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« Is Religion a Spandrel? | Main | Where Do Dreams and Visions Come From? »

God’s Multiple-Personality Disorder

Another personal addendum to “The God Experiments”:

Perhaps the biggest difference between me and harder-core religion-bashing skeptics such as Dawkins and Dennett is that I’ve had religious experiences myself. One in particular, which took place in 1981, even led me to believe, for a while, in a Creator—albeit a rather unconventional one. The experience was induced by a drug that a friend, “Stan,” obtained from a chemist working on an Army contract at Research Triangle Park. After hearing me describe the symptoms, John Halpern, a psychiatrist at Harvard and authority on drugs, speculated that I took BZ, 3-quinuclidin-3-yl benzylate, a hallucinogen developed as a chemical “incapacitant” by the U.S. Army in the 1950’s.

Here is how I describe its effects in Rational Mysticism:

Within a half hour, I knew that this was by far the most powerful drug I had ever taken. I felt as though a volcano was erupting within me. Sitting on a lawn, barely holding myself upright, I told Stan that I feared I had taken an overdose. Stan, who for some reason was less affected by the compound, tried to calm me down. Everything would be fine, he said; I should just relax and go with the experience. As Stan murmured reassuringly, his eyeballs exploded from their sockets, trailed by crimson streamers.

That was my last contact with external reality for almost twenty-four hours. Stan and a couple of friends whose help he enlisted told me later that during this period I was completely unresponsive to them, although they could with some difficulty move me about. For the most part I lay or sat quietly, staring into space. Occasionally I flailed about, raving, grunting, or emitting other uncategorizable sounds. For a long time I hissed like a five-year-old boy pretending to be a jet-fighter: “Fffffffffffffff!” My expressions tended toward extremes: beatific, enraged, terrified, lewd. Occasionally I furiously clawed holes in the lawn. My eyes were for the most part wide open, the pupils dilated to the rim. My companions said I never seemed to blink, even when particles of dirt from my excavations were visible on my eyeballs.

Subjectively, I was immersed in a visionary phantasmagoria. I became an amoeba, an antelope, a lion devouring the antelope, an apeman squatting on the veldt, an Egyptian queen, Adam and Eve, an old man and woman on a porch watching an eternal sunset. At some point, I attained a kind of lucidity, like a dreamer who realizes she is dreaming. With a surge of power and exaltation, I realized that this is my creation, my cosmos, and I can do anything I like with it. I decided to pursue pleasure, pure pleasure, as far as it would take me. I became a bliss-seeking missile accelerating through an obsidian ether, shedding incandescent sparks, and the faster I flew, the brighter the sparks burned, the more exquisite was my rapture. This was probably when I was making the “fffffff” noise.

After eons of superluminal ecstasy, I decided that I wanted not pleasure but knowledge. I wanted to know why. I traveled backward through time, observing the births and lives and deaths of all creatures who have ever lived, human and non-human. I ventured into the future, too, watching as the earth and then the entire cosmos was transformed into a vast grid of luminous circuitry, a computer dedicated to solving the riddle of its own existence. As my penetration of the past and future became indistinguishable, I became convinced that I was coming face to face with the ultimate origin and destiny of existence, which were one and the same. I felt overwhelming, blissful certainty that there is one entity, one consciousness, playing all the parts of this pageant, and there is no end to this creative consciousness, only infinite transformations.

At the same time, my astonishment that anything exists at all became unbearably acute. Why? I kept asking. Why creation? Why something rather than nothing? Finally I found myself alone, a disembodied voice in the darkness, asking, Why? And I realized that there would be, could be, no answer, because only I existed; there was nothing, no one, to answer me. I felt overwhelmed with loneliness, and my ecstatic recognition of the improbability—no, impossibility--of my existence mutated into horror. I knew there was no reason for me to be. At any moment I might be swallowed up, forever, by this infinite darkness enveloping me. I might even bring about my own annihilation simply by imagining it; I created this world, and I could end it, forever. Recoiling from this confrontation with my own awful solitude and omnipotence, I felt myself dissolving, fracturing, fleeing back toward otherness, duality, multiplicity.

