The neurochemistry of bias confirmation
As it relates to the Book of Mormon, neurochemistry largely explains why the teachings of the prophets about the Hill Cumorah are being systematically censored and removed from the historical record.
The most critical statement in the latest version of the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography is this:
All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.
When people are contending over something such as M2C, they usually think they are using facts and logic, but they are actually just responding to biochemistry.
When our brains detect an unpleasant conflict between data and what we want to believe, they use biochemistry and faulty reasoning to reduce distress. This is a biological description of bias confirmation.
I used to see this all the time when I practiced law. Clients are naturally emotional, convinced they are right, etc. One of the most difficult tasks for a lawyer is conveying objective (or even quasi-objective) reality to their own clients.
I'll discuss this topic more in my updated, expanded edition of Mesomania, coming this fall, but in the meantime, let's take a quick look at what's going on.
Researchers have conducted neurological experiments to understand how political partisans respond to information. The findings (excerpted below) help explain what happens when partisans on all sides of the Book of Mormon wars respond to information.
Today I'll focus on M2C because people tell me that employees of Book of Mormon Central are still arguing about M2C stuff on their blogs and other social media. There's a lot of anger, emotions, etc.
No one is to blame for that reaction. It's merely a result of biochemistry.
People believe they are thinking rationally, based on facts, but their brains are simply engaged in self-defense. Their brains perceive confirmation of the M2C bias as pleasurable, while criticism of M2C is painful.
The study explained it this way: "The neural circuits charged with regulation of emotional states seemed to recruit beliefs that eliminated the distress and conflict partisans had experienced when they confronted unpleasant realities."
The fascinating thing is that the better educated, more motivated, and "smarter" a person is, the more their brain chemistry will "develop complex rationalizations for dismissing data they don't want to believe."
Every human brain does this; it's basic biology. That's why bias confirmation is difficult to overcome.
Having believed M2C for decades, but now realizing it's a hoax, it's easier for me to recognize the biochemistry involved than it is for those still within the M2C bubble. It's also why none of this is personal or upsetting to me. I really don't care what anyone else believes, and I'm not trying to persuade anyone. I just want people to make informed decisions, and understanding neurochemistry is part of that.
For everyone interested in Book of Mormon historicity and geography, brain chemistry is activated by the mere term Cumorah.
M2C advocates, by definition, dismiss data regarding the New York Cumorah.
Every time an M2C follower sees a map of Mesoamerica with Cumorah in southern Mexico, his/her brain generates a positive response.
Every time an M2C follower sees a map of Cumorah in New York, his/her brain generates a negative response.
The psychological problem for M2C followers is that their brain normally generates positive responses to the teachings of the prophets. For example, they accept almost everything President Oliver Cowdery taught. Same with the other prophets who have reaffirmed the New York Cumorah.
But they can't accept what President Cowdery and the other prophets have said about the New York Cumorah.
Consequently, when they read Letter VII, the psychological conflict causes greater pain that requires a stronger response. This is why you see them act so aggressively in word and deed.
We see the exact opposite brain chemistry among those Church members who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. They get positive rewards when they read those teachings, just as they get positive rewards from reading all the teachings of the prophets. They get a similar positive reward from seeing proposed geographies that affirm the New York Cumorah.
They get negative rewards when they see material that repudiates the teachings of the prophets.
Neurochemistry explains the "Book of Mormon Wars."
It also explains why the M2C citation cartel continues to censor material that contradicts M2C. It's not so much that they want to keep members of the Church ignorant. It's more that they want to avoid giving their readers the psychological pain they feel whenever they see something that contradicts M2C or supports the New York Cumorah.
This also explain why the Gospel Topics Essay doesn't want anyone talking about this at Church. Because there is such a stark difference of opinion, no matter which side is represented, someone will feel pain while someone else will feel happiness.
That's why it is essential that the Gospel Topics Essay be actually implemented, starting by getting rid of the M2C materials in the curriculum and media.
As astute readers, you've already recognized that there's a problem with the censorship approach. We'll discuss it another time, but basically, as Andrew Yang recently tweeted, "Trying to suppress ideas often doesn’t truly make them disappear - it just pushes them into the shadows where they sometimes gain strength and currency. Being open to ideas is itself a sign of confidence in your own."
Neurochemistry helps explain how biases are formed in the first place.
Let's say you're a kid. Your parents give you a book such as Kelli Coughanour's "The Book of Mormon for Young Readers.
You're going to develop all kinds of positive emotions about this book. It's a gift from your parents. They read it with you. They encourage you to have faith in it.
The book teaches M2C overtly. I've discussed this in more detail here:
Your brain will give you reward signals whenever you see the infamous painting of Christ at Chichen Itza, or Mayan pyramids, or maps of Mesoamerica.
You progress through Seminary, Sunday School, and the youth programs. Your parents and Church leaders encourage you to read books by M2C scholars. At every step, your M2C bias is reinforced by people you've been taught to believe and admire.
M2C generates positive brain chemistry.
Maybe you visit the North Visitors Center on Temple Square and see Mormon depicted in a Mexican cave, surrounded by Mayan glyphs as he abridges the records. Off in the distance, all by himself, Moroni is depositing the plates in "a hill in New York."
Positive brain chemistry.
|BYU fantasy map|
More positive brain chemistry.
You go on a mission and get more M2C reinforcement at the MTC because you don't realize (and no one is going to tell you) that the Church leaders for whom the buildings are named actually taught that Cumorah is in New York.
Maybe somewhere along the line, maybe several times, you come across one of the teachings by Church leaders about the New York Cumorah, such as Letter VII or a map of a proposed geography, that supports those teachings.
You brain registers an immediate negative response. Your neurochemistry quickly responds by invoking the M2C images and arguments you are comfortable with.
You hurry to FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, or another member of the M2C citation cartel because you know they will safely confirm your bias and give you positive feedback.
Sure enough, you read a Kno-Why and your bias is confirmed. Your neurochemistry keeps you happy.
It happens on all sides of the issue, and that's why this issue never gets resolved.
In upcoming posts, we'll see how and why this problem is getting more serious all the time.
Excerpts from the article about the study:
Here's a trigger warning for any M2C readers.
Don't read the next paragraphs.
The arguments M2C intellectuals put forth through the cartel (FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, etc.) rely on sophistry and logical fallacies that appeal only to those who share the biases they are confirming. To the rest of us, the fallacies are transparent.
This is a recent comment by Attorney General Barr that has obvious comparisons with the way the M2C intellectuals operate.
Mr. Barr: “In my mind, they are, sure. I mean, republics have fallen because of Praetorian Guard mentality where government officials get very arrogant, they identify the national interest with their own political preferences and they feel that anyone who has a different opinion, you know, is somehow an enemy of the state. And, you know, there is that tendency that they know better and that, you know, they’re there to protect as guardians of the people. That can easily translate into essentially supervening the will of the majority and getting your own way as a government official.”