We’ll keep plugging along.
For the Hero’s Journey, after our Hero receives “the call,” there is usually a second thought or two. Christopher Vogel (and the late, great Joseph Campbell) calls this “The Refusal of the Call.”
Yet the second thoughts need not be expressed directly by our ever-brave Hero. Just like in the old cartoons where the steer-skull in the desert warns the hapless Popeye or Bugs Bunny, “You’ll be sooooo-rry,” the archetypes known as The Threshold Guardians take over the reluctance function.
Joe and Jane turn to look at each other. I’m nowhere to be found.
But instead of being on a plane, they find themselves on a very familiar bridge of a very familiar ship.
A familiar voice then speaks behind them, “Welcome, soldiers.”
They turn, and before them is a man both familiar, yet quite unfamiliar. For standing there in the combat uniform, the ACUs, of the United States Army, is Colonel (COL) James T. Kirk.
“I know,” he smiles. “Always shocks everybody. Welcome to the USS Enterprise, and welcome to the brain. You see, here in the brain, you get both what you might expect and what you never would expect. Think of us as a Joint Operation Command around here, and for your tour of duty at least, you’re working with the Army. And welcome to the Bridge, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain behind your forehead, the center of all your conscious activity. As the senior officers in charge, I and my team are more than glad to welcome you to our Command.”
At that, four other individuals appear around him, again looking quite familiar except for the green uniforms they sport. Each smiles as well, and in turn they introduce themselves.
“I’m Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Spock,” says the Vulcan. “As second-in-command, I am the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the logic center of your brain, the part that tries to make sure we do what makes sense.”
“And I’m Major (MAJ) Uhura,” says the women seated at the console. “As in the Star Trek series, I’m the communications officer. In your brain, I’m the orbitofrontal cortex, the part that picks up on the subtle communications of others, that gives us our feel for the people around us, how to respond to them.”
“And I,” says the Russian seated before them, “am MAJ Chekhov, the ship’s navigator. In the brain, I am the sum of all the conscious memory processes throughout all the brain, pulling together all the various types of memory so that we can decide what to do, how to feel.”
“And I,” says the man seated next to him, “am MAJ Sulu, the ship’s pilot, the premotor cortex. Strictly speaking I’m in a different part of the brain, back a bit from the Bridge, but I am who makes the conscious decisions to move our arms, our legs, to take action once we all decide what to do.”
“And I?” says the Colonel. “I am what I guess you could call “The Decider,” not so much a particular part of the brain, but rather the sum total of all its functioning. I’m you, your conscious sense of Self. And as I said, we’re here to serve and to answer your questions.”
“It’s just you guys?” Jane asks.
“Oh, no,” says LTC Spock, pressing a button before him. “Look behind you.”
When they do, the screen that usually displays what is outside the Enterprise lights up with multi-camera views of soldiers throughout the ship, carrying out their duties, seemingly without a hitch.
“That’s our Cortical Crew,” Spock says. “The cortex, the brain’s outer part. They are the nerve centers and pathways, all officers, who make sense of our perceptions, form our language, create complex feelings, all serving as the “military intelligence” we need to decide and act. Their work is automatic, unconscious, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the brain that we learn through the years, that become the basis for what makes us “us.”
“So, you see, Jane,” Kirk says, “there are plenty of us officers available to answer your question: “Can PTSD ever get better?”
Jane raises an eyebrow. “You know, Colonel, I’ve already learned much of this from my nursing training. None of these conscious processes has ever been that helpful with my combat experiences. No one else has answers?”
Joe clears his throat. “You know, kid, I’ve done this therapy stuff before, and as crazy as this sounds, this place is looking a little too familiar for comfort. I’m not sure either one of us wants to know the answer to that question.”
Now Kirk raises an eyebrow. “Well, yes, there’s plenty more to the brain than the cortex. See that staircase over there? If you walk down it, you’ll see more the ship has to offer. Joe’s right, though: you might not like what you find.”
Jane frowned. “I’ll take my chances.”
She headed down the stairs. Reluctantly, Joe followed.