Starting with Encounter at Farpoint, at the very start of the series, when Riker first meets Data in the holodeck, Data, when asked if he considers himself superior to humans, says, "I am superior, Sir, in many ways, but I would give it all up to be human."

He has a desire, a want, and a longing to be human. Isn't this an emotion in itself? There's no reason or need for him to have such a desire. If it's programmed into him, he would be able to find it somewhere in his memory and perhaps (if it's not read-only) re-write it.

Where could this desire come from if it's not from envy or longing or some other type of emotion? Is it possible he had this and some other simple emotions all along?

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    The question isn’t whether he knew it. The real question is whether he felt it. – Paul D. Waite May 6 '15 at 8:46
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    “He has a desire, a want, and a longing to be human. Isn't this an emotion in itself?” — Luckily, we don’t really have a specific definition of emotions, or understand what they are, so Star Trek’s writers can pretty much just make it up as they go along. – Paul D. Waite Sep 15 '17 at 11:03

This has always bothered me. It is clear that Data does not experience immediate emotional states (fear, anger, sadness etc.) like we do. But he does appear to have long term motivations: a need for companionship (Tasha, Geordi, Spot), a need to live up to an ideal (humanity), self preservation (the Maddox trial), curiosity etc.

He also uses words such as "rewarding" and "distressing/disturbing". When he once lost his memory of being an android while attempting to recover a radioactive fragment, he exhibited behavior that could easily be labeled compassionate, sans his usual android-like expositions.

The long term motivations appear to be part of his programming that is meant to drive him to learn and develop, without which he would always remain as he was first programmed by Soong. The rest are simulations meant to lubricate his interactions with humans (such as the "modesty subroutine").

But until the emotion chip came along, Data never perceived emotions like we do. His programming merely suggested the actions/dialogue appropriate to the situation and he performed them; the intermediate step of feeling was absent.

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    I like the multi-tiered answer -- considering that there might be different kinds of emotions and that he might be feeling something like emotions, but not full blown and strong emotions. – Tango Feb 1 '12 at 1:21
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    It's a recurring theme among 'emotionless' science fiction characters -- human-like androids, Vulcans and even the Prozium saturated population in Equilibrium ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equilibrium_(film) ). Some sort of unconscious drive is always there. – HNL Feb 1 '12 at 4:22
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    The concept of positive reinforcement as a superior behavior training tactic is high-school psychology stuff. I would imagine that Data's OS has a method (err, apparently he has subroutines. So we know SoongOS is not a Ruby script) that evaluates all manner of stimuli and offers 'rewards' for things which can be perceived as 'positive' or 'good' or whatever. I do not know what it means to Data to find something as being 'rewarding', exactly, but then that's the rudiments of emergent unique personalities, isn't it? – Stick Dec 30 '13 at 16:19
  • I too like a multi-tiered approach. It's obvious that Data likes some things and dislikes other things, but that may be far from being angry, sad, or happy. – Darth Wedgius Jun 7 '15 at 20:53
  • The long term motivations you list are all conscious and rational decisions. Arguably, everything you list is a consequence from (a) understanding the finality f your life and (b) having a sense of self-worth and identity. Emotions are almost inherently defined by their spontaneous and not necessarily rational nature, which would then preclude these long term motivations as valid emotions. Similarly, "rewarding" can be objectively observed, and Data could also consider something "distressing" (e.g. an imminent destruction of the Enterprise) without necessarily feeling distressed. – Flater Sep 15 '17 at 13:38

Data's, and by extension, the writers', concept of emotion is incorrect. The dichotomy of logic and emotion comes from the time of Aristotle, Manichaeism, and was supplanted long ago.

This is a deep, DEEP subject, but the one thing you can be sure is wrong is the Star Trek concept of emotion. For a quick reference of modern thinking on it, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James#William_James.27_bear. For a profound exploration of the subject I strongly recommend this course: http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=4123. Understanding this subject better has served me in ways far more useful than Star Trek trivia.

To address what specifically is wrong with Data's understanding - emotions are, put simply, the choices we make given natural impulses that supersede volition, e.g., being chased by the bear in the first link above. Data seems to have only muted forms of these impulses, but has fully formed EMOTIONS, in the sense of his choices that follow from them. What Data needs, and eventually receives, are more complete incipient emotional impulses.

Seen in this light, the writers lucked out on their simpler conception of emotion - it makes perfect sense for a being to long to experience their emotional impulses, their passion, in a sense - more fully and completely.


Data was programmed by Dr Soong to be more than the sum of his parts. One of the base functions of his operating system was to learn and grow as an intelligent life form. So to say he has the emotional desire to be human, I would think that it was just his programming trying to complete itself.

