The Tragic Sense of Life

Star Trek: Picard - S1, Ep3 Miguel de Unamuno

Spoiler! - In Star Trek: Picard we see in episode 3 on board the new spaceship that will take pilot Cristóbal Rios and his three travelers to their first destination, first the book The Tragic Sense of Life and then a quote from the book of the Spanish writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno.

The book and quote are only briefly in the picture, but if one wants to interpret it that way, they contain references to the understanding of Data, created by Dr. Noonien Soong, and to the understanding of the creation of two new androids, Dahj and Soji, possibly by cyberneticist Bruce Maddox.

Dante Alighieri

No more pain
than to remember the happy times
out of misery.

Quelle: Dante Alighieri, La divina commedia

Miguel de Unamuno was a Spanish essayist, writer, poet, playwright, philosopher, professor of Greek and Classical history and later the director of Salamanca. He was born in Bilbao on 29 September 1864 and died in Salamanca on 31 December 1936.

Liberal and socialist

Like he never left

Luis de León

Luis de León, born 1527 in Belmonte, today's province of Cuenca; † August 23rd 1591 in Madrigal de las Altas Torres, was one of the greatest lyrical poets of Spain. In 1544 León joined the Augustinian Order and then studied theology at the University of Salamanca, where he later taught. When his Marran origin became known, he was brought before the court of the Inquisition in 1571. He was accused of secret Judaization. He was also accused of having translated the Song of Songs into Spanish. After five years of captivity he was released in 1576. Allegedly, he then began his lectures in Salamanca with the words "Hesterno the dicebamus. Later he was appointed Vicar General of his Order in the Province of Castile.

Quelle: Wikipedia

Unamuno played a major role in the intellectual society of Spain. He became Rector of the University of Salamanca at the age of 36, and was so until 1924 and then again from 1930 to 1936. In 1923, in agreement with the Spanish King Alfonso XIII, a dictatorship was established for six years, headed by General Miguel Primo de Rivera. It was he who finally removed Unamuno from his two university chairs in 1924 because of the protests of other Spanish intellectuals. Because of his criticism of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, who was responsible for the widespread gassing of the rebellious Rif-Kabyles and civilians around the Moroccan city of Al Hoceïma between 1921 and 1926, Unamuno was forced to emigrate into exile, first to Fuerteventura and later to France. After a year in Paris, he moved on to Hendaye, a small Franco-Basque port city on the border with his native Spain, and resumed his teaching and rectorate in 1930 after the fall of Primo de Rivera. The English Wikipedia writes about this: In Salamanca, it says that the day Unamuno returned to the university, he began his lecture with the words: "As we said yesterday..." (Decíamos ayer...) as Fray Luis de León did in 1576 in the same place, after four years of imprisonment by the Inquisition. (Source: )

Initially a liberal-minded and passionate supporter of Spanish liberalism, Unamuno joined the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, but was considered politically moderate. Although he initially welcomed Franco's uprising, he later turned against him, mainly because he saw what his followers were doing in Spain. Famous is this quotation of the courageous, intrepid and unbending Basque:

Miguel de Unamuno

Winning is not convincing.

Vencer es no convencer. - Source:

In open conflict with a nationalist general, he denounced the battle cry of the Spanish elite troops. To a friend he later said among other things: No, I'm neither a fascist nor a Bolshevik. I am alone!.. Like Croce in Italy, I'm alone! (Source: Wikipedia / Toledano, Ana Chaguaceda (2003). Miguel de Unamuno, estudios sobre su obra, Volume 4. Universidad de Salamanca. p. 131.)

In autumn 1936 he was placed under house arrest by Franco and in this he died 10 weeks later, on 31 December 1936.

The Tragic Sense of Life - Unamuno, Portrait by Ramon Casas, (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), Source: Wikipedia
Unamuno, Portrait by Ramon Casas, (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), Source: Wikipedia
Religious crisis

Existence precedes the essence (being)

At the end of the nineteenth century, Unamuno experienced a religious crisis, possibly due to the death of his handicapped child a few months after his birth. Perhaps it is also significant for understanding that Unamuno lost his father at the age of 6 years. In any case, he left the positivist philosophy and developed his own existentialist way of thinking, according to which life was tragic because we all live in the knowledge that we are going to die. We would devote a large part of our activities to leaving behind, after our death, ourselves or something of ourselves that survives us and continues to exist.

