The Problem of History – First a Fake Example

Another reprint from Mormon Matters. I never did finish this series on history and narrative fallacy.

In my past posts I discussed the impossibility of knowing what really happened in history as well as the problem that, believe or disbelieve, we all have much riding on how Mormon history is interpreted. Either way, it’s your personal religion at stake. 

The problem with me saying that is that, well, we all know it’s true — for other people. But due to the narrative fallacy, we think we’re the exception not the rule.

To prove that, at times, we’re all the rule, I am forced to start with a fake example because it is the only way to not derail the conversation immediately. Continue reading

The Biology of Irrationality

In my previous post, I discussed my introduction to the science behind the rationality problems all humans suffer from. I later found another book, this one called Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend, that introduced me to the biology behind our emotional – and sometimes irrational — thinking.

This time, I’m going to mostly just go with quotes from the book, as they say it all:

The Limbic System’s Role in “Emotional Thinking”

The role of emotion in shaping “rational” thinking is tremendously underrated. Strong evidence shows that human behavior is the product of both the rational deliberation that takes place in the front areas of the cerebral cortex and the “emote control” — emotional reasoning – that originates in the limbic system. …As Princeton sociologist Douglass Massey writes: ‘Emotionality clearly preceded rationality in evolutionary sequence, and as rationality developed it did not replace emotionality as a basis for human interaction. Rather, rational abilities were gradually added to preexisting and simultaneously developing emotional capacities….’

Human behavior…is not under the sole control of either affect or deliberation but results from the interaction of these two qualitatively different processes… Emote control is fast but is largely limited to operating according to evolved patterns. Deliberation is far more flexible… but is comparatively slow and laborious.  (p. 187) Continue reading

History as Narrative Fallacy aka What Type of Apologist Are You?

Another reprint from Mormon Matters. I confess I’ve partially changed my mind on one small part of this, namely the use of the word “defective” when refering to our minds. More on that at a later date. But it still gets the point across.

History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what’s inside the box, how the mechanisms work. …the minds of the gods cannot be read just by witnessing their deeds. You are very likely to be fooled about their intentions. (The Black Swan, P. 8 )

In a previous post I discussed the realities of The Black Swan, those improbable events that rule our lives but we pretend don’t and can’t happen. I also discussed how in actuality “randomness” is really just incomplete information. And finally I discussed how we feel the need to reverse engineer explanation for historical events — even though it’s impossible — and how, once we do, we have a really hard time realizing that there is more than one viable explanation for the same event. [1]

Which brings me to how this all directly relates to the LDS Church and specifically to the intolerance we show each other on the Bloggernacle at times. It is all directly related to two facts:

  1. History is a collection of facts demanding interpretation before we can process them.
  2. Thus all history is mostly narrative fallacy.

This means that two people can and will interpret it differently and both will have been fooled by their brains to believe that theirs is the one best way to explain those facts and only an idiot or liar would think otherwise. Continue reading

Report from the 1st Annual Expound Symposium

(cross-posted from www.heavenlyascents.com)

On Saturday the 14th of May I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the 1st Annual Expound Symposium, which was held in Provo at the Brigham Young Academy building.  For anyone who was there, I hope I had a chance to talk to you — I met so many bright and interesting people there. If you didn’t attend, I’m sorry you missed out on a great event!  But no worries, they are already planning next year’s symposium, which, according to current plans, will focus on the topic of temples.  If you didn’t make it this time, you should start making plans to be there next year!

The symposium was very well put together and everyone, both the speakers and attendees, were very well taken care of (we’re talking lots of free food, free drawings for awesome publications, no entrance fee — it doesn’t get much better than this as far as these types of conferences go)!  LDS author Matthew Brown was largely responsible for putting the event together and he did an incredible job of making it a very enlightening and worthwhile experience for everyone involved.  A big thanks to him, his wife, and also to Jeffrey Bradshaw for making this event more than worth it for me to go from Scotland to Provo to be a part of it.  I also want to thank my wife and kids for letting me go and my parents virtually killing the fatted calf for their prodigal son’s return (albeit knowing it would be very short-lived).

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A One Cent Coin From Nauvoo

[Cross posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

A couple of weeks ago we were helping my parents move a lot of their stuff into storage.   In the last decade, they have moved at least ten times, and, as I’m sure you know if you have moved frequently, there are some boxes that just get shuffled from one home to the next without ever getting unpacked or sorted.  As we were sorting stuff and stacking boxes, I ran across a box of apparently random stuff.  In it there was a small metallic container. I picked it out and opened it up to see what it held. Inside there were two old plastic bags, one containing some kind of white stuff and the other a yellow substance, and tucked in with them was an old coin.

My father said that he believed that the white and yellow stuffs were frankincense and myrrh that some friends had brought them back from the Middle East.   The coin I vaguely remembered from a family vacation we had taken many years before.  It was a road trip from Utah to New York and Washington D. C. and back, stopping along the way to visit sites from U. S. and LDS Church history.

Continue reading