Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One In A Million

Category: Issue 14

I figured out how to talk to God.  You have to come up with an honest question though, and the question has to be one to which you’d expect the answer to be NO.  But God doesn’t actually sit there looking at you rolling His eyes if He doesn’t want to answer.  You just get nothing.  So it has to be a question He’d want to answer.  He’s always seemed kind of demanding to me in that He seems to refuse to accept the modern (I think it’s modern) issue of agnosticism.  It seems like the best question to me, but since He’s never answered it (for me), perhaps I am wrong.

God, if you’re real and you want me to know it, make all twenty of these pennies land on the same side.  All heads or all tails.  I dropped the twenty pennies on the floor.  Is once enough?  Why wouldn’t it be?  In 30 years, you’re awake for about 5,000,000 minutes.  Each of those 5 minute periods provides an opportunity for something that happens one out of a million times to actually happen, so you’d expect it to happen about once by the time you’re 35.  That’s the chances of all the pennies landing on the same side.  So I think if you’re agnostic at 35, trying it once is the right thing to do.  If you’ve been paying attention and looking for what many would call a miracle - something that has a 1 in a million chance of happening - as proof of His existence, then it ought to have happened by 35, even if He doesn’t exist.

So I figure maybe He doesn’t want to answer that question.  Demanding, like I said, see?  Or else He’s just not there and all those believers are wrong.  Thou shalt not test… Yeah, I know all about that.  Funny thing is, whatever remains untested remains unknown.  That is the nature of the human faculty of reason.  I don’t think the real God would ever say that, and if He did, and He meant it, He’s a fool.  Go ahead, Big Guy, strike me down.  You know I’m right.  I’m still here, so I’m left to conclude that He doesn’t mind being tested.  Or He doesn’t exist.

Why would He not want me to be convinced that He exists?  Perhaps because watching us flounder with faith rather than stand securely on reason is entertaining.  That would be kind of cruel.  I’ll try another angle just because I don’t like that one.  Maybe knowing would give me too much power.  Maybe getting an answer from God would give me too much power.  Power corrupts.
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A few years after this was posted on the Internet, there was a growing community of very honest agnostics who had each tried to talk to God using $0.20.  They had grown to nearly a million.  As any decent mathematician would expect, one of them had gotten an answer.  This is the story of when he met the second one.


Dr. Chris Messian has been interviewing schizophrenics for several months.  He had been inspired by the movie “A Beautiful Mind” to appeal to the reason of schizophrenics.  His study was based on the idea that certainty was the culprit in many cases.  The following is an interview between Dr. Messian and Fred Knitzy, ward of the California State Mental Health Clinic.  Fred had been admitted by his sister because he’d been failing to eat enough and refused to come out of the basement of his home for more than a trip to the grocery store.  Fred’s bills had not been paid for two months.  He was a successful freelance tutor and website designer who apparently suffered some kind of mental breakdown.

Dr. Messian: Hi Fred, how are you?
Mr. Knitzy: I’m feeling Ok, but I can’t seem to concentrate on anything.  I think it’s the drugs they have me on.
Dr. Messian: What would you like to concentrate on?
Mr. Knitzy: Since I’ve been here, I’ve been thinking about math.  When something very rare happens to you, it’s because you’re special, right?
Dr. Messian: Well, if there are enough people and something will happen to only one of them, then…
Mr. Knitzy: Exactly.  There has to be some small part of the group that is special.  I am in that small part.
Dr. Messian:  Something rare happened to you?
Mr. Knitzy:  Yes, God talked to me.
Dr. Messian:  You heard His voice?
Mr. Knitzy:  No!  I’m not some crazy person-  I mean, I know I’m here because I wasn’t taking care of myself, but I’m not crazy.
Dr. Messian waited for Fred to continue, but thought the better of it after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.
Dr. Messian:  How did He talk to you?
Mr. Knitzy:  I used the twenty cents question.  You know what that is?
Dr. Messian excused himself to wipe his eyes and get himself a glass of water.
Dr. Messian:  Yes, I used it too, and I’m in the small group with you.
Mr. Knitzy:  You’re lyin’ to me Doc.
Dr. Messian:  May I come back and talk to you again some time?
Mr. Knitzy:  You gotta stop lyin’ doc, and you can come back whenever you want.

