The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Friday, August 12, 2016

Cognitive Dissonance Traps

Scott Adams (Dilbert) writes an outstanding blog about persuasion issues. Today he posted one about cognitive dissonance traps. I won't get into the details--the post focuses on politics--but he makes an important point about cognitive dissonance.

In my opinion, cognitive dissonance, as Adams describes it, is one of the main obstacles to reaching a consensus about Book of Mormon geography.


Adams points out that when the media knows something, any reality that contradicts what they know "is invisible to them because it doesn't fit their worldview."

"So... cognitive dissonance happens."

When the facts we observe are the opposite of the media's worldview, the media acts as if reality is impossible and they act based on what they know, even though it's completely wrong.

It's an interesting application of the idea of cognitive dissonance.

Adams writes, "Meanwhile, the unhypnotized laugh themselves into a stupor watching this spectacle of cognitive dissonance. Humor aside, it is a marvelous and incredible thing to behold."

That's how I feel reading much of what is published about Book of Mormon geography in the MMM (Mainstream Mormon Media).

To be clear, I'm not judging anyone. I'm not criticizing anyone. I'm merely observing that, as Adams writes, "cognitive dissonances isn't influenced by intelligence. [People] believe whatever fits [their] worldview. Just like the rest of us."

He goes on to make an important point.

"The fun part is that we can see cognitive dissonance when it happens to others... but we can't see it when it happens to us. So don't get too smug about this. You're probably next."

I've been posting examples of cognitive dissonance for two years now.

The Hill Cumorah is a classic case. Because a New York Hill Cumorah destroys what is left of the Mesoamerican theory, the proponents insist Cumorah cannot be in New York. I'm not criticizing them; I'm simply observing the problem they face with a New York Cumorah.

So how does one deal with a situation that contradicts one's world view?

In this case, scholars say, first, that Oliver Cowdery didn't know what he was talking about when he wrote Letter VII, or he was relying on a rumor (or account) of an old Indian battle in the area, or was speculating, or simply made a mistake, or was lying. Second, they say Joseph simply adopted this false narrative and made it his own. Third, they say Joseph and Oliver never received a revelation about Cumorah (of course, that conclusion doesn't follow from the absence of a recorded revelation, but it's good enough in a situation of cognitive dissonance). Fourth, they say Joseph and Oliver (and the others) never actually entered Mormon's repository of records, but merely had a vision of a mountain that is actually somewhere in Mexico. And they had this vision at least twice, and related it to Brigham Young and others, who misunderstood their statements as accounts of actual events. On top of that, these scholars believe the New York hill is a "clean hill" because one person questioned a few farmers on the north and on the east, and they said they never found arrowheads. (It is entirely irrelevant that Oliver said the battles were on the west, that there are accounts of farmers plowing up bushels of arrowheads and other artifacts for decades, and that eyewitnesses saw boxes full of arrowheads and other artifacts when the road to the top of Cumorah was excavated.)

All of that and more makes sense if what you know contradicts all of this evidence.

So to repeat, I'm not criticizing those who continue to believe Cumorah is somewhere in Mexico. I'm just saying they are dealing with cognitive dissonance the best way they can.

The KnoWhys on Book of Mormon Central are additional examples. Even when the point of the KnoWhy can be made better using examples from ancient North America, BOMC is blind to those and instead uses less effective (and mostly contrived) examples from Mesoamerica.

IMO, everyone involved with this issue needs to set aside preconceptions and take a fresh look. I know of no other way to overcome cognitive dissonance.

I can speak from experience. At one time, I, too, dealt with this cognitive dissonance. I actually believed Cumorah was a "clean hill" because of what I read in the MMM. I actually believed Cumorah was in Mexico, that Joseph and Oliver told Brigham about a vision, etc. The whole ball of wax. It wasn't until I took a fresh look that all of this looked much different.

So now, having changed my mind, am I dealing with cognitive dissonance from another perspective?

I don't think so. (Of course, no one thinks they are).

The way to tell is whether you can fully and fairly articulate different perspectives and viewpoints, and if you deal with every aspect of an issue from every perspective that has been expressed. I'm not aware of any points made by the non-Cumorah advocates that I haven't addressed. If there are any, let me know.

Of course, "dealing with" an issue is not the same as fully assessing it. But the goal is to determine exactly where people agree and where they agree to disagree. Then third parties can make informed decisions.

And in the meantime, there are no hard feelings, no judging, no being offended. It's purely a methodical examination of the facts, together with the assumptions, the repercussions, and the psychology of the various perspectives. The clearer we are, the better for those who need to make up their own minds.

[BTW, Adams also writes about the "Bait and Switch Confusopoly Economy" which is a direct analogy to the long-time debate about Book of Mormon geography. His point is that car sales, wireless phone plans, insurance policies, and the rest are intentionally confusing so people cannot compare competitors. They're also so confusing you can't ever get exactly what you want. Likewise, you can read for hours in the MMM and never find specific, clear and determinative yes/no points. That's why I've been focusing on Cumorah lately.]


  1. The other day I was just thinking about how confusing these things are if I wanted to explain BofM geography to someone in simple terms, and tell them both sides of the story. I think a lot of people don't know the "scholarship" view. So I was wishing there was a page about this somewhere, with a box chart with various BofM Geography talking points down the left, alphabetically (that list could probably go on and on), and then a column with the Meso response in 50 words or less (even better if written by a Mesoist, or footnoted to one -- it would have to be shown to be very MMM -- BYU, Farms, Institute?), and then a final column with the Heartland response in 50 words or less (footnotes to longer articles would be good). It could be a really good way to show people. I hate to say this, but show them how crazy some of this is.

  2. Great idea. I have a chart like this that I'll post soon. This is definitely a confusing topic.
    I like to simplify the issue by focusing first on Cumorah. If it's in New York, as Joseph, Oliver, and all of their contemporaries said, that narrows the geography considerably. If it's not in New York, does it really make any difference where it is?