Editor's Note: Tanya Marie (“T.M.”) Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist and the Watkins University professor in the department of anthropology at Stanford University in Stanford, California. She is the author of "When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God."
By T.M. Luhrmann, Special to CNN
(CNN)—In the Bible, God spoke directly to Abraham. He spoke directly to Moses. He spoke directly to Job. But to your neighbor down the street?
Most people reading the ancient scriptures understand these accounts of hearing God’s voice as miracles that really did happen but no longer take place today, or maybe as folkloric flourishes to ancient stories. Even Christians who believe that miracles can be an everyday affair can hesitate when someone tells them they heard God speak audibly. There’s an old joke: When you talk to God, we call it prayer, but when God talks to you, we call it schizophrenia.
Except that usually it’s not.
Hearing a voice when alone, or seeing something no one else can see, is pretty common. At least one in 10 people will say they’ve had such an experience if you ask them bluntly. About four in 10 say they have unusual perceptual experiences between sleep and awareness if you interview them about their sleeping habits.
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And if you ask them in a way that allows them to admit they made a mistake, the rate climbs even higher. By contrast, schizophrenia, the most debilitating of all mental disorders, is pretty rare. Only about one in 100 people can be diagnosed with the disorder.
Moreover, the patterns are quite distinct. People with schizophrenia who hear voices hear them frequently. They often hear them throughout the day, sometimes like a rain of sound, or a relentless hammer. They hear not only sentences, but paragraphs: words upon words upon words. What the voices say is horrid—insults, sneers and contemptuous jibes. “Dirty. You’re dirty.” “Stupid slut.” “You should’ve gone under the bus, not into it.”
That was not what Abraham, Moses and Job experienced, even when God was at his most fierce.
For the last 10 years, I have been doing anthropological and psychological research among experientially oriented evangelicals, the sort of people who seek a personal relationship with God and who expect that God will talk back. For most of them, most of the time, God talks back in a quiet voice they hear inside their minds, or through images that come to mind during prayer. But many of them also reported sensory experiences of God. They say God touched their shoulder, or that he spoke up from the back seat and said, in a way they heard with their ears, that he loved them. Indeed, in 1999, Gallup reported that 23% of all Americans had heard a voice or seen a vision in response to prayer.
These experiences were brief: at the most, a few words or short sentences. They were rare. Those who reported them reported no more than a few of them, if that. These experiences were not distressing, although they were often disconcerting and always startling. On the contrary, these experiences often made people feel more intimate with God, and more deeply loved.
In fact, my research has found that these unusual sensory experiences are more common among those who pray in a way that uses the imagination—for example, when prayer involves talking to God in your mind. The unusual sensory experiences were not, in general, associated with mental illness (we checked).
They were more common among those who felt comfortable getting caught up in their imaginations. They were also more common among those who prayed for longer periods. Prayer involves paying attention to words and images in the mind, and giving them significance. There is something about the skilled practice of paying attention to the mind in this way that shifts—just a little bit—the way we judge what is real.
Yet even many of these Christians, who wanted so badly to have a back-and-forth relationship with God, were a little hesitant to talk about hearing God speak with their ears. For all the biblical examples of hearing God speak audibly, they doubt. Augustine reports that when he was in extremis, sobbing at the foot of that fig tree, he heard a voice say, “Take it and read.” He picked up the scripture and converted. When the Christians I know heard God speak audibly, it often flitted across their minds that they were crazy.
In his new book, "Hallucinations," the noted neurologist Oliver Sacks tells his own story about a hallucinatory experience that changed his life. He took a hearty dose of methamphetamines as a young doctor, and settled down with a 19th century book on migraines. He loved the book, with its detailed observation and its humanity. He wanted more. As he was casting around in his mind for someone who could write more that he could read, a loud internal voice told him “You silly bugger” that it was he. So he began to write. He never took drugs again.
Now, Sacks does not recommend that anyone take drugs like that. He thinks that what he did was dangerous and he thinks he was lucky to have survived.
What interests me, however, is that he allowed himself to trust the voice because the voice was good. There’s a distinction between voices associated with psychiatric illness (often bad) and those (often good) that are found in the so-called normal population. There’s another distinction between those who choose to listen to a voice, if the advice it gives is good, and those who do not. When people like Sacks hear a voice that gives them good advice, the experience can transform them.
