In ST:TNG season 1 episode 12 "Datalore," Data reveals to Beverly Crusher the location & operation of his "off switch" (which is on his back).

How did he come to know about its function? Although he obviously could have examined his own body over time, if he had ever operated the switch without knowing its function it seems like that would have left him inoperative.

Some points that seem to indicate his has only limited knowledge of his own body:

  • In the same episode it was described that his earliest memory was being awakened (perhaps automatically) upon the arrival of a landing party who discovered him. He had no (or only very sketchy) memories of his creator or events before that time. So it doesn't seem that he could have learned about the switch from someone else, as he didn't know anyone from his past.

  • Also in that episode it was made clear that Data didn't know many details of his internal functions. Enterprise crew had to deactivate him to allow for in-depth studies of his body in order to figure out how to activate his 'brother' Lore. Had he known those details he could have just explained it to them or done it himself.

  • He knew about it before Lore was awakened, so he didn't learn it from Lore.

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    Presumably either he had built-in knowledge of his own functioning, or the Federation team that discovered him found out about the off-switch when examining him and told him about it. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 0:42
  • 35
    Perhaps, unlike most humans, he just read the Quick Start manual?
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 1:54
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    It is probably not unreasonable to assume Data has studied his own schematics at some point in time. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 3:09
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    Maybe the switch is labelled "ON/OFF" and he noted that fact before playing with it?
    – Steve-O
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 13:13
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    @elemtilas He probably ran (internally) the following command: man off-switch
    – Hans Olo
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 14:03

2 Answers 2


Data has a suite of internal systems that allow him to check his status as well as access to high resolution body scanners. It seems highly likely that he would have intimate knowledge of his own physiology (robiology?).

DATA: I am sure that will not be necessary, Captain. I am fully capable of running a circuit check on myself. It will immediately determine any abnormalities.

TNG: The Schizoid Man


DATA: Yes. I do have a functional respiration system. However, its purpose is to maintain thermal control of my internal systems. I am, in fact, capable of functioning for extended periods in a vacuum.

BASHIR: And you have a pulse.

DATA: My circulatory system not only produces bio-chemical lubricants, it regulates micro-hydraulic power. Most people are interested in my extraordinary abilities. How fast I can compute, my memory capacity, how long I will live. No one has ever asked me if my hair will grow, or noticed that I can breathe.

TNG: Birthright

Additionally, when he was found he was in an 'off' state. It seems likely that the Starfleet personnel who found him scanned him and found his 'on/off' button or else how would he currently be 'on'?

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    Hard to phrase this without spoilers, but your first quote cannot necessarily be taken at face value given the episode's context at that point :)
    – bertieb
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 13:37
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    @DaveInCaz In "The Measure of a Man" Riker publicly demonstrates Data's off-switch during a court trial as part of his argument that Data is a machine. If the off-switch wasn't public knowledge until then, it certainly was afterwards.
    – Philipp
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 16:02
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    @Philipp at least in "Datalore" Data himself believes it to be a secret. That was during season 1. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 16:43
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    (Repost comment due to terrible grammar errors!) I updated the question with a few more details. When he was discovered apparently something switched him on automatically - it wasn't the team that found him. And as of the "Datalore" episode almost no one knows of his switch - he stated this explicitly to Dr. Crusher at one point. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 16:44
  • You could add that the well-known "I am fully functional" (The Naked Now - though the actual quote is a bit different) is also stating the result of some kind of self-monitoring ;) Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 14:47

It has been shown and said in multiple episodes that he is capable of performing self-diagnostic and repairs, which implies that his positronic brain possess a copy of his own schematic to serve as reference point, which would include something as vital as the off-switch. That knowledge of himself also allows him to perform modifications of his own body, which he has done in multiple episodes and in the movies.

Though it is to be noted that his knowledge of his own programming seems to be somewhat lacking in certain areas: he was unaware that Dr Soong had a means to recall him from basically anywhere in the galaxy with a simple subspace signal (TNG S04E03 Brothers) nor did he knew about the dream programming until it was inadvertently activated. (TNG S06E16 Birthright).

He is, however, capable to restoring himself to a previous save, as was shown in Contagion (TNG S02E11), when he does so to purge the Iconian program that had infected him and was trying to rewrite him completely.

In Star Trek: Generations, he is shown altering a circuit on his arm to act as a magnetic key, opening access to the secret storage area where Dr Soran hid his solar probes.

We also know that there is a copy of his schematics in the Enterprise's computer, although it is never said how they came to have them, and why it seems that StarFleet Command does not have a copy.

In The Measure of a Man (TNG S02E09), while preparing his arguments for the court that will determine the legal status of Data, Commander Riker access Data's schematic on a screen, and finds the off switch.

[Computer room]

RIKER: Computer, identify Riker, William T. Access code theta alpha two seven three seven, blue, enable.

COMPUTER: Riker, William T, identified. Ready.

RIKER: Access all available technical schematics on Lieutenant Commander Data.

COMPUTER: Working.

(Then up pops 'emergency manual control' and Data's off-switch location is displayed. Riker is fascinated at this new information, then realises the implication)

In Star Trek: Insurrection, Admiral Dougherty requests them from Captain Picard, seeming to imply that StarFleet Command does not have a copy stored at the HQ, which seems a bit strange since Commander Maddox obviously had enough information to try and build a copy of Data's positronic matrix in Measure of a Man.

LAFORGE: Captain. Excuse me. Captain... Captain, Admiral Dougherty's aboard a Son'a ship in sector four four one. He's requesting Data's schematics.

TROI: Is something wrong?

LAFORGE: The message doesn't say.

PICARD: Data should have been back by now. They were only scheduled to observe the Ba'ku village for one week. Geordi, would you set up a secure com-link to the Admiral in the anteroom.

GEORDI: Aye sir.

ADISLO: Captain, Hars Adislo, we met at the Nel Bato Conference last year. Did you ever have a chance to read my paper on thermionic transconductance?

PICARD: Would you excuse me?

[Enterprise-E anteroom]

DOUGHERTY (on viewscreen): He's not acknowledging any Starfleet protocols. Not responding to any of our hails.

PICARD: Have you any idea what precipitated his behaviour?

DOUGHERTY (on viewscreen): None. Now he's holding our people hostage down there.

PICARD: Well the Enterprise could be at your position in two days, Admiral.

DOUGHERTY (on viewscreen): That's probably not a good idea. Your ship hasn't been fitted for this region. There are environmental concerns.

PICARD: What kind of concerns?

DOUGHERTY (on viewscreen): We haven't fully identified the anomalies yet. They're calling this whole area the Briar Patch. It took us a day to reach a location where we could even get a signal to you. Just get me Data's schematics. I'll keep you informed. Dougherty out.

PICARD: His emotion chip?

GEORDI: He didn't take it with him. Send the Admiral Data's schematics.

That may mean only Data knows his full schematic, and they have been downloaded into the Enterprise's computer to serve as help should anything happen to him in the course of duty. Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge seems to be intimately familiar with Data's schematics, fixing him on several occasions and also helping him with tests and modifications on his own body.

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    "In Star Trek: First Contact, he is shown altering a circuit on his arm to act as a magnetic key, opening access to the secret storage area where Dr Soran hid his solar probes." - replace "First Contact" with "Generations". Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 13:31
  • It was very clear from the "Datalore" episode that he does not know that much about his internals. He may have learned more over time, but I don't think that is directly relevant to the question. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 14:01

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