In the months after this nightmarish vision, I shaped it into a theodicy—call it gnosticism-lite—with gnostic overtones. I saw too much beauty and goodness in the world to condemn it and its creator outright, as the gnostics did. Perhaps the Demiurge is not evil, I conjectured, but simply anxious and neurotic--and understandably so, given His existential plight. Creation—the multiplicity of the world—arises out of God’s terrified confrontation with His own solitude, improbability, and potential mortality. Shunning His existential plight, God dissolves Himself into myriad selves, which compulsively seek but can never quite discover their true nature. In other words, God suffers from multiple-personality disorder.

Drug-induced psychosis? Of course. A delusional projection of my own anxiety onto reality? No doubt. But this was also a profoundly meaningful experience, which I’ll never forget, or regret. Part of me still believes that if there is a God, He’s even more screwed up and obsessed with death than we are. I don't expect this meme to propagate far, but it works for me.



Rather than wonder what this experience can tell you about God, why not wonder about what it can tell you about the nature of consciousness and the fragility of concepts we hold sacred - like sense of self?

Mike Cook

My sense of self only seems fragile after four or five double martinis. Other people seem to react the opposite way. There was a woman once who could devastate my self-senseness with a glance.

The oldest pagan idea going is that you can reach Nirvana or any type of enlightenment through drugs, trances, chanting, extreme deprivation of anything, or meditation. Do good deeds all day and that doesn't necessarily get you there either.

Christians believe that happiness is pre-paid, not only eternally, but here on Earth too if you look at things right.

Of course, saying that God has a multiple personality disorder is merely another way of suggesting polytheism or, closer to my own belief, that God is so much more advanced than us that we can never begin to puzzle out or judge why any good or bad thing comes to pass.

So, if you want, believe that the Black Death came because of random perturbations with accidental consequences concerning microbes, fleas, rodents, and people who were learning to be more mobile mainly due to improved ship hulls and better canvas, go ahead.

We are all freaks of nature, don't you know. It must be true because that is all that great gurus will allow to be taught in the public schools. Quite the self-inflated tyrants, these great gurus. I'll bet they're all the types whose sense of self swells enormously after a few brandies. They can't drink martinis because they would get in too much foolish trouble.


On religious experiences and belief of the scientist:

‘Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation ... Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.’

- R. P. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, 1999, p186-7.

Of course there are two sides to science, as to religion.

My problem with parts of religion and science is with the elitism side. In this I'm entirely in disfavour with everyone even people like Dr Woit of Not Even Wrong blog, who deletes my comments nowadays.

The other side of science is a wholesome humility of people genuinely trying to learn. The other side of religion is a genuine humility of people trying to the best they can for others despite difficulties.

Any attack on religion or science which confuses the two sides or which causes collateral damage to the other (good) side, is obviously counterproductive.

You can lump together all the sin of science and religion under the same banner: elitism. Some guy comes along and reveals that He is the Son of God. Another prophet (Motl) comes along and He reveals: 'String theory is the language in which God wrote the world.'

It is all divine revelation, with no objectivity whatsoever.

Maybe you could interview Motl, and ask the Man why he hates Feynman and religiously loves strings.

Ask him if he takes BZ, LSD, or whatever to help him believe in the extra dimensions, supersymmetric partners, Planck scale unification, spin-2 gravitons, AdS/CFT correspondence, etc.

Sam Taylor

As one with an extraordinary fondness for both martinis and brandy (particularly but not exclusively the magnificent apple Calvados), I have had several "spiritual" experience in a fairly long life (70+ years).

When this happens am I drunk, drugged and incoherent or, like the children in Clark's "Childhood's End", breaking through to the overmind?

Your call, John.

I am simply at the point where I find the unknown "awesome".



If you are interested in the use of BZ by the army and all that you should read Martin Lee’s and Bruce Shlain’s’ book ‘Acid Dreams: The complete social history of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond’ (Grove Press). It starts with the tests made by CIA and other US agencies and describes admirably all the psychedelics using revolutionaries and such.

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