Kobayashi Maru as a metaphor for life

December 11, 2013 | By | Reply More

Perhaps because life seems especially rich with meaning and change is in the air, I’m in an existential mood tonight. When that happens, I’m often reminded of the Star Trek notion of Kobayashi Maru. Here’s the description from Wikipedia:

The Kobayashi Maru is a test in the fictional Star Trek universe. It is a Starfleet training exercise designed to test the character of cadets in the command track at Starfleet Academy. The Kobayashi Maru test was first depicted in the opening scene of the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and also appears in the 2009 film Star Trek. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Dr. McCoy referenced the test as an example of the no-win scenario that he and Captain Kirk were facing.[1] The test’s name is occasionally used among Star Trek fans or those familiar with the series to describe a no-win scenario . . . The objective of the test is not for the cadet to outfight the opponent but rather to test the cadet’s reaction to a no-win situation.

Hmmm. No-win scenario? A test of character? Yes, each of us is part of a no-win scenario. We are each on a conveyor belt inexorably pulling us toward dusty death. Obviously, the “meaning” of life (to the extent that it makes sense to speak of “meaning of life”) cannot be how to cheat the system, because there is no long term cheat. This is true, despite the efforts of many religious folks to conjure up afterlives. You “lose” even if you make a world-class contribution to your community or world such that people will talk about you for awhile after you die, maybe even for 100 years or more. You “lose” even if you have lots of offspring and they bear you grandchildren who will sometimes, decreasingly, mention your name. But eventually there won’t be any people still living to talk about you. The conveyor belt will have dragged both you and your reputation to oblivion. That’s the sad part: you are immortal, ephemeral. Many people suffer and struggle all the way to the end. Consider Shakespeare’s words:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

Just as the end of the movie Titanic, we can choose to see life as a test. Perhaps one of the best ways to approach life is to see whether you have the will and the courage to exhibit honorable character even though you know that you are in a no-win scenario. Hence, the Kobayashi Maru approach to life.


Category: Meaning of Life

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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