Spock’s Brain and the Edge of Manhattan

by F.

Two feelings when learning a new domain:

I. “The nerves… there are a million of them.”

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Remember that episode of the original Star Trek called “Spock’s Brain“?

The Eymorgs steal Spock’s grey matter. Kirk and McCoy get the brain back from the Eymorgs but there’s a little problem: it has to be reinstalled. Fortunately, there’s the “Teacher,” a computer thingy that can transfer knowledge and skill to someone, but only for three hours. McCoy straps on the Teacher and gets a crash course in brain surgery (Remember that scene from The Matrix where Neo gets all that martial arts info uploaded? There’s no new thing under the sun, etc.) Everything’s going well, until the 3-hour limit approaches:

MCCOY: All the ganglia—the nerves. There are a million of them. What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?… I’m trying to thread a needle with a sledgehammer. What am I supposed to do? I can’t remember. I don’t remember.

I often feel like this when I have to learn something complicated in short order. And my face looks a little like McCoy’s in the above still from that episode.

II. The Edge of Manhattan.

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When I was in college, I flew to Manhattan to see a friend. One day he had to go to school or something and I spent the day wandering around. I like to walk, so I walked from the 80s on the West Side down to Wall Street, then back up. Then I crossed from one side of the island to the other.

I loved Manhattan. I thought it was the most amazing invention of human beings ever. Ever. This huge, dense, dynamic machine of humanity and architecture and art and food. But at some point I reached the edge and stared out to Brooklyn. And I thought, “It has an end?” Brooklyn wasn’t interesting at all. Just another neighborhood. Not like this archetypal city that stretched to the sky and fought against physics to pack more and more people and commerce inside its cell walls.

I walked to the other side and that was worse. Jersey? Jersey?

Everything has edges and bounds. While it’s terrible to feel like McCoy, it’s almost worse to come to the edges and lack undiscovered country.

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