When I was taking an undergraduate class in neuropsychology I did a research project where I went into the community and collected data from persons with a disability. The purpose of the research was to better understand how disability affects every day conscious experience. I decided to interview blind people about what it is like to dream. The professor approved my project and a short while later I found a couple of willing participants through the national association for the blind.
As I interviewed the blind participants about their dream experiences I came to the realization that I probably should have selected another topic. Why? My interviewees and I could not come to an agreement on what it is like for a blind person to dream. It wasn’t that they didn’t dream; they did dream. It’s just that no matter how hard I tried, I could not capture the essence of their dreams. I could not understand what they were describing because I have never experienced being blind. I have not experienced the world the way they experienced it.
It’s nearly impossible to describe something to someone who has no experience with the sensory modality needed to experience the thing being described. After a pleasant dining experience at a restaurant, I might describe a tasty meal you have never tried as being slightly sweet. Well that is not a problem for you because you’ve tasted sweet before. You can appreciate in some small way what the meal tastes like. But for someone who has never tasted food before, this sort of understanding would be impossible. For a person without taste buds, sweet might as well be nonexistent. In fact, if we all lacked taste buds, there would be no such thing as sweet in this world.
Now most people can taste just fine so we don’t hear denials about sweetness. But what if there was a sensory modality that many people had never experienced? If enough people had no experience with that sensory modality, there might very well be talk about that modality not existing. There is such a modality – spiritual experience.
Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to convince an atheist that God lives? A believer may go on and on about spiritual experiences that tell him or her that God lives, but if the atheist has never had a spiritual manifestation, has never known what it is like to feel the Spirit, it is nearly impossible for the atheist to know what the believer is describing. In fact, without having had a similar experience, the atheist might deny the reality of the believer’s spiritual experiences. It is not that the atheist is being mean spirited or claiming that the believer is a liar. Rather, the atheist cannot grasp the concept of spiritual experience because he or she has never had one. In a way, to the atheist, such things do not exist.
Of course the first step in overcoming this spiritual ontological void is to basically say, “Gee, there are so many people out there claiming to have had spiritual experiences, they might be real. Perhaps I will humble myself, open my eyes so to speak, and seek out these experiences for myself.” This is exactly what is meant in religious terms as opening one’s eyes. In the scriptures, reference is made to “opening one’s eyes of understanding” that one may see and know. The concept of opening one’s eyes refers to discovering a whole new world of spirituality that one did not know existed by being humble and seeking out the spirit. Without humility and effort the atheist will remain blind to the world of spirituality and it will appear to him or her as though it does not exist.
The scriptures indentify certain persons who are at risk for remaining blind to the Spirit. They are the learned and those who think they are wise. These people are least likely to humble themselves and seek out the Spirit. Isn’t it interesting that among those whose claim to fame is knowing a lot about this or that, many do not know that the spiritual is real? I reality they don’t know as much as they think they know and they are less wise than they think.
Here’s to hoping that they open their eyes of understanding (Dave lifts his water cup into the air and then takes a sip).
What do all these events have in common?Copernicus’ book “On the Revolution of Celestial Spheres” (1543)Newton’s book “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” (1687)Einstein’s Relativity (1907)Alexander Fleming’s Penicillin (1928)The Human Genome Project (2003)They are all scientific discoveries and advancements that have had a major impact on the world, yet when the discoveries were made, life went on as usual. Consider that on a certain day in 2003 when the Human Genome Project was declared finished, you woke up and went about your daily affairs as though nothing of huge importance happened. Yet on that day Francis Collins and his colleagues completed a major genetics project that has greatly advanced science and human health and will continue to do so into the future. When major discoveries are made, life tends to go on as usual. There are exceptions to this rule, however. Our parents or grandparents likely remember the great excitement that resulted when Jonas Salk (not to be confused with the Jonas Brothers, younger folks) introduced a safe Polio vaccine in 1955. Or they remember the excitement that arose when, in 1922, two physicians from Canada walked onto a hospital diabetes ward full of grieving parents and dying children, gave the children injections of their newly discovered hormone called insulin, and quickly brought the comatose children back from the clutches of death.Did you know that a major medical discovery was made over the last year, a discovery that will likely go down in the history books as having a significant impact on heart health? As the discovery unfolded, you and I probably went about our daily affairs as though nothing hugely important occurred. Interesting, isn’t it? Here is what happened.Researchers at the University of Utah and other locations discovered that stem cells taken from the bone marrow of heart failure patients, incubated in a bio-reactor, and then inserted into failing hearts, rejuvenated heart muscle. Researcher Dr. Amit Patel said that the inserted stem cells "send out little chemicals that go to all the local heart muscle, and throughout the body . . . recruit[ing] other cells to the heart [that] work together to actually rebuild and remodel [the heart]." Dr. Patel described the remodeling and rebuilding process as “very dramatic." The procedure is not yet a cure, but it is prolonging lives and giving heart patients and their loved ones new hope. The Lord is the benefactor of great latter-day scientific discoveries. The apostle Paul testified that in the last days, God would pour out His spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:17). Joseph Fielding Smith taught that that spirit, the Light of Christ, inspires men to “invent and discover the great truths which, until now, the Lord has seen fit to keep hid from the inhabitants of the world.” The Spirit of the Lord will continue to bless us with scientific discoveries just as the apostle Paul testified nearly 2000 years ago. We might not know when breakthroughs occur, but they are happening, thanks to the Lord.
