Friday, April 29, 2016

Educational YouTube Channels: SmarterEveryDay

A while back I wrote about web comics that I like, and since then I wanted to do something similar about YouTube channels that I like. So, because it is easier to write about educational YouTube channels than it is to write about things like the Late Bronze Age Collapse, or Hamlet's Mill, I will write brief reviews of educational YouTube channels. You may already know about some of these, but there will definitely be a few you have never heard of, and there will be some that will surprise you.

Several years ago I came across a channel run by Destin Sandlin called SmarterEveryDay. That was back in the day when YouTube was mostly cats and dumb videos, so it was a breath of fresh air to find an interesting channel. I think SmarterEveryDay was the first channel I ever subscribed to back in 2011. The first video I remember watching was #15, which was about lightening. Since then he has put out videos about acoustic levitation, tattooing in slow motion, the direction of toilet swirls in the northern and southern hemispheres, and has even interviewed President Obama.

Destin's videos are educational, but he also brings in much more than just "education" into his videos. I appreciate that he shows his family and shows that he loves them in his videos. He also ends each video with a Bible reference.

Perhaps the most interesting video he ever did was about learning, and unlearning, how to ride a bike.
This video, and the insights he gives, are incredibly deep. You will be surprised how insightful learning how to ride a bike can be.

This is perhaps my favorite YouTube channel, and I highly recommend it to everyone of all ages. If parents are looking for good quality educational videos for their children to watch, this is the best place to start.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My Blog is not Dead

I know I have not been posting on my blog a lot lately, but this is because I have spent so much of my writing time on my research, writing papers, and my dissertation. That has been occupying my time, and when I get home after spending 8+ hours reading, writing and computing, the last thing I feel like doing is writing a blog post, and I am not into writing fluff.

When I write something for my blog I try to research it fully to make sure I know what I am talking about. This means that many of my posts never make it to a final product. I have 30+ drafts from the last year alone that never made it past the initial research stage, several of which I am planning on finishing. But my first major research paper, my dissertation, and now a second major research paper are taking up all my time and writing effort. Sometime in the next few weeks I may have more time to write, after I get my second paper submitted. Stay tuned.

A sample of posts I am working on:

  • Philosophical Fallacies in the Wild: They do exist!
  • Actual Legal Controversies Involving Religion
  • Chiasmus in Moses 2
  • Side-by-side comparison of Moses and Genesis
  • The Late Bronze Age Collapse and the Exodus
  • The Hypostasis of Faith
  • Returning to Hamlet's Mill
  • The Fallacy of the Incomprehensibility of God
  • Why Troy?
  • God as a Gardener

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Escaping the Paradox: Heaps, Pirates, M. C. Escher and Language

There is an ancient paradox that goes something like this:

Imagine you have 10,000 grains of sand. If you had that much sand you would call it a heap of sand. Now imagine you remove one grain of sand so that you have 9,999 grains left. Is it still a heap? Yes, it still is a heap.

Remove one more grain of sand. Do you still have a heap of sand?

Keep removing single grains of sand. Each time you do you still have a heap of sand. When you are left with only two grains of sand is it still a heap? No? At what point did the heap of sand stop being a heap? Was it with three grains? or more?

That is the paradox. 10,000 grains of sand are definitely a heap, and if you take away one it is still a heap, but if you keep taking away single grains of sand when does it stop being a heap?

This paradox has plagued philosophers and students for over 2000 years and it keeps discussions going in introductory philosophy classes, which provides much employment to professional philosophers. But before we resolve this paradox I wanted to write a little about the art of M. C. Escher, because some of his most famous art can also be paradoxical. Below is his famous drawing entitled "Waterfall".
Image from www.mcescher.com.
What is paradoxical about this image is that the water at the "bottom" appears to flow "up" until it reaches the "top" where it falls "down" to begin the process all over again. Additionally each bend in the stream appears to be directly over another part of the structure, thereby creating an apparently impossible structure. This paradox, or optical illusion, how ever you want to call it, both confounds and delights all who see it.

While most people consider the work of M. C. Escher, appreciate it, perhaps hang a copy in their house or office, very few stop and take the time to consider why it is a paradox and ultimately escape the paradox.

If we just consider a single part of the image, say just the waterfall part, or one of the bends, by themselves there is no problem, nor a paradox.


