How I went insane (but saved my cloned daughter from being turned to evil)

I sat in the bed facing the two smiling demons—leaders of the great Satan/Wal-Mart Organization that ran the hospital. They were trying to convince me that I should let them adopt a clone of my five-year-old daughter. She had been created by new genetic techniques developed by their powerful company and they insisted, “Her place will be great in the new world order.” Over the last few days, however, they had lied to me so often I knew it was a sham. Despair seemed to overwhelm me at the thought of the strange global changes that had recently taken place under this evil organization’s machinations. But I was resolute. I would never let them have the copy of my daughter.

For one week this was my world. The entire event can be found in my Dialogue account of this (the first paragraph is a quote from the paper). But the short version is I picked up a brain disease while studying butterflies in the Tam Dao National Park in Vietnam. Of course many of you will find this explains a lot about me. But the thing that bothered me most was not only that was I seeing and hearing things that were not there. But my beliefs about the world were rewritten.

For one, doubt disappeared. I believed everything I saw and heard. Right now if Abe Lincoln walked into the room, I’d think OK time to go to the hospital. But I accepted this world, I believed in it fully and unquestioningly (the world being run by Satan/Walmart) at face value. I also saw clones of my kids running around the hospital. My sense of ethics was still intact and I was plagued with questions about how to act in this new world order. You see my kids had all been copied and turned into evil assassins (except my daughter who was just too dang pure at age five to be turned to evil).

My biggest worry through this was what to do with my cloned kids. Were they mine? (and they were cloned with my original kid’s full memories intact (so it was more like they were copied) and they actually believed they were my kids. (Do you realize I’m telling you what my illusory kids believed! Think about that!)) I was constantly trying to figure out if I was now responsible for raising them. It was a little disheartening because this gaining five new children would create all kinds of problems, not the least of which were logistical. For example, I would have to put Evil Timothy in with Good Timothy (I have five kids so there was just not room to house the evil and the good kids separately). What would that do to my children if they each had a roommate who was identical to them in every way, including memories, except they were totally evil and trained assassins? And what if a pair of my kids both felt like they owned, say, the same computer. Would this cause fights? Would assassin Christopher just ‘take out’ his competition? This was a real dilemma.

My wife kept telling me, ‘The kids are home, they are not here’ and I kept trying to explain that I knew the kids were home, but it was the cloned ones I was worried about. Apparently this was not making any sense to her. There was a clone of my wife too, but she would use the ‘BIG’ swear word and I knew my real wife would never do that so I kept her away (which made me sad too, because like my kids, my copied wife had all her memories and loved me deeply despite her being made evil and having a foul mouth. I could see the pain in her countenance when I told her to leave the hospital room. And yes, these hallucinations were this detailed and consistent.) I also believed I had been abandoned by God. That was the hardest part.

When I came out of it (they finally figured out which weird Southeast Asian Bacteria had hit me) my beliefs about the world came back. That and an inability to read (which worried me, as reading is a skill highly valued by BYU in their professors).

It’s put freedom and responsibility in a new perspective. If beliefs are so subject to bacterial assults on the brain, then it raises several questions. First it convinced me that those with mental illnesses cannot be judged by our normal criteria. Of course, most people know this, but it was driven home to me in new ways by this experience.

Second, it was clear that our spirits are very closely tied to our physical bodies. That not only the phenomenological inputs can be distorted, but our beliefs about these inputs can be manipulated. This surprised me. It was very disorienting to my view of how the world worked. But it explained some things. For many years I’ve had a close friend I met in graduate school who in all our years together has never felt the spirit. He is as good a person as I know. Someone who has served valiantly in the church, is fully active, prays, reads the scriptures, and has given me some of the most beautiful priesthood blessings I have ever received. He should feel the spirit in rich abundance but does not. We often pay lip service to the scripture which says that to some are given to believe on the testimony of others, but I think this needs to be taken much more seriously. What if there are brain structures that allow or prohibit this feeling? Maybe we need to open spaces in our testimony meetings to a testimony like, “I don’t know. I’ve never felt this thing called the Spirit. But I’m with you. I trust you. Hang in there with me.”

Maybe when all is said and done, those we think that ought ‘to know’ just don’t. And in this life just can’t know. I was there for a week. I think I understand a little better what they mean.

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27 comments to How I went insane (but saved my cloned daughter from being turned to evil)

  • Cap

    Great Blog!

    I think that it would make sense that the spirit is tied closely to the body. After all they are going to be together, inseparable forever.

    I can’t imagine never have feeling the spirit. But I also believe that it is more needed for some people than others. I also, can not imagine living in a world where everything is changed in an instant, I cant imagine seeing things, like a parade going down the street, and having a memory of it. However, I believe after experiencing that a view on accountability will be changed, and much more understood.

