Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

The Vulcan paradox

Posted by Ron Coleman on May 13, 2008

It has always seemed to me as if those who claim to be motivated and affected by intellection, cold logic, reason, to the exclusion of emotion, are really placing, or even jamming, slamming down, a template of rationality atop what is in fact a natural tendency to do quite the opposite. Or to be quite the opposite.

Some people, of course, are merely cold fish. But they don’t usually talk about their unemotional nature, nor even the emotionality of others; by and large feelings and spiritual temperatures do not register with them at all. I had a fine WASP roommate at Princeton, whom I love, who was like this. This is the hard oak of which our country is framed, mind you. To some extent, this personality type (if it even rises to that level!) may be contrasted with the older Eastern European Jews who made up my family and families like mine — affectless, yes, but upon inspection mainly affecting stoicism as a mask for the pain that they were living, and had lived, more or less for the previous century.

Mr. Spock, as you recall, could not register emotion. Or, rather, his “race,” the Vulcans, had disciplined itself not to, because emotion, when permitted, dominated them entirely, and they became beastly. Captain Kirk, meanwhile, could shmaltz his way through life being what he was and, foibles and all, more or less handle it — the peaks, the valleys, the humanity of it all. The closest things to a Protestant stiff on the Enterprise were probably those dispensable, and always dispensed with, security guys in the red tunics. Everyone else was too busy being an ethnic stereotype… but who am I to say?

Watch out for those Mr. Spock types. Still, icy cold waters run deep.

UPDATE: Ha! What timing! Remember — Shatner is Kirk and Kirk is Shatner!

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11 Responses to “The Vulcan paradox”

  1. pennywit said

    Don’t know if you’ve watched the Trek movies, but by the end of the sixth film, Spock says he has reached an equilibrium in which he balances his Vulcan logical tendencies with his human emotions.

    –|PW|–

  2. Jack said

    When I was a kid one of my nicknames was Spock.

    I think this was for several reasons actually, the way my mind worked, my appearance as a kid, but also because I was very reserved with my emotions. That is I internalized and would not allow my emotions to the surface. The reason for this was mainly personal. I had, and can still have, a very violent and dangerous temper. (I get this from my old man.) It takes a great deal to arouse me but if aroused (and a few things can do this almost instantly; injustice, murder, crime, attacks and oppression against the helpless, my stomach knots, my jaw clenches, my face heats, and I immediately look for someone who deserves it to beat senseless) I am extremely dangerous, have even been killing machine violent at times. So, because of that, and because I recognized this about myself early on I worked hard to maintain some mastery over my emotions. So as not to endanger others and because of the natural and perhaps selfish tendency to not to have to spend time behind bars for killing somebody that needed a good killing. Because I always knew I was easily capable, both mentally and physically.

    In time I learned two things. Sarcastic humor and goofiness, and in my teens I started studying and practicing Raja (meditative) Yoga and things like the Philokalia which helped me psychologically and spiritually discipline myself and my temper. The mediation and spiritual practices made me that much more emotionless and yet many times I took to raising hell in the silliest and most public fashion I could (and still do, my kids hate this and say it embarrasses them) to blow off steam, as a safety valve. My wife constantly says to me, “you have no emotions, you’re all logic,” (when we are arguing or problem solving, she also thinks this makes me arrogant, but logic makes me right about coming to the right solution, not arrogant) and my kids tell me, “you’re silly and ridiculous and embarrass us.” And I guess I’m a little bit of both in that regard, and most of my old friends see a lot of both in me I suspect. Some still compare me to Spock or Holmes (though people I knew often called me Sherlock I operated more like Mycroft, in secret), saying I’m all intellect and logic and some just think of me as silly and somebody to laugh a lot with. And truth be told I reckon I did hang around certain friends for one reason, and other fiends for other reasons. I had my razing and raising hell and doing dangerous things with friends and my being serious with friends and I’m sure there was a lot of overlap but to a lesser or greater degree I had friends for my different aspects.

    In any case I always felt an especial psychological affinity for both Spock and Saint Peter (a man who had to wrestle often with his temper and had to spiritually discipline it through time and experience). I understood and got both men very easily, even if one was merely a fictional character. I could also easily understand the idea of having to command and control one’s emotions, either to tame one’s temper or to train and discipline one’s mind beyond the control of one’s own emotions. I am always immediately suspicious of someone I meet who seems, for lack of a better term, “easily controlled by their own thoughts and emotions.” Emotions make a good companion at times, but a very poor guide. And a piss poor leader.

    I guess over the years I have learned to let my emotions out through companionship and friendship and raising hell every now and then and through poetry. Often nowadays I will write a poem or song or something like that rather than break or hit things with my hands. But occasionally I still want to break things with my bare hands. I guess I always will, but as I age fury comes less often and is more easily controlled. I guess time teaches you to become sorta fatalistic about things you can’t control and people you can’t save. C’est la vie.

