The Talmud says that killing a single person is like destroying the entire world. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light” (1992), writer Morgan Gendel took the concept literally. Inspired by the Talmudic concept, he crafted an episode in which a thousand-year-old alien artifact stores the memories of an entire civilization and implants it in the mind of the Enterprise’s captain, Jean-Luc Picard.
The episode starts out predictably, as the Starship Enterprise responds to a distress beacon from a previously undiscovered planet, Kataan. Then a drone approaches the ship and shoots a flare directly into Captain Picard’s mind.
He awakens in another man’s life: His wife tells him that his name is Kamin, and he’s been ill; he’s an iron weaver and a native Kataanite. On the Enterprise, only 25 minutes pass. In Picard’s mind, however, he lives an entire lifetime: making friends, building a family, learning to play flute, witnessing the triumphs and shortcomings of a civilization, and realizing, as Kataan’s astronomers do, that the planet itself is dying.
This episode is widely hailed by critics as Trek‘s finest hour. Years later, Gendel revealed his inspiration, as well as other philosophical musings, in a column that’s well worth reading.