Human Singularities: Arigo and Beyond
The point at which an extreme or transcendent change becomes possible is known as a “singularity.” So there are mathematical, gravity, and technological singularities. They all mark break-off points, openings to new dimensions and realities. A black hole is a singularity in a region of space where matter exists in a state of infinite density. Mathematical singularities involve functions where a change in a variable produce a derivative that is infinite.
Perhaps the most popular use of the term is in talk of the coming technological singularity. This usage stands firmly in the tradition of millenarian or sci-fi fantasy. The core idea is that there will come a point in human history (30 or 40 years hence!) when computerized machine “intelligence” reaches a point sufficiently advanced that the machines transcend, revolt against, and somehow take over their human makers. They, not us humans, will carry on the torch of evolution; and they alone will achieve digital immortality. Part of this techno-apocalyptic fantasy entails that computers and computer networks will “wake up,” as science fiction author Vernor Vinge predicts, in short, become conscious. But they will be “trillions” of times smarter than us, as inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil believes, and so will take over the planet, and have to subjugate or, more efficiently, dispose of us.
Needless to say, I don’t assign much credibility to this latter-day singularity fantasy, but something about the idea draws me on. Keeping it empirical, let’s consider the idea of a human singularity. This usage won’t be quite as exact as it is in physics or mathematics, but the sense is clear from ordinary English usage. We use singular to describe something rare, one of a kind, new, special, exceptional, extraordinary.
History is replete with specimens of human singularity, individuals who have driven the creative advance of the species. We might, for example, think of “world-historical” figures like Jesus, Socrates, and the Buddha, each a deeply important human singularity that continues to reverberate through history. Indeed, every domain of historical evolution has its various singularities. For art, think Picasso; for science, Albert Einstein; for technology, Steve Jobs.
But the human singularities I have mind are the type that transcend the common limits of mind and body. Specifically, my interest is in psychophysical singularities, kindled as it was by my research on levitation, as reported in my book The Man Who Could Fly, a study of St. Joseph of Copertino. Almost every feature of Joseph’s life was wrapped in singularity, most famously in his 35-year-long performance in public as an involuntary ecstatic levitator.
Psychophysical singularities suggest the emergence of something post- or super-human. The following cameo should illustrate.
Ze Arigo, the Brazilian healer, died in an auto accident in 1971 at the age of 49. An overwhelming mass of facts suggests that this man may be described as a human singularity. (The book to read is John Fuller’s Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife. Also, Google Arigo and Henry Puharich, to observe some of the operations and Puharich’s stunning talk on Arigo.)
Arigo was a poor working man of peasant origins who began to have headaches for no apparent reason. Something was trying to get through to him, and he was unconsciously resisting it, hence the headaches. Eventually, it was learned that it was “Dr. Fritz” calling on Arigo, the spirit of a German Doctor said to have died in 1918.
Dr. Fritz took possession of Arigo’s body and spoke with a guttural German accent. Arigo ultimately came to regard Dr. Fritz as Christ consciousness. Whatever “Fritz” was, it had one task, which was to use Arigo’s body to heal the sick. And this is exactly what occurred for the remainder of his life.
Take the event that led to Arigo’s immediate rise to fame. A distinguished Senator, Lucio Bittencourt, had stopped in a hotel in Congonhas do Campo where Arigo lived and the two men met, Arigo on behalf of the local miners. Bittencourt was so taken with Arigo that he invited him to take a room in his hotel, so they could carry on their talks. When he retired, Bittencourt was unable to sleep; he had in fact recently been informed that he had lung cancer.
Dozing restlessly, suddenly a man broke into the Senator’s room, turned on the light, brandishing a razor, and announced that an operation needed to be performed. It was Arigo, eyes glazed and speaking with a German accent. The Senator felt no fear but blacked out. When he woke up, he found blood on his pajamas and a healed incision on his back. He rose and staggered toward Arigo’s room, looking for an explanation. Arigo was just as surprised as the Senator. He had no idea that he had just operated on the Senator’s lung cancer. But, entranced, he evidently did. It was in the newspapers the following day, and Arigo was suddenly known all over Brazil.
This was the beginning of a public career of 20 years made famous for his healings. His office consisted of a few tables and chairs in some shacks with long lines of indigent, as well as distinguished, patients, all waiting their turn. Arigo treated about 300 patients a day, and most of the treatments lasted about three minutes. He treated all kinds of conditions, from cataracts to cancer. He deployed two kinds of treatment—operations and prescriptions.
The prescriptions were preceded by diagnoses achieved almost instantly with a glance. And with a glance, Arigo gave exact blood pressure readings of his patients. The prescriptions were written with lightning speed, and in the suitably scientific pharmaceutical lingo. They were completely original and strange, mixtures and quantities of drugs that no physician would even conceive no less dare to prescribe; nevertheless, they worked.
