Dr IAN ELMER…
Eric Berne, one the founders of the psychoanalytical system of Transactional Analysis, suggests that we all adopt a "meta-myth" or "life-script" to guide our path though the difficult passages from childhood to adulthood and on into old age and death. The life scripts may be drawn from fairy tales, favourite children's stories, movies, or even bedtime yarns. Each person has his or her own guiding myth; but all such life scripts draw on the great archetypes that populate the unconscious.
For me, that meta-myth was found in the adventures of the crew who rode that intergalactic space-ship, Enterprise, on (as the opening credits put it):
Its five year mission;
Space: A New Frontier for Television…
It has been some 41 years since those words were first beamed into living rooms in America, and slightly fewer years since we first heard them in Australia. Since then this television series called Star Trek, which lasted only three seasons (1966-1969), has spawned ten feature films (the eleventh is presently in pre-production), and animated series (1973-74), a Next Generation (1986-1994), and three subsequent and additional spin off T.V. series: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999); Voyager (1995-2001); and the prequel, Enterprise (2001-2005).
None of this phenomenal success even begins to scratch the surface of what is called "Star Trek fandom", which finds expression in huge sales for Star Trek novels, magazines, and comics, as well as the proliferation of Star Trek web sites and the advent of home-made fan movies uploaded to You Tube. Clearly, the popularity of the Star Trek universe grows stronger with each passing year.
What can account for Star Trek's enduring popularity and longevity? I believe the answers lay in the series' ability to mirror, in an archetypal sense, the very structure of human personality, and the universal quest for wholeness.
By his own admission, the creator of Star Trek, the late Gene Roddenberry, based his series on the Horatio Hornblower novels by C. S. Forester (Gerrold, 1973: 5-7). The image of the seafarer and the explorer is a power and timeless one, which has recurs often in legends, fiction and myths of many cultures. From Odysseus to Ahab, the stories of men and women who cannot resist the lure of the sea are part and parcel of human experience as remembered, retold, and recreated by the human imagination.
Eric Berne observed that the most enduring theatrical scripts are "intuitively derived from life scripts" (Berne, 1872: 35). More specifically, Carl Jung postulated that the prevalence of myths and stories about the sea and seafarers are archetypal images of the journey of life, which requires us to chart a course across and sometimes within the depths of our unconscious — the great abyss that lies beneath the surface of our personalities, commonly called the ego (O'Connor, 1993: 50-52).
Forester's stories are set in the most romantic of seafaring times; the era in which England is stretching her colonial arms around the world, building an empire upon which "the sun never sets". Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise sail a universe that was clearly created in a similar mould. The "united federation of Planets", the authority that Kirk and his crew represent, is but a thinly veiled (though thoroughly Americanised) analogy of the British Empire — a vast commonwealth of civilisations spanning one third of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Like Hornblower, Kirk is separated from immediate contact with his superiors by the vast reaches of deep space. He is far from home and, accordingly, like any child attaining adulthood and setting out on his journey into the "Wide World" (as another children's favourite, Wind in the Willows, would have it), he must act alone and independently. Both Hornblower and Kirk are explorers who must also function as ambassadors and diplomats, policemen and abators, as occasion demands.
From a Jungian perspective, such frontiersmen symbolise and model the basic human experience of being fundamentally alone in the world, cut off from home and the original wholeness that one felt as an infant being suckled at mother's breast (O'Connor, 1993: 163-164). The first step back towards an experience of security and wholeness is to establish a strong ego, which can act independently in the alien environment of the "Wide World". But that alone will not bring true wholeness.
One cannot simply skim the surface of the vast oceans or deep space. One must plunge deep within; to go beyond the safe, well policed, and densely populated regions to the uncharted territories. One must, as the opening voice over of Star Trek has it, "seek out new life and new civilisations" and "boldly go where no man has gone before".
The "Personality" of the Enterprise…
A cursory viewing suggests that each of the seventy-nine episodes of the original series, ST:TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series) for short, or "Classic Trek" as the fans call it, presented a different story each week. A closer inspection, however, reveals that the format of each episode remained the same — the crew of the Enterprise were confronted with a new challenge, be it a "Salt Vampire" (as in the very first episode, "The Man Trap") or a planet-eating "Doomsday Machine" (episode 35), which tested their ability to work as a team to overcome the danger. In finding their combined strength, they grew in wisdom and understanding.
"Working as a team" was the overall theme of Star Trek. No one character was the star. As David Gerrold argues, the star ship Enterprise was the real star of the series, and the crew acted merely as the ship's "functionaries" or aspects of its personality (Gerrold, 1973: 28). Now that is an interesting observations that puts us in mind of a subject that we have been exploring in recent weeks — the process of individuation, which results from the process of learning to master the four "functions" of the personality.
If we apply the principles of Jungian personality type theory as developed by Isabel Briggs Myers to the four central characters of ST:TOS — Captain Kirk, his alien (Vulcan) first officer Spock, ship chief medical officer Leonard "Bones" McCoy, and chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott — we discover four copy-book examples of the four "functions" of the human personality.
Captain James T. Kirk is the consummate "intuitive" type; imaginative, inventive, and innovative, he is a man of action who always trusts his own counsel (see description of "intuitive" type in Briggs-Myers, 1980: 63-64). This was made explicit in the espisode titled "Obsession", where Spock and McCoy question Kirk's decision to pursue an anomalous particle cloud, which Kirk believed to be sentient and malicious. The Captain maintained that, despite appearances to the contrary, his "intuition" told him that their assessment of the phenomenon was incorrect. Moreover, he silenced their objections by reminding them that "however illogical, [intuition] is recognised as a command prerogative".
