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Simple question: are the Borg actually considered to be 'alive' within the Star Trek universe (i.e. by characters in the show)?

Considering the following definition:

the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally. (Wordnik)

(I think they are pretty good at the adapting part!)

The Borg are semi-organic and semi-inorganic and can't actually reproduce by themselves, but rather 'assimilate' others (AFAIK - I'm pretty sure that the idea of Borg reproducing posited in Q Who? was disregarded once UFOP learnt more about the Borg - that seems to be verified by 7/9's explanation of the Borg throughout VOY). Would they be considered to be in the same category as a virus, which is really more an unknown category? (just a guiding question)

I'm looking for in-universe opinions (as in the opinions of characters in Star Trek - not your speculation!), however a compilation of sources about this creating an argument for/against will certainly be accepted!

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    My own speculation/view on this (maybe someone can use this somehow): I'd ask What are the Borg? first. Are they really the drones or aren't they the nano probes only? Also, I wouldn't call the drones dead or not living. They're essentially similar to zombies in some way (especially once they added the whole nano probe infection stuff), but I think rabies matches them even more, just with different goals/programming (pun intended). – Mario May 8 '14 at 6:40
  • Regarding your quote: I think you shouldn't be that pedantic on the reproduction part. There are many species who aren't able to reproduce by themselves. Many parasites need a host for example (and in some way the Borg (nano probes) are like parasites). – Mario May 8 '14 at 6:43
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    I find it hard to imagine a Federation scientist spending much time puzzling over the definition of a non-technical word. – Beta May 8 '14 at 11:48
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    @Mario I'd suggest that the Borg is the collective consciousness. An individual drone isn't necessarily a Borg, which is seen whenever a drone is isolated from the group and their original personality will begin to resurface. If there is any singular being that is Borg, it'd have to be the Queen. But even then it is unclear if she is truly individual or merely the voice of the collective given shape. – Xantec May 8 '14 at 14:56
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    If you want an in-universe quote for the definition of life, you can quote Dr Crusher from The Quality of Life: CRUSHER: Well, the broadest scientific definition might be that life is what enables plants and animals to consume food, derive energy from it, grow, adapt themselves to their surroundings and reproduce. – Xantec May 8 '14 at 15:12
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I suggest that the Borg are alive. The reasoning for this comes from the conversation between Data and Beverly in The Quality of Life.

DATA: Doctor, what is the definition of life?
CRUSHER: (pause) That is a big question. Why do you ask?
DATA: I am searching for a definition that will allow me to test an hypothesis.
CRUSHER: Well, the broadest scientific definition might be that life is what enables plants and animals to consume food, derive energy from it, grow, adapt themselves to their surroundings and reproduce.
DATA: And you suggest that anything which exhibits these characteristics is considered alive?
CRUSHER: In general, yes.
DATA: What about fire?
CRUSHER: Fire?
DATA: Yes. It consumes fuel to produce energy, it grows, it creates offspring. By your definition, is it alive?
CRUSHER: Fire is a chemical reaction. You could use the same argument for growing crystals, but obviously we don't consider them alive.
DATA: And what about me? I do not grow. I do not reproduce. I am considered to be alive.
CRUSHER: That's true, but you are unique.
DATA: I wonder if that is so.
CRUSHER: Data, if I may ask. Have a seat. What exactly are youe getting at?
DATA: I am curious as to what transpired between the moment when I was nothing more than an assemblage of parts in Doctor Soong's laboratory, and the next moment, when I became alive. What was it that endowed me with life?
CRUSHER: I remember Wesley asking me a similar question when he was little, and I tried desperately to give him an answer, but everything I said sounded inadequate. Then I realised that scientists and philosophers had been grappling with that question for centuries without coming to any conclusion.
DATA: Are you saying the question cannot be answered?
CRUSHER: No, I think I'm saying that we struggle all our lives to answer it, but it's the struggle that's important. That's what helps us to define our place in the universe.
DATA: I believe I understand, Doctor.

Fire is not alive, and neither are growing crystals. However, Data is unique and is alive. Also in the same episode the Exocomps were determined to be sentient and alive.

The point here is that there is not a singular definition of life. As said by Beverly they've been struggling with that question for centuries. Yes, the Borg are alive: singularly (an individual drone can be removed and is considered alive), and collectively (the Borg is essentially a large singular organism).

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    Ties in rather nicely with When was it clear that the EMH on Voyager became sentient?, although I'd like to make an addendum given my answer and your comment on my answer over there: People in general are probably are more likely to consider it alive/sentient the less ability they have to explain its inner workings. – Izkata May 8 '14 at 23:06
  • @Izkata That could be. In TOS they almost never questioned whether something was alive or not, or at least not many times that I can remember. By the 24th century, however, they constantly had to ask whether something was alive. Consider the horta versus microbrain. Kirk and Spock were nearly immediately ready to consider the horta as life (McCoy had to be persuaded). But you'd think in the 24th century with having what should be an expanded database of lifeforms that the Enterprise crew wouldn't need to play 20 questions with the computer to figure out that microbrain was alive. – Xantec May 8 '14 at 23:28
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Simple answer: the Borg are alive. If the Borg were dead entities then there would be no way to bring them back "from the dead" after assimilation.