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This is important, because often, when voices are discussed in the media or around the kitchen table, the voices are treated unequivocally as symptoms of madness. And of course, voice-hearing is associated with psychiatric illness.
But not all the time. In fact, not most of the time.
About a third of the people I interviewed carefully at the church where I did research reported an unusual sensory experience they associated with God. While they found these experiences startling, they also found them deeply reassuring.
Science cannot tell us whether God generated the voice that Abraham or Augustine heard. But it can tell us that many of these events are normal, part of the fabric of human perception. History tells us that those experiences enable people to choose paths they should choose, but for various reasons they hesitate to choose.
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sat at his kitchen table, in the winter of 1956, terrified by the fear of what might happen to him and his family during the Montgomery bus boycott, he said he heard the voice of Jesus promising, “I will be with you.” He went forward.
Voices may form part of human suffering. They also may inspire human greatness.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of TM Luhrmann.
Not always, but usually.
No, no, no.....EVERY TIME someone literally hears god speak to them, they ARE CRAZY! No such thing as being "Partly delusional" or "partly schizophrenic" or "partly psychopathic." You can slip in and out of these conditions but if you hear god talking to you, you are definitely experiencing symptoms of one of the above.
I believe there have been studies that have proven a correlation between an overactive frontal lobe and feeling (seeing, hearing, etc) the presence god. This isn't a sign of psychosis, although it certainly doesn't make those experiences 'real'.
When I bang my front head against my neighbor's wall, I hear a lot of voices
When I pray I don't hear any voice from above. But if I sit quietly I hear voices ... from my neighbor's apartment. Wow what revelations I heard !!!
Because no one is listening and it's all in your head–only.
@Peter Guild :
If you "hear" a "god" audibly... you're nuts, plain and simple. You can NOT give validation to this, EVER! Religion is the biggest scam used to control people. There is absolutely no proof of this "god" people mindlessly follow. NO PROOF that is not man made. Man lies, man tries to control other men, using anything at their disposal. Those that follow these religions lack the understanding to explain their world. They give into explanations made by those who attempt to control them.
I feel sorry for those that believe in the greatest lie ever told.
You are exactly right. It's a BIG lie.
Oh wait... I forgot something... Joel Osteen has a net worth of 40 million dollars, so God must be real.
Jack you are wrong.
The real proof of God's existence is if Joel Osteen found himself unable to squeeze thru a smal l opening but the camel in front already gotten thru ;-)
i agree 100% lol.
To "Jack"… You said "I feel sorry for those that believe in the greatest lie ever told."...
That would be you then. Because someone has told you God doesn't exist and you bought it – hook line and sinker. LOL!…
save your tears. jesus gave the proofs and was unstoppable.
Yup! What Jack said above!
There are only three types of cosmological wonders one and all should consider upon.
1. The inner cosmologies of atomized realms
2. The outer cosmologies of celestial realms.
3. The cellular cosmologies of living realms.
Imprint these realms of cosmological wonders upon your peas for brain yards and you will find comfort in God who rules all three realms of the cosmologic ordinances made and manifested all according to God's will.
Have you religious people ever wondered why your god doesn't really speak to people? I mean if a god had something to say why not appear as a giant head over the 100 largest cities of the world and say it. Voila, no more atheism, and no more question as to which cult is the right one. It is curious that your god is doing a perfect imitation of a mythical god (invisible, silent and evidenceless) and speaking to people like muhammed and Joseph Smith and televangelists only in the form of voices inside their heads.
At the very least you have to admit that your god seems to be trying to imitate a mythical god perfectly. That should tell you a lot, if you stop and think rationally.
God is not a a SHOWOFF. When he performs miracles, jesus healed a small group of people at a time within his vicinity. Jesus COULD HAVE healed everyone in the world as his miracle to show us. But he is NOT a show off. Only a total show off would appear as a Giant and declare something to everyone. Instead, Jesus will heal only one person to show us his magnificent powers. Or walk on water. Or turn water into wine. He could change the color of every tree on earth into Purple as his miracle. But that would be something only a show off would do. Instead, if here were to change the color of a tree, Jesus would probably choose one leaf to change the color, to show us his great power without showing off.
