Spock’s Brain

The Santa Monica Observer noted the death of soap opera actress Marj Dusay who also appeared as the alien thief in the classic Start Trek episode “Spock’s Brain”:

…The episode is generally regarded by most fans, and those who took part in its production, as the worst episode of the series. William Shatner called this one of the series’ worst episodes, calling the episode’s plot a “tribute” to NBC executives who slashed the show’s budget and placed it in a bad time slot.

Leonard Nimoy wrote: “Frankly, during the entire shooting of that episode, I was embarrassed – a feeling that overcame me many times during the final season of Star Trek.”

…In his book What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, author David Hofstede ranked the episode at #71 on the list.

The rock band Phish performs a song entitled “Spock’s Brain”

So what? Well here is the part that caught my attention:

The episode was referenced in Modern Principles: Microeconomics by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University as an example of how it is virtually impossible to have a command economy; in that not even Spock’s brain could run an economy.

In other words, we also thought it was one of the worst episodes ever because of the bad economics. Econ instructors should use our textbook! Where else can you learn about Spock’s Brain and the command economy?

By the way, I’m pretty sure the obit was AI generated but heh the AI did a good job! I am aware of the irony.


Such an awful episode. That last season was so disappointing after all the fun we had watching the earlier shows. Hope a bunch of NBC execs lost their jobs over that.


The Tholian Web was quite good.

That's not Marj Dusay in that photo -- is there time to fix that, Alex?


That's Marj Dusay

Fixed! Thanks. Should have known not to trust the AI.

"The Tholian Web was quite good."

+6, I'd forgotten about that episode

Star Trek is for cucks like JWatts.

Other episodes also had memorably good features, even if they had some flaws or silliness. Who can forget Spock and McCoy trapped in a planet's past Ice Age with the stranded Mariette Hartley? Or the crew of the Enterprise fighting hand-to-hand agains the Klingons, but eventually convincing them that they all had to lay down their arms? The OK Corral episode made no sense but it sure had atmosphere. And Yvonne Craig made Marta one of the more memorable of the sexy-but-doomed loves of Captain Kirk.

"If a universal mind existed, of the kind that projected itself into the scientific fancy of Laplace – a mind that could register simultaneously all the processes of nature and society, that could measure the dynamics of their motion, that could forecast the results of their inter-reactions – such a mind, of course, could a priori draw up a faultless and exhaustive economic plan. The bureaucracy often imagines that just such a mind is at its disposal; that is why it so easily frees itself from the control of the market and of Soviet democracy.
But, in reality, the bureaucracy errs frightfully in its estimate of its spiritual resources. In its projections it is necessarily obliged, in actual performance, to depend upon the proportions (and with equal justice one may say the disproportions) it has inherited from capitalist Russia, upon the data of the economic structure of contemporary capitalist nations, and finally upon the experience of successes and mistakes of the Soviet economy itself. But even the most correct combination of all these elements will allow only a most imperfect framework of a plan, not more." -- Leon Trotsky

Well, I’ll be damned. Wisdom from Trotsky - no wonder they assassinated him.

It is surprising, although no more surprising (to me anyway) than the quote about social insurance from Hayek that someone on MR cited a year or so ago:

"There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision."


Command economies are becoming more and more possible as we approach ubiquitous sensors, machine learning, cloud computing, and perfect information. Of course, I do not endorse such a position and find it scary frankly. But given the rapid cheerleaders of China's authoritarian response to COVID-19, I only imagine what happens next.


Maybe, but before we turn the economy over to machines, let's find one that can drive a car.

Let’s not encourage the bastards any more.

Waymo has robo-cars that drive better than humans, where better = safer. But if machines ran an economy they'd use markets. I doubt they have something better hidden up their robo sleeves.

"Waymo has robo-cars that drive better than humans, where better = safer"

...does it?

Yep. Safer than the Average US driver and safer than the average Australian driver. But while a Waymo robo-mobile is safer than me part of this is because it will refuse to drive during downpours, in snow, or generally confusing conditions, while I'll just arse my way through, relying on crumple zones and a seatbelt to save me if things go tits up.

Already ahead of you, courtesy of Google:


It was actually a reasonably good episode.
There was world-building, mystery, action, humor.

