Infants on Thrones

The Philosophies of Men, Mingled with Humor

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Teotihuacán: Reflections on Myopia and Cultural Imperialsim

An innocent visit to the pyramids outside of Mexico City turns in to a critique of the Nephite Explorer and a certain example of Missionary xerox-lore.

  • Seb

    I have an old, much-photocopied version of Douglas Brian’s talk in my own missionary binder, and several more cast in the same mold. Did I occasionally hand them out to people as irrefutable proof? Very likely.

    • Glenn

      Ouch! Sounds like you may have some atoning to do. :)

  • Scott Evans

    It’s amazing what I considered “proof” when I was trying to make it be proof. I have the same talk in my own missionary files. Now, with a bit more education and a bit more distance, it’s easy to see how awful it is. How silly we would think it was if Brother Brian was using this type of “logic” to prove anything at all – other than religion. I guess he might make a good criminal defense attorney. Certainly not a prosecutor.

  • JT

    Excellent job Glenn – Thanks.

    Coincidentally, this episode caught me reading the final chapter of a terrific book, “Subliminal, How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,” by Leonard Mlodinow.
    This chapter discusses our susceptibility to self-delusion through “motivated reasoning” a largely unconscious cognitive process that injects the conscious with a genuine feeling of hewing to “pure logic,” but actually blinding one to the conflation of imagination with evidence and various biases and confabulations.  Below I quote a few passages and will link to a PDF of the entire chapter tomorrow. 

    From Subliminal, Chapter 10.

    “The psychologist Jonathan Haidt put it, there are two ways to get at the truth: the way of the scientist and the way of the lawyer. Scientists gather evidence, look for regularities, form theories explaining their observations, and test them. Attorneys begin with a conclusion they want to convince others of and then seek evidence that supports it, while also attempting to discredit evidence that doesn’t. The human mind is designed to be both a scientist and an attorney, both a conscious seeker of objective truth and an unconscious, impassioned advocate for what we want to believe. Together these approaches vie to create our worldview.”

    “How easy is it for us to tailor reality to fit our desires? David Dunning has spent years pondering questions like that. A social psychologist at Cornell University, he has devoted much of his professional career to studying how and when people’s perception of reality is shaped by their preferences. Recent brain-imaging studies are beginning to shed light on how our brains create these unconscious biases. They show that when assessi ng emotionally relevant data, our brains automatically include our wants and dreams and desires.”

    “Believing in what you desire to be true and then seeking evidence to justify it doesn’t seem to be the best approach to everyday decisions. For example, if you’re at the races, it is rational to bet on the horse you believe is fastest, but it doesn’t make sense to believe a horse is fastest because you bet on it… Still, even though the latter approach doesn’t make rational sense, it is the irrational choice that would probably make you happier. And the mind generally seems to opt for happy. In both these instances, the research indicates, it is the latter choice that people are likely to make.’ The “causal arrow” in human thought processes consistently tends to point from belief to evidence, not vice versa.”

    “As it turns out, the brain is a decent scientist but an absolutely outstanding lawyer. The result is that in the struggle to fashion a coherent, convincing view of ourselves and the rest of the world, it is the impassioned advocate that usually wins over the truth seeker. We’ve seen in earlier chapters how the unconscious mind is a master at using limited data to construct a version of the world that appears realistic and complete to its partner, the conscious mind. Visual perception, memory, and even emotion are all constructs, made of a mix of raw, incomplete, and sometimes conflicting data.”

    “Psychologists call the approach taken by our inner advocate “motivated reasoning.” … Fortunately, in accomplishing it, our minds have a great ally, an aspect of life whose importance we’ve encountered before: ambiguity. Ambiguity creates wiggle room in what may otherwise be inarguable truth, and our unconscious minds employ that wiggle room to build a narrative of ourselves, of others, and of our environment that makes the best of our fate, that fuels us in the good times, and gives us comfort in the bad.”

    Glenn, as I detected a little bit of these symptoms in your argument, though you redeemed yourself in your final comments and self assessment.  Kudos on your uncertainty.

    Lately I’ve been asking myself: Can a person believe something he doesn’t want to be true? Or, can a person not believe something she wants be true? This question makes me pause – at some point I didn’t want the Book of Mormon to be true and I’m not sure if that point arrived too soon in my investigation.  (Since then it seems the evidence against it is overwhelming … but I am stuck seeing that through feeling of not wanting it to be true.

    During one pause I admitted to myself that I let relatively shallow annoyances pave the way for my leaving Mormonism well before I went looking for defensible reasons.  I found the meetings boring, the Bishop’s side-hugs patronizing, the home teaching nagging, the testimonies overreaching, and the organ music grating.  Such are the things life-changing choices are made of – at least before the justification mode kicks in.

    Perhaps in order to approach truth – assuming that adequate clues are even available – a person has to stop giving a shit one way or the other and just settle for some  provisional assessment of probability, and then ultimately embrace the ultimate uncertainty that remains and try to have some fun and do some good before your dead and gone.  As you say, you/we could be wrong, but it’s fun digging into this stuff and trying to think straight(er) about it. 

    Cheers,

    ” JT”

    (FYI: An excellent complement to this book is Robert Burton’s “On Being Certain, Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not.”)

  • Kevin

    This podcast was excellent! Do you have a source for the sound clips of the Yale professor talking about the anachronisms in the BofM? At least I thought they were actual sound clips and not you reading.

    By the way your voice gradually changing as you were reading the xerox-lore was so perfect!

  • tribfan

    I’m just going to put this out there and hope it doesn’t go to his head: Glenn is brilliant.

    • Glenn

      Yikes! Sorry Tom — I swear I didn’t write this myself!

      • Tom Perry

        I know. :) You totally deserve the love bro.

    • Tom Perry

      I agree tribfan. Dude is brilliant.

  • uboaaaa

    The captive “chieftan” Ben is referring to at 39:00 is probably Sapa Inca Atahualpa, who offered Pizarro a room full of gold and two rooms worth of silver, which he promised to procure within two months.