Sunday, March 13, 2016

How We Interpret What We See and Read

We constantly see in comments to our blog as well as in reading what theorists, members and critic have to say about the Book of Mormon that so often leads to misunderstandings, misquoting of scripture, and debating issue that truly are not debatable. Often it boils down to how someone perceives what they see and read, rather than what is actually written.
    Perception is defined as “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    The word is taken from the Latin perceptio, percipio (“to perceive”), and is the “organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment”; however, since we are dealing with the written word in the scriptural record, we would say, “it is the organization, identification and interpretation of written information in order to comprehend its meaning and understand its use.”
    As an example, following are some typical comments we receive from time to time, usually several times each:
1. The final war between the Nephites and Lamanties began at the River Sidon near the borders of Zarahemla;
2. The Land of Promise is a peninsula.
3. Nephi’s ship made its way through Indonesia.
4. Lehi sailed directly across the Pacific to Central America (Mesoamerica).
5. The narrow neck of land is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
6. The Nephites were mound builders.
    One of the problems we have is that when we read something, even a single word, we interpret it through our own opinions about the subject, what it means, how it fits into our own views and beliefs, and whether we agree or disagree with it. Generally, two things occur: 1) Our predisposed thinking sees what is not there, or not see what is there; or 2) Our predetermined opinions condition us on how we interpret what we read.
    As an example, what did you see in the pictures above? Two birds on tree limbs? A bunch of scrambled black marks or scribblings? Actually, in the picture on the left, there is only one bird. The other object is a group of leaves; in the picture on the right there is a Dalmation dog sniffing the ground in the center of the image. In national studies, only one out of five will see the correct images at first glance, and after study, only one out of three will see them correctly on their own.
Now that you know there are hidden images, what do you see in these three drawings?
    In the five comments above, the actual information as found in the scriptural record is:
1. The final war began at the Waters of Sidon—river is not mentioned (Mormon 1:10)
2. The Land of Promise was an island (2 Nephi 10:20).
3. Nephi’s ship was “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8,9). “Driven forth” means pushed forward by the wind, i.e., the wind would be behind the ship. In Indonesia, the winds blow off the Pacific through Indonesia islands from east to west—Lehi would have had to sail from west to east, against the winds.
4. Again, the winds blow from east to west across the central Pacific between Indonesia and Central America, where people say Lehi sailed, meaning he would have been sailing against the winds, which the scriptural record says he sailed with the wind (1 Nephi 18:8,9).
5. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is 144 miles across according to the Mexican government statistics, covering 144 miles in a day and a half would not be realistic under any circumstances, let alone as a gauge for us, the future readers, to understand distances (Alma 22:32).
6. There is no mentioned of any mounds being built by the Nephites; there is no record of mounds ever being build in the Middle East in any ancient era. The only mention of casting up dirt is in relationship to around an entire city for defense, i.e., not a mound, but a sort of wall of dirt (Alma 49:2).
    In the series of three drawings above, the one on the left is a face in negative outline, wearing glass, but also the word Liar written downward at an angle from left to right; the middle picture is an Indian face, but also an Eskimo with his back to you; and the one on the right is a young woman’s face with two horses standing on either side in the place of her hair.
Minds get made up when a person—theorist, member or critic—becomes convinced of a certain point of view, location, or place. When one believes the  Land of Promise was in Mesoamerica, or the Great Lakes, or Heartland, Baja, Malay, etc., then when they read something in the scriptural record, their mind automatically converts the information into their model or location. If it doesn’t fit, like Mormon’s north-south land layout, the Mesoamerican theorist has to change the interpretation of the scriptural record from a north-south orientation to, as John L. Sorenson did, a different meaning for north and south in the Hebrew thought pattern. In the case of the Great Lakes, they then have to change the meaning of the West Sea to some type of inland lake to fit their model.
    The mind can do this because when we run across an idea that does not fit our preconceived model, we look for another answer—and generally our pre-determined opinion allows us to find another avenue to reach our point of view, no matter how controversial.
    Take the last set of six drawings above. Each shows two different ways to view the drawing. The Upper left shows either four or three logs, depending on which side you look at; the Middle drawing shows four legs or five legs, depending on whether you start from top or bottom; the right drawing shows four legs of a box at first glance, but a closer inspection shows one leg overlaps the front instead of remaining in the back; the lower left shows a rabbit or a duck, depending on which way you look; the Middle is three prongs or two; and the right is a vase or two faces. The point being we can see two or more views to almost anything.
    However, the scriptures are not meant to be viewed or read that way. They usually have deeper meanings the more you study, but those meanings are not conflicting or opposite views, just provide greater and greater understanding.
Cover up the drawing on the right and study the drawing on the left. Do you see the old lady or the young women, or do you see both? Uncover the drawing on the right. Focus on the painted area—the mouth of the old women is the neck ribbon of the young lady, and the nose of the old women is the chin and jaw line of the young lady who is looking ¾ away to the left
    This is a famous perceptual illusion in which the brain switches between seeing a young girl and an old woman (or a bulldog, parrot, or baboon). It is credited to an anonymous German postcard from 1888 that depicts the earliest known form of the image, followed by a rendition on an advertisement for the Anchor Buggy Company from 1890. For many years, the creator of this figure was thought to be British cartoonist W. E. Hill, who published it in 1915 in Puck humor magazine, an American magazine inspired by the British magazine Punch). It showed up in William James work in psychology sometime after 1905 in which it was used in several ways to show the working of the mind. The point is, our minds see what we want them to see and not always what is right in front of us.
    We need to guard against this when we start promoting scriptural references and interpretations that may not be what the original writer or abridger meant for us to understand. That’s why we need to study and ponder, not jump to immediate conclusions. Generally, we are better served by taking the stance that the scripture is correct as written, and if it does not make sense to us, or fit our pre-determined ideas, then we need to ask ourselves what does that scripture mean and why is it written that way. Only through study can we truly come to a correct, definitive understanding of the correct meanings of the scriptural record.

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