"Beam me up, Scotty." Peter Thiel says tech hasn't satisfied expectations because tech hasn't produced a flying car. Forget flying cars, what about a transporter. Tech isn't so good at hardware, but why not the software that would make the transporter work? Those old enough to have watched the original Star Trek, like me, have been waiting all these years for the transporter. It solved many dilemma, including avoidance of takeoffs and landings of space vehicles. And on earth, it solved the dilemma of long waits in the security line at the airport (that's not true, since there were no security lines in 1966). "Beam me up, Scotty", is the phrase one uses to express a desire to be somewhere else, such as someplace other than in a classroom while the professor is blabbering on about some nonsense. Of course, that wouldn't be the case in Cowen's or Tabarrok's classroom. Just the same, I wish their friend Thiel would invest his fortune in the development of a transporter (teleportation for the science minded) rather than surveillance.

You've been waiting on the transporter? I think you'll die disappointed. :-(

But look on the bright side: we all have communicators that do way more stuff and we can talk to computers by voice. Considering what life was like in the late 60s (or even in the 70s when I saw the re-runs), I'd say things aren't so bad!

I think transports are possible. Just not quite like on Star Trek. Have you ever read a novel and felt like you really knew a character in it? Well a novel contains about one megabyte of information. The Australian internet is now capable of transporting over twice that amount of information every day. So we could look at a person, determine their personality and what sort of things they are likely to know, par it down to a megabyte of description and download it into a suitable body somewhere else that's already full of all the usual trivia of human existence. If people can't tell the difference between me and my brother when I'm far more handsome, this will probably be close enough so most people won't be able to tell the difference or won't care.

We do have flying cars. They are big drones, and are in beta now.

That textbook sure is expensive.

My favorite part of that episode was when Dr. McCoy ("Bones") was feverishly reattaching Spock's brain to the rest of his body. Having received the how-to manual from the alien cone of knowledge, he starts out saying "It's all so simple!" but as he continues to work and the knowledge starts to dissipate he descends into a welter of confusion. (Fortunately, Spock is sufficiently reassembled to guide him the rest of the way). Reminds me of the fate of most of my moments of great clarity and inspiration!

Pass it over to moi

I haven't seen the episode in ages, but now that you remind me, great bit. DeForest Kelley chewed the scenery in a way only he ever could.

Re: "The episode was referenced in Modern Principles: Microeconomics by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University as an example of how it is virtually impossible to have a command economy; in that not even Spock’s brain could run an economy."

It's also


Virtually impossible to run

A large corporation.


Certainly a Presidency if you have the attention span of a 12 year old and stay up all night on Twitter.

I'll take Spock's brain.

Swing and a miss there, Bill.

Your opinion, to which you are entitled to have.

I enjoyed the episode. Not great but certainly not the worst. There are at least 10 much worse.

Care to share a couple of episode titles?

" author David Hofstede ranked the episode at #71 on the list."

Oh, never mind that's dumbest events on television. I was thinking it was 71 out 100 original Star Treks. But it only ran 3 seasons, so there couldn't have been that many.

Wiki says: 79 total

Hate to say it but I don't think that's the gorgeous Marj Dusay in that photo, it's one of the lower-ranking females from that dopey fem-planet.

OK, fixed now, thanks! Never want to give short shrift to the great ladies of classic TV -- Dusay, Lee Meriwether, Madlyn Rhue, Laraine Stephens and so on ...

Season 3 actually had some brilliant moments, notably Spectre of the Gun and All Our Yesterdays -- as well as lovably inane eps such as the space hippies and Abe Lincoln floating around in space.

BTW there's a pretty good neo-prog rock group named Spock's Brain.

+1 for Spock's Brain

Oops! My mistake on that one -- the name of the band is Spock's Beard, from the famed alternate universe episode.

And I almost forgot Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, with Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio as the endlessly feuding aliens. "Are you blind, Spock? Look at me. Look at me. Loki is white on the RIGHT side. All his people are white on the right side ..."

"worst episode of the series"

Maybe but does not mean it is "bad". No original series episode is bad, they are all varying degrees of great.

No. There was only one bad Star Trek episode - the one with the hippies whose leader had shellfish ears.

That's a weird economic lesson to have drawn. I can't see how it is supported by the story. That command economy seemed to have been working for thousands of years, kinky sex and all. It even had a mechanism for replacing a worn out central brain, one that had worked successfully many times in the past. It was only when Kirk and his team managed to put the kibosh on the replacement that it collapsed. It was clearly successful, but not invulnerable to outside interference.

I suppose it depends on one's definition of success. How many thousands of years qualify? How many capitalist economies have lasted thousands of years? Does it need to be 100% resilient in the face of any contingency? How well would our society hold up in the face of alien contact and alien economic and political interference? Science fiction asks interesting questions.

It really was a bad episode, but so bad that it was fun to rewatch if only to confirm how bad it was. We tried rewatching the episode with the hippies and the shellfish ears, but we gave up.

The Space Hippies episode was both far worse and much better.

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