  • It is my belief that someone who has served valiantly in the church, is fully active, prays, reads the scriptures, and has given beautiful priesthood blessings HAS felt the spirit. Perhaps he does not know how to recognize it. Feeling the spirit is more about Galations 5:22 than a burning in the bosom (a’la D&C 9:8), unless you are asking the Lord a specific question.

    I am pleased to see that an evolutionist like yourself can accept the ontological reality of the spiritual domain ;)

  • SteveP

    Thanks Cap. I always love your comments!

    Hi Dave, I definitely accept those ontological realities.

  • David Gonzalez

    I’ve often considered your experience when talking to some friends (members and non-members) about spiritual experience. Several friends in the church have stated they have never once “felt the spirit”.

    Maybe some brains are incapable of connecting or interpreting spiritual interaction. Spiritual interaction, for me, has been the basis of belief in God, to that end I can say that my own spiritual experiences vouch for the brain being the master liminal interpreter.

  • Dave, I’ve long thought that and have actually taught lessons on that using D&C 46. I think we assume spiritual experiences are ubiquitous but I think verse 14 in particular suggests not all can know.

  • steve

    I had a nice Skype chat with my friend and he’s heard the arguments his whole life that something is wrong with him for not feeling this. It’s caused a lot of negative feelings and angst in his life because those around him feel something he does not, yet he does all the same things they do. To say he doesn’t recognize it I think cheapens his efforts. And what would that mean? When a person has a physical impairment like blindness, if we were to claim that they see the light, but they just don’t recognize it, it would sound absurd. I’m convinced that this may be more common than we think, but people are marginalized because we don’t let them partake fully of the realities of those who are ‘given to believe’ the testimonies that others actually feel. As CAP, David G and Clark imply there must be some physical connection to our feelings of the spirit. If it has a basis in brain function it can be broken.

  • Wow, what an experience! Thanks for posting the article; I was riveted to it. I have a few questions:

    1. Do you dislike Wal-Mart, or was your brain just being creative with the fact that some others don’t like it?

    2. As observed by others, were your actions consistent with your delusion? Were you conversing with empty space? Did you actually go talk to the nurses at the nurse’s station?

    3. If you thought the doctors were going to kill you, how did they get you back to do the MRI (which they presumably did)?

  • Cap

    Feeling the spirit helps you to make right choices.
    You also can make right choices on your own.

    Feeling the spirit can help you know if something is true.
    You can also know something is true on your own.

    There are other examples, but I think that while having the spirit is a great thing, and that with a lot of people, if not most would truly be lost… There are others, I believe, that do not need this luxury, and are able to know if things are true on their own. They are able to give blessings and know what Heavenly Father want’s them to say on their own. They can make right choices on their own.

    So maybe the spirit is an aid, but not a necessity.

  • steve

    Hi CAP,

    I agree that there are many ways to learn truth. That is a important insight. I also think there are truths that can be learned from the spirit that cannot be learned in other ways. like someone born blind, if you can’t feel it, there is something real that they are missing. And I agree that the lord expects us to use all the tools he given us to get a the truth: spirit and mind.

    Jared,

    I’ve never been a Walmart fan, so maybe I was keying on the lack of choice in our world as little business are driven out the competition by the big ones. One friend joked that, that perception (linking Satan and Walmart) was the one truth I was seeing clearly. And somehow it’s easy for me to imagine Walmart in a world running under Satan’s plan.

    Yes, I was constantly talking to people not there, or the wall. In the linked paper you see the drawing my daughter did for me to hang on my hospital room wall. Those two figures in her drawing became the leaders of the Satan/Walmart organization. Not drawings of them but them actually. I had long debates with them.
    I could make no disticition as who was real and who not. About a year after this I saw the movie, “Beautiful Mind.” That really captures that sense that real people and non can’t be told apart and are dealt with as real. While under this disease these people were as real as the real people. And what’s weird my memories of those events were laid down normally, so I remember the unreal people as if they were really there. Even in my memory I can’t tell them apart.

    Two of my colleagues visited me and I could talk to them normally, but behind me was one of my assassin sons who was crying because I would not talk to him. I kept turning around and telling him I would talk to him after my guests left. My friends from the department still rib me about turning around every few minutes and addressing an errant child who was not there.

    To get me back in the MRI they had to get a new technician and my wife agreed to stay with me. I was still pretty nervous. There is just something about being locked in a large tube when people are trying to kill you. I don’t know maybe its just me.

