Farewell to Leonard Nimoy


Everyone knows that Leonard Nimoy died yesterday.

We couldn’t think of anything to say, so we’re posting NASA’s Image of the Day. The accompanying text says:

International Space Station astronaut Terry Virts (@AstroTerry) tweeted this image of a Vulcan hand salute from orbit as a tribute to actor Leonard Nimoy, who died on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Nimoy played science officer Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series that served as an inspiration to generations of scientists, engineers and sci-fi fans around the world.

That picture says it better than anything we could have done.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Farewell to Leonard Nimoy

  1. If you notice, the portion of Earth shown in the background is Massachussetts. Nimoy was originally from Boston. No idea if that was intended, but it’s cool!

  2. Gary says: “Nimoy was originally from Boston. No idea if that was intended, but it’s cool!”

    Yes, it was intentional. I didn’t quote the entire text from NASA.

  3. TooLongSabbatical

    Interesting. It’s the rabbi’s blessing of peace upon the congregation of worshipers. (i.e., Shalom, represented by forming the first letter of the word, the Hebrew SHIN.)

  4. I’m sure it was an “in” joke on Nimoy’s part.

    Pretending for a moment that Vulcan is real, though, it wouldn’t be surprising if a simple cultural element from Earth were duplicated there. In real life, for example, the swastika was found not only in India (from which the cuckoos of the Nazi movement swiped it and reversed the originally benign symbol into a “Black Mass” version of itself) but among Native Americans, who developed it independently.

  5. Eric Lipps said:

    I’m sure it was an “in” joke on Nimoy’s part.

    I think so too, Eric. So many cultures have greetings which involve raising the hand, and with the Spock character being stoic and full of gravitas, Nimoy probably wanted to give Spock some extra cultural identity and sense of presence. How brilliant he was in introducing a simple but profound, ritualized symbol of Vulcan society.

    Many have asserted that all such hand-raising greetings were originally rooted in showing that one carried no weapon in that hand, but I’ve never researched that claim. Furthermore, if showing a lack of weapons was important, and therefore proving peaceful intentions, surely both hands would be opened and shown. So I’ve often wondered if all such hand gestures as greetings were once performed with two hands.

    The first time I saw the episode where Nimoy used the SHIN gesture, even though I too recognized it as the rabbi’s blessing, I tried to imagine what kind of back story it might have had in a fictional culture like that of the Vulcans. Obviously, it would surely need to have a very rational and logical explanation behind it and my first thought was anatomical: The ulnar nerve field maps the fourth and fifth fingers so that sensory signals from that part of the hand are routed differently from those of the other digits.

    Technically speaking, I think (?) the sensory nerve mapping actually divides the fourth finger in half, but seeing how Vulcans aren’t Homo sapiens sapiens nor a real species at all, I figured I could fudge the extent of their ulnar nerve field by half of a finger or any way I wished in order to make up my own explanation from thin air. (Yes, much like the Young Earth Creationist and the “creation scientist”, a science fiction writer can make up the science as he goes along!)

    Of course, I still needed to come up with a Vulcan myth to explain why the presence of multiple neural sensory fields would symbolize peace. [BTW: In religious studies and anthropology, a myth is a culture’s explanation for the origin of a familiar phenomenon or commonly recognized practice. Unlike the meaning of the word myth in common, non-scholarly usage, it does not denote or even connote whether or not the tale is true. Just as a scientific theory is not simply a “hunch” as many non-scientists assume, scholars use the word myth as a technical term which differs in meaning from the same word used in common parlance by the average English-speaker.] I hypothesized the unusual grouping of the fingers of one hand as representing the formerly warring, multiple cultures on the planet which had united under the one universal Vulcan Code of Conduct after emotions and strife had almost destroyed them. Thus, “One hand. One people. One logical mind.” might/could have been the motto for this united Vulcan populace which had abandoned all emotion in order to make peace and unity possible, and the hand gesture symbolized it–even while the positioning of the five fingers served as a reminder of the original 2/2/1 groupings of the formerly warring federations of nations which Gene Roddenberry imagined. Yes, that’s an elaborate concoction on my part but it is exactly the sort of logic-based/science-based myth that Vulcan culture might produce.

