• Juan-Fernando Duque-Osorio

I am an Atheist and Bipolar Monk

Updated: Apr 16

Key Words: Social Isolation, I Don't Like Leaving My House, The Extremes Meet, Pantheism, The Epicurean Problem of Evil, Opus Dei, Religious Experience, Reading Increases Rationality, COVID-19, Infodemic.

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My few readers will forgive me for bragging, but I had been used to confinement since before the present pandemic of COVID-19 because I’ve been feeling more and more lazy to leave my house for at least two years. I only go out to my monthly medical appointment and after that I invite my roommates (my mother and stepfather) to dine. So, practically, I was going out once per month and seldomly we visited other family members.

But why am I having pleasure by being locked up in our apartment after having been a rumba teenager from Juanchito (Cali-Colombia) to New York? First because of my age (I am now 45 years old) but in addition to that I like keep my routines that go around my sleep hygiene. Also, I love being locked up reading, writing and listening to music in my tablet, lying on my bed. And going out frequently spoils all these activities.

Given the fact that extremes meet and I am an atheist or more accurately a strong pantheistic agnostic, I ended up having a monastic life. Let's take a closer look at these terms. In short, Richard Dawkins [1, 2] explains that the main difference between a believer and a non-believer is that the latter does not believe in supernatural entities. Now, there are people who equate god with nature without, I repeat, believing in anything supernatural. This is called pantheism (pan = all and theo = god). I repeat, in the case of pantheism, it is not a supernatural god or all powerful or anything like that because that would go against the following simple reasoning from Epicurus (341 to 270 BCE) called the problem of evil [3-6]:

For Dawkins [1, 2] a pantheist is a "groomed atheist". And since, as we will see later, the brain has spiritual structures, no matter how hard you try, you cannot be 100% atheist. The more one can do, is being a strong agnostic, that is, to doubt very strongly on the existence of supernatural entities. Hence, I define myself as a strong quantum pantheist agnostic. The quantum part has to do with the possible existence of other dimensions [7] but this deserves a separate post.

But in few words and to say it rapidly, I am an atheist. To complete the idea exposed above and knowing that extremes meet, I turned out to have a monastic-academic existence. And to add more to this type of life, fortunately, as I explained in another post [8, 9], I never had children.

Since I was little, when I was still a catholic, I always envied the quiet life dedicated to the study that religious people have. When I was finishing my high school in the 1990s, I loved going to the house of the opus dei (extreme-right Catholic Order) in Cali-Colombia, the city where I lived. Although the public university did not manage to make me a leftish because I stayed and remain of center right, it did manage to change me religiously because when I saw biological evolution, I realized that science and religion are not compatible, even though some want to make it compatible with pseudosciences such as intelligent design (creationism in disguise) [10]; and I chose science. So, after deciding on science and in an act of intellectual hygiene, I decided to become an atheist and stopped going to the opus dei house.

However, this absence was paused in 2004 when on a trip to New York in the summer, I became hypomanic and turn out to be a believer again. So much sun and heat from summers heightens the mood of us bipolars because our condition evolved as over-adaptation to the harsh Pleistocene seasonal regime within which the most adaptive thing to do was to be depressed in winter to save energy and the short summers of that time, be hypomanic, as I explained in another post [11-13]. Within that hypomania of mine in 2004 in NY I had something that I felt like a religious experience but that was nothing more than a manifestation of my heightened mood. Such was the fact that I returned from NY in 2004 to visit opus dei again in Cali. But after a while, again in my usual environment, my mood started to drop and I started asking questions like:

- Wasn't god supposed to take away my bipolarity?

In addition to that, those days I read “The Da Vinci Code” [14,15] where its author, Dan Brown, among other very interesting things, speaks bad about the opus dei. Such was the fact that in less than two months my brief return to catholicism passed and I returned to my normal atheism. All this caused such an impact on me that I published a divulgative article called “Evolution and Neurobiology of Mythical-Religious Experiences” [16], where I basically explain that the human religious behavior evolved by natural section [17] when during our evolution our distant ancestors realized that whatever they did they were going to die. Faced with this reality, the risk of existential paralysis arose and the neural-spiritual device evolved [18, 19]. And although the whole brain is involved in religious experience, this device is located in the right temporal lobe, which is more prone to epileptic seizures. That is why some epileptic individuals, before a seizure, and depending on their religion, can see saints, angels and even their god [20]. We bipolars do not have seizures, but we do suffer of manias and hypomanias that cause abnormal neuronal hyper-excitation and that is why during that strong hypomania of mine in the summer of 2004 in NY I had a little religious experience that returned me to be a believer for a few weeks. Since 2004 I haven’t had more outbreaks of religious faith.

Returning to my life of relative solitude, I remember that a professor during my master's studies told us, in addition to not to have children, that friends fail, but books are always there to accompany you. You might wonder who is happier, the person who requires to go to a bar or nightclub on Fridays’ nights or the one who settles for staying at home reading or watching a good movie. At first glance, the one who is at the disco is having a great time dancing and son on. And then the one who stays at home enjoying himself is boring. I have been in both roles and believe me it is more fun to stay home enjoying a good piece of information, especially now that we are in the COVID-19 pandemic.

