In a class discussion about the philosophy of mind, a student who was a nurse told me a sad story. We were discussing some of the unusual powers of the mind. Most of the examples that came up were of a positive and creative nature. But not all. That’s when the nurse spoke up. She told us a story about her husband. When he was a teenager on a lark he went to a fortune-teller. She looked at his palm and announced that he was going to have a happy married life. After a slight pause, she then added that he was going to die when he was thirty-five years old. On his thirty-fifth birthday, the nurse’s husband keeled over dead. An autopsy uncovered no physical cause of his death; he was perfectly healthy. The only explanation is that his belief that he was going to die on that day killed him.
This apparently is a widely reported phenomenon. After my student’s story I found a book by J.C. Barker, MD, Scared to Death: An Examination of Fear, Its Causes and Effects. The main shocking point of this book is that people of all ages and cultures, people, moreover, in perfect health, die because they believe their time has come, as predicted by someone or implied by some oracle or sign. How the ‘mere’ belief that one is going to die may cause a perfectly healthy person to die, quickly, efficiently, cries out for explanation.
First, it should be noted that according to Barker, at the time of publication of his book in Britain (1968), public interest and use of fortune-tellers, mediums and psychics was popular and widespread. It should be said: no matter how advanced, scientific, and rational a community, the need to consult possible sources of extranormal guidance will always remain. The reason is that things happen in ways that transcend rationality. The need and hope for higher forms of assistance will often assert itself. So people try all sorts alternative methods of scoping out the future.
Dr. Barker was inspired to research self-induced death when he witnessed a patient, a homeless laborer, brought to the hospital in a state of terror, crying out that he was going to die. Barker was unable to calm him down. “Then to our horror and amazement he suddenly stopped crying, fell back into the bed and quickly expired”(3). A post-mortem exam proved he was in perfect health. The author devotes a chapter explaining how pervasive the fear of death is, and how that fear drives sophisticated nations like France and England to abound with fortune-tellers.
He provides a harrowing chapter on auto-suggestion and voodoo. “If a native believes himself to be “hoodooed”, “hexed”, “bewitched”, or “conjured”, he pines away and dies unless someone can be found who he considers has greater voodoo powers . . .”(18) Similar cases of hexing are cited in Australia, Africa, America and so forth, demonstrating the devastating power of sheer belief. The witch-doctor in effect by virtue of curse or hex destroys the consciousness and will to live of the targeted victim. Cases are given of victims tottering on the edge of death who are persuaded by a counter-spell and are instantly restored to health.
Barker shows how politics combined with destructive magic can have murderous consequences, and “shows the extraordinary extent to which hatred and scheming machinations can build up between natives and so prepare the victim for voodoo-type death . . ..” (23). The malignant psychic influence through abusive language that Hitler unleashed on European Jews illustrates the dark side of the psyche in action. It explains the incredible rise to power of a psychopathic liar like Donald Trump as well as the bizarrely perverted phenomenon of QAnonism. The intent is to degrade the person by the magic of destructive language.
We need here to quickly underscore another background factor to the dark side of psychic life. That is the phenomenon of the “evil eye”—the malignant side of the Freudian superego. There is an ancient and quite universal archetype—superstition, we could say—that we are always exposed to an evil eye overlooking us and disposed to do us harm. The omnipresence of this evil potential is proven by the universal use of charms, amulets, and talismans—all designed to protect us from this ever-lurking dark energy poised in the shadows and waiting for a chance to pounce on us in whatever manner it can devise. Another way we can describe this is to speak as neuroscientist Paul Maclean does of the “paranoid streak” in us humans, a byproduct, he suggests, of our reptilian brain. So we can’t help being suspicious and we are easily manipulated, even, in certain situations, to suck the life force out of ourselves.
There are two points we can make to help us not to succumb to our shadow side.
First of all, the destructive power of belief mentioned above can be converted into creative and health-giving power. The nocebo can kill is. The placebo can cure us. There are plenty of stories of miraculous healings, more, I trust, than stories of healthy people dying because of what of some stupid, irresponsible fortune-teller might have said.
The second antidote to indulging in self-destructive ideas and feelings is to learn to educate yourself about how your mind works. Dr. Barker found that imbibing the values of a reason-and-truth honoring civilization is the best way to guard against succumbing to the black magic of our worst emotions. Love and truth are the most powerful antidotes to the disease of self-destruction.
