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In The Naked Now, there's a virus spreading among the crew of the Enterprise. (Essentially the same virus as in The Naked Time: It forces characters to reveal their motivations and allows extreme amounts of character development to happen in a single episode.)

Data is shown, repeatedly, to be electronic and mechanical. We see servos in his limbs, electronic control panels in his head, the device that connects his head to his body, and even the effect of pushing his on/off switch. We later see that his skin isn't biological. (In First Contact we see what happens when Data gets actual skin hooked up to his system so he can feel.) (I also think I remember references to him feeling with microsensors, but I can't remember where or when that was said.)

So how can Data not only contract the biological virus that spreads through the rest of the crew and how can it effect his thinking, which is done with a Positronic brain?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

For one, it isn't a biological virus. It's a very special form of water called polywater that was believed to actually exist in the 60s and early 70s, but was shown not to be real in 1973.

Even Picard believed polywater intoxication shouldn't have affected Data, but as we all know, electronics don't fare well with water. But we don't really know why Data was affected in-series, since this instance of interaction of a nonexistent substance with futuristic technology wasn't brought up again, beyond a minor reference to it in "The Outrageous Okona".

There may be more in the novels; I know next to nothing about them.

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Was the reference to polywater in the show, the books or somewhere else in the canon? I don't remember that at all, but your references are interesting. – Steve the Maker Jan 27 '12 at 1:36
@StevetheMaker I don't remember if the word was in the TNG episode, but "polywater" was definitely said in at least one of the two episodes that featured it – Izkata Jan 27 '12 at 2:38
At some point data mentions he has a chemical synthetic nutrient system (I think) which I think accounts for this. – AncientSwordRage Jun 29 '12 at 19:57
@Pureferret That could be. Here's a quote from The Naked Now: We are more alike than unlike, my dear captain. I have pores. Humans have pores. I have fingerprints. Humans have fingerprints. My chemical nutrients are like your blood. If you prick me, do I not... leak? – Izkata Jun 29 '12 at 20:09
Fun fact: Data's quote is a paraphrase of Shylock in Merchant of Venice: "If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" – Chris B. Behrens Apr 14 '14 at 20:11

Another (completely theoretical) answer to the question is that, as artificial intelligence begins to resemble natural intelligence, the more reasonable it is to believe that chemical processes rooted in DNA's coding and electronic processes rooted in the core instructions of a positronic brain could both be vulnerable to similar threats.

Considering we do not know if the vector was an organism or a nanomachine or something else, it is entirely possible that it could have even been simpler for the "threat" to infect a positronic brain than it was to infect a biological one.

A nerdy analogy might help. If the virus was actually being spread by say nanobots it is possible that they could have had the requirements for converting the virus for specific hosts as needed. Kind of like the JVM does for Java. A programmer writes an application in plain java and then the JVM installed on each platform converts it to system-specific byte code.

Again, totally theoretical, but this is one explanation for how it could be possible.

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