Chris Messian reported the self-diagnosed drop in concentration level to Fred’s doctor and asked that if this symptom was reversed, could he please be notified so that he might hold another interview.  Almost 6 weeks later, a second interview took place.

Dr. Messian:  Hi Fred, How are you?
Mr. Knitzy: Good.  I might be able to go home next week.
Dr. Messian:  I will not lie to you.  I’m sorry about last time.  Do you remember?
Mr. Knitzy:  Yep.
Dr. Messian:  After you did the twenty cents test, did you ask other questions?
Mr. Knitzy:  Yes, but I never got another answer.  That’s not how God wants to communicate with me.
Dr. Messian:  How does He want to?
Mr. Knitzy:  He wants me to pay more attention to things.
Dr. Messian:  Did you ask him if that’s what you need to do?  I mean with the twenty cents?
Mr. Knitzy:  Like I said, he doesn’t answer me that way any more.  I just know that He wants everyone to pay more attention.  That’s why He doesn’t answer.  Because His messages are everywhere already and people ignore them.
Dr. Messian:  Can you tell me what they say?
Mr. knitzy:  Why are you interviewing me?
Dr. Messian:  Something happened to me and I think it can help people like you.
Mr. Knitzy:  I don’t need help.  Like I said, I’m going home next week.  I’m sure of it.
Dr. Messian:  Ok, but since I think that I can help, and you see that I can’t, is that what God is trying to tell me?  That I can’t help you?
Mr. Knitzy:  It sure seems like it.
Dr. Messian:  Do you think you might be able to help me?
Mr. Knitzy:  What do you need help with?  Some kind of research?
Dr. Messian:  I might not be doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but I can’t figure out what it is, so I don’t know how to check.  Do you remember our last interview?
Mr. Knitzy:  Some of it.
Dr. Messian:  You told me you couldn’t concentrate.  I let your doctor know and that problem seems to have gone away.
Mr. Knitzy:  Yes, I remember.  Dr. Nash put me back on the old stuff.  See, I was right about the new drug.
Dr. Messian:  Did you mention the problem with concentration to Dr. Nash before we talked last time?
Mr. Knitzy:  I don’t think so.  I only thought of it when you asked.
Dr. Messian:  Do you need that drug to have a good level of concentration?
Mr. Knitzy:  Yes.  I pay too much attention to things for my brain to handle without the extra power that the drug gives me.  It is what was missing when my sister found me.
Dr. Messian:  Do you you pay more attention because of the twenty cents test?
Mr. Knitzy:  Certainly.  It is the moment God turned His face on me and made me His agent.
Dr. Messian:  Does He make any others His agents too?
Mr. Knitzy:  I have not met any.
Dr. Messian:  How would you know if you did meet one?
Mr. Knitzy:  I would be able to tell because of the details that I pay attention to.
Dr. Messian:  Can you tell me some details that show you that I am not one of His agents?
Mr. Knitzy:  You said you wouldn’t lie to me.
Dr. Messian:  I’m asking because I don’t know.  I think maybe I’m here because I need your help rather than the other way around.
Mr. Knitzy:  If you were His agent, you wouldn’t need my help.
Dr. Messian:  But wouldn’t we be able to accomplish more by working together?
Mr. Knitzy:  Doc, you lied to me the first time, so how could you be one of His agents?
Dr. Messian:  Sometimes I feel like I know things and then it turns out that I am wrong.  Has that ever happened to you?
Mr. Knitzy:  I don’t want to talk to you any more.
Dr. Messian:  But Fred, come on, you see that I need your help, right?
Fred was looking to the side and rolled his head around to look the other way without ever facing Chris.  He tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair.
Dr. Messian:  I thought I knew that you would believe me when I told you I had done the twenty-cents test.  I can’t convince you that I was telling the truth, but I can ask you to get in touch with Dr. Damon Deninzer, who had me as a patient 10 months ago and discuss my case with him.  Will you do that for me?
Mr. Knitzy:  What for?
Dr. Messian:  I think you will be able to help me if you understand the problems I was dealing with.  We’re very similar, and I think you should see that.  I am convinced that one of us can help the other.  I think we can both help each other, actually.  Are you paying attention now?
Mr. Knitzy:  I don’t like the way you’re making me feel.  I don’t have to help you.
Dr. Messian:  I will leave now then.  I didn’t want to upset you.  I will leave the contact info for Dr. Deninzer with Dr. Nash and ask him to help you with any details of my case that might interest you.  I’m sorry that I’ve upset you.

