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?

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 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. Jan 27, 2012 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, 2012 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, 2012 at 19:57
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    @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, 2012 at 20:09
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    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?" Apr 14, 2014 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.


My answer comes from script memorization (which must serve as canon priority references). Data makes discriminate statements in TNG series regarding his nutrient flow system and micro-hydraulic systems. I only used nutrient flow and micro hydraulic systems as examples because they are both liquid-based. I did not feel the need to include any other liquid-based examples of datas infrastructure. Therefore, examining data's statements on nutrient flow, there is no indication as to whether his nutrient solution is hydrophobic, hydrophilic, alcohol-based (although, this would be most improbable due to long-term corrosive effects & the fact that alcohols can serve as both reagents and solvents). I am perfectly willing to elaborate--- however, I do not think it is necessary--- to suggest that any nutrient flow subsystem within data's infrastructure would be hydrophilic. (I will add one point of elaboration: Data's composite materials are completely impervious to water with regard to any corrosive or oxidation effects). This is an elementary conclusion given the sum of on-point information from the series and the movies. With regard to your statement of "canon," (as someone who just joined this forum), I must politely ask, "Which one?" I have four in print and multiple websites claiming to be such. IMO, when one can reference direct dialogue from the series or TNG movies, that should be considered primary reference. However, please instruct as I would happily conform to this forums decided way of enjoying the exploration of these questions.

  • How come you didn't just edit your previous post?
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 16, 2017 at 19:29
  • Seriously friend, Im 42, my twins recently off to college, and this is my 1st "FORUM for FUN" (as opposed to troubleshooting forums, which (I hope you'll agree), are simply different animals (e.g. usually you find yr answer already included in a thread). So, being this is also my 1st day, it may take a few days to adopt protocol and subtleties. But Im all about respectful debate, refusal to argue, and putting the forum first. (Pretty much good rules for life in general). Honestly, I didn't even consider the advantage of a complete re-edit. Give me time, ill adapt. Oct 16, 2017 at 20:13
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    I'm glad you're here to stay, and it looks like a reasonably good answer. But one thing to remember is this isn't a forum it's a Q&A site. The answer is the only big contribution to the question a user provides. (granted there's some in the comments, but it normally pertains to helping the answer) So we really need quality from the answerer to help the asker get a full canonical answer to their question, as we are a repository of information where people with questions can get a quick and precise answer. Sorry if my comments came across as rude. Users just like to see high quality content.
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 16, 2017 at 20:18
  • @Edlothiad Thanks for the clarification; that, indeed is essential instruction pertaining to this site (not forum). Glad I ran into you first rather than someone with biting impatience and the language to boot---you know (possibly/maybe not), people that leave one with bitten exclusion w/o understanding why. (Ive experienced it-prob my age-always learning catch-up). More people like you are needed out there for when people dive-in before they properly informed/oriented themselves. So, thanks again; I hate it when I have one of those, "well, just screw this" disappointments. Cheers. Oct 16, 2017 at 21:24
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    You're most welcome and it's always great to have someone stick around. Don't worry about the -2 on the other post. But one crucial piece of advice. We love citations. If you can quote a novel or a screenplay or an interview we tend to give away upvotes for free. Take a look at our top user Valorum's answers for an idea of the kind of quality that the best provide. (You of course don't need to have the same depth of knowledge, but some official sources never hurt. Oh, also take a quick look at our tour to get a quick tutorial!
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 16, 2017 at 21:32

I propose (applying Occam's Razor logic) that the least complicated answer is to assume that Data's "nutrient flow" includes a hydrophilic solution sub-system. This would not preclude a separate hydrophobic nutrient transport subsystem, nor his micro-hydraulics, etc.

Upon accepting the possibility of this hypothetical causality to Data's infection, we then must accept complete uncertainty of the effect with regard to the aberrant water molecule's structure.

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    Does this have any canon backing? We tend to look for canon answers.
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 16, 2017 at 18:41
  • This seems little better than guesswork
    – Valorum
    Oct 16, 2017 at 18:44

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