  • Given this experience, I find your confidence in subjective truths puzzling. If the brain can so clearly create an alternate reality and unquestioningly believe it, why give such trust to emotional “verification” of truths? Occam’s razor would seem to suggest rejection of supernatural influences in spiritual “confirmations.” I’m genuinely interested in how you justify the diffent approach.

  • jhayes

    This is kind of an interesting subject for me because to a large degree I consider myself as one who has to rely on the testimonies of others. Feelings that I have felt and recognized as promptings have been few and far between and honestly, the first one happened last year. I am one who believes that mental illness and disorders can impair ones ability to feel the spirit. Those with Aspergers autism are well known for their inability to accept anything that can’t be demonstrated through natural scientific means. Me personally, I have had PTSD since I was a young child caused by abuse and neglect and I believe that that has significantly compromised my relationship with God and my ability to accept things on mere faith. It has been difficult for me to accept new ideas that contradict schemas that have been in place before I can remember. The testimony I had when I was baptised was entirely founded in the knowledge that someone I admired and looked up to believed it was true and I trusted him on it. Without him I would probably still be an atheist. On a side note, I have often wondered the mechanisms by which the Spirit communicates and its relation to the functions of the brain. From the secular side of the anti-Mormon scene, an argument I have seen often is that Joseph Smith may have been a temporal lobe epileptic. Lets assume he was for the sake of argument. Is it not possible that epileptic visions can be communication from the Spirit? Who is to say temporal lobe epileptics arent more sensitive to the Spirit?

  • steve

    Thanks for sharing this, jhayes. I think it’s true that we understand very little about how brain function affects spirituality. I think you are right though we need to be more open to the ways in which these physical and spiritual interfaces play out. Both in terms of blocking spiritual sensitivities and enhancing them. Very nice point.

  • steve

    ujlapana, I think brain states can be said to cause all realities. Much of the way we view the world of normal reality is a construction. Why should we trust any of these? I think this is where consistency plays out and where testimony comes into play. When we compare experiences through our testimonies we notice consistencies, shared realities, and begin to construct a coherent story. It’s that way for both objective and subjective reality. When I was mad, my story was collaborated and shared by no one. That’s a problem. Subjective truths can be communicated, compared, and contrasted. This builds confidence that there is something behind it all. That’s where my confidence comes from: Shared experience.

  • I appreciated your response. Where this broke down for me eventually was in discovering that a shared experience that I had long held to be a crucial aspect of Mormonism, namely that spiritual experiences testified of true principles, seemed to be shared much more broadly. When a Chinese woman describes her conversion to the cult of Mao using the same terms that you would hear after any youth conference, when people’s experiences on psylocibin are noetic, life-changing, transcendental events, what basis do I have for excluding them from my pool of “shared experiences?” I haven’t found a satisfactory answer to this yet, and integrating them seems to undermine the uniqueness of Mormon claims.

  • First it convinced me that those with mental illnesses cannot be judged by our normal criteria

    That is by far one of the hardest things for many to understand.

    I’m glad you made it back.

  • Clark

    I’d add in predictive power. But the real question is how to tell you aren’t insane now. That is does someone crash know they are crazy? I think Steve’s point about shared experiences is key though.

    More importantly though my testimony can’t rest on what Joseph’s experiences were.

  • steve

    Thanks Stephen, I’m glad I’m here too, it was actually a very close call and I could have easily not made it.

    Prediction works too, although I sometimes created the predictions in my illusions, sort of self fulfilling illusions as it were. But I think this combined with shared experience is more powerful.

    ujlapana, I think that many of the experiences that others have in different religions and traditions are legitimate experiences with the divine. I think our emotions can produce similar states. I’ve decided that sorting out these feelings, emotions and experiences with the divine really is a life long process. I understand what you are saying, but, still, I find meaning and hope and truth in my tradition, but I’d be hard pressed to deny others their experiences. And I’m grateful when they grant me the same, because I do find I am lead to God in this church and find deep meaning and reality here.

  • It is good that Mormonism is a source of meaning and hope for you: I’d hate to see you out of a job ;-).

    I ultimately came to a different conclusion from integrating the experiences of others with my own experiences. I suppose that’s the nature of subjective knowledge. I think the logical next question is, can we be humble enough to realize that the subjective nature of these conclusion suggests that we are more likely to be wrong that right? That those who leave Mormonism are as likely to be on the path to further light and knowledge as those who stay?

    I think that’s a challenge for members of any “tribe,” Mormon or otherwise.

  • [...] at Mormon Organon had up a fascinating post about catching a disease that made him insane. He draws out some very interesting theological questions from this. Well worth reading. Steve also [...]