Of course, this could be a rudimentary emotion in itself as all humans have a desire to grow and learn to some extent.

So, perhaps Data was programmed with very few emotions that he himself wouldn't consider part of the human emotional spectrum.


Emotions are behavior modifiers, a game played by our genes to continually trick us into surviving and reproducing; Data does not share these functions. Since he's immortal, to an extent, the existential nature that an individual might suffer is removed somewhat proportionately. Therefore, I concur that although Data's character discovered patterns of habit that seem like emotions (like missing someone) that we find out those really aren't emotions as much as they are pathways of familiarity, and for example, if someone is missing, Data will experience a capacity to miss them. So Data's perspective helps clarify the nature of what is not an emotion.

As for his "desire" to be human above all else, since Data's major theme is "Pinocchio turning into a real boy" this is simply a prime directive programmed into his matrix - for the same reasons as Geppetto, Soong wanted his imagination to come to life. The "be a human" paradigm merely comes from Soong's preference. If Soong were a Klingon, then what "desire" would you speculate data would render?


I think what the writers were trying to do with Data, was make us question what emotions are in the first place. Is desire an emotion? I would say yes, and therefore Data definitely had emotions, but at the same time, the writers gave Data a very conservative understanding of emotion, making him believe it's all about the physical feeling we get, that he cannot. But at the same time, we get a glimpse that in truth he knows this too when he said to Lal that "Humanity is all about the struggle", that in his quest to be human, he has in fact already achieved it. I also think the writers were saying something about autism at the same time. That although people with autism don't seem to process emotions in the same way people without autism do, that they can seem robotic even, that doesn't mean they have no emotions, or that they aren't human. With Data, the writers were saying "we are all emotional beings, as long as we have a desire for anything, regardless of how we present or emotions, we all have them." In the same episode "the offspring" Data tells Dr. Crusher "I am not capable of giving Lal love" to which she responds "why do I find that so hard to believe?". This shows that the crew have a much more open idea of what love is than Data has himself, and they see clearly that Data loves Lal. Regardless of chemicals that influence behaviour, it is the desire for Lal's safety and well being that is the true measure of love, and Data clearly has that.


No, this is not a contradiction at all: Bettering oneself is an instinct, not an emotion shared across most intelligent life forms (in our universe as well as in the star trek universe).

  • 1) That means he'd have to see humans as superior, and he's stated he sees himself as superior in many ways, and 2) Then it'd either have to be in his programming or it would still be a desire, which brings it back to my original question. – Tango Jan 29 '12 at 16:45
  • @TangoOversway: No, he does not have to see humans as superior. But he considers having the ability to experience emotions to be better than not having them (something a Vulcan would not see like that). Humans are only "superior" in this particular regard (according to Data). – bitmask Jan 29 '12 at 17:15
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    Which, again, comes back to the original question. Where does that desire come from? – Tango Jan 29 '12 at 17:28
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    I would think that he experiences this particular 'desire' as a simple set of numbers which he compares against numbers that represent other outcomes. With the emotion chip, it actually becomes a sensation which he perceives. – HNL Jan 30 '12 at 4:08

"...i would give it all up to be human"

but why? did logic somehow find its way towards "emotion is better" perhaps this subroutine was programmed into him, so that actually he COULD assimilate. and this one program is registered to us humans as an emotion.

the chip is a bigger deal then the show even let on. Soong created a cybernetic human being, complete with emotive capabilities, and amplified by the calculative logic of data's mind. His emotions would evolve to have unmatched precision and accuracy. He could, in theory, become more empathic than Deanna.

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    This doesn't answer the question asked in any meaningful way. – Valorum May 28 '16 at 11:16
  • thats its only registered to us as an emotion and not being an actual emotion doesnt answer this in a meaningful way. Maybe if you read it with a poem? jk It seems this one function "to give up all his advantages to be human" is a core directive that allows us to interpret him as expressing basic emotions. – user66788 May 28 '16 at 22:42
  • oh the other part... well... but its true! – user66788 May 29 '16 at 9:35
  • The point isn't about stating a truth, but in providing a well supported answer the question that was asked. If you want to discuss it, you can always join us for chat in the chat room, Mos Eisley. – Tango May 30 '16 at 3:06
  • thanks for replying. I'm still learning this experience. my point is that Data’s right all along. that he never feels anything or experiences emotion of any kind. its merely learned behavior on his part of prime program to assimilate to being human. just like his father, who had human hopes of Data like becoming a scientist. he seemingly, programmed him to be a 'pinocchio' awaiting and preparing to become a real boy. which is completed when he's finally being given his emotion chip, or at least was suppose to get it. – user66788 May 30 '16 at 9:03

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