What would you call an encounter with an evil you did not know existed? There was a very successful Science Fiction movie called Close Encounters of The Third Kind, whose title is derived from ufologist J. Allen Hynek’s classification of close encounters with aliens. My close encounter of the “fourth kind” was what I define as an encounter with humans who play by very different moral rules than most of us.
I will tell my story, and then try to play the skeptic to my own story, but first, another fable from the world of fiction:
There is a story called Flowers For Algernon. It is about a retarded man, Charlie, who is given a drug that increases his intelligence until he is a genius. But the drug effects are temporary and eventually Charlie ends up with an even lower IQ than before. His last wish is that someone put flowers on Algernon’s grave. Algernon is the laboratory rat who the drug was first tested on.
My life was a story that was in some respects like that. I spent my first twenty-one years with a mediocre appearance (my IQ however, was fairly high) and then for a few short years, I became handsome. The story of what happened next is quite sad, and more far-fetched than “Flowers For Algernon”. It’s the kind of story I cannot prove, but sometimes the most educational stories are the ones you can’t prove.
Some background is essential:
My early life had been very stressful. This was mostly because I could not control my urges. Hunger was one example – even when I was older, and on my own, I could not take money outdoors, because I would use it on food. When I had money, if I passed a bakery, the smells would draw me in, I would buy the muffins and cakes, and pay for them, and then eat them standing right inside the store, because I did not have the self-control to wait. I realized I had to avoid this kind of situation, so when I did have to take money to shop for something I really needed, I would make my purchase, and then put the change in an envelope addressed to myself, and drop the envelope in a mailbox.
I tried various tricks to cope with my urges to eat, such as eating watermelons, which are mostly water anyway. I remember an awestruck black woman saying to another – “He ate a whole watermelon – I saw him!” In general, you don’t look good when you feel bad, and you feel bad when you engage in serious overeating on a daily basis and then try to run ten miles to undo the effects of all the food you just ate. I described my life to an eating-disorder psychiatrist, who had asked me “How do you know you have bulimia?”. After I told him the story, he said – “Yes, that is bulimia.”
Worse than all this was my out-of-control sex urge during my High School period, and the humiliation and stress it caused me. But I won’t go into that. It was horrible. So anyway, all this somehow stopped after I got out of college. It was as if my willpower came online suddenly. As soon as it came “online”, I stopped all the urges cold.
As a reaction to my past, I adopted a puritanical lifestyle. Like the Mormons I would not drink alcohol. I did not drink coffee either. I did not take drugs. I walked and bicycled a fair amount. I kept my diet to two meals a day – with no snacks. I got lots of sleep. My stress level evaporated. And I looked better. Much, much better.
People reacted to my new self. People liked the idea of an ordinary person who somehow became incandescently good-looking. Good looks have a lot to do with health, and perhaps also with strength, and an upbeat personality. I remember later one man telling another that I had been the most handsome man he had seen – except for some young men in California. I remember the sympathetic reaction of another very handsome man, who also felt that his life had also suddenly become different – and he also felt he had become treated differently. It was a bit too much for him.
But then something wicked came my way.
I should explain at this point that I’m leaving a lot out of this story, including behavior of mine that would make the story more plausible. For instance, I had done damage to some people, and also some people may not have liked my “holier than thou” attitude. But to continue: I had attracted unwanted attention by a criminal element. The following may sound like a “conspiracy theory”. But remember, low-level “criminal conspiracies” happen all the time. Whenever two people plot to rob a bank, or a Mafia plans to take over a longshoreman’s union – that is a conspiracy. Moreover, many false conspiracy theories involve people and events that the theorist never came close to. In my case, it is all based on immediate experience. So what do I claim happened?
I claim I was poisoned.
For a year, I did not realize what was happening. I started feeling truly sick. And I felt the oddest symptoms. They were not like the symptoms of a disease. It was more like my sex-drive was going up, and up, and up. I did not like this at all. I was a born-again puritan, and I did not want ever again to be at the mercy of urges. But I was getting urges that surpassed anything I had ever had.