Well first of all the god depicted in the bible IS a showoff. So I get the impression you are just making that baseless claim out of desperation. It is one desperate way to explain why your god is indistinguishable from a mythical god – he is just doing a perfect imitation of a mythical god out of modesty.
Second of all, your baseless claim works for any mythical creature. Spiderman and the Hulk are real, but they just don't like to show off. See, it works great.
You are going to have to do much better than that.
Andrew… You have it backwards. God is not trying to imitate the so-called mystical gods. Nor does he have to. Instead, the so-called mystical gods are trying to imitate the real eternal God…
You say why hasn't God spoken to people. The fact is, God has been speaking to people for thousands of years – through his apostles and prophets and preachers. So why haven't you been listening…
You say why doesn't God simply appear as a giant head over the 100 largest cities, etc. First, God is a spirit. And spirits are invisible. Which means, even if God stood before you you wouldn't be able to see him. Nonetheless, God has done you one better. He has sent his only begotten son to earth in the form of flesh and blood – Jesus Christ – to declare to you that God truly exists. So why haven't you believed him?…
Lastly, Muhammad and Joseph Smith are of the devil. They were not of God. God was not speaking to them. What they heard was the devil...
If there was NEVER such a thing as religion in any shape or form... no prayer, nothing to pray to... was never started, formed, thought of... no bibke,, no religion period... there would have never been any wars, or at least 95% of wars would never have happened.
WWII would not have happened. Vietnam would not have happened. Korea would not have happened. I could list all the wars in recent history. And, 9/11 would not have happened. Right and left wouldn't so heavily divided.
People kill one another because they don't believe the same thing that believe. That's what religion has done to mankind.
All religion does is cause fighting and arguments. Want proof? Read this blog.
So you suppose people could believe different things and not fight?
, I'm saying that there would ALOT less to fight, argue and kill each other over.
If a man fights over food – life or death – fine. But, not because they don't believe the same thing he does. Use your head.
Very well said Steve. I hate to see people get so angry over beliefs. It is the reason why I am researching beliefs at the moment. Thanks for responding.
you don't understand demobocracy. that's where the public servants are underpaid and have their hand out. then add to the fact there's a turf war for the most prestigious branch of serving. then the majority goes broke, or worse.
I have a few friends that are God fearing believers. We agreed that we will "agree to disagree" and we NEVER talk about it. There is no point.
If the entire WORLD would shut their mouths and allow everyone else to think and believe what they want, they'd all get along.
For instance, why do the bible thumpers have to knock on my door once a month and try to sell me their beliefs? I have NEVER, EVER had an atheist knock on my door.
Strange, isn't it?
sw,c.......you don't know that. you just believe that. atheists are psychopathic and like kweeers, sneak around a lot. the meter reader cuda been one.
When you believe in one thing and one thing only, you can contradict yourself and still believe that you are still right
There is an old saying..it is better to know some of the questions than to have all of the answers.
Definitely God speak to people. Many people would benefit by listening more carefully to what God says to them!
Most unfortunately God has been systematically removed from Public Schools in the U.S.A., so blaming God for the disaster in Sandyhook, CT is ridiculous, when God isn't even allowed in Public Schools. The U.S.A. is encouraged by me to bring God back into the Public Schools.
The last thing we need in schools, is the American, Christian version of God.
God speaks to the TV preachers to rip off people but God won't warn the people that they are getting ripped off
Peter Guilty: you are blaming God for what what happened in Sandy Hook. Because if God was in Newtown, this would not have happened ? You saying God took a hike ?
Great post. Also, people ask why God let children die. But God allows all of us to die. at age 6 or age 100. To God, who has lived for trillions of years, 6 and 100 are both basically the same age, basically nothing. So god didn't really allow anything bad to happen. And it wasn't really God that does these things. it is the Devil. The Devil is equally strong as God so God cannot stop him.
@RealChristian: How dare you say God is equally powerful as the Devil. My preacher says he is stronger.
Well, the Devil kills these children. God loves children so he would stop it if he could. But the devil must be just as strong. I believe God is stronger, but right now at this moment, the devil is very strong because of too many Liberals.