Sartre wrote: Thus, the first step of existentialism is to make every human being wholly responsible for his existence. And when we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean to say that man is just responsible for his individuality, but that he is responsible for all people. (Source: Jean-Paul Sartre: The Being and the Nothing, Reinbek rororo, 1993)

In 1912 Unamuno wrote his most famous work, Del sentimiento trágico de la vida, The Tragic Meaning of Life. In the book he stimulated a discussion about the differences between faith and reason.

The quote shown in the film is in the original English text:

Miguel de Unamuno

Suffering is the path of consciousness, and by it living beings arrive at the possession of self-consciousness. For the possess consciousness of oneself and to feel oneself distinct from other beings, and this feeling of distiction is only reached through an act of collision, through suffering more or less severem through the sene of one's own limits. Consciousness of oneself is simply consciousness of one's own limitation. I feel myself when I feel that I am not other's; to knwo and to feel the extent of my beeing is to know at what point I cease to be, the point beyond which I no longer am.

Quelle: Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life

Without pain there is no consciousness, without boundaries no knowledge, no self-definition and without all this no life. It is not I who think, therefore I am - but I experience my limits, I suffer, I suffer from tragic life, from tragic loss. So I am and can recognize myself. This touches on the latest findings in robotics: The first prerequisite for something like self-confidence is the perception of one's own body and one's own vulnerability. (Source: Wolfangel, Eva: The fear of the machine. The time, 2019).

Although I am not religious myself and am rather critical of what religious authorities say and write, I would like to quote Nicholas Collura of the National Catholic Reporter. He understands the statements in the book The Tragic Meaning of Life like this: The tragedy is more than that we must suffer and die. It refers to the fact that our greatest aspiration -- eternal life -- and our most poignant desires -- the desire, for instance, to see our children again after they have predeceased us -- are so unscientific that they seem ridiculous to the educated person. (Source : I believe that probably only people who have really lost a child can understand this. It is the most terrible loss to experience that our child dies, in which something of us should actually continue to live after our death.

Data sacrificed himself in Star Trek: Nemesis for Picard and for the crew of the Enterprise. The statement of Collura in the National Catholic Reporter can be further oraculated, because the creators of Star Trek Picard themselves say that the consciousness of Data can be restored with only minimal amounts of data. What is the connection between Data and the new twins, if Data has already painted a picture showing a twin?

But the above quote goes even further - invisible to the camera in the series:

Miguel de Unamuno

And how do we know that we exist if we do not suffer, little or much? How can we turn upon ourselves, acquire reflective consciousness, save by suffering? When we enjoy ourselves we forget ourselves, forget that we exist; we pass over into another, an alien being, we alienate ourselves. And we become centred in ourselves again, we return to ourselves, only by suffering.

Quelle: Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life

And the quote is supplemented by a quotation from Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy:

Dante Alighieri

No more pain
than to remember the happy times
out of misery.

Quelle: Dante Alighieri, La divina commedia

There is another beautiful other passage in the book The Tragic Meaning of Life, where it refers to the Milky Way itself and man's realization that he can overcome his limitations if he fully recognizes himself with every molecule and every cell.

Miguel de Unamuno

Perhaps the immense Milky Way which on clear nights we behold stretching across the heavens, this vast encircling ring in which our planetary system is itself but a molecule, is in its turn but a cell in the Universe, in the Body of God. All the cells of our body combine and co-operate in maintaining and kindling by their activity our consciousness, our soul; and if the consciousness or the souls of all these cells entered completely into our consciousness, into the composite whole, if I possessed consciousness of all that happens in my bodily organism, I should feel the universe happening within myself, and perhaps the painful sense of my limitedness would disappear.

Quelle: Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life


Everyone may form their own opinion, if the makers of the series want to tell us something or if the book just happened to be on the shelf while writing the script.

I thought it was nice to dig a little deeper and think a little beyond the meaning of the quote and find out who this melancholic, freedom-loving and paper-folding (cocotología) Spanish philosopher actually was.

Albert Camus

I continue to believe that our world has no deeper meaning. But I know that there is something in it that has meaning, and that is mankind, because it is the only being that demands meaning.

Quelle: Albert Camus, Mein Reich ist von dieser Welt

Trivia: The Rio Cristóbal is a river in the Spanish province of Guadalajara.

tl, dr;

Wer war dieser spanische Philosoph und Fan des Origami  (cocotología) Miguel de Unamuno, der in Star Trek: Picard S1, Ep3 - The End is the Beginning erwähnt wird?

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