long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The paradox of choice

Choosing between two alternatives is one of the striking teachings of the Book of Mormon. That's good psychology. For example:

1 Nephi 2:27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

Barry Schwartz has suggested that too many choices make people anxious and unhappy.* Basically, when we have lots of choices, we experience paralysis by analysis because we want to get the choice right.

We also face opportunity costs because we value things by what we compare them to, and with more choices, we tend to focus on attractive features of the alternatives to the choices we have made, leaving us less satisfied with our choices.

Another aspect of the paradox is the "escalation of expectations," meaning that with all these choices, we should end up with something perfect. But of course we never do. Instead of pleasant surprises, our raised expectations can never be completely realized.

I bring this up because I think the paradox of choice affects LDS people who want to know about Book of Mormon geography.

There are hundreds of proposed settings. It's all quite confusing, as anyone who has read the literature knows. That's how we ended up with the prevailing "two-Cumorahs" theory.

Those who try to come up with abstract maps know that it's impossible for any two people to create the same map unless they first agree on what that map should look like and what assumptions they will use. In other words, the abstract map approach is illusory.

I think people should simplify the choices and avoid the confusion, frustration and anxiety.

Start with Cumorah. You need to decide first whether Cumorah is in New York or somewhere else.

It's a simple question, really.

The first branch of the decision tree is, do you believe Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith or not?

If your first reaction is, that's too simplistic, consider the question again. And again.

Forget everything else. Forget geography, geology, archaeology, Zarahemla, the place of landing, the Mayan or Hopewell cultures, and all the rest. You can get to those questions (which are also binary) once you make up your mind on the first question.

Start by reading Letter VII. Or this blog: http://www.lettervii.com/

I'm not saying Letter VII answers everything, but I am saying it is a starting point. It's the first branch of the decision tree. There are plenty more decisions to make after you choose whether you believe or reject Letter VII, but don't let those decisions down the road confuse you at this juncture.

I know a lot of people are trying to get members of the Church to reject Letter VII. I've addressed that on the letter vii blog, if you want to get into the weeds on that.

All I'm saying is, ask yourself first, do you believe Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith or not? If so, you believe Cumorah is in New York. If not, you believe it is somewhere else.

Once you make the decision about Cumorah, you can move to the next branch of the decision tree you've chosen.


* Scott Adams applied the paradox of choice to the frustration of watching TV here. Schwartz has a TED talk is here for those interested. As a warning, it contains some material you wouldn't show in Sunday School. 


  1. The following comment was attempted to be posted but because of a change at blogger, it didn't post automatically, so I'm posting it on behalf of the submitter.
    erichard has left a new comment on your post "The paradox of choice":

    Alternatively, when a person makes a critical first choice and goes on with more and more choices, and unmistakable problems come into what the person is being led to accept, then the person needs to be honest: maybe there is a problem with their critical first choice!

    How can the waters of Mormon be 800 miles from the city of Nephi?

  2. My response to erichard:

    I don't know why you would think it would be 800 miles away. I think it was only around 20 miles, maybe up to 50. So I can't help you with your 800 miles theory.