Oh, bullsh!t, Peter Guild. Rein in your priests before you DARE to presume to speak of God's supposed pettiness. You have your parochial schools. My tax dollars are not going to indocrinate a bunch of little kids, you silly twit.
God has not been removed from public schools. Students remain free to pray and practice their faiths in schools. What is prohibited by the Establishment Clause is government (through teachers, principals, legislators, etc.) forcing religion on the students by leading prayers, posting the Ten Commandments, handing out Bibles, etc.
This is getting boring. God is telling me to go eat some food. Bye everyone and have a great new year!
I agree, this is getting boring. And, God just told me that my wife wants to give me a b-l-o-w job. I have to go...
Be careful with these people that say they talk to God or Jesus or some other angel...there either MENTAL, or there speaking with some evil spirit, pretending to be God!! God never said he would continue talking with people now a days...why if we have the full Word of God the Bible!
Word = Logos: the spell of creation
So... people who are more imaginative are more receptive to sensory hallucinations - is that the main point of this article? If so, that is not particularly shocking.
Sensory hallucinations are very, very common. Everybody experiences them. They are minor (normal) glitches in the human nervous system. If you choose to believe they are also messages from God, I can't tell you otherwise - what better way for God to communicate unobtrusively than through 'random noise' in the system.
As for schizophrenia, not all hear awful things. I had a student who regularly talked with angels. They said beautiful things to her and appeared visually, at night. Barring the possibility that real angels actually did hang out with her on a regular basis, I would call that a form of schizophrenia... but she was comforted by their words, not upset by them.
There are some interesting articles on hypnopomic hallucinations. Malfunctions of the brain durring the sleep/wake cycle. Supposedly fairly common.
If it brings you comfort, believe. I'm just dissapointed with believers when they want to rationalize all the good and all the bad in their life as God's will or when they are convinced that the rest of the world is going to hell. Just keep your religious beliefs away from legislation and we'll get along.
Just curious..do you know any Christians personally?
Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear
@ dale – the bible is the most accurate book. Really? In the whole world? What about all of the times the bible contradicts itself? What about Leviticus? You know – bats are birds, insects have 4 legs, hares chew their cud – good accurate scientifically valid descriptions. The story of Noah – right! Sure it's entirely possible to put two of every animal on Earth in a boat that small, with that few people to look after them, and with enough food, water, room to move. Sure! The bible is staggeringly accurate.
this is in response to 'attack'
bats are birds explained – http://carm.org/bible-difficulties/genesis-deuteronomy/bat-bird
insects have four legs explained – http://www.tektonics.org/af/buglegs.html
hares chew their cud explained – http://creation.com/do-rabbits-chew-their-cud
and ur question about noahs ark – http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-c013.html
many other contradictions can be explained as these are. take a look at these links, it won't disappoint!
Those are not explanations they are rationalizations.
that surely wasn't enough time to read all of those.....nice try
Have you not thought I have already seen those "explantions" previous to your post. Those are not new.
We've read all your crap "explaining " all these before.
if that's so, what's being 'rationalized'??? what's in question about the explanations given? what inaccuracies are there?
this is my first post giving links to the direct questions that were asked. you're misinformed
Because rabbits eat theit poop does not mean the "chew their cud". THAT is a rationalization.
Dale, Seriously....do you think this is my first rodeo? Others have provided those same arguments and links before. They are cr@p. The purpose of those sites are to do everything they can to prove the bible is 100% true because otherwise they know they cannot claim it is the perfect word of their god. They have to at all cost, they will lie to do so because they are fighting for the very survival of their delusion.
to me it sounds like you don't even understand the contradiction. what is false with the link i gave you. you are trying to tell me that the info i provided is rational. what is wrong with it??
i've asked you once what was false, and you have avoided my question. i'm now asking you again to disprove it. all you have said that this isn't your first rodeo and that this is all crap. the rodeo hasn't even started yet, because you fail to provide anything worth talking about except your skills in dancing around the topic at hand.
