Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Computer Virus Analogy for Mental Illness and Religious Fervor



Graphic depiction of computer chips
Computer Chip by John & Vicky Schroeder

Modern cognitive psychologists often enjoy drawing analogies with computer terminology to explain brain functions and processes. For example, they use the terms input for sensory information, storage capacity to refer to how much information a person can remember and output for memory retrieval.

In fact, even certain philosophers have borrowed from computer language to explain difficult processes and interactions. Some claim that one's hard drive is the equivalent of one's genetic make-up, whereas our experiences form the software. In this sense, we may be seeking answers for the contentious nature-and-nurture debate. This has interesting repercussions on concepts like free will, that our software may have the power to affect and even change our genes; yet at the same time, this change is also limited and kept in check by the very same genetic make-up. For example, you cannot expect a computer with limited processors to perform a multitude of complex operations.

From a religious point of view, the computer can also aid in explaining theology. Then the programmer-engineer is God who writes and designs each computer according to His will and desire. However, he leaves open the option of software. It is then the person's decision whether they want to download and run certain types of programs, whether they prefer Firefox over Internet Explorer and whether they have a good up-to-date anti-virus to protect themselves from threats such as viruses and hackers or all the other demonic devices.

And let us elaborate on this particular point. It is when one's defenses are generally weak or incapacitated - in other words, when one's guard is down - that there is a more serious chance of a threat to the system. In times of stress, the system is not as protected toward attacks. It is a known fact that when you experience stress or trauma, your immune system is compromised and viruses can wreak havoc within your body.

What about mental illness then? Can it be passed on or triggered in such a way? Our general view is that mental illness is not contagious. However, that being said, it may be propagated not physically but through mental acts. Ideas can work like germs and when they are planted in a person's brain or system, it has the chance to grow and lead to a mental breakdown of the system. We have then unwillingly attracted and nourished dangerous memes in our mind that have come to compromise or collapse us.

Sounds like a crazy idea? It is indeed. But that is not all. When our nervous system is in danger, we become more vulnerable. And that is not always bad, though it depends on your point of view. Some people manage to have life-changing and earth-shattering perspectives in such moments. You may become a strict follower of certain religions and cults or it can lead to a sudden epiphany that touches and affects you in your core beliefs.

In fact, when we see how some of the saints are converted, touched by the Holy Spirit as they say, it usually happens in moments of helplessness and despair. St. Paul was considered to have been in a state of exhaustion and mental anguish, when he had his vision. St. Augustine was at the crossroad of loss and confusion in his life; he felt unfilled and anguished when he heard a voice tell him to pick up and read the Bible, and his eyes fell on a passage by the aforementioned St. Paul that changed his life forever.

Similarly, those who enter a church in a state of despair are more likely to be converted and to accept a given religion. It is as if we have temporarily shut down our anti-virus and turned off our firewall, i.e. our reason, for a moment. We become completely open to these outside forces; yet at the same time, we are at high risk for drastic change.

We are at risk because according to the Scriptures there are a host of spirits, both good and bad roaming the Earth. That is why Christians are told to double-check whether the spirit is coming from Jesus Christ. Paradoxically, the spirit is obliged to tell you the truth, but to tell you the truth, we can never know for sure. In fact, they could pretend to be a benevolent spirit, while they are not. And others may simply dismiss all the spirit talk and immediately schedule a visit with the psychiatrist.

However, by being shut up in our safe and sterile world, by not visiting potentially dangerous sites in cyberspace, by sticking to all that is known and secure and by never downloading anything unless we are hundred percent sure they are harmless, we will never fully experience life. Opening up to life may carry around its risks but it also has its potentially unlimited possibilities for the individual system to grow beyond the ordinary and to enter an exceptionally dynamic beautiful world. 
 

2 comments:

John Myste said...

Arash –

Your ideas always provoke thought.

This is beautiful and true:

Ideas can work like germs and when they are planted in a person's brain or system, it has the chance to grow and lead to a mental breakdown of the system. We have then unwillingly attracted and nourished dangerous memes in our mind that have come to compromise or collapse us.


Ironically, I also agree with this, but not in the spirit you intended:


In fact, when we see how some of the saints are converted, touched by the Holy Spirit as they say, it usually happens in moments of helplessness and despair.

This is the mental breakdown of which you speak: the willingness to accept illusion as the hope of last resort. I do not mean to denounce the experience of suddenly embracing God. I think it is a wonderful thing. It is, in my opinion, responding emotionally to a voice that is not there, but that does not make it bad. Humanity survives on illusions; and were it suddenly to lose them all, I doubt that it would survive the loss.

Arashmania said...

Thank you and very well put - as always! Yes, we all need illusions and "fairy dust" to survive; in fact, they are the building blocks of our humanity.

And if you believe hard enough, without holding back and from deep within the heart of our soul, it might just become true.