  3. mary said

    We always used to make jokes about how my Dad was like Mr. Spock. People with tempers and techie types probably hear that a lot.

    The Spock character was created when psychiatrists thought that holding emotions in created a a situation that was similar to packing dynamite into a pipe bomb, or cooking carrots in a pressure cooker. If the steam/emotions weren’t properly released during regular intervals, the Spockish character would ‘blow’.

    However, this explanation is kind of simplistic. A lot of people who go into psychiatry are extroverts, and they had a hard time understanding introverts. Extroverts feel better when they emote. Introverts are usually embarrassed by that kind of thing, and studies have found that some of them feel better, long term, when they keep their feelings to themselves. A lot of techie types are introverts, and they’re analytical, so it’s no surprise that they’d identify with Spock. It’s also no surprise that they’re mystified by the Kirk types in marketing and sales.

    People with actual ‘bad tempers’ aren’t usually introverts. They like to stir things up sometimes, and they’re not risk averse. They’re another group that psychiatrists (who love to spend their careers sitting on overstuffed chairs listening to people talk all day) don’t really understand. Anger, like fear, is a problem, but they’re also great at focusing the mind. When I’m feeling generally annoyed, I find that something that’s sort of scary, like a roller coaster ride or a quick drive down the Jersey turnpike, will make me feel a lot better than any form of quiet time. Sometimes that part of the brain needs to be exercised.

  4. Jack said

    “The Spock character was created when psychiatrists thought that holding emotions in created a situation that was similar to packing dynamite into a pipe bomb”

    That analogy made me laugh.

    My second major in college was psychology. I became a psychologist for awhile, did three tours among schizophrenic and schizoaffective patients, where I saw firsthand how the psychological/psychiatric establishment did about as much good for sub-normative psychological disorders as modern doctors do for cancer patients with chemotherapy.

    Then one day I went to a big symposium of psychiatrists and psychologists in Atlanta and realized while sitting through the lectures and chatting with psychologists and psychiatrists and professors at little dinner parties in that field that the vast majority of them were nutty as hell, a lot nuttier than their patients, and aside from their favorite theories, knew nothing about real behavior and far less about how to treat any real abnormal or subnormal mental or psychological state or disorder. (Of course, not knowing what in the hell you’re talking about afflicts a lot of modern day academic and intellectual types, don’t it? Maybe it always has. One thing that always struck me as very positive about Spock come to think of it was the fact that despite being brilliant, he was in many ways anti-academic and counter-intellectual. He understood that you can never really grasp, apprehend, or take true value from anything in the world in isolation, you must first live it. You can’t think your way to a life. So he eschewed academia and sterile lab science and the floating head, pansy livered intellectual for being in the field and having real experiences. Life, death, war, adventure, exploration, danger, personal knowledge, and smoothing most intellectuals will never grasp, real wisdom. He was a frontier’s man, a man at the limits, not a man limited by his own preconceptions. And I guess that’s what hit me about so many psychologists, and many modern scientists truth be told. All to the rear of the mind, where it’s safe, never to the front of the world, where it counts. All vapid theory, no real living.)

    So I walked away from that field of professional loons.
    And it was a very happy day.

    I still have great respect for the some of the ideas of modern psychology and psychiatry, and even for some psychologists and psychiatrists, but not that often, and not that many.

    Before you think I’m aiming some kinda covert insult at you Mary, I’m not. I don’t even know you. The irony of the statement you made about repressed and disordered types versus what I know of psychiatrists just made me laugh. That’s all.
    Your statement just reminded me of all that stuff and all of those experiences.

    My experiences in the field of psychology did have a few benefits though. They were useful in helping me develop efficient interrogation techniques, helped me shape my studies of criminal psychology and behavior, and helped me in my work in abnormal (hypernormative) psychology. So it was hardly a total wash. But it was a really amusing period in my life, looking back on it.

    It also minds me of something my favorite philosophy and religion professor used to tell me all of the time. “No man will ever be so completely wrong as that man that everyone else has degreed to be wrong.” (Not agreed, or decreed, but degreed.)

    I miss him. God rest his soul.
    He could always make me laugh cause he was always so good at seeing people for what they really were.
    And there ain’t a lot of folks who are all that good at that kinda thing. Not really, anyway.

    Well, I gotta go work out.

    See you folks later.

  5. mary said

    …one day I went to a big symposium of psychiatrists and psychologists in Atlanta and realized while sitting through the lectures and chatting with psychologists and psychiatrists and professors at little dinner parties in that field that the vast majority of them were nutty as hell, a lot nuttier than their patients, and aside from their favorite theories, knew nothing about real behavior and far less about how to treat any real abnormal or subnormal mental or psychological state or disorder…

    So I walked away from that field of professional loons.
    And it was a very happy day.