In my opinion (eek) there is no need for quotational evidence here. The evidence is on-screen in (amongst others) "TNG: I, Borg", "TNG: Descent" and Voyager season 4 onwards. Borg have emotions and desires, they are just suppressed by the implants. Don't confuse "unable to breed" with "unwilling to breed". The Borg are living organisms hosting parasitic nanoprobes that have suppressed almost everything about the organisms that made them "human". Once those probes are removed the "victim" can start to build a normal life that includes procreation and the fluffy bits around it. No jokes about "what is this human thing called 'kissing'?" please. ;-)

Picard's description of what life was like as a Borg (TNG: Family) included the sheer horror he felt as the part of him that had become "Locutus" committed atrocities that his suppressed personality was horrified to witness, and this (coupled with a more-than-possible case of PTSD) resulted in a man who would shoot one of his former officers out of mercy if he saw them becoming Borg.

Seven of Nine, spending most of her formative and adult years as a Borg, had been brought up without emotions but developed some emotional connection to people again following her "liberation". Icheb and the others introduced in VOY: Collective are other examples of former Borg managing to re-integrate into humanoid society after their emancipation, further proving that there is life under the Borg nanoprobes.

No-one involved with Borg throughout the run of the Next Gen era ever stated that a Borg they encountered was "dead" - not until they killed it, anyway.

  • Good answer, but I think you're mistaking 'dead' with 'not-living': take for example a virus. Strictly speaking (as in, by the definition I provide above) it is not 'living', but you wouldn't call a virus dead would you? It's just not living. The Borg are similar to a virus in that they too 'inject' their 'DNA' (nanoprobes) into other beings to 'reproduce' through assimilation. – Often Right May 8 '14 at 9:12
  • That depends on how you define "living". Proteins and amino acids aren't "alive" in the strictest sense of the word but they are part of the evolutionary chain. Viruses have a simple form of life, as do bacteria and other simple organisms. Be careful that the definitions of "living" and "sentient" are not being confused. – Selezen May 8 '14 at 14:01
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    Most of your answer focuses on what the Borg drones are able to do post-liberation. While undoubtedly their personalities have merely been suppressed while assimilated, what they're physically capable of after leaving the collective is unclear. What we see from those rescued by the Federation likely is not typical, thanks to advanced medical knowledge and techniques. (Genitronic Replicator anyone?) A better example would be to use the survivors from Survival Instinct or Unity, and ask "what are they capable of?" – Xantec May 8 '14 at 15:05
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    There is also the example of Hugh, who was disconnected from the Borg hive, and started developing a personality of his own as a result. – Force Flow May 8 '14 at 20:54
  • I think the point raised by @Xantec is completely correct – Often Right May 9 '14 at 2:39
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In regards to the in universe question:

  1. One of the basic premises of Star Trek is that life came in many forms. There were energy beings, biological beings, mechanical beings, silicon beings, microscopic beings, etc. Whether it was deemed intelligent and worth contacting, or negotiating with, was often the major plot hook that the individual episode hung on. The question of whether life is defined by self awareness, or by other metrics, was also a long standing plot device of the entire franchise; with the question usually weighing in favor for, after much soul searching. Whether it was deemed a threat, an ally, or a species to be protected under the Prime Directive also factored into those episodes. The decision of whether or not to destroy that life was often an ethical and moral conflict between military necessity, possible arbitration, and the social background of those who had to make the decisions at the critical points.

  2. Even if their individuality was suppressed, all of the Borg still retained consciousness and self awareness. This was acknowledged repeatedly in the series by the characters when discussing their past recollections as Borg. If they did not have even a sliver of that, then when their links to the collective were severed, they would not have been able to respond to individual stimulus. The height of this were the queens who had fully developed, if twisted, personalities. This made the recovery and rehabilitation of individuals a feasible action. Otherwise, the franchise would have been a completely different animal from the first recovery of Picard/Locutus and on.

  3. In regards to the question of reproduction, are we saying that the nanites are the Borg, or that the infected individuals whose consciousness is subsumed by the collective, and contribute their uniqueness to its totality, are the Borg? The in universe answer was that the collective, ruled by the queens, were the Borg. The Borg had conscious choice over their actions. Those actions were rational, if not agreeable. They could be negotiated with, and they would uphold those agreements; at least for a time. The nanites were only a means of propagation.

2

That depends on what you mean by 'living'.

Q Who gives us our first encounter with the borg, and our first lifeform readings of the collective as a whole.

When they approach the cube, Data at first reports no lifesigns at all aboard the ship. But when an individual Borg beams aboard, he is able to detect lifesigns in it, and later determines while aboard the ship that, while they are on-board, they do not register as individual lifeforms.

This seems to indicate that the Borg, when acting independently or away from the collective, DO exhibit lifesigns, but when close to the collective or regenerating inside a cube, they do not.

So, depending on whether you consider 'only when separate from the collective' to be acceptable, they are alive.

2

Like all cybernetics they can't survive without their organic parts. They may be heavily altered and include robotic technology, but they are still living, breathing people.

Voyager episode survival instinct

EMH: ...If they were re-assimilated into the Collective they would regain consciousness, and then live out a normal life span.

SEVEN: As drones.

EMH: As drones. But they'd be alive, Seven.

0

I want to look at this another way

The borg are made up of 2 sides

  1. The drone: is 'alive' but not sentient (just like a parasite or virus, or cell), there to takeover other species as a form of reproduction
  2. The collective: as a whole is both alive and sentient (in this the drones are like the neurons that make up the brain)

Killing a drone is killing a living but none sentient being, whereas killing all the borg would be killing a sentient being, and genocide both at the same time

In short the borg is 1 sentient entity made up of many living (non sentient) organisms. And the personality of the individual after being disconnected is irrelevant (thats the individual NOT the borg)

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