Removed from the larger context these constituent parts are not paradoxical. So how did these individual parts go from non-paradoxical to paradoxical when put together?

The answer is that the paradox only exists because we assume more than there is in the image. The image itself is only a two dimensional collection of lines and shading that all together we interpret as a waterfall, a stream, and a brick structure with columns. The structure does not exist in three dimensions. The collection of two dimensional lines and shading create an image of what we interpret to be a three dimensional structure. If the structure really was three dimensional then it would defy the natural order of the universe, but it is not, so it does not.

The paradox only exists because we take each individual part, the waterfall, the bend in the stream, and we can imagine a real three dimensional structure like that, but when we try to fit the imaginary three dimensional parts together, we fail, and thus we have a paradox.

But if we remember that we are only looking at two dimensional lines and shading which only imply flowing water, columns and a brick structure, the paradox does not create a problem, and definitely does not trigger an existential crisis. If we do not make the leap from representation to actuality what we are left with is an interesting picture that does not break the laws of physics and geometry.

So now we can return and resolve the heap paradox. The reason why it creates a paradox is because each individual part is logical and non-paradoxical. There is nothing illogical about considering either 10,000 or 9,999 grains of sand to be a heap of sand. So if we have 10,000 grains and take away one we still have a heap. Much like a single bend in the stream in "Waterfall", it does not create a paradox. But it we then group a series of individual bends together we are left with a paradox.

With the drawing the paradox was created by mistaking a 2D representation for a 3D reality. In the heap paradox the mistake is extending words and language beyond their representations. In this case extending the definition of the word "heap", which is by definition inexact, to mean an exact value. Yes 10,000 grains of sand can make a heap because 10,000 grains of sand would be hard to count and thus for all practical purposes we cannot distinguish between 10,001, 10,000 or 9,999 grains. Hence we use the inexact term "heap".

The heap paradox only remains a paradox if we commit an equivocation and alter the definition of the word to mean an exact number. An exact number implies an exact boundary between "heap" and "not heap", which did not exist in the original definition.

So should we insist on the eradication of all paradoxes from our language? Heavens no. These paradoxes, much like the drawings of M. C. Escher add richness to our language and are the basis to our humor and entertainment. But if we forget the nature of language we might be confronted with a paradox and conclude that the nature of reality is broken, when it is only our understanding that is limited. We must remember that our paradoxes are rooted in a misuse of language. If we remember that then we can escape the paradox and it can be humorous and entertaining, but if not, then, like Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, we will be slaves to a misuse of language.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Alternate Verse Divisions for Moses Chapter 2

Recently I was reading in the Book of Moses Chapter 2 and part way through the chapter I thought, "That is an awful number of 'And I, God' phrases all right in a row!" But I have long since learned that there are never random repetitions in the scriptures. If there is something that is being repeated over, and over, and over, then it is for a reason. If the same phrase is used repeatedly then that always indicates literary structure that is meant to be a teaching tool.

As I looked over the chapter I noticed that many times the phrase "And I, God" appeared at the beginning of a verse, but sometimes it was in the middle of a verse. If you look at the original manuscript for the Book of Moses, you can see that it was written as one big paragraph, with no verses or other structure, including punctuation. Only the chapter breaks were present in the original. I couldn't find when and who first broke the text into verses, but it was most likely Orson Pratt in 1878. I have previously written about how if we change some of the punctuation and verse structure in the Book of Mormon then we can see some insights that are not clear in our current version. So I am not adverse to second guessing Orson Pratt on how he decided to break the text into verses.

Below I have altered the verses of Moses 2 to highlight some of the structure of the text, which the current verse divisions hide a little bit. The left column contains Moses 2 with my renumbering. The right column contains the original verse numbering so you can see where I have broken a verse apart or combined verses. Except for the first two verses and the phrases indicating the days of creation, every verse in my renumbered scheme begins with "And I, God". This creates a few new verses, and there are five instances where two verses are combined. I would like to emphasize these places were verses were combined because in each case a unique structure was created full of interesting parallels. Especially in the fourth day of creation my new verse structure highlights a beautiful chiasmus, which I will write about in another post.