    But then I asked myself why I was wasting mental energy on such pointless hypothesizing on a cultural practice of a society which never existed, especially when I had very real papers to grade. Recalling that unproductive diversion of time and effort (i.e., day-dreaming) reminded me of why I never became a trekkie nor ever attended a Star Trek convention. But from that “thought experiment” experience (and others like it) I can and do understand why so many fans were similarly drawn to that imaginary world of a Star Trek fictional future. There’s much that is very powerful and profound in Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy made his own important contributions to that work of art which went far beyond his acting efforts alone. The ingenious application of the SHIN/Shalom ritual blessing, which I assume Nimoy had witnessed in his synagogue as a youth, was one of them.

  6. Welcome back, Professor Tertius.

  7. I’ve also often wondered how the survival-driven evolutionary processes produced in our species such a strong interest in the arts and the many diverse products of our collective imaginations, including science fiction.

    I have wondered how Gene Roddenberry would have addressed that question, and many others. With any science fiction writer, the reader naturally wonders about the extent and range of an author’s scientific background and knowledge. Also, how faithful or constrained does a given science fiction dramatist like Roddenberry intend to be? Are questionable scientific aspects of a script evidence of error in scientific understanding or are they simply the kinds of liberties one makes in crafting an imaginary “universe”? With Roddenberry I’ve wondered how much he knew about evolutionary processes and how much that knowledge may or may not have informed or guided his various humanoid (or, at least, human-like) species and his frequent references to “Type M planets”, for example.

    I was introduced to the Star Trek creator by a mutual friend back when he was touring university campuses (1975??,1976??) with his “road show” of the original TV pilot, Christmas blooper reels, favorite anecdotes, and talking about possibly producing a Star Trek movie. (At that time Roddenberry was very pessimistic that a movie, let alone an entire cinema sequel franchise, would ever come together.) I foolishly squandered my time with him in failing to tap his brain adequately on many of the broader science topics related to Star Trek but did learn a lot from his “insider’s view” of how Hollywood works, especially as to how “the suits” [studio and TV executives] interfered with the art and creative process. (Those seemed to be topics and anecdotes which flowed from him quite naturally with little prodding.)

    In old age–at least for me–it is easy to recall and regret (yes, while rambling on and on as so many of us old folks are prone to do) a lot of lost and squandered opportunities to learn as much as we might have from many such invaluable, impromptu conversations with genius.

    (And I certainly did consider Roddenberry a kind of genius.)

  8. Professor Tertius asks:

    Are questionable scientific aspects of a script evidence of error in scientific understanding or are they simply the kinds of liberties one makes in crafting an imaginary “universe”?

    I’ve always understood that in the sub-genre known as “hard science” fiction, the science had to be at least plausible — with the traditional exceptions of time travel and faster-than-light travel. All else fades into fantasy. Star Trek usually remained plausible — if one grants that their energy weapons and transporters are reasonable extensions of what is know known.

  9. Perhaps my expressions of regret concerning opportunities lost–both with Roddenberry and some other people of great genius and talent–will encourage others to not do as I did and to always carpe diem.

    [My worst fumble in regard to lost opportunities was with Kurt Gödel, but cross-cultural etiquette will serve as my best excuse and rationalization for that failure. In all honesty, if truth be told, I’m embarrassed to say that at that time I lacked an adequate mathematical grasp of Gödel’s revolutionary discovery. I wasn’t even aware that many polls of leading scientists, then and now, asked to rank the most significant discoveries of the 20th century, so often put Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem at the very top or close to it. (I could still kick myself.) Rather than admit to the stunning ignorance of my relative youth at the time, and my yet-to-be-developed, cross-disciplinary efforts to broaden the scope of my knowledge and scholarship, I still prefer to pretend that I was just being polite and deferring to a senior and far superior scholar. Yes, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Like a fine wine, self-justification becomes more nuanced with age. Or perhaps it doesn’t.]

  10. Nimoy also came up with the Vulcan nerve pinch. He was supposed to knock someone out with a punch, but thought that it wasn’t the approach a logically drivien person would take to the problem.

  11. @SC: Yeah, should have clicked the link before commenting. I just saw what looked like Mass to the right of his hand and Long Island between his fingers and thought, “Hey, that’s cool!”

  12. Professor Tertius (in his first post above)< “Many have asserted that all such hand-raising greetings were originally rooted in showing that one carried no weapon in that hand … if showing a lack of weapons was important … surely both hands would be opened and shown. So I’ve often wondered if all such hand gestures as greetings were once performed with two hands.”

    Oh, they still are, and for the same purpose — “Hands up — don’t shoot!”

  13. Drat! Meant to say “Oh, they still are, and for the same purpose –”

    [*Voice from above*] I stretched forth my mighty hand and lo — all is well.