Arigo had no medical knowledge, training, or experience whatsoever. And he had no recollection of writing them. This process of diagnosis and prescription writing was performed and observed thousands of times. For all the weirdness of the prescriptions, they never caused any harm or ill effects. And they brought positive help and cures, often of fatal diseases. Clearly, these are impossible performances, in manner and effect, unless we posit some extra mode or dimension of intelligent reality operative but transcending present science.
Surgical operation was the second type of treatment. Playwright, documentary film producer, and author John Fuller called Arigo “the surgeon of the rusty knife.” His operations were positively surreal. Nothing could be more wrong, indeed, horrific, as to how he performed surgery on his patients. To begin with, septically: Arigo would take his penknife, or any handy blade lying around, however filthy, and roughly plunge it into the flesh of his patients, rapidly excising diseased tissues.
Patients never felt pain (although they sometimes appeared uncomfortable) and, incredibly, were never infected. Bleeding was minimal and Arigo could stop the bleeding with a command. The wounds healed rapidly, without stitches.
Once the operation was over, the gruff martinet “Dr. Fritz” became the amiable, easy-going Arigo with his pious wife and brood of handsome children. How all the rules of reality can be broken while producing such healing marvels is a mystery—signs of a human singularity.
Arigo was singular in his purity of purpose. He never took money or gifts for his healings. He had no choice in the matter; the force compelling him was beyond his control. To profit from his gift would be sacrilege; during his whole career, he worked at menial jobs to support his large family.
Arigo gained a vast following, a grateful populace, and a no less grateful class of distinguished acolytes. He restored the sight of the son of the famous singer, Roberto Carlos. He cured a kidney disorder of the daughter of the President of Brazil, Juscilino Kubitschek, who was himself a surgeon. The condition that Arigo cured in her had stymied doctors in Europe and America.
But aside from friends and admirers, Arigo also acquired enemies, powerful ones, too; the State, the medical profession, and the Catholic Church were all against him. The State would try and jail him twice because he was patently guilty of breaking the law, which forbade “the practice of illegal medicine.” He had no degrees, diplomas, or certificates; he just repeatedly did the impossible.
The medical profession was against Arigo for legal reasons, and for reasons of incredulity, jealousy, and perhaps fear, when in fact a little curiosity would have been an appropriate response. Fortunately, many physicians did eventually come to observe him on the job.
The Church decided that only bona fide Catholics are allowed to perform miracles. If you’re, say, a Kardec-style Spiritualist (popular in Brazil), or keen on some other spiritual discipline, miracles could get you into serious trouble. The Church attacked Arigo and accused him of witchcraft and profiteering, both lies.
Arigo always asked his friends to pray for his enemies, and he served them and strangers for free and with love. Arigo actually behaved like a saint, displaying the Church’s “heroic virtue,” without calling it that. Judged and jailed twice, his better friends prevailed, and he was back playing the part assigned to him by the mysterious Dr. Fritz. The tide of opinion turned. Plans and appropriations were in place to expand his facilities and bring in a team of scientists to study Arigo, who welcomed the idea. He, in fact, welcomed scientists observing him, and many did.
But at this point fate took a sinister turn. It was early January 1971, and President Kubitschek and Arigo had a meeting. Arigo explained, as he had to others, that for the past weeks he’d been dreaming of a “black crucifix” and that this was their last meeting. He predicted he would soon die a violent death. On January 11, his car skidded on a rainy road into a truck that killed him.
But the story of Dr. Fritz continued and got stranger. He apparently needed to keep on working as healer for the poor and needy, and had taken possession, reportedly, of at least three other men to carry on his posthumous crusade of supernormal healing. Two of those also predicted their own deaths and died violently. A third is alive today, performing Arigo-like marvels, but also awaiting his predicted violent end. “Dr. Fritz” (whatever that stands for) apparently operates from outside our reality-system. The persons it seems to use to do its work are then disposed of.
What’s behind the singular career of someone like Arigo is a mystery. The phenomena observed in broad daylight for 20 years cannot be explained, even with remote plausibility, by established science. Its singularity is of the type that suggests a higher order of human function that revolves around astonishing healing powers.
Various sorts of human singularity range from historical to recent times and from individuals to group events. So, in the 20th century, we have Padre Pio’s 50 years bleeding stigmata, never infected, and exuding unexplained fragrances. At the moment of his death, the last flake fell from his stigmatized hands, leaving no scar on his body, after being an open wound for 50 years. Leaving no scar was inexplicable, according to dermatologist John Sweeny of Columbia University Hospital, whom I questioned about this.
Many other candidates could join the roster of human singularities. Again, in the 20th century we have banker, journalist, and physical medium of amazing versatility, Franek Kluski (1873-1943) producing sounds, violent psychokinesis, apports, levitation in the form of objects changing their weight, all sorts of photic phenomena, inexplicable odors (parallels with Joseph), materializations of birds and other uncanny forms, apparitions of known deceased people, and so on.
The fact is that all sorts of human singularities are part of the historical landscape. They need to be teased out of oblivion and appreciated for their broad significance. A more detailed taxonomy of human singularities might help us imagine the possible direction of human evolution.