CSN professor brings educational panels to ‘Star Trek’ convention
Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.
Beth Seacord is about to boldly go where she could only dream of as a child growing up in Glendale, California.
“I was a ‘Star Trek’ fan. I got into it in junior high. They had conventions and stuff, but my parents thought I was absolutely crazy. They were, like, ‘What kind of daughter do we have?’ ”
As a result, Seacord didn’t attend her first “Star Trek” convention until moving to Las Vegas three years ago.
Now she’s organized two educational panels — “Medical Ethics in Sickbay” and “Time Travel, Transporters and the Terran Universe: Philosophy and Star Trek” — at the annual convention devoted to the franchise that returns to the Rio on Wednesday.
Staffing the panels with experts was a breeze for Seacord, an assistant professor of philosophy at the College of Southern Nevada. “I basically just contacted my friends who are smart, personable and like ‘Star Trek.’ And philosophers are dorks, so a lot of them like ‘Star Trek.’ So there was a lot to choose from.”
For the medical ethics panel, Seacord also enlisted actors John Billingsley (“Star Trek: Enterprise’s” Dr. Phlox) and Robert Picardo (“Star Trek: Voyager’s” Emergency Medical Hologram).
The panels are an extension of classes she previously taught: “Philosophy and Film” at CSN and “Introduction to Philosophy through Science Fiction” at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University.
“I want to represent philosophy to the public in a way that makes sense,” says Seacord, 43. “So one of my goals as a philosopher is to take these ideas that can be really abstract, hard to grasp and maybe even boring for some people — especially people who are concrete thinkers — and to bring those ideas to a place of relevance. Sometimes, the best way to make abstract ideas relevant is through media and pop culture.”
As an example, she says, “Bill &Ted’s Excellent Adventure” is a terrific example of the four-dimensional space-time block. “Everything is here all at once. It’s static. We’re just psychologically experiencing time as a flow. But it’s not flowing. It’s already all there. It’s already all happened.”
What’s something you wish people knew or understood about philosophy?
It touches every subject, every field of study. Philosophy has a foundational role in every area of study, and it has a foundational role in people’s lives. “What ought I believe? When should I believe things? When should I withhold belief? What is a good life? What does it mean to experience well-being? How do I experience well-being?” Philosophy has insights into all of those things. It’s essential academically, but it’s also foundational to the question of what is a good life and how do I live a good life and a satisfied life. So it’s really practical.
How did you get involved with the “Star Trek” convention?
Three years ago, I got a ticket on Groupon, went and had a fantastic time. The people are warm and inviting. Just the other fans are really fun. And then you see these actors that have been these characters, they’re just walking right by you. Right there! … I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to do “Teaching With Trek”? And then I said to myself, “That’s a stupid idea. They’re not going to want that.” Then the next year I went, and what did they have on the program? “Teaching With Trek.”
Do you have a favorite “Star Trek” series?
I have nostalgia over “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” because that was how I got introduced to “Star Trek.” I was 11, 12, 13 years old. They were doing reruns every day in the summertime at 5 o’clock. It was, like, go swimming at my grandmother’s house, watch a “Star Trek” episode. It was just really nostalgic for me.
What is it about the show that appeals to you?
I think it’s really comforting. It’s this idea, even though everything’s really bad now, it’s all going to turn out OK. So you just get to escape in this fantasy world where — look at the future! We’ve overcome hunger. We’ve overcome prejudice. … I think it’s the optimism and this kind of calming reassurance that everything’s going to be OK.
Anything people really should make time for at the convention?
Klingon Karaoke. I mean, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen that.