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This week’s Science magazine has an interesting report. Harvard psychologists designed an iPhone app that allows the user to participate in an experiment. The user, spontaneously or prompted by the researchers, would report in real time what he was doing and rate his feelings at the time. Analyzing the responses of 2200 participants (they have now over 5000 and growing rapidly, both men and women, 80% Americans, 20% from other countries), they uncovered a truly unexpected phenomenon: we are most happy when we are doing something, and most unhappy when we daydream. And get this: over 40% of the time we spend daydreaming. This in itself can drive one to extreme unhappiness, and daydreaming. Or is it the other way around? Could we be daydreaming because we are unhappy, trying to escape a dreary existence? But never mind –I was determined to banish all daydreaming from my day and focus, focus, focus.

Is this real, or am I dreaming?

Well, I settle down with my morning cup of coffee, full of determination to focus on the stories in the newspaper, so I can finally feel happy.

First story:”For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism Is Revived” ( NYT, Sat. 11/13/2010).
Here are few choice quotes.
“There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists, but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil. “

OMG! The devil! I thought he passed away, bless his soul, with the Middle Ages; or maybe not. Didn’t Hollywood resuscitate him in poor Linda Blair? Was it the devil, or was it Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a connective tissue disorder) that made it possible for her to turn her head 180 degrees…Linda, do yourself a favor and see your Rheumatologist.

Well, I am daydreaming. Back to reality.

“Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand”…

The church is beset with never-ending sexual scandals, with bishops who don’t seem to get it, with humongous expenses for settling with hundreds of victims, with parishes going bankrupt, with schools closing –and they are preoccupied with what??? And prepare more of them to deal with the acute shortage? We are suffering from an acute shortage of primary care physicians, but devil may care. We should first take care of our possessed, and forget the dispossessed that the Savior worried about so much; He is so first century BC!
But I am daydreaming again, and it makes me unhappy. Back to the NYT, and reality.

“But to R. Scott Appleby, a professor of American Catholic history at the University of Notre Dame, the bishops’ timing makes perfect sense:
“It’s a strategy for saying: ‘We are not the Federal Reserve, and we are not the World Council of Churches. We deal with angels and demons.’ ”
‘Scuse me, am I in the right century? I thought the controversy about the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin was settled a long time ago. Wait, what was the answer to that conundrum? I should Google it. And what about the demons? How does one identify somebody possessed by demons? A priest ‘saving’ little choir boys maybe? Or a Vatican banker laundering a couple billion dollars, perchance? We need guidance in making the diagnosis. But that’s too much to ask of the holy men… or is it?

“Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include:
Aha! Reality at last! They actually devised a list of the symptoms necessary to make an iron-clad diagnosis. Being the compulsive quantitation- driven nut that I am, I added values to each of the symptoms, same as we do for prostate cancer or arthritis.

Speaking in a language the person has never learned; (5 points. I always suspected that Groucho Marx and Danny Kaye were a bit demonic)
• Extraordinary shows of strength; (10 points. As they say in Yiddish: auf mir gezogt ((loosly, let it happen to me)
A sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; (definitely 15 points. You must be crazy not to believe. To wit, the Soviets used to commit anybody who protested too much to a psychiatric ward –they must be crazy not to believe in the regime, don’t they?).
Severe sleeplessness; (I know somebody who suffers from that affliction, but it didn’t occur to me that she is possessed by the devil. Only 2 points.)
Lack of appetite; (Oh my God, that’s me! I have been accused of eating too little; damn! The devil made me do it! 13 points; my lucky number).
Cutting, scratching and biting the skin; (My crazy dog does it all the time. And I thought it was fleas…How stupid. I need to find a priest, Stat! Exorcise this loco. 20 points for sure).

“But he said that there could eventually be a rising demand for exorcism because of the influx of Hispanic and African Catholics to the United States.”
I knew it, I knew it, I knew it –those illegal Hispanics are bankrupting our exorcism delivery system! Let them go to the ER hell. And the blacks, again? What else do they want? Give them an inch and they demand the whole nine yard, whatever that means.
“The ordinary work of the Devil is temptation,” he said, “and the ordinary response is a good spiritual life, observing the sacraments and praying”
Hey dude, haven’t you read St. Augustine’s “Confessions”? I have, and it so excrutiatingly boooring. But the message this Roman pagan-turned-Christian saint who had loved a good bacchanal orgy (before he became a bit strange) is right on: Oh God, save me from temptation – but not quite yet. By the way, a close reading of his writing reveals that he suffered from sleeplessness, had no appetite, and punished himself by cutting, scratching, and possibly biting his skin…Exorcism anyone? Mae West must have had the good saint in mind when she said: “I generally resist temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

Oh my God –I am daydreaming again. And this indeed makes me profoundly unhappy. But is Reality any better?

Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD
Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD loves to write about the brain and human behavior as well as translate complicated basic science concepts into entertainment for the rest of us. He was a professor at the University of California San Francisco before leaving to enter the world of biotech. He served as the Chief Medical Officer of biotech companies, including Aphton Corporation. He also founded and served as the CEO of Madah Medica, an early stage biotech company developing products to improve post-surgical pain control. He is now retired and enjoys working out, following the stock market, travelling the world, and, of course, writing for TDWI.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I will send a priest right over for you. That should take care of the daydreaming since unhappiness is a result of the devil you must be possessed and since daydreaming causes unhappiness then daydreaming is the work of the Devil and not the unhappiness its self.
    Damn this brings me to the next issue , prior to reading your blog I was thinking about going kayaking this week end, and shortly there after thought about finnishing work early enough to go fishing this afternoon and since the chances of me finnishing early are slim it would have to be classed as daydreaming so if thinking about something = daydreaming and daydreaming is the work of the Devil, then thinking is the work of the Devil and if thinking is the work of the Devil ….. OH SHIT Im possessed and with that knowledge now Im unhappy maby I should blow work off totaly and go to Church instead …. but wait that could lead to me getting fired … shit wont that give me more time to think? and if thinking = daydeaming and daydreaming = possession and possession = the devil …. hu now im thinking again wtf IM DOOMED whats this all mean? the church is the devil? anyone got some prozac PLEASE

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