If you’ve landed here by Googling “talking fish”, ” Nivelo hoax”, “Irene Thompson” or similar, because it seems incredible that God would speak to a fishmonger through a fish, have a look at some of the scientific research the article links to.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that the fish did not ‘speak’, but that’s not really the point of the story, is it?
We know so little about the brain, and exponentially less about consciousness…
TED features Dr Jill Bolte Taylor‘s observation of her experience as a brain scientist having a stroke. An amazing video (end of this post) absolutelly worth every minute of your time. Dr Taylor describes exactly what she felt and saw in the moment as her left brain hemisphere slowly shut down while the right took her into what she refers to as, Nirvana.
News of the ‘miracle’ spread around the world with lightning speed.
A Jewish fish-cutter in New York was busy slaughtering a batch of carp when one of them started shouting apocalyptic warnings to him in Hebrew. ‘The fish shouted that everyone needed to account for themselves because the end is near,’ says Zalmen Rosen, the fish-cutter.
The fish told Zalmen to pray and study the Torah, before identifying itself as the soul of a local man who had died the previous year.
After a moment of stunned silence all hell broke loose. Mr Rosen’s co-worker Louis Nivelo was convinced the talking fish was the work of Satan, and ran around screaming: ‘It’s the devil! The devil is here!’ before collapsing into a pile of packing crates.
Zalmen panicked and tried to kill the fish with a machete-sized knife. But the carp bucked so wildly that he succeeded only in slicing a huge gash in his own thumb, and had to be rushed to hospital.
The fish flopped off the counter – still muttering in Hebrew — and was butchered by Louis Nivelo.
Word quickly spread that a miracle had occurred in New York. It sparked a heated debate around the world. Was it a genuine miracle or just the ramblings of two rather fevered imaginations? After all, to those brought up with biblical tales of Moses parting the Red Sea, the story of a talking fish hardly counts as a miracle.
Would God really reveal His presence and deliver his prophesies through a fish destined for the freezer? It seems unlikely, but many think God is choosing to reveal His presence with increasingly surreal miracles tailored for the media age.
‘I believe that in a cynical and skeptical world, signposts for the human spirit must be luminous and unmistakable,’ says the renowned psychic Uri Geller. ‘Subtle hints to the soul go unnoticed. The message has to be delivered in lurid capitals and bellowed through a megaphone.
‘If messages through a fish seem an eccentric way for God to communicate, it is important to remember the higher intelligence has been attempting to communicate with us for thousands of years through more conventional and low-key means, such as books. So a fish makes an excellent loudspeaker for a Torah reading.’
Irene Thompson, author of ‘It’s A Miracle‘, believes these revelatory events are becoming increasingly tailored to the needs of ordinary people. ‘They aren’t just rare, dramatic, biblical and life-changing experiences,’ she says. ‘They are more likely to happen to ordinary people going about their daily lives. ‘There is usually no logical explanation for why a miracle has happened, a life was saved or a patient cured. Even if an explanation can be attributed to natural phenomena, the timing and combination of factors influencing the miracle suggest the intervention of God or a higher power.’
The past decade has seen an increase in the number of claimed miracles. This week hundreds of thousands of devotees flocked to temples in northern India as the news spread that statues of Hindu gods were drinking milk.
Closer to home, seven-months pregnant Laura Turner, from Studley, Warwickshire, spotted Jesus watching over her baby in the womb during a routine ultrasound scan.
Some of these so-called miracles, admittedly, stretch credulity, sometimes to breaking point. Religious inscriptions and symbols have apparently been found inside freshly sliced aubergines in Bolton and tomatoes in Bradford.
Dozens of ‘miraculous’ sightings of the Virgin Mary have been reported, perhaps the most well-known being at Medjugorje in Bosnia. It was here the Holy Mother was repeatedly seen by numerous local teenagers.
Mind you, she has also been seen in a Mexican puddle, plastered across a Florida skyscraper, and even in a pork scratching found in a pub in Hull. Crowds of pilgrims have flocked to statues of the Virgin Mary — everywhere from Western Australia to Spain — that have been spotted crying rose-scented tears or, even more dramatically, streams of blood.
Although many of these sensational events can be reasonably dismissed as delusions, hoaxes or mere coincidences, does this mean that all of them can be written off? Absolutely not. And for one simple reason: there remains a hard core of mysteries that simply cannot be explained by any conventional means.
One of the strangest and most inexplicable of these was reported in the respected British Medical Journal in 1997. It was uncovered by the esteemed consultant psychiatrist Dr Ikechukwu Azuonye. He practiced at Lambeth Hospital and lectured at the University of London. He now works for the research unit of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and has a private practice in Harley Street.
The story begins in 1984 when a married woman in her 40s was referred to him, apparently suffering from a psychiatric illness. Her ‘symptoms’ appeared when she was at home in London quietly reading a book, and a distinct voice appeared in her head. ‘Please don’t be afraid,’ the voice said in a firm but soothing tone. ‘I know it must be shocking for you to hear me speaking to you like this, but this is the easiest way I could think of. My friend and I used to work at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and we would like to help you.’
