This is not new science, but it’s certainly new to me. Over at the Mad Science Experiments site, there’s an article describing the meeting between the three men who thought they were God in an Ypsilanti psychiatric institute:
Rokeach hoped that the experiment would not only reveal more about people’s internal belief system but also suggest new therapeutic possibilities for patients with severe personality disorders. He made enquiries at all five of the psychiatric facilities in the state of Michigan in his search for two psychotics who claimed to have the same identity. Among the 25,000 patients, there was only a handful of such cases. There were no Napoleons, no Khrushchevs and no Eisenhowers. There were just a few people who thought they were members of the Ford or Morgan dynasties, plus a female God, a Snow White and a dozen Christs.
Of the three men who thought they were Christ and who were suitable subjects for the experiment, two were resident at the clinic in Ypsilanti. The third one was transferred there. Over a period of two years, they slept in adjacent beds, ate at the same dining table and were assigned similar duties in the hospital laundry.
Leon Gabor had grown up in Detroit. His father had run off and left the family, while his mother was a religious fanatic. She spent the whole day praying in church, and left the children to fend for themselves at home. Gabor enrolled at a seminary for a short time before enlisting in the army. Later, he went back to live with his mother, who completely dominated him. In 1953, at the age of 32, he began to hear voices telling him that he was Jesus. One year later he fetched up in a psychiatric hospital.
Clyde Benson grew up in the Michigan countryside. When he was 24, his wife, his father-in-law and his parents all died. His eldest daughter married and moved away. Benson started drinking and remarried, lost everything he owned, became violent and eventually landed in gaol, where he claimed to be Jesus Christ. In 1942, aged 53, he was referred to a psychiatric institution.
Joseph Cassel was born in the Canadian province of Quebec. He was something of a misanthrope, burying himself in his books and making his wife take a job to support him while he worked on writing his own book. He and his family moved in with his in-laws, where he lived in constant fear of being poisoned. It was this delusion that brought him to Ypsilanti in 1939. At the time, Cassel was 39 years old. Ten years later he started to believe that he was the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
After just a few encounters, each of the three had a ready explanation for the fact that the other two claimed to be Jesus. Thus, Benson claimed: “They are really not alive. The machines in them are talking. Take the machines out of them and they won’t talk anything”. Meanwhile, Cassel’s explanation was disarmingly logical: Gabor and Benson couldn’t be Jesus because they were self-evidently patients in a psychiatric institution. Gabor had various explanations for the others’ impossible identity. For example: they only made out they were Jesus to gain prestige. Even so, he did go so far as to concede that they might be “hollowed-out instrumental gods with a small ‘g’”.
To get to now the three men better, Rokeach set the topics for discussion at each of their daily sessions.
The whole story gets even stranger and more fascinating.