examples of this, including the episode XMLicious recommends, Birthright (Part I). I can't recall a specific episode where he discusses his paintings apart from Birthright, but I feel certain he's had conversations about it and that might lead to what you're seeking. Searching for Data and episodes where he paints (aside from Birthright) might be helpful. :)
posted by juliebug at 11:38 PM on January 30, 2013

Yes, I too immediately thought of the fact that Data paints as an example of this. That said, he has so much trouble with idioms that he might "see" subject matter for his paintings differently than a human artist might. And that form of "seeing" might bear no resemblance to the kinds of abstract image/symbol oriented thoughts that humans have.

Another thing to think about is that the show isn't very consistent with what Data can or cannot do. For instance it's axiomatic that he doesn't have emotions, and yet he often makes choices that wouldn't be possible for someone without emotions. For example the fact that he plays poker and spends time solving mysteries on the holodeck. (If you couldn't experience pleasure or fun, what would be the purpose of playing a game?)

Beyond this, the show often claims he can't use contractions, but he actually uses them in dialogue pretty frequently. So if you're trying to find an example of a time that Data said, "I see..." or "I'm imagining that..." as proof that he holds images in his mind the way humans do, that's not really useful since he says all kinds of things that get swept under the rug whenever it's convenient for the plot.
posted by Sara C. at 12:16 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

"A blind man teaching an android how to paint? That's got to be worth a couple of pages in somebody's book!"
--Riker, finding Data and La Forge's hobby amusing
posted by zombieflanders at 4:13 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's also that episode in the 7th season where the show opens with Data in a sculpture class. Troi thinks he's thinking too literally and directs him to picture what shape music might be, and then sculpt it. Data sculpts a clef.
posted by indubitable at 5:20 AM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

" he often makes choices that wouldn't be possible for someone without emotions...(If you couldn't experience pleasure or fun, what would be the purpose of playing a game?) "

I don't think you get Data very well. Those situations constantly occur as an opportunity for Data to experience new things and learn to be more "human". Often during the events, Data is even poked fun of about how bad he is performing them because of his lack of understanding of the human spirit and emotion. In fact, the first occurrences of Data playing poker and playing Sherlock it's a large subplot and much dialog is devoted to speaking on the above. The show isn't consistent with Data because Data isn't a static character he is actively trying to change more than anyone in the series.

If being human is not simply a matter of being born flesh and blood, if it is instead a way of thinking, acting and feeling then I am hopeful that one day I will discover my own humanity. Until then Commander Maddox, I will continue learning, changing, growing, and trying to become more than what I am. -Data in The Measure of a Man

I think this is a good example of how Data thinks.

I think the episode BIrthright is a good example of Data thinking visually and a lot of exploration along those lines. He talks about having a "vision" and then tries to make sense of the vision with others. I think this could be considered the beginning of what your question is asking. He even says "The images I saw."
posted by zephyr_words at 5:27 AM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Perhaps not exactly what your are looking for...There is an episode where the Enterprise is stuck in a time-loop, where they keep encountering an anomaly that results in the Enterprise colliding with another ship and being destroyed.

The key to their eventually avoiding the collision (and breaking the loop) is Data coming to understand what is happening to the crew. He fixes the image of the rank pips on Riker's uniform in his mind, which ultimately act as a clue that he should follow Riker's idea on avoiding the collision.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:05 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure that the time-loop episode is relevant, because Data doesn't fix the image of Riker's pips in his mind, but rather sends himself a message containing the idea "three." In the next time-loop, he deduces at the last moment that three was meant to refer to Riker's designation. He's relying on the semantic content, not the image. I think the dreaming/nightmare episodes are better evidence that Data has some ability to visualize, although what was going on in Data's consciousness the moment he sent the time-loop message is anybody's guess.
posted by voiceofreason at 8:38 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

[I know it's a fun question but try to stick mostly to the topic? Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:32 PM on January 31, 2013

Though I'm intrigued by the Nagelian question of What Is It Like To Be A Data?, the main question is whether he ever says he's imagining pictures. I myself think in visual images quite a bit! But despite Data's ability to paint (replicating visual images in the world) and dream (which, in the construction of that episode, makes it seem like he's simply inhabiting an unreal world in the same way that he inhabits the real one, as though he may have merely switched input devices feeding into his processing centers), I cannot recall any moment where, in waking life, he says he's picturing an image. In zephyr_words's linked video, he lists some ideas, but not necessarily images. Are there any textual examples of him doing so?
posted by Greg Nog at 2:02 PM on January 31, 2013

Just to clarify: I appreciate the people who pointed out Birthright, but I think what I'm getting at in re that episode is that this "new program" seems to allow for dreaming and hallucination in a way that's very different from the way he otherwise experiences the world. What I'm more interested in is the baseline "normal thought process" of Data, and if he ever mentions picturing images in his consciousness as part of that.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:08 PM on January 31, 2013

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