Denise Cummins Ph.D.

Good Thinking

The Girl Who Wanted to be Spock: A Tribute to Leonard Nimoy

As a teen, I was infatuated with Captain Kirk, but I wanted to be Spock.

Posted Feb 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy at the Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona.  Photo Credit Gage Skidmore, labeled for reuse, royalty free
Source: Leonard Nimoy at the Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo Credit Gage Skidmore, labeled for reuse, royalty free

OK, I admit it. As a teen, I was infatuated with Captain Kirk, but I wanted to be Spock.

In fact, that's what my friends sometimes called me--Spock. His devotion to reasoning and logic is what put me on my future path to becoming a reasoning and decision-making researcher.

My boyfriend, my father, and I used to watch the original Star Trek series. No one else in the family particularly liked it, nor did most of my friends. But I was fascinated by it.

Spock intrigued me. In counterpoint to Dr. McCoy's tendency to emotional rants, his adherence to logic and reason brought him peace, contentment, and mental orderliness in a world that was frequently chaotic. While those around him—even Kirk—sometimes spun out of control, Spock was stable and calm as a submarine in stormy seas, a place of solace and practicality when crisis hit. He saw things clearly and keenly.

Yes, he was all about logic and reason and intelligence, but that did not make him less compassionate or empathetic than his more mercurial shipmates. Through his Vulcan "mind melds", he could see into the very souls of alien creatures, yielding a deeper understanding that led him to caution his shipmates against their knee-jerk aggressive reactions to creatures that seemed strange and threatening.

He possessed physical strength far greater than his human shipmates, yet it never occurred to him to press that advantage. Whatever temptation he might have felt to rule by brawn was kept in check by reason, compassion, and respect.

Spock led me to understand that I could do better than simply absorb my beliefs from my culture. I could subject my beliefs to the clarifying light of reason. I could weigh them against objective evidence. I could, when necessary, change my mind without losing self-respect, without feeling ashamed of having been wrong.

As a scientist, I both relied on and investigated these precious mental capacities. I asked questions of human behavior like these: Why are some problems so easy for humans to solve and others so much more difficult—even when objectively the structure of the problems are identical? When and why are people prone to bias? How and when do intuition and emotion cloud our judgment? How and when do they improve it?

So this scientist says in all humility, "Thank you, Leonard Nimoy, for bringing this beloved character to life. I am glad you lived long and prospered."  

Copyright Dr. Denise Cummins February 27,2015

Dr. Cummins is a research psychologist, a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and the author of Good Thinking: Seven Powerful Ideas That Influence the Way We Think.

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