Chris Messian got up from his chair and began to walk through the large hall toward the exit at the other end.

“WAIT!” came Fred Knitzy’s cry.  The doctor turned around to see Fred running toward him, wiping tears from his eyes.  “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I have been wrong and I don’t understand it.  I believe you.  You’re too kind to have lied to me.  Please help me.”

They returned to the little table where they had been talking.

Chris Messian then explained his own story to Fred Knitzy:

After I dropped the pennies, I glanced and saw tails everywhere.  I was sure I’d find a heads somewhere, but there were none.  I was filled with awe and wonder.  I sat there staring at them for a long time.  Finally, I wanted to ask God if I should tell people.  The answer was no.  I asked if I was doing something wrong, and the answer was no.  I asked if I should change anything, and the answer was no.  Every answer was no.  I started asking the opposite questions and still got the same answer.  (“Yes, yes!” Fred was nodding enthusiastically)  I could not sleep that night.  Every 15 or twenty minutes, I thought of another possible reason that God would communicate with me, and I went and did the test, and the answer was no.  I knew I had to eat the next day, but I threw up my breakfast.  I didn’t bother asking if He wanted me to fast.  I just did it.

In the afternoon of that next day, I was supposed to meet a friend, but I had fogotten all about it, and I was ignoring my phone.  For some reason, I decided I better start using one penny instead of twenty, and I finally started getting some answers.  I can’t remember them all now, but I do remember that I was not supposed to give more to the poor, and I was supposed to go to church.  I don’t think I ever went though.  I had done the test on a Tuesday morning and the friend I was to meet on Wednesday showed up on Thursday and took me to the hospital.  I was dehydrated and sick from not eating.  I can’t remember the Sunday that followed.

I remember hitting someone, and I think that was at the hospital, and being restrained - cuffed to a bed.  They say I made sense about 1/3 of the time, and I was explaining about pennies and religion and how religious people had to tolerate each other more, but that the other two thirds of the time, what I said didn’t make any sense.  Dr. Deninzer suggests this may have been because I’d had a minor stroke - dehyration does that to you - and suffered some brain damage.

This all ended because my friend brought my laptop to the hospital and showed me a discussion on the twenty-cents board.  There was some math that showed what you said - when enough people try the test, there will be some that get positive results, and the rest of the discussion was mostly people making fun of anyone unlucky enough to have that happen.  That’s you and me.  But there was one post with some of the questions I asked you:  How would it change you, and would you do anything different, and how would you view other people that tried the test and failed.  It made me realize that a small but very ugly part of myself knew the whole time that the test didn’t mean anything, but I wanted to be special, and it gave me a kind of confidence that was only a little bit false - because I am a smart guy and a lot of what I know is apparently helpful.  The problem is that it isn’t the voice of God that we’re hearing.  It’s just math.  And it’s Ok.  For me now, it’s a lesson that I have to ask people who will answer, rather than giving randomness an opportunity to control me.  Maybe there is a God, but He doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as people who do answer me.  Does it make sense?

Fred did go home about a week later.  He and Chris now run a small investment firm that manages a growing portfolio of good companies.  The twenty cents forum is their main source for new investment ideas.  They serve together on three boards of directors and they both refuse to serve without the other.  Other directors that serve with them often remark that they argue between themselves far more often than other pairs of directors, but they are a valuable addition to any team.

Posted by Dave Scotese on 03/25 at 04:56 PM | Permalink
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