  • Velska

    I have at times felt funny doing some things, and then afterward seen that the ideas had to have come from someone who knows a lot more than I do. That was especially true when I was in the bishopric of our ward.

    I know for a fact that the Lord has a hand in more things than most people realize. But what is that thing we call the influence of the Spirit? It is usually very subtle and almost never overwhelming. Except when for some reason our attention is desperately needed (that’s happened to me twice in 30 years so not very often). And even then, if you want, you can walk away and consider yourself just lucky you came to think about that!

  • [...] found out that many countries carry diseases that are dangerous and life threatening. Having caught one I say pay attention to that [...]

  • Wow, my son is going through some crazy beliefs and stuff because of a brain infection with Borrelia Burgdorfi, otherwise known as Lyme disease. His paranoid assumptions that not only do I not love him but I’m actively working to make his life miserable are heartbreaking. I know that he can’t help it but I don’t know what to do to make it better. I’m trying so hard to not become discouraged and I’m trying so hard to keep up my enthusiasm for all the very hard things we have to do to get him treated in a world where insurance providers don’t recognize the existence of his disease (the chronic sort that doesn’t go away after just a few weeks treatment, I mean), and where there are only a few doctors in the country who will treat it, and where we have to travel, miss work, and spend lots of money that we barely can scrape up to treat him. On the other hand his life and happiness is exceedingly important to me, and no matter how hard it is, it’s all worth it and then some for the chance to give him back his brain and his future.

    Somehow I think my finding this post right now was meant as an encouragement for me. Thanks for it.

  • correction: Borrelia Burgdorferi

  • ujlapana, I understand where you’re coming from in seeing that the universal nature of sacred experience doesn’t necessarily favor Mormonism as a true interpretation over any of the other religions or philosophies people hold. Because these experiences are subjective to each individual, we absolutely must humbly accept that each person is the one and final arbiter of what his own experiences teach him about reality.

    For me, though, I judge by the fruits. One religion might prompt me to offer human sacrifices to my god, (an extreme example of what I mean) and that would result in a sadder world, in my view. I find Mormonism to be the one religion (and I’ve studied many) that elevates me, motivates me, and teaches me to be a better person more than any other I’ve known. It resonates with my spirit in a way that all the other religions don’t do as well, though they all contain precious truths. I just think we have even more of the precious truths required for humans to fully realize their potential as exalted beings. So that’s why I choose Mormonism as the framework in which to understand and interpret my subjective spiritual experiences.

    It’s perfectly scientific, you just have to extend science to also cover the subjective observations people have, and not just the repeatable sharable ones.

    The other night when my son tried Ambien to help him get some quality sleep, something his disease keeps him from getting on a regular basis, it had a strange effect on him. He began dreaming while he was still sitting up talking to me, and this continued hour after hour into the night. At one point he asked me if I could see all these things he was describing and I told him sadly that no, I was in the dream but I was not sharing his experience of the dream. He leaned his head close, then, so I could see it through his eyes. He wanted me to be able to see it too, the circus, the big party, and the boat we were on. He was trying to show me all the people, the army, the pirates, and those especially colors that were lifting him up.

    I feel along with certain Australian Aboriginal people that the dreamtime has a reality of its own, which sheds a lot of light on the reality we construct together called the worldtime. I only wish I could have seen my son’s dream through his eyes.

  • SteveP

    Tatiana, I was so sorry to hear about your son. My experience with the medical profession was very similar. If you don’t fit on their flow chart it’s very hard to get treatment and to get people to pay attention.

    Don’t give up hope! After I came out of the disease I found I had lost the ability to read. One of the doctors came in and told me that the brain does not heal and that I would most likely not get that ability back. He misunderstood neuron death, and confussed that with the amazing ability of the brain to heal and establish what connections it neads with the healthy ones. I actually knew he was wrong, because I’ve followed the neurology of learning a bit,and was disappointed that he would make such a claim. When a real neurologist came in he said, “Oh don’t worry you’ll be rewired in a month.” So it actually only took about two weeks.

    One book that you may find very helpful is the book, “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor” Why it might be so useful is she gives careful attention to how to care for someone with brain injury, what they need, and how to better support their healing. Most of the book is about that in fact. It’s also a very hopeful book.

    Your sharing your son’s dream was a magical description. Thank you for sharing that.

    My thoughts and prayers go with you in this.

  • Thank you for that. And I’m so glad you’ve recovered fully as well. He’s 19 and once we kill all the evil spirochetes his brain can heal, I’m sure of it.

  • [...] the mind and behavior.  The two are irrefutably tied together.   Steve at Mormon Organon gave a vivid personal example of this a while back when he became delusional from a viral [...]

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