Rabbits don't eat their cud, it is an inane argument. As I said the sites you link to will say and do anything to try and prove the bible is perfect. If you accept the premise that the bible is perfect nothing I say will change your mind. I don't know how you can accept the premise when the flawed hand of man has been involved at every stage. Quite honestly the immorality of the Christian world view is more than enough to prove the bible is not divine.
here is another link that better describes. you seem so bent on trying to prove the bible wrong. if we had God's mind, it would be much easier, but we don't. there is logic in thinking why they would've used the term 'chewing cud' for rabbits.
Did you even read the post you linked to? It seems to agree with me. The last line is
"Bottom line: the Bible claims that hares chew the cud, but we know they do not."
i sure did......did you read the rest?
there is so much more to this it's not even funny. taking things at face value don't do justice. a person must look why this was said, who was he talking to, what was the culture like. the rabbit appears as its chewing cud when it is proven to not chew cud. i get what you're saying. the rest of the link describes the well, and if you want to ignore the connection, that's on you. do you have anything else that is on your mind? or is this it? you can try and play the passive role all you want, it doesn't change the fact that there are quite logical explanations to this, you choose to reject them so you can claim victory into finding a flaw in the Bible.
It basically said that god could have been crystal clear and wasn't. Which goes to the point of why would a god use such a poor way of communication?
people at that time could have thought it was chewing the cud. which is why this would have been explained that way to that crowd or culture of people. which would validate everything. this is a common issue when people speak to certain crowds, or the culture is different. Jesus also spoke in parables, where people wouldn't understand. it's in drawing near to God is when He reveals more and more of the Bible to us and helps us understand. if you can't understand or choose not to accept this, i cannot help. all i can do is try and shed some light.
There are plenty more issues with the bible but the major reasons why I reject christianity as being true has less to do with the contradictions and flaws of the bible and more to do with premise that a moral god would act in the way Christians believe. Humans do not automatically deserve punishment unless they repent. That is an immoral premise. Non-belief does not deserve punishment. Belief is not a choice. The entire christian model is absurd. I don't believe the god of the bible exists, but even if it did, I would not worship that being.
A God of love is not to be confused with only love, but he's just. It's because of His love for us, is why He sent His son, to be crucified on the cross. How is it not fair that He wants us to love Him. He is our Creator. He wants to spend eternity with us, but we are given the free will to choose weather or not we are humans of this world, and choose to indulge in our sinful behavior, or choose to follow Him.
If i can, i challenge you to watch 'the case for Christ.' Yes i referenced this before, but i believe this deals with a lot of evidence and facts with a biased view of an atheist. i understand you probly heard all of this stuff before, but what harm is it to ask God to reveal Himself to you. if you think this is all crap and not true, then you have nothing to lose. it's all on your own terms. it's when the power of God and the Holy Spirit hit, you know it's Him, and not some made up mental illness.
i have recently had an experience, where if i would have not been able to hear God, i would have died. this was about a month and i half ago. i know when i hear His voice, and that voice saved my life. ultimately, i would have went to heaven anyway, but i wouldn't have been here for my family, or to be a witness.
i don't believe by converting people i then gain salvation, it's truly genuine on my part, no cult nothing. nothing to lose man. do you believe if you die nothing happens?? i'm heading out for a bit, let me know your thoughts.....
If anything I was biased to christianity. I was raised believing including 12 years of christian schooling. I asked god to revel himself to me many times. I have spent sleepless nights worrying about myself or people I love about their eternal soul. I would not treat my worst enemy the way the god of the bible is said to treats his "children". That is not a god of love, that is a god of abuse. The premise is absurd. I could not go back to believing that god exists any more than I can go back to believing Santa Claus is real. Belief is NOT a choice. I can profess to believe but that is not the same thing. People are presented with information and then determine whither the claims are valid. I can't suddenly "believe" gravity happens because angels hold my feet to the ground and judging people based on belief is therefore immoral.
Ok then. this really explains where you are coming from. i guess it's safe to say you know about several verses that hinder yourself from hearing God?!? If their was no punishment for disobedience, there would be no order. life isn't just about living, and that's it....... what is after your life? what will happen to you? to understand all of Gods' plans and why he did everything is impossible. we cannot understand everything that God does. We are nowhere close to that. if you have turned your ways from christianity, that really sucks. do you not now question what's going to happen? if you were concerned where you were going before, wouldn't you be even more concerned now?? if i look at it flat out, my way there is a heaven and a hell, and your way of thinking, what's next? my way offers hope, and yours? is there any other religion out there that is better than christianity just for debate sake??