One night, when I was a teenager, I went from one role to the another. On that occasion, I initially went to a party in the house of a super-pocahontas that I had previously rejected because I was dating another girl. On that night I was without a partner and I was going to see if that pocahontas would receive me again. In the middle of the party, I tried to approach her several times, but she was already escorted by another man. Full of jealously, I returned to my home and the only thing that calmed me was studying. Comparative Anatomy I remember very well that I began to study from the Romer & Parsons book [21, 22]. In the end I was able to fall asleep thanks to this study session. It has been demonstrated that reading strengthens the parts of the brain that perform the higher mental functions [23-28]. Simply put, studying gives you more rational control over your emotions. This is probably why individuals and entire societies that study a lot, plan their lives better and reproduce little or do not. In any case, if I had not studied the little bit more than I did, compared to the average Colombian, I would probably have already lost control of myself in a hypomania, done something crazy and would be in a psychiatric asylum and/or in a prison; because I definitely had behavioral problems when I was young.

And thinking a little more, finally I got domesticated during the last 10 years. As I have already expressed it in another post, when I was young needed to party every day [29, 30]. But since a long year, I am not longer interested in the mundane noise.

Speaking of mundane noise, and especially in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, it is very important to select the sources of information that one consumes. Because it is not just about being as confined as possible for health reasons and then fill yourself with harmful information. Stay well informed, but take a good look at the sources where you get your information. Don’t pay attention to tabloid journalism. Even more, don’t believe in conspiracy theories around this pandemic. Frontline scientists have denied any conspiracy theory around the origin of the current virus causing COVID-19 [31, 32]. The current coronavirus that has humanity almost paralyzed is definitely NOT a biological weapon created by any power against another. Every epidemic has been accompanied by disinformation campaigns. That has happened throughout all of human history. The fact is that in past centuries we knew little about health compared to what we know now. And although we now know more, fake news divulged very quickly thanks to the internet. In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) speaks of an epidemic of false information: an infodemic [33, 34]. Get informed, but pay close attention if the information comes from reliable sources so as not to fall prey to conspiracy ideas or religious fanaticism. Science is our best weapon to defeat these ideas without real foundation and, at this crisis, the virus that causes the disease that we call COVID-19.

Thank you very much for reading this article.


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2. Dawkins R, Pérez-Galdós N. El espejismo de Dios. Grupo Planeta; 2010.

3. Epicurus On God. 2012. Available in: http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2012/11/epicurus-on-god.html . Accessed on 10-Abr-2020.

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12. Duque-Osorio JF. Darwinian Evolution of the Bipolar Affective Gradient Conditions. JFDO's Blog; 2020. Available in: http://bit.ly/2vmiTGR . Accessed on 11-Feb-2020.

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20. Joseph R. Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, and Clinical Neuroscience: Emotion, Evolution, Cognition, Language, Memory, Brain Damage, and Abnormal Behavior. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1996.

21. Romer AS, Parsons TS. Anatomía comparada. Interamericana; 1983.

22. Romer AS, Parsons TS. The Vertebrate Body: Shorter Version. Saunders; 1978.

23. Uchida S, Kawashima RJA. Reading and solving arithmetic problems improves cognitive functions of normal aged people: a randomized controlled study. 2008; 30(1): 21.

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26. First Evidence of Brain Rewiring in Children: Reading Remediation Positively Alters Brain Tissue. Science Daily - Carnegie Mellon University; 2009. Available in: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091209121200.htm . Accessed on 11-Abr-2020.

27. Keller TA, Just MA. Altering Cortical Connectivity: Remediation-Induced Changes in the White Matter of Poor Readers. Neuron. 2009; 64(5): 624-631. Available in: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2009.10.018 . Accessed on 2020/04/11.

28. Sánchez-Mateos A. Cómo Funciona el Cerebro de un Buen Lector. La Vanguardia; 2017. Available in: https://bit.ly/3c5Mx2Y . Accessed on 11-Abr-2020.

29. Duque-Osorio JF. New Decade, New Blog, New Life as an Asymptomatic Bipolar. JFDO's Blog; 2020. Available in: http://bit.ly/36cSGHy . Accessed on 11-Feb-2020.

30. Duque-Osorio JF. Nueva Década, Nuevo Blog, Nueva Vida como Bipolar Asintomático. El Blog de JFDO; 2020. Available in: http://bit.ly/2tv0zec . Accessed on 11-Feb-2020.

31. Calisher C, Carroll D, Colwell R, Corley RB, Daszak P, Drosten C, et al. Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China combatting COVID-19. The Lancet. 2020; 395(10226): e42-e43. Available in: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30418-9 . Accessed on 2020/04/11.

32. Cohen J. Scientists ‘Strongly Condemn’ Rumors and Conspiracy Theories About Origin of Coronavirus Outbreak. AAAS - Science Magazine; 2020. Available in: https://bit.ly/3a7Y0hr . Accessed on 11-Abr-2020.

33. Is the New Coronavirus ‘Infodemic’ Spreading Faster than the Virus? Euronews; 2020. Available in: https://bit.ly/2UZvSso . Accessed on 11-Abr-2020.

34. Charlton E. How experts are fighting the Coronavirus 'infodemic'. World Economic Forum; 2020. Available in: https://bit.ly/2JWwWH7 . Accessed on 11-Abr-2020.

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© 2020 by Juan-Fernando Duque-Osorio. MSc. Ibagué-Colombia