One has to wonder about the number of cases in which fear itself from an exaggerated or mistaken belief about the presumed lethality of certain diagnoses (or of an outright misdiagnosis!) just received by a patient (e.g., cancer) will needlessly speed up the ailment to the point of irriversible lethality. Sadly, and just like certain political beliefs, such strongly held mistaken medical beliefs may be nearly impossible to change. Such might be one of those situations where perhpas genuine faith in a shaman, a God who can heal us, or maybe a more capable-looking physician who can provide a more optimistic view, can come in very handy.
Enjoyed that! My big question is, is there an Ultimate reality beyond the mind's beliefs and constant interpretations of the world? I mean, if this phenomenal reality is so elastic, then maybe it is not THE reality..
Michael before I comment on your blog post about "scaring yourself to death" I want to first say...Thank you for such a smoothly written book [the man who could fly]! It's a rare treat to encounter a writing style that is so enjoyable to read and the topic is utterly gripping! Saint Joseph comes across as similar to Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. Actually my own qigong master teacher, Chunyi Lin, also levitated up nine feet right after he finished his 28 day nonstop cave meditation (in full lotus yoga position with no sleep). So when he left the cave then he was in full lotus meditation right outside the cave and he spiraled up along side this pine tree. Also if you read Phra Acharn Mun's free biography (he's the most famous Buddhist monk of Thailand) - the bio is online -he also meditates with another monk who starts levitating. It's fascinating since the monk has to train his samadhi to be able to not just fall back down when he realizes he's levitating. haha.
i have been studying "noncommutativity" math as the basis of a "new physics" and Professor Basil J. Hiley is now working on a new article on this topic - as he asked me about Alain Connes, the math professor who got the Fields Medal for his creation of noncommutative geometry. I actually learned this concept from my high school music training!! haha.
All the best,
Now Wade Davis did amazing anthropology research in Haiti on how people scare themselves to death in voodoo culture - it's from a deep right side vagus nerve activation that goes to the heart.
I assure you that this psychic vampire evil is also due to this same right side vagus nerve reaction! The psychic vampire has their intention "hard-wired" in the low frequency black light of their lower body chakra - and this is a male problem but the females can be turned into psychic vampires by the males. So it's really due to ejaculation addiction by the males since ejaculation spikes the cortisol stress sympathetic nervous system. The "original Sin" is the Moon Good as kundalini healing energy of the right side vagus nerve (and this is why the patriarchy flipped around what "original sin" means). haha. Dr. Stephen Porges goes into the secret of his PolyVagal theory based on the right side vagus nerve.
When Ramana Maharshi achieved eternal liberation his heart stopped for 15 minutes and then he experienced a strong electrical shock from the "formless awareness" ether that caused his spiritual ego to return to the left side of his heart (as right brain dominance). So even the San Bushmen, our original human culture, reports that their hearts literally stop when they do deep healing journeys. My own teacher, Chunyi Lin, also had his heart stop and he was walking around fine for 2 hours !! But he doesn't "recommend" this to anyone. hahaha.
Many thanks Drew for the generous remarks on the Joseph book, and for all the interesting references. I'll have to check out that online bio about Mun. Ramana's conversion story always fascinated me. Focusing on his death he had his great enlightenment experience. Your remarks about the heart stopping during moments of transformed consciousness really intrigue me in light the near-death experience, which is often connected with cardiac arrest, which is supposed to cancel consciousness but may in fact make possible a totally transformative experience. Your point about the "lower body chakra" corresponds to Paul MacLean's linking the reptilian brain with the "paranoid streak in man." Can you explain your mathematical research -- the concept--to non-mathematically competent like me?
Miguel, I can't imagine a more appropriate idea for counter-acting all the negative suggestions being thrown at us, intentionally and accidentally. In the end, as you suggest, we need to enhance the general tonality and intentionality of the psychic environment. It's an aspect of the art of living that we need to cultivate, more thought and care put into a kinder, more mindful way to live. I'm with you, but it isn't easy, that's for sure.
Tim, I liked your comment and I would say this. The way you phrase the question about 'ultimate' reality has no answer. I think that part of the human condition is to be always vulnerable to uncertainty. In the end, our choice to believe X is always a risk, and there's always a leap of faith, especially with the big questions and most demanding challenges. To crave absolute certainty may be self-defeating. There are, of course, various criteria for supporting our claims of truth. My preference is to experiment and embrace my truths on a hit and miss basis, a game, an adventure, unafraid of being surprised--and letting the chips fall.
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