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
During the 19th century, chemists struggled with discovering how identical carbon atoms combined to form different compounds. This mystery was solved in a most wondrous manner by a chemist named Friedrich August Kekule (1829-1896).
Kekule was returning home late one night after discussing chemistry with his friend, Hugo Muller. While riding home on an open bus through the deserted streets of London, he said:
I fell into a reverie, and lo, the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. . . . I saw how, frequently, two smaller atoms united to form a pair; how a larger one embraced the two smaller ones; how still larger ones kept hold of three or even four of the smaller; whilst the whole kept whirling in a giddy dance. I saw how the larger ones formed a chain, dragging the smaller ones after them but only at the ends of the chain.
Kekule spent much of that night drawing the shapes he saw in his dream. His sketches illustrated how carbon atoms create different substances by forming links and chains. This vision led to Kekule’s theory of organic molecular structure.
Sometime after this discovery Kekule dedicated himself to studying aromatic benzene, a hydrocarbon found in aromatic substances such as scented oils and spices. Benzene does not follow the same rules of organic molecular structuring that Kekule had discovered in his first dream. After laboring for seven years to unlock the secrets of the structure of benzene that accounted for different aromatic properties, Kekule had another revelatory dream. He recalled:
I was sitting writing at my textbook but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis.
This dream led to Kekule’s discovery that carbon atoms also form rings.
Kekule’s dreams of carbon atoms forming chains and rings answered the question of how identical carbon-based compounds produce different substances. This discovery spawned an organic chemistry industry which today provides indispensable coal-tar products such as dyes, plastics, detergents, and drugs. His dreams also unlocked mysteries of life on earth, for all organic life depends on the capacity of carbon atoms to form molecular chains and rings as they did in Kekule’s dreams.
(Source: Truth and Science: An LDS Perspective)
Shortly after the Civil War, the Union Army Surgeon General stated that mid 1800s medicine was “at the end of the medical Middle Ages.” This statement acknowledges that during the Civil War era, the medical profession was ill-prepared to handle diseases, infections, and war wounds. Their lack of knowledge on what caused disease, how to avoid infections, and how to treat wounds contributed to the death and suffering. This was a time when more soldiers died from disease than battle wounds, and checking into a field hospital was often a death sentence.
The following excerpt from the journal of Carl Schurz, a Union commander at the Battle of Gettysburg, describes the horrors of Civil War surgical procedures. After 5000 years of human history, this was the best surgical approach that humanity had to offer.
“To look after the wounded of my command, I visited the places where the surgeons were at work. . . . At Gettysburg the wounded-many thousands of them-were carried to the farmsteads behind our lines. The houses, the barns, the sheds, and the open barnyards were crowded with the moaning and waiting human beings, and still an unceasing procession of stretchers and ambulances was coming in from all sides to augment the number of the sufferers. A heavy rain set in during the day - the usual rain after a battle and large numbers had to remain unprotected in the open, there being no room left under roof. I saw long rows of men lying under the eaves of the buildings, the water pouring down upon their bodies in streams.
Most of the operating tables were placed in the open where the light was best, some of them partially protected against the rain by tarpaulins or blankets stretched upon poles. There stood the surgeons, their sleeves rolled up to the elbows, their bare arms as well as their linen aprons smeared with blood, their knives held between their teeth, while they were helping a patient on or off the table, or had their hands otherwise occupied; around them pools of blood and amputated arms or legs in heaps, sometimes more than man-high. Antiseptic methods were still unknown at that time.
As a wounded man was lifted on the table, often shrieking with pain as the attendants handled him, the surgeon quickly examined the wound and resolved upon cutting off the injured limb. Some ether was administered and the body put in position in a moment. The surgeon snatched his knife from between his teeth, where it had been while his hands were busy, wiped it rapidly once or twice across his blood-stained apron, and the cutting began. The operation accomplished, the surgeon would look around with a deep sigh, and then - "Next!" And so it went on, hour after hour, while the number of expectant patients seemed hardly to diminish.
Now and then one of the wounded men would call attention to the fact that his neighbor lying on the ground had given up the ghost while waiting for his turn, and the dead body was then quietly removed. Or a surgeon, having been long at work, would put down his knife, exclaiming that his hand had grown unsteady, and that this was too much for human endurance - not seldom hysterical tears streaming down his face.
Many of the wounded men suffered with silent fortitude, fierce determination in the knitting of their brows and the steady gaze of their bloodshot eyes. Some would even force themselves to a grim jest about their situation or about the "skedaddling of the rebels." But there were, too, heart-rending groans and shrill cries of pain piercing the air, and despairing exclamations, "Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!" or "Let me die!" or softer murmurings in which the words "mother" or "father" or "home" were often heard.”
Look how far medical knowledge has come in just 150 years! We are light years ahead of where we used to be during the Civil War, and yet it did not take light years to get where we are; it has taken less than two centuries. Why has incredible progress taken place during the last 100 years and not during the previous 5000 years? Answer: The Restoration and the concomitant outpouring of the Light of Christ. We are living in a wondrous time foretold by the prophets of old. The blessings of the fullness of the gospel extend far beyond religious domains.
“I was changing a light bulb in the bathroom when I slipped, fell and hit my head. When I came to, I had a dream . . . a vision, of this! (pointing to a drawing). The Flux Capacitor. This is what makes time travel possible!” - Doctor Emmett Brown, inventor of time travel.
This statement by the Doc in the 1981 blockbuster movie “Back to the Future” is not just another humorous comment, it is a parody of an event that has happened repeatedly throughout the history of modern science. I am referring to dreams and inspirations that led to marvelous breakthroughs in science and technology.
Secular science just shrugs its shoulders at these supernatural events and attributes them to human intuition and perseverance. Yet, as I point out in my book Truth & Science, the source of these miraculous events is the Light of Christ. We are all beneficiaries of scientific or technological breakthroughs that have saved lives and enabled us to lead more productive and comfortable lifestyles. When you think of the blessings of science and technology in your life, don’t thank your lucky stars; thank the Lord.
The prophet Brigham Young said, “Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind, has been given by direct revelation from God.” This is not the kind of statement that has to be taken on faith; there are plenty of examples of scientists receiving supernatural assistance. One of my favorite accounts is Dmitri Mendeleyev’s (1834-1907) discovery of the periodic table. Interestingly, the circumstances surrounding Mendeleyev’s discovery of the periodic table are similar to the circumstances portrayed in Doc Emmett Brown’s fictional discovery of the Flux Capacitor.
Both Mendeleyev and the Doc had wild unkempt hair.
Both had pictures of famous scientists who inspired them. Doc had pictures of Thomas Edison and Isaac Newton in his study, and Mendeleyev had pictures of Newton, Galileo, and Faraday in his study.
Both men isolated themselves from the outside world while they worked feverishly on their discoveries. Doc isolated himself while he worked on time travel, and Mendeleyev isolated himself while he worked on a way to organize the elements by their atomic weights.
And both men had a vision/dream while unconcscious that led to major discoveries. Doc had a dream while unconscious on the bathroom floor, and Mendeleyev had his dream after falling asleep from exhaustion. In his vision, Mendeleyev said, “I saw . . . a table where all the elements fell into place as required.” While in a dreamlike state the Spirit of the Lord revealed to him the exact details of how to solve the problems he had labored on for so long. Mendeleyev's account reads like a Hollywood script, yet it is true!
Is it a coincidence that events like this began happening around the time of the Restoration? No. The apostle Paul testified that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. The outpouring of His Spirit enlightened people’s minds, ended the Dark Ages, and prepared the inhabitants of the earth for the Restoration. The outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord continues to this day. Its enlightening power is what makes the latter-days so different from previous dispensations. Consider that for the first few thousands of years in the history of mankind, modes of transportation and communication remained largely unchanged (e.g., walking, on horse, riding in an animal drawn cart). Now look how far we have come in the last 150 years. The progress has been astounding!
The next time you start your car, turn on your computer, adjust your thermostat, answer the phone, turn on a light, bake in the oven, take a bath, put your clothes in the washer and dryer, and take a healing medication, thank the Lord. As Brigham Young said, He is the provider of all useful and wonderful discoveries.
(Mormons and Science 8.08)