She was understandably shocked and was initially determined to dismiss the voice as a bizarre daydream. But it refused to go away and claimed that she was physically ill and would soon need help. The voice seemed to realise it was causing her distress and said: ‘To help you see we are sincere, we would like you to check out the following…’. The voice gave her three separate mundane pieces of information, including details of a scene unfolding at that moment outside her flat. They all proved to be true, but this failed to help because she had already decided that she’d ‘gone mad’.
In a state of panic, she went to see her doctor, who immediately referred her to the mental health unit of the Royal Free Hospital in London. Dr Azuonye concluded the woman was suffering from a mental illness and prescribed a course of anti-psychotic drugs.
The voice disappeared and she felt able to go on holiday with her husband. But the voice returned, more insistent than ever. To make matters worse, it brought along a medical colleague from the spirit world. They told her to return to England immediately because she needed urgent medical treatment. They gave her an address to report to – the brain scan department of the Royal Free Hospital. ‘The voices told her to go in and ask to have a brain scan,’ says Dr Azuonye. ‘This was apparently for two reasons. She had a tumor in her brain and her brain stem was inflamed. Because the voices had told her things in the past that had turned out to be true, she believed them when they said that she had a tumor. I requested a brain scan.’ It turned out the diagnosis made by the voices was correct. Interestingly, says Dr Azuonye, there were no clinical signs that would have alerted anyone — including the patient — to the tumor. The surgeon suggested an immediate operation to remove the tumor, a decision the voices agreed with. ‘They said they would have preferred the operation to be done at the National Hospital, Queen Square, London, because they specialised in neurological diseases. But because she was already at the Royal Free Hospital, they told her to have the procedure done there because it was urgent,’ Dr Azuonye says.
After the operation, and when the woman had recovered consciousness, the voices returned one last time, to bid her farewell. ‘We are pleased to have helped you,’ they said, before bidding her goodbye. ‘It is a miracle,’ says Dr Azuonye. ‘The patient regards herself as being helped by a guardian angel.’
This story could be dismissed as a one-off, were it not for similarly miraculous cases which have come to light since the paper was published in the British Medical Journal. Dr Azuonye was contacted by numerous other psychiatrists who had treated patients with similar experiences. These doctors feared for their careers if they went public with cases which defied conventional medical explanation. ‘Can you imagine what would happen if they told their clinical team a patient had been possessed by demons?’ says Dr Azuonye. ‘They’d be laughed out of court.’
One of the few types of miracle that can be investigated by science is the effect of prayer. And amazing as it sounds, prayer might just help to heal the sick. In a paper published in the scientific journal ‘Annals Of Internal Medicine‘ in 2000, researchers reported on 23 studies on various distant healing techniques, including prayer. Thirteen of the 23 studies indicated a positive impact, nine found no benefit and one revealed a modest negative effect.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health, the equivalent of the UK’s Medical Research Council, is funding a huge trial to try and discover whether prayer works.
Dr Mary Self, Cardiff-based psychiatrist, is in no doubt it can miraculously heal the sick. In 1999 she was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer at the age of 34. ‘I was devastated,’ she says. ‘I was told there was no treatment that would cure it and that my illness was terminal. The bottom fell out of my world.’ Mary is a devout Christian and the congregation of her Baptist church began praying for her. Her condition continued to worsen. For five long months her health became increasingly parlous and she began planning her funeral. She wrote letters to her two children to be opened after her death. Day by day, hope evaporated for her, but more and more people joined her congregation in praying for a cure. Word of her struggle spread worldwide, but still Mary’s condition continued to worsen. Her doctor gave her three weeks to live, but a miracle seemed to happen. A routine scan revealed the tumor had begun to shrink. Within three weeks it disappeared completely.
Robert Grimer, her surgeon at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham, was stunned by the turn of events, and asked Mary how she thought it could have happened. ‘I believe it is possible for God to heal people, and the only explanation I have is that it’s a miracle,’ she told him. ‘Yes, I’ll buy that,’ he replied. ‘There is no other answer.’ It is not just Mary Self who claims prayers have been miraculously answered.
Jean Neil was cured of 27 years of paralysis when she attended a Pentecostal rally at the Birmingham NEC in 1988. When the pastor told her to get up and walk she literally ran from her wheelchair towards the stage with tears running down her face. Doctors and surgeons were at a loss to explain it.
And there are the 7,000 people who claim to have been healed at Lourdes, 66 cases of which have been officially declared as miraculous by the Vatican.
But if God really is answering prayers and altering the natural course of events through miracles, it raises a host of questions. Why are some helped but not others? Why do the virtuous suffer while the wicked are rewarded? These questions are as old as religion itself, and today we are no closer to answering them than philosophers of old.
Perhaps we should heed the advice of Albert Einstein: ‘There are only two ways to live your life: One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle.’
Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.
Her presentation at TED is titled “A stroke of insight” – watch it and you’ll see why.
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