Orson Pratt did a truly monumental work in dividing the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price into verses, but he was not the original author, nor did he know the original author, so there were subtleties in the text that he did not know about. So consider how I have changed the verses in Moses 2 below and try to see how it changes how we understand the chapter. Let me know what you learn.

Renumbered Verses Original Numbering (Highlighted)

1 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth; write the words which I speak.

1 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth; write the words which I speak.

2 I am the Beginning and the End, the Almighty God; by mine Only Begotten I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest. And the earth was without form, and void; and I caused darkness to come up upon the face of the deep; and my Spirit moved upon the face of the water; for I am God.

I am the Beginning and the End, the Almighty God; by mine Only Begotten I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and I caused darkness to come up upon the face of the deep; and my Spirit moved upon the face of the water; for I am God.

3 And I, God, said: Let there be light; and there was light.

3 And I, God, said: Let there be light; and there was light.

4 And I, God, saw the light; and that light was good.

4 And I, God, saw the light; and that light was good.

5 And I, God, divided the light from the darkness.

And I, God, divided the light from the darkness.

6 And I, God, called the light Day; and the darkness, I called Night; and this I did by the word of my power, and it was done as I spake.

5 And I, God, called the light Day; and the darkness, I called Night; and this I did by the word of my power, and it was done as I spake;

7 And the evening and the morning were the first day.

and the evening and the morning were the first day.

8 And again, I, God, said: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water, and it was so, even as I spake; and I said: Let it divide the waters from the waters; and it was done;

6 And again, I, God, said: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water, and it was so, even as I spake; and I said: Let it divide the waters from the waters; and it was done;

9 And I, God, made the firmament and divided the waters, yea, the great waters under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament, and it was so even as I spake.

7 And I, God, made the firmament and divided the waters, yea, the great waters under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament, and it was so even as I spake.

10 And I, God, called the firmament Heaven.

8 And I, God, called the firmament Heaven;

11 And the evening and the morning were the second day.

and the evening and the morning were the second day.

12 And I, God, said: Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and it was so.

9 And I, God, said: Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and it was so;

13 And I, God, said: Let there be dry land; and it was so.

and I, God, said: Let there be dry land; and it was so.

14 And I, God, called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, called I the Sea.

10 And I, God, called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, called I the Sea;

15 And I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good.

and I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good.

16 And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed should be in itself upon the earth, and it was so even as I spake. And the earth brought forth grass, every herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed should be in itself, after his kind.

11 And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed should be in itself upon the earth, and it was so even as I spake. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, every herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed should be in itself, after his kind;

17 And I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good.

and I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good;

18 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

19 And I, God, said: Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth; and it was so.

14 And I, God, said: Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years; 15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth; and it was so.

20 And I, God, made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, and the greater light was the sun, and the lesser light was the moon; and the stars also were made even according to my word.

16 And I, God, made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, and the greater light was the sun, and the lesser light was the moon; and the stars also were made even according to my word.

21 And I, God, set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth. And the sun to rule over the day, and the moon to rule over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness.

17 And I, God, set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 And the sun to rule over the day, and the moon to rule over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness;

22 And I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good.

and I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good;

23 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

24 And I, God, said: Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl which may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

20 And I, God, said: Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl which may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

25 And I, God, created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind.

21 And I, God, created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind;

26 And I, God, saw that all things which I had created were good.

and I, God, saw that all things which I had created were good.

27 And I, God, blessed them, saying: Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the sea; and let fowl multiply in the earth.

22 And I, God, blessed them, saying: Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the sea; and let fowl multiply in the earth;

28 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

29 And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind, and it was so.

24 And I, God, said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind, and it was so;

30 And I, God, made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything which creepeth upon the earth after his kind.

25 And I, God, made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything which creepeth upon the earth after his kind;

31 And I, God, saw that all these things were good.

and I, God, saw that all these things were good.

32 And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so.

26 And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so.

33 And I, God, said: Let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

And I, God, said: Let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

34 And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.

27 And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.

35 And I, God, blessed them, and said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

28 And I, God, blessed them, and said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

36 And I, God, said unto man: Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in the which shall be the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein I grant life, there shall be given every clean herb for meat; and it was so, even as I spake.

29 And I, God, said unto man: Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in the which shall be the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein I grant life, there shall be given every clean herb for meat; and it was so, even as I spake.

