Spock's face.


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

          All of Vulcan philosophy rests on the five main concepts embodied in the Vulcan hand salute which is formed by holding the hand up, and separating the four fingers into a V with two fingers on one side and two on the other while holding the thumb separate. In this symbol, the ring finger represents the philosophy of Nome, meaning "All," while the small finger represents the philosophy of the Idic. (1) The middle finger represents the Doctrine of the Domination of Logic and is paired closely with the index finger which represents the Vulcan Reverence-for-Life. The thumb stands alone, representing the high regard placed on individual Privacy.

          To use this salute, together with the phrase "Live Long and Prosper" is to grant to another the absolutely inviolable right of privacy of mind, the right to be different from the speaker even to the extent of being opposite, and to invite combination of differences to the advantage of both with assurance that rigorous Logic (2) will protect all rights to continued worthwhile existence. (3, 4)

          Let us now examine the parts of Surak's Construct, as this five-part philosophy has been called.

          The philosophy of Nome may be stated thus: An infinite variety of things combine to make existence worthwhile. (5)

          This is more than the Idic and it includes the Idic Concept. The Idic stands for the idea that the greatest joy in all creation is in the infinite ways that infinitely diverse things can join together to create meaning and beauty. (1)

          The philosophy of Nome emphasizes that infinite variety is essential to a worthwhile existence while the Idic emphasizes the joining of dissimilar elements to create meaning and beauty. The slight shift in emphasis is almost too subtle to capture in English words. However, the interdependence of the two concepts is graphically illustrated by the close pairing of the two representative fingers.

          The fingers are separated between Nome/Idic and Logic/Reverence-for- Life because the philosophy of Nome/Idic includes within itself both emotion and logic (2), or, put another way, both emotion and non-emotion. Within the Idic Concept, such an "illogical" combination is not only permitted but praiseworthy. Nome/Idic recognizes that emotion is a source of meaning, beauty and worthwhileness in life.

          However, Surak's Construct asserts that for the sake of survival, logic must be of greater influence in society (and within the individual) than emotion. Hence, Logic, represented by the longest finger, is separated from the philosophy of "All," and paired with Reverence-for-Life, indicating that continued existence demands that logic rule over emotion, but that almost equal with this tenet is the assertion that infinite variety must be present to make continued existence worthwhile.

          The very physiology of Vulcans compels a periodic confrontation with unleashed emotion. (6) One of the prime goals of Surak's Construct is to turn this everpresent reminder of the power of unbridled emotion into a reinforcement of the dedication to Logic. The Vulcan male is aware of the surging emotions of the pon farr not only within himself but also in those around him. The inability to control emotion leads to a necessity to remove oneself from the mainstream of society for the duration of the condition. (7) This is one reason Surak places such value on Privacy.

          The high regard for privacy was not an innovation of Surak but dates from a much earlier time, when Vulcans discovered the literally painful effects of living together in large communities. (8) They then developed telepathic shields and it soon became the height of rudeness to force one's thoughts and feelings on another. The transgressor often met a swift, violent death. (9)

          Surak valued privacy for another and perhaps more important reason. Quite naturally, an individual's highest regard is for himself. This is an ineradicable inheritance from bestial origins and transcends reason. The maintenance of self may be termed dignity. The right to inviolable privacy is essential to maintaining that dignity.

          He who attacks the dignity of the individual risks evoking unreasonable and utterly uncontrollable emotion. These reactions are so basic as to be beyond even the enormous control of the Vulcan disciplines. (10) And a Vulcan roused in this fashion can be a very efficient machine of destruction. To insure that such provocation should never exist, Surak made Privacy one of the cornerstones of his Construct. Under no circumstances is it justifiable to infringe upon the dignity of another living being. (11)

          This attitude is perhaps the key to the Vulcan lack of a "sense of humor" in the human sense. (12) Here we may also find the motivation for acts of compassion. In Vulcans, such acts arise from the logical necessity to protect the dignity of others as one would one's own. To fail to act to relieve suffering is to fail to acknowledge that the other individual is as important to oneself as oneself, that is, to fail to accord dignity.


          The other gestures are derived from the Vulcan hand salute. They too are symbols of a living philosophy in action.

          The first gesture is the two-finger hand-hold that defines the husband-wife relationship. In Journey to Babel, Sarek held up his right hand with the index finger and the middle finger extended together. Amanda joined his extended fingers with hers held in the same position.

          The index finger represents Reverence-for-Life and the middle finger represents Domination-of Logic. These are the two dominant elements in the husband-wife union . . . procreation and the preservation of life under the protection of a rigorous adherence to Logic. But note also what has been excluded. The thumb represents Privacy. There is no reserve of privacy in a husband-wife Union. The Nome/Idic Concepts are excluded because each must voluntarily surrender the right-to-be-extremely-different which, in a marriage, would be a source of grief, not joy.

          The use of the gesture indicates an acknowledgement of Vulcan cultural values for society at large and for the inner life of the individual as well as the family unit. Thus it is the tenderest gesture normally exchanged by husband and wife, even more significant than a kiss, yet totally appropriate in public.

          This view of the husband-wife relationship explains Amanda's implication (Journey to Babel) that Vulcan husbands give orders and expect obedience as their rightful due. Such an authoritarian attitude toward females is totally at odds with everything else we know of Vulcan culture unless we assume it is a mutual, voluntary agreement to abide by Surak's Construct.

          The second gesture is that of withdrawal into private contemplation. This is a position of the clasped hands with the index and middle fingers steepled, the thumbs folded and touching. This emphasizes Logic, Reverence- for-Life (suicide isn't an option for a Vulcan), and Privacy. It excludes Nome/Idic because within one's self one doesn't retain sharp, contrasting differences, for this is the road to insanity. One must create an internal unity upon which to base the Peace which is the sacred goal of Vulcans. Society can't be at peace unless it is composed of individuals who are internally at peace. One's first duty to society is one's duty to oneself. The Vulcan's need for that withdrawal into private contemplation is as intense as the human's need to dream. Vulcan contemplation achieves a goal similar to human dreams, but is far more efficient, as it uses a symbolic gesture integrated with a ritualistic set of mental exercises. (10)


  1. The Making Of Star Trek Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, Ballantine Books, 1968.
  2. Here and throughout, when we refer to Logic, we mean the Doctrine of the Domination of Logic over Emotion.
  3. Its use by non-Vulcans is tolerated only as a diplomatic courtesy.
  4. The Savage Curtain. Surak asks Spock what harm it can do to him to answer Surak's greeting. This is in harmony with the idea presented here.
  5. The Savage Curtain.
  6. Here we use the word "emotion" to refer to the uniquely Vulcan chemical imbalance which is the basis of the pon farr, and which is characterized by a "burning" sensation. It is not an emotion in the human sense and is not parallel to "love", but it is incompatible with Logic, and it does sensitize the individual to the types of emotion characterized by passion, i.e., anger, frustration, indignation, etc.
  7. Amok Time. Spock does not wish to be seen in such condition.
  8. The Immunity Syndrome. McCoy to Spock, "Suffer the Death of Thy Enemy, eh, Spock?" Also, Is There In Truth No Beauty?
  9. Mirror, Mirror. The alternate Spock forces rapport on McCoy. Presumably, the savageness of his society supports such behavior.
  10. Plato's Stepchildren. Spock is so enraged by being forced to display emotion publicly and commit acts of violence against his will that he must struggle desperately to overcome hatred.
  11. Journey to Babel. Sarek reprimands Amanda for "embarrassing" Spock. "Not even a mother may do that."
  12. A great preponderance of human humor hinges on a loss of dignity.



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