    My mom is a psychoanalyst, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. She used to come home from a long day in the asylum and she’d say “my co-workers are crazier than the patients!” And she’d tell us the latest nutty things they did.

    I used to read her books and edit her papers, but that doesn’t make me an authority on the subject of psychiatry at all. My expert mom was always distressed by my calm demeanor and my bad temper. She tried to get me to meditate, to punch pillows and to ’emote’ more. Her efforts usually made me feel worse, not better.

    Since I was an only child, any odd behavior or injuries would freak Mom out. She was a great nurse if I had a cold, but if I ever injured myself, she’d go into hysterics. When I was injured my Dad would also freak out, and yell at me for being stupid enough to get hurt. As a result, I avoided sports or anything dangerous.

    When I was 18, I cut my hand when I was cleaning a glass. Blood was spurting out all over the place. Instead of telling my parents, I decided to take care of the problem myself. I cleaned up the blood, wrapped my hand up in a towel and drove to the hospital. They sewed my hand up without anesthesia, but I was in a state of bliss because my folks weren’t there, panicking and yelling.

    About that age, I realized that I didn’t generally didn’t panic when other people did. When something caught on fire, or when someone had an accident, I tended to be the one who thought of putting the fire out or calling 911. I read in one of mom’s books about how the people who don’t panic also like extreme sports, so I did things like racing cars on the parkway, bouldering and parachuting. Not only did I enjoy these things, but I realized that when I did them on a regular basis, I was less likely to kick doors and punch walls. It certainly helped more than trying unsuccessfully to ’emote’.

    Anyway, that’s my unprofessional theory about the cold-fish types who don’t properly express emotions. They don’t swing wildly between rationality and irrationality, they’re just low key people who enjoy new experiences more than feeling the obligation to relentlessly share their feelings.

  6. Well, Mary, my point, my observation is that there are many people like that, but there are also a lot who are not — who are, in fact, under the surface quite the opposite.

  7. Ara Rubyan said

    Someone once called me “Bones.” I took it as a compliment. Some time later, a friend of that friend referred to me as a “Betazoid.”

    So here’s my question: what is it with the enduring appeal of Star Trek?

  8. Jack said

    “Someone once called me “Bones.””

    Are you a doc Ara, or just well known for your painful amputations?
    By the way if you want some really first rate stories of a sawbones then you oughtta read about Stephen Maturin.

    “what is it with the enduring appeal of Star Trek?”

    Personally I think it’s the phasers and the green chicks.
    Some people dig Roumlans too, but that’s not really my bag.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    More seriously though I can encapsulate why I liked the versions of Star Trek which I did like in just one word: Frontier.

    The original Enterprise was frontier’s law. If crap went down then they were there alone. You didn’t call in the cavalry, you were the cavalry. You were the man alone, or the ship alone. You were the law, and you were the lone adventurer, and you were the explorer going somewhere no one had gone before, and in a fight or a lethal problem you relied upon your own wits, and guts, and skills, and dare I say it, your enterprise.

    They were real men and women.
    Throw backs to Dan Boone and the Mountain Men of America.
    Danger was expected, enjoyed, embraced, part of the job. You didn’t run from it, you overcame it.

    In this world of pansified, over thinking, emotionally soaked, self-doubting, timid, rarified, confused, retiring, pessimistic, vapid, bitchin, moaning, weak at the knees, played out modern fellas who can’t drink their coffee without a heavy cream latte and a paper-wrapped sugarcube, they were throwback characters to what made this nation great – frontiersmen, adventurous, fearless, exploratory, men at the front lines of the New World. They were cowboys in starships.
    They endured. They adapted. They overcame. They conquered. They rose above, above their own weaknesses when necessary, above the weaknesses of others when that was what was called for.

    They were not “it cannot be done,” they were always, “I’ll be damned if that’s true, I’m winning this one. I don’t lose, and I don’t quit. It ain’t my nature. This will be over when I say it’s over. And that’ll be when I finish this.” And they meant it. And acted that way. Or their characters did anyway.

    And deep down inside, I don’t care how much of a milquetoast any man is in real life, deep down inside, all men wanna be real men. And all women wanna man who is a real man. Or at least one who can act like one when one is really needed.

    So when people saw Kirk and Spock and McCoy acting like real men, and in much later seasons when even Picard became a real man, well, that just appeals to people regardless of whether they will admit it publicly or not.

    Real men appeal to everyone, even when they’re fictional.

  9. Oh and pennywit, I’m sorry — they made… HOW MANY movies?!

  10. pennywit said

    Six with the original series, four with next generation, and JJ Abrams has a new movie coming in 2009.

  11. Jack said

    “and JJ Abrams has a new movie coming in 2009.”

    I’m looking forward to that. From what I’ve seen of the trailers.

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