Intuition is a necessary aspect of gaining information about the alien events, people and places we encounter on our journeys. We must learn to trust our intuition if we are to function effectively. But one must not depend entirely upon this function of perception alone.
Anyone familiar with the show will be aware that in the ultra-logical second-in-command and science officer, Spock, we are presented with a person whose dominant function is that of "thinking". This was highlighted throughout the series by the ongoing conflict between "thinking" Spock and "Bones" McCoy, the chief medical officer who functioned as the ship's resident "feeling" type.
In "The Ultimate Computer", Spock marvels at the capabilities of a new experimental super computer that could run an entire star ship without any crew. Spock opines that the only "unfortunate lack" in the computer's "current programming" is that "there is nothing available to immediately replace the star ship surgeon".
"If that were so," McCoy responds, "I'd have to resign anyway; because everyone else aboard would be nothing but circuits and memory banks. Of course, some of us already are just that".
McCoy and Spock represent the opposite ends of the human spectrum of "judgement" functions. The motif of a continuous conflict between the two provides a neat parallel to the process of "individuation", which involves (as we suggested last week) the redemption of the least preferred functions. These least-preferred functions are those that we have cut off or pushed into the unconscious during the development of our preferred functions, which make up our ego. They become part of the "shadow" side of our personality.
To find our way to wholeness we must, over time, rediscover and learn to use these "shadow" functions by integrating them into a more balanced personality, which can make equal use of both thinking and feeling when making decisions (Grant, Thomson & Clarke, 1983: 23-24). If we rely too heavily on our thinking function we might as well be merely "circuits and memory banks"; but to depend too heavily on feeling as primary mode of judgement will lead us astray and undermine our ability to act effectively and decisively.
Failure to redeem our shadow can lead us to "act out" these twisted and distorted aspects of our personality hidden in our unconscious. If we fail to redeem our feeling function, we might find that we have problems with controlling our emotions. If intuition is our least preferred function, and we are unable to rediscover that aspect of our personality, we might tend to be shallow individuals who find it difficult to read body language and perceive the deeper meaning of events, conversations, literature and art.
The least developed function is called the "inferior" function, and it usually represents the complete opposite of our "superior" function. On the Enterprise Kirk's "intuitive" character is the most developed; his opposite, the "sensate" engineer, Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, is the least developed character — just as one might expect in any personality that favours "intuition" over "sensing" as its primary mode of engaging or "perceiving" the world.
Scotty's preferred form of perception via his five senses. In the episode titled "That Which Survives", an alien intelligence invades the Enterprise's engines and is negatively affecting its performance. Only Scotty can "sense" the anomaly. He calls to the bridge on the intercom numerous times complaining that the ship "feels wrong". At first, the intuitive Kirk ignores the sensate Scott. There is, after all, nothing registering on the "internal sensors" — something every intuitive depends on. However, long experience of Scott's uncanny "senses" (as opposed to "internal sensors") prompts Kirk to intuitively trust Scott, and he directs Spock to apply his talent for thinking to the problem.
The Mission: To Seek New Life…
In Jungian archetype theory, the number four is the symbol of wholeness and completeness (von Franz, 1990: 200). Just as an aside, this probably explains why we have four Gospels — as the Church Father Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3:11:8) suggested, the "quadriform gospel" reflects the quadriform nature of the world, which has four corners from which blows the four winds, and which will end when the four horsemen of the apocalypse (conquest, war, famine and death) cross the land. The symbolism of the cross points in a similar direction, representing the union of heaven and earth, matter and spirit, drawing towards a unifying centre from the four corners of the cosmos the four basic elements of creation — earth, water, fire and wind.
The process of Individualtion is a quest for wholeness, which is realised only when we can use with equal comfort all four of our intellectual functions; perceiving the world through our senses and our intuition and judging what we have perceived with both thought and feeling. Star Trek has survived and its popularity has prospered because it holds out to us in mythic terms this goal of a well rounded personality. It is interesting to note that the very shape of the "primary hull" of the Enterprise is a huge disk, a circle that archetypically mirrors the goal of the process of Individualition. As Jung (1964) points out:
There is an old saying that God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere… On an antique level, therefore, space ships, UFOs could easily be conceived as gods. They are impressive manifestations of totality whose simple round form portrays the archetype…[of] the union of apparently irreconcilable opposites (327).
It is only in launching out on the journey into the unknown that we are tested and find within ourselves the reserves of wisdom and strength that have lain hidden in our unconscious. But it is only in encountering the divine "Self" that lies within that we can achieve a complete redemption of these hidden resources. Just as the cross symbolises a drawing together of disparate elements, the necessary surrender to the divine mystery within centres us and produces the wholeness we yearn for but can never achieve by our own effort.
By way of conclusion, it is worth repeating afresh the profound insight of Thomas Merton (1962) that I quoted last week:
Nothing could be more alien to contemplatives than the cogito ergo sum of Descartes, 'I think therefore I am'. This is the declaration of an alienated being, in exile from his [or her] own depths, compelled to seek comfort from some proof of his [or her] own existence based on observation of what he [or she] thinks…. For the contemplative there is no cogito ('I think') and no ergo ('therefore') but only SUM, I Am (8-9).
Like the seafarers and space travellers of our most enduring myths and stories, we are called to embark on a mission to "explore strange new worlds and civilisations" in the search for "new life". We are "alienated beings", as Merton terms it, "exiles" from our own uncharted depths. The irony is that only in plunging into those depth through prayer, mediation, and the exercise of unconditional self-giving and love — boldly going where one man, the Christ, has gone before — that we find our way home.
Bibliography and Further Reading:
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
Ian Elmer can be contacted at: Ian Elmer <firstname.lastname@example.org> Please Note: You need to remove the "NOSPAM" words at the beginning of the email address before sending the email"
©2007 Ian Elmer