Brain Drain, TOS: S2E20 “Return to Tomorrow”

Kirk and Spock seem to have no shortage of mind-altering adventures, which is reasonable considering one of the final frontiers still beyond our understanding is the mind.  If space offers anomalies and aggressive aliens, the human body provides complex mystery and questionable theories.  Brushing up against this frontier, Kirk, Spock, and Lt. Cmdr. Mulhall respond to a distress call from an uninhabited planet.  The disembodied alien Sargon summoned the Enterprise with an odd request.  He and two others are the last of their kind, entombed in spheres which hold their consciousness until they can construct android bodies to inhabit.  The drawback is that they need to occupy some physical body first to build the android vessels.

The story initially explores the pros and cons of this alien possession, but when Sargon’s companion, Henoch, takes control of Spock and wreaks havoc on the ship, the cost outweighed the benefit.  Kirk gave an impassioned speech on taking risk for the pursuit of scientific knowledge, but later events proved him wrong.  All the scientists were willing to jump at the opportunity of three disembodied aliens taking possession of their bodies because the poor things were the last of their kind.  It was an admirable sacrifice for science but relinquishing their autonomy to beings they just met seems reckless.  Although the episode balanced the philosophy of taking risks for the sake of science, it also made a distinct and subtle statement on the nature of consciousness.

There are several major theories and schools of thought concerning the origin of consciousness.  One of these is that consciousness is produced by the brain.  Another proposes that consciousness exists as a property of the universe and is concentrated around organisms that have the capacity to hold it.  When Kirk’s body was taken by Sargon, Krik’s mind was disembodied, experiencing all of space and time at once.  If consciousness arises from neural activity in the brain, possibly as an artifact caused by biological feedback loops, a disembodied consciousness would not be possible.  It’s interesting to see Star Trek embrace such a mystical interpretation of the issue, considering it had an atheist worldview.  The thought of your consciousness being separated from the brain, or that another consciousness could take possession of it, would be ridiculous.  It would be the equivalent of taking the light from one lightbulb and putting it in another bulb!

Kirk’s adventure into the abyss was not expounded upon, because explaining it would have been beyond the scope of TV entertainment.  The Starfleet crew members offered their bodies as a life support but did not seem as interested in probing the depths of consciousness.  It is a shame because this made the plot holes a little more glaring.  If it had only been a story about the virtue of donating one’s body for science, and then experiencing a whole new form of existence as a result, we could accept the alien’s plans as a story telling device.  Instead, Henoch wants to keep Spock’s Vulcan body.  He is eventually defeated as the Starfleet officers fight to get their bodies back.

If Sargon had the ability to summon any ship in the galaxy to borrow their bodies, why not summon a Vulcan ship?  Spock’s body was much stronger and able to withstand the stress of harboring the alien consciousness.  Also, as some critics observed, why would Sargon not target a population of android beings, such as those featured in “I Mudd”?  Poor planning aside, meeting Sargon and his companions was a unique opportunity for the Enterprise to lend a helping hand to new life, in all its forms.

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