I have a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and spend most of my days working in a hospital treating anxiety and depression. As a child, I never thought I'd be in this position. Back then, I spent most of my time riding bikes and playing video games. While other kids dreamed about who they would become when they grew up, I was content just thinking about the next great Nintendo game. My dad feared I might not graduate high school, let alone college. I was okay with that.
All of that changed when my brother took me to see Star Trek
VI: The Undiscovered Country. I was only eight years old at the time and knew
nothing about Star Trek. While the movie's social commentary on the end of the
Cold War was way over my head (I was much more fascinated by the exploding
spaceships), something about this universe spoke to me. While Han Solo and Luke
Skywalker were cool, I couldn’t see myself living in their scary universe. But I
wanted to be friends with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and believed it just might be
possible for me to serve on the U.S.S. Enterprise.
A few days later, my brother and I were channel surfing when we came across an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember him saying, "You really liked that Star Trek movie, maybe you should check out this show." I was a little confused at first - I had no idea there was a Star Trek television show (nor did I realize there were 5 other movies and an original television series). The Next Generation immediately consumed me. I raced home every day from school to watch reruns of the series and anxiously awaited new episodes.
This experience changed my life in a seismic way. Star Trek taught me that by using science, technology, and exploration we could push the human race forward. As I grew up, Star Trek challenged my world views. Episodes such as "Tapestry", "The Inner Light", "Darmok", "The Outcast", and "The First Duty" forced me to reconsider my beliefs on life and death as well as right and wrong. The core Star Trek value of inclusion ("infinite diversity in infinite combinations") became the foundation of my own philosophy.
I didn't know how, but I wanted to pursue similar goals (science and exploration) in my life. Yet, in high school few subjects appealed to me. I enjoyed my science courses, but I didn't feel like biology, chemistry, or physics "spoke" to me like Star Trek did. Eventually, I enrolled in college as an undeclared major. While I told friends and family that I was considering pre-law and pre-med, inside I was lost.
I avoided choosing my first semester freshmen courses as long as possible. It reached a point where most classes were closed. When I did enroll, only introductory psychology was available as an elective. I knew nothing of the subject and enrolled more by default than by interest.
The first lecture by Professor Goesling hit me just as hard as the explosion of Praxis in Star Trek VI. Psychology spoke to me in much the same way as Star Trek did. The integration of hard scientific research and introspection, two elements of all great Star Trek stories, were the foundation of psychology. I saw psychology as a field that could finally answer questions proposed by Star Trek - how do we define life, what makes a person good versus evil, and how can we better humanity? The science of psychology (behaviorism, cognitive science, and neuroscience) had empirical methods for analyzing these questions and a rich literature of experimental answers. Once again, I geeked out and devoured the field by devoting the next decade of my life to earning my bachelors, masters, and doctorate in psychology.
As the internet celebrated the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation and wrote about its legacy and the impact it has had on so many lives, I felt compelled to share my story and start this blog. It is my hope that this blog will inspire the next generation of science fiction geeks to love the brain and behavioral sciences.
Welcome to Brain Knows Better.