Exploring Consciousness through Psychology and Neuroscience

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In my personal interests, I tend to lean closer to psychotherapy and psychology, but I’ve learned a number of important lessons from the neurosciences. I think the most important lesson can be summarized like this: we do not experience “reality itself” but an essentialized distillation of reality, constructed by our subjectively-conditioned brain, from selectively limited sensory data, organized around limiting principles (eg, self-preservation). In a manner of speaking, rather than experiencing “reality itself,” what we experience is something more comparable to a virtual reality, a low-resolution copy of the objective original.

Eric Steinhart, in his short book On Nietzsche, compares…

Building Zion in the Real World

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In the Book of Mormon, Nephi takes great pains to describe the human condition (“scattered Israel”) and God’s ultimate goal for it (“Zion”), presenting the Book of Mormon as a tool to close the gap between the two (2 Nephi 27) — “the things which shall be written out of the book shall be of great worth unto the children of men” (28:2).

Nephi anticipates that when the Book of Mormon emerges, it will come onto a chaotic scene: “churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord … shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the…

An Easter primer for all — Mormon, Christian, or otherwise

A sandstone monument crafted by Johann August Nahl (1710–1795) of Maria Magdalena Langhans (1723–1751), commissioned by her husband Pastor Georg Langhans

With Holy Week right around the corner, I’ve found myself revisiting the stories associated with it. Though I don’t often do this in any formal sense (for instance, I don’t typically attend services or review texts in depth), around this time of year I find myself contemplating the events leading up to Jesus’ death and what came thereafter. This annual, albeit informal practice has helped me to not only periodically revisit ideas that have deeply shaped my worldview, but to see understand where my spiritual journey has taken me.

Though I don’t personally know what to say about resurrection on…

The Existential Crisis of Resurrection in Mormonism

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“Prepare to die is not the exhortation in this Church and Kingdom; but prepare to live is the word with us, and improve all we can in the life hereafter, wherein we may enjoy a more exalted condition of intelligence, wisdom, light, knowledge, power, glory, and exaltation. Then let us seek to extend the present life to the uttermost, by observing every law of health, and by properly balancing labor, study, rest, and recreation, and thus prepare for a better life. …

Or, On How the Tail Wags the Dog

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“After many lives, a craving monk from Edo was reborn as a tiger who couldn’t stop roaring at the moon. One summer night he heard a moonless silent roar and he was finally able to walk free between Heaven and Earth.”

Michel Lara, “The Silent Roar

When I was a teenager, enamored with the work of scholars like Hugh Nibley and Richard Bushman, I was of the view that Mormonism needed new historians to take up their mantle. Then, taken with the work of thinkers like Terryl and Fiona Givens, I believed that Mormonism needed new theologians to help…

A Short Sermon on Wholeness and Hate

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“They are whole from the foundation of the world …

and they hate their own blood.”

- Book of Moses 6:54, 7:33

I’m reminded of the old Persian fable of the scorpion and the turtle:

The turtle, walking along the riverbank, encounters its old friend the scorpion. The scorpion says it needs to cross the river but cannot swim, then asks if the turtle will carry it across the water. The turtle agrees and the scorpion climbs onto the turtle’s back. The turtle swims halfway out into the river when, suddenly, the scorpion stings the turtle — but the scorpion’s…

Exploring and analyzing one of Mormon culture’s deepest problems

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There are three things Mormon culture appears to love:

1) Rules.

2) Finding ever more meticulous and minute ways to follow rules.

3) Finding ever more ways to get others to follow rules.

I believe these three loves easily spiral into deeply toxic patterns of thought and behavior. Moreover, I believe they may help to triangulate one of Mormon culture’s deepest issues.

Note that I say “Mormon culture,” rather than Mormonism, not to exonerate either the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Mormon community (“Mormon culture” does tend to become a basket into which we toss all…

On Cognitive Dissonance and the Inevitability of Uncertainty

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I think, like a lot of people, my spiritual development has been largely spurred by moments in which my personal theology stopped “clicking” with my everyday life. This includes logical fallacies or outright contradictions as well as instances of direct pain from “bad religion” (or, more precisely, problematic religious worldviews). In a way, the two seem related in the most natural of ways: the mind and body aren’t two neatly separable things, like a tiny person controlling a big human-shaped robot, but more like two colors of paint mixing with one another. …

The Ancient of Days setting a Compass to the Earth” (1794), William Blake

William Blake’s The Ancient of Days is often used as an image of God, but it’s actually Blake’s character Urizen, who is divine in a sense, but also a limiter. Urizen personifies life’s tendency to suffocate its own existence into precise measurements and dimensions, snuffing out its creative genius by imposing artificial “law” and “structure.” I’m far from the first to point out this case of mistaken identity between the God of the Hebrew Bible and Urizen: for instance, Dan Brown points this out in Origin. You can find this depiction of Urizen elsewhere, too, such as on the cover…

A Brief Analysis of William Blake

“God Judging Adam” (1795), William Blake

I really love William Blake, not the least because he seems to me to be the most radical of Christian thinkers (there was a reason he believed that what most people, even Christians, label with “the names divine of Jesus and Jehovah” is actually Satan). Much of his worldview, I believe, can be found in his illustrations — for example, this color printing he composed in 1795, God Judging Adam.

This is subjective, of course, but a lot sticks out to me in this particular piece. The first point is that God and Adam look virtually the same; God is…

Nathan Smith

Independent writer from Austin, TX; doing a BS in psychology; writing on psychology, philosophy, literature, religion. www.nathansmithbooks.com @NateSmithSNF

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