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Samuel Hearing Voices

Boy Samuel Called by the Lord (God Appears in a Night Vision to the Boy Prophet Samuel), by Harry Anderson (1906 – 1996)

by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD for the Come Follow Me lesson June 6-12, Ruth; 1 Samuel 1-3

We read in 1 Samuel 3:1-10, “And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.”

According to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 5, Chapter 10, Section 4), Samuel was 12 years old when he heard the voice of the Lord. When I was a Cub Scout and about ten years old, I bought a crystal radio kit from the Scout Office. It was an amazingly simple device. It consisted of only five parts: a wire for an antenna, a coil of wire as a ground, a capacitor to store and release the power from the radio signal, a crystal detector (such as galena: lead sulfide; now replaced by a diode), and an earplug (a transducer to convert electrical waves to audio waves). The coil of wire was wrapped around a cardboard tube, and as the wire antenna was moved to various positions on the wire coil, AM (amplitude modulated) radio signals of different amplitudes would be picked up by the wire. The radio waves entering the antenna caused electrons to flow in the wire. The antenna was connected to a capacitor, which consisted of two tiny plates with a gap in between. The capacitor caused the electrons to build up on one plate and then be released as a tiny spark to the other plate. The capacitor was connected to a crystal diode, which allowed the current to flow in only one direction. A diode is like a switch, which turns on when power is flowing in one direction and off when power flows in the opposite direction. A simple piece of galena worked as such a switch. The wire from the crystal went into an earplug or headphone. There a magnet around a tiny coil of wire moved in response to electric waves. That movement produced sound waves that were picked up by my ear.

I spent twenty five years, of my thirty-year career, teaching Neurobiology and co-writing Anatomy and Physiology textbooks at Idaho State University. As part of the Neuro course, I taught how sound is converted in the inner ear into electro-chemical signals that are received by brain cells in the auditory cortex of the brain. Sound waves in the air strike the tympanic membrane (eardrum) and cause it to vibrate. That membrane is attached to the malleus (hammer), a tiny bone in the middle ear, which is attached to the incus (anvil), which is attached to the stapes (stirrup). The foot plate of the stapes occupies the oval window between the middle and inner ear. Vibrations of the tympanic membrane are amplified roughly twenty-fold by the subsequent vibrations of the middle ear bones. Vibration of the stapes foot plate in the oval window causes vibration of fluid within the inner ear. That vibration causes tiny stereocilia on the surface of hair cells in the inner ear to bend. That bending causes the hair cells to release chemical neurotransmitters, which in turn, stimulate neurons (nerve cells) to depolarize (change electrical charge) and release neurotransmitters to stimulate the next neuron in the pathway, and so on, all the way to the auditory cortex.

Every neuron in that pathway is at once a capacitor, which builds up electrical energy and then releases it in a microsecond as what is called an action potential; a diode, which only allows the action potential to flow in one direction along the neuron; and a transducer, where that action potential is converted into the release of chemicals – neurotransmitters, which attach to receptors on the next neuron and cause an action potential to build in that neuron.

At each junction between neurons, called synapses, the electrochemical signal can be modified. Some collateral neurons also synapse at those junctions to modulate the original signal – some enhance the signal whereas many others inhibit the signal. For example, if a tuning fork of a specific pitch is struck and held up to the ear, vibration of the fluid in the inner ear causes only a specific region of the basilar membrane, to which the hair cells are attached, to vibrate. That vibration is interpreted in the brain as that specific pitch. Inhibitor collateral neurons inhibit action potentials carried in neurons that do not originate from the maximum vibration point on the basilar membrane – the better the inhibition, the more “perfect” the pitch interpreted by the brain. Inhibitor neurons also function to block out extraneous noises, which our brain wishes to ignore.

Thus, our auditory system has built into it the most complicated three components of a crystal radio. The only parts missing are the antenna and coil – and those may be supplied or substituted under certain conditions. For example, a vibrating tuning fork may be held against the bone behind the ear, causing the fluid of the inner ear to vibrate without vibration of the tympanic membrane or middle ear bones. The Bone Fone, invented in 1979 by Bill Hass, and worn around the neck like a scarf worked on the same principle.

Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for people who wear metal braces or have metal fillings in their teeth to pick up AM radio signals. According to Sam Winter, a Family and Cosmetic Dentist in Vancouver, BC, “The closer you are to a large AM transmitter, the more likely you are to hear music in your mouth.” Dr. Winter went on to explain, “When AM transmitters were common in big cities, it was an everyday occurrence for people living near them to hear the station on their toasters, from their light bulbs, and even from things like a metal spoon resting in a metal cup. If you’re picking up radio, your dentist can change the size of the filling or the length of wire in your braces to solve the problem.” (

Every second of every day, radio and television waves are passing right through our bodies. So why can’t we hear them or see them? We have three of the requisite components in every neuron: a capacitor, diode, and transducer. We only lack the tuning system – most of the time. Maybe being “in tune” with the spirit is a literal phenomenon. What would you think of a person sitting right next to you jamming out to the music playing in his or her teeth? Or what would you think if that person were listening to a news broadcast, and repeating to you what they heard?

We call those sounds that only one person can hear, with no apparent auditory stimulus, auditory hallucinations, or paracusia. When a person hears voices, those are called auditory verbal hallucinations. Such hallucinations are often associated with psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. However, people without any identified psychiatric disease also may hear voices, including (but certainly not limited to) those under the influence of mind-altering drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, etc. But what about the “not limited to” part? What about the exceptional person, or odd duck, who appears to be completely sane and is not on any known mind-altering drug, but still hears voices – or sees dead people, as in the case of the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense, by M. Night Shyamalan? What about 12-year-old Samuel? What about the 14-year-old Joseph Smith? What about 93-year-old Russell M. Nelson?

At the April 2018 General Conference, in a talk entitled, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” our newly called Prophet, President Russell M. Nelson said, “One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as President of the Church is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will. The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.”

“Through the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, the Lord will assist us in all our righteous pursuits. I remember in an operating room, I have stood over a patient—unsure how to perform an unprecedented procedure—and experienced the Holy Ghost diagramming the technique in my mind…”

“Imagine the miracle of it! Whatever our Church calling, we can pray to our Heavenly Father and receive guidance and direction, be warned about dangers and distractions, and be enabled to accomplish things we simply could not do on our own. If we will truly receive the Holy Ghost and learn to discern and understand His promptings, we will be guided in matters large and small.”

“…If Joseph Smith’s transcendent experience in the Sacred Grove teaches us anything, it is that the heavens are open and that God speaks to His children.”

“The Prophet Joseph Smith set a pattern for us to follow in resolving our questions. Drawn to the promise of James that if we lack wisdom we may ask of God, the boy Joseph took his question directly to Heavenly Father. He sought personal revelation, and his seeking opened this last dispensation.”

“In like manner, what will your seeking open for you? What wisdom do you lack? What do you feel an urgent need to know or understand? Follow the example of the Prophet Joseph. Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort.”

All we have to do is tune in, maybe literally. As I have written my books and my blogs, I have constantly asked for God’s help and guidance. I can’t count the number of times when I have woken up in the morning, or even in the middle of the night, with an idea that I have to get up and put down in my computer. I know that many of those ideas did not originate in my own brain. Perhaps my neurons were being stimulated by some outside source via the tuning of the Holy Ghost.

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

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