In the end it doesn't matter what you or I think, I am only concerned with what is true, not what I would like to be true. I know from your stand point you think it sucks that I no longer believe. For me however I feel free. I have always asked questions and it is obvious religious leaders don't have any real answers they just pretend they do. I have looked into the history of the religion and it is void of real truth. I now look at how precious this life is, I no longer look at this as if it is a dress rehearsal. I am more giving of myself because I no longer feel like I am doing it for some reward in the afterlife, I do it becuase of a genuine caring. I don't worry about my loved ones being punished for eternity by the "loving" god...he doesn't exist, and I am happy he doesn't.
in the end, it does matter what you or I think. cause if i'm wrong, i go wherever you go. and if you're wrong, well you know what i think will happen with you. how do you not find peace in God? did you not give to the church? did you not volunteer in the church? deep down you know what's right. we are not here on earth without a cause. all of this creation around us was planned out. it has to be, there is no logic in thinking there isn't someone in charge, it isn't rational. coasting through life with fingers crossed or without a care, you feel is easier. if there is no standard of living, you can't disappoint yourself, or let yourself down. i know how it feels like to fell like a hypocrite when i sin. the thing is, as long as you have genuine repentance, and you're trying to further your relationship with jesus while displaying the fruits of the spirit, you're set. of course that with being obedient as well :) whatever the case, i wish you the best.
"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?
You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking...you talking to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the f*** do you think you're talking to? Oh yeah? OK."
CRAZY SUN OF A GUN.
Start by not taking the Lord's name in vain.
This article was written by a crazy person.
I'm sorry that both sides in this feel the need to call the other side names. I think God DOES speak to us – occasionally, and only when we listen carefully. Most people today are not willing to do that, and do not have the patience to wait for "occasionally." I'm not schizophrenic, and I'm not an evangelical; I'm not even a Christian. I'm a committed, caring, liberal Jew, and yes, God has spoken to me. Occasionally. But often enough that I keep talking, and keep listening. Is that so terrible?
How do you know it's god? And which god is it?
We all have our issues
If the message you hear is good and comforting, does it really matter whether the rest of the world labels it schizophrenia or not? Passionate artists are often said to hear muses whispering to them; writers sometimes have actual conversations with their characters. Some might say there is a fine line between creativity and schizophrenia; I would tend to say that there is not always ANY line at all.
Maybe you do talk with God, maybe not. But either way it seems to work for you, so who am I to tell you differently?
I totally believe that God talked to George W. Bush and told him we should attack Iraq. I also believe that God is telling us to attack Iran and to attack liberals. We should truly believe any president that tells us to attack Iran and liberals. Because it is truly God speaking through him. God created humans so that someone could follow his orders on one of the planets in the universe. It is very meaningful to God what happens here.
Wow, if you're being serious please do everyone a favor and seek immediate mental health help....demand to be put in a rubber room, safely locked away from society.
Have you ever noticed god hates the same people you hate?
It's one of those bogus posters. It's ok though, my name isn't actually Frank either.
I'm just defending this article. This is a great article and it proved that God truly talks to us by using statistics. And George W Bush is someone that God talks to. Why would you doubt him? The statistics say it is true.
Gee, that's odd... God sent me an email and told me that he actually thinks that Bush and Rumsfeld should be in prison for war crimes. Ya, know, for like... um.. oh, I don't know, invading a country for no reason?
Your post is so retarded that I really think you're just some jerk trying get a reaction. If you are serious however, please stay away from ALL children and all guns. You are seriously mental. Now go read your "babble."
Let me tell you about me. I am very smart and I have college degrees. I can out think and outwit most people. I laugh at the term skyfairy as it is funny. I know the belief systems of most religions require you to suspend logical thinking. Having said all that, life is hard and you will bend your knees(surrender) at some point.
We'll be waiting........and waiting.......and waiting...........................
You say that you're smart, yet you don't believe in God. If so, then you couldn't t be very smart. In fact, you're even dumber than Lucifer. Even Lucifer knows there's a God. Which means you're not actually smart at all. LOL...
It is interesting that I view Jesus as saying the most logical things of any human.
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