In this our final segment of the first section of the series, I want to introduce you to a character who never inhabited the original Star Trek series, yet who plays a crucial role in our USS Enterprise/Battleship Brain model: Private First Class (PFC) Scotty, Jr. He may be a man. She may be a woman. No matter: Scotty Jr. looks out for Dad up in the Transporter Room by keeping an eye on the Engine Room (the brainstem) and thus on the entire body.
(For those in the know, I am indeed mixing military metaphors, I understand that. In the United States Navy, young crewpersons are “Seamen,” not “Privates First Class.” The latter is Army (and Marine) talk. Yet I ask you to forgive me: from this point on, I’ll be mixing military metaphors constantly, especially since, by sheer numbers, in the United States most combat veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have served in either of those two service branches.)
PFC Scotty, Jr., in fact, has a very particular MOS (military occupational specialty): he’s a 35F (or as they say in the” Army, “35-Fox” or “35-Foxtrot”). In other words, he’s an intelligence analyst.
But just as importantly, he’s an entry-level intelligence analyst. He just graduated from AIT (Advanced Individual Training), and he can only do so much at his pay grade. Intelligence analysts take raw information and put it together in a way that decision makers can more easily understand and act upon. They are the experts at “briefings.”
PFC Scotty Jr’s job, however, is not to give briefings per se. He has three main tasks:
- He has been “trained” to respond automatically to certain experiences that must be dealt with immediately, even before they hit the limbic system (i.e., Transporter Room). Our bodies do not need to activate the “Yeah, want that”/”Nope, don’t want that” system when what’s coming at our visual fields is a signal that says, “Incoming unidentified object!” or when what’s coming up through our bodies is a signal that says, “Running out of oxygen down here!” In the first example, PFC Scotty, Jr. knows to give to the body the command “DUCK!!” In the second one, it’s “BREATHE!!” Those are exactly the types of functions Scotty’s pay grade was designed to handle.
- In essence, anything experience beyond those requiring the body’s immediate reflexes is “above “her/his pay grade.” And every good military person knows what to do when it’s “above my pay grade”: shoot the information up the Chain of Command. Next in line, therefore, is “Dad,” Mr. Scott, and the limbic system’s classification of emotional response.
- In our no-frills USS Enterprise/Battleship Brain, however, I am going to add one more job to Scotty Jr. In the real brain, the mechanism isn’t exactly a brainstem one, but for our purposes Scotty Jr will take us where we need to go, especially when we’re talking about trauma and combat PTSD. Simply put, Scotty Jr. has a “panic button” right next to him. As part of his training, he can identify when incoming crew members (emotional experiences) are indeed radioactive.
When he sees such crew members, he hits the panic button.
Don’t worry: eventually I will explain what I mean by that. Suffice it to say, Scotty Jr’s actions in such “radioactive” situations will clarify why some war experiences never seem to get out of the heads of combat veterans. Again, good news: it doesn’t have to stay that way. But realistic news: for many combat veterans, those experiences are constant and, usually, quite debilitating.
So there we have it. Section One is complete: we know about the basic, four parts of the brain. We know what parts of the USS Enterprise/Battleship Brain correspond to those parts. We know what leaders command each section. So are we ready yet to talk about combat PTSD?
Not quite. Patience, please, patience.
To understand truly about how the brain responds to the emotional experiences of combat, we must first understand how it responds to “normal” emotional experiences, both as we are growing up and then as we live our adult lives. Only when we know what it’s like for our experiences to “go right” will we fully appreciate what’s it’s like for them to “go wrong.”
And to do that, in Section Two we’re going to have to look at two very important ideas: Starfleet Academy and, later, Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs. Let’s boldly go there, shall we?
Don’t forget our motto, though: Decontaminating the Radioactive
Emotions of War to Create a Radiating, Emotion-Filled Deployment Back into Life.
See you then.