My health got worse, and in tandem, my looks faded. I was a sleepless wreck, and tried to medicate myself, which was a bad idea. Not that any doctor had any advice. By the end of the year, the looks had faded completely. I was back to square one. Like Charlie, after the drug wore off.
Then I tried something new. I remembered how good I had felt on my bike trips in past years, so in the evening, I would bike out-of-town, grab something to eat at the supermarket on the way to the green town of Woodbridge, and strange as it seemed to me, as time I went on, I felt better. and I revived a little.
I had no food in the house any more, but one day I bought a bottle of spring water, drank some of it, and put it in my fridge. I read a newspaper, and went to sleep. That night, someone waltzed into my apartment. He headed for the refrigerator. He put a mega-dose of something bad into the remaining water in the bottle. I did not see this person.
The next day, I got up, ready to go to work, but first I headed for the fridge to drink the water. I drank it, and all of a sudden all the symptoms that I had just escaped hit me like a hammer. The sex urge was one of them. I felt like punching the walls. I felt truly terrible.
I somehow made it to work, and outside the door of the building there was a small crowd. Some looked sex-crazed, and some looked fairly normal. What they had in common was that they looked at me with recognition and anticipation. And from their expressions, I could see that they knew what had happened. I staggered to my office, but I could not work. The drug had grabbed my brain receptors and would not let go.
I won’t go into the rest of the story, except to say that I would run into people who would tell friends about me, and the friends would look at me, and wonder out loud: why on earth would this guy impress anyone – with looks or anything else?
I walked sadly into Penn Station in New York, one day, and the Fleetwood Mac tune “Seven Wonders” went through my head:
If I live to see the seven wonders
I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end
I’ll never live to match the beauty again
I conclude that someone, somewhere, has done brain research that would have better been left undone, and has given it to people who are up to no good. For all I know, there may an entire laboratory in some totalitarian country churning out drugs that affect the brain.
Now lets play the skeptic. The skeptic would say that the poor man who wrote this blog obviously had mental issues, but just because he had some urges over the years, doesn’t mean some mysterious group went out to drug him with a drug that nobody ever heard of.
In fact, when he drank that water, it was just a coincidence that he felt a huge set of symptoms.
And as far as being handsome, well, the world is also full of formerly handsome people who aged and lost the looks of their youth. They don’t make an obsession about what they lost. So why is this blog-poster whining about it? My answer to the skeptic would be, I would not be whining about it if it was a matter of plain old age, but if some group of people did attack me, it is my duty to not only whine, but to alert the public.
A skeptic might also say that changing a lifestyle doesn’t make people better looking. Good looks are based on facial features, and not on whether you eat constantly. To which I would say, try the experiment – don’t take any food except water between – say – 9 am and 5 pm. Do this for a week. See what happens.
People tend to under-rate subjective experience. I was once told “If you were drugged, there would be no way you could know it for sure. You might just be feeling something generated in your own brain.” That argument reminds me of the reply by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784):
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”
Of course the simple intensity of an experience doesn’t prove the experience, but I think the amount of supporting and corroborating events around the experience, and before and after the experience, do bolster it. Knowing a plausible cause also makes a big difference in whether people believe something or not. In other words, if you go around saying you were drugged by a mysterious Mafia, you can’t expect to be believed unless there are (for example) headlines that you dropped a cigarette by accident in a restaurant frequented by Mafia members, and burned it down, killing 3 Mafia wives in the process.
Otherwise, you have a real problem in persuasion.
I’m saying several very radical things in this post. If any one of them are true, the implications are extreme. If you assign a probability of 30% to them, (for example) that doesn’t make them only 30% as extreme, it just means that there is a one out of three chance that very bad things are going on in the criminal world – things for which there are no defense, especially if they are not addressed as if they are one hundred percent true.
Sources: Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction short story and subsequent novel written by Daniel Keyes. The short story, written in 1958 and first published in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960. The novel was published in 1966 and was joint winner of that year’s Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 American science fiction film written and directed by Steven Spielberg The film received numerous awards. (Personally, I don’t know if there are alien life forms in the universe, but I can attest that there are humans who think so differently than the rest of us that they might as well have landed from a UFO).