The Three Christs Experiment (and Business Superstars)

I came across this nice write up on “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” experiment (via Marginal Revolution) about how a psychologist put three people — all of whom claimed they were Christ — together in a mental institution, in the hope that the effect of their conflicting identities would somehow awaken them to the possibilities that perhaps, just perhaps, they might not be who they thought they were.

In the words of Alan Bellows who wrote the article:

What might happen, he wondered, if a psychologist were to deliberately pair up patients who held directly conflicting identity delusions? Perhaps such psychological leverage could be used to pry at the cracks of an irrational psyche to let in the light of reason. Dr. Rokeach sought and secured a research grant to test his hypothesis, and he began canvassing sanitariums for delusional doppelgängers. Soon he found several suitable subjects: three patients, all in state care, each of whom believed himself to be Jesus Christ. And he saw that it was good.

This was an experiment that I myself as a child and young man had longed to do, or at the very least to witness. That someone else had already done it, and written a whole book on it, is like discovering wifi in remote country. That someone else had nicely summarised that book into a short post was like discovering the afore-mentioned wifi was both free and fast.

As an older man though, my psychologically-inclined curiosity turned to rather more business and professional pursuits.

It’s not uncommon to meet someone in your working life whom you think is absolutely brilliant, but who has views diametrically opposed to some other equally brilliant person. How exciting it would be to put these business superstars together in the same room to debate their views. To see how they — both brilliant, mind you — would stand up to the other’s arguments. Would one of them see the light, as Dr. Milton Rokeach had hoped with his Three Christs?

Even in my current employ these theoretical debates debates have often raged in my mind, as I imagined hard-hitting Howard coming up against smooth-talking Tina in a battle of wits and personality. It’d be like like Manny and Floyd — possibly the fight of the early century, if it ever comes to fruition.

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