37 And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and, behold, all things which I had made were very good.

31 And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and, behold, all things which I had made were very good;

38 And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

and the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Interpreting Scriptures After the Fact

Anyone who has studied US Supreme Court decisions is familiar with the major landmark decisions. In these cases the court had to consider how to apply the text of the constitution to situations that were not considered when it was written. Sometimes in these cases the text of the constitution takes on added meaning as the application and interpretation evolves to accommodate changes in the country.

The US constitution is not the only text whose interpretation has changed throughout history. The Bible has even more than the constitution been interpreted and reinterpreted throughout history. Sometimes to the point that the original meaning is lost or forgotten in the haze of history. Knowing that this happens is the first step towards a fuller and richer understanding of the scriptures. To illustrate this I will consider how we interpret Psalm 72.

In the LDS version of the Bible the chapter heading for Psalm 72 reads:
David speaks of Solomon, who is made a type of the Messiah—He will have dominion—His name will endure forever—All nations will call him blessed—The whole earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.

For the most part this is an accurate summary of the psalm but the summary explicitly draws a link between Solomon and the Messiah. But if we read the text of the psalm and just consider the text itself there is absolutely nothing in it that makes this connection. There is no explanatory or parenthetical text that explicitly states that the purpose of the psalm is to create an archetype of the Messiah. Just considering the text, all we can surmise is that King David was extolling the virtues and glory of his son Solomon. By itself there is nothing to suggest that David was speaking of Solomon as "a type of the Messiah".

We also have no statement from David explaining that he intended the psalm to be interpreted as referring to the coming Messiah. So where did we get the idea that the purpose of the psalm was to describe the Kingship of the future Messiah?

When I started considering this question I wondered if this was peculiar LDS interpretation of the Bible or if it had a broader acceptance. As I looked up different commentaries of Psalm 72 I noticed that about half mentioned that particular interpretation. So this idea is not limited to the LDS world. The more I looked into it I could tell that the idea had been around for quite some time. But still I was interested in where it had originated.

I looked into Jewish commentaries on Psalm 72 and discovered that Jewish scholars of the 15th and 16th centuries wrote extensively about the coming "King Messiah" as described in Psalm 72. These scholars took their cue from medieval Jewish scholars of the 11th and 12th centuries, who in turn took their interpretations from earlier commentaries. The idea can be traced back to the 1st century BC with the first written version of the Targum, which was a series of spoken explanations given by a Rabbi to help people who didn't know Hebrew to understand the scriptures. Beyond that the source of this interpretation comes from the oral commentary passed down from one Rabbi to another. Thus we can only place the origin of this idea sometime before the 1st century BC.

So while the idea that Psalm 72 "was designed to refer ultimately to the Messiah" is over 2000 years old, we have absolutely no evidence that King David intended that psalm to be interpreted in that way. It is possible that he did intend it that way, but then again it is entirely possible that he was writing a psalm for the future coronation of King Solomon, and nothing more. I should point out that even though this interpretation has a long history, it is by no means universally accepted. It's not that some commentators reject it, they just never mention it, or only mention it in passing. It is treated as one of a number of possible interpretations.

So while the LDS chapter heading states, "David speaks of Solomon, who is made a type of the Messiah" there is nothing in the text to suggest that the original purpose was to make "a type of the Messiah". It is entirely possible that the psalm was written solely for King Solomon and later generations used it to describe the coming King Messiah, as many scholars now do.

When we read the scriptures we should keep in mind that our interpretation of certain passages may be different from the original intent. This is not to say later interpretations are wrong, but we should be careful not to impose a particular interpretation on the original authors that they may have never intended. When we remember this we can begin to have a fuller understanding of the scriptures and how we read and interpret them.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Guest Post: Depression and the Spirit

[Note from the blog author, Quantumleap42: This is a guest post from a long time friend. They don't like to talk about their depression, especially not in public places, but after some prompting from me they agreed to tell about their experiences. They wish to remain anonymous so I will refer to them as Sidney, but if anyone has any comments or questions for Sidney please leave them in the comments or email them to me and I will pass them along to Sidney. Sidney's experiences and insights have taught me a lot about how to understand depression. Feel free to share this with anyone who might need it, or just with anyone because you never know what they are going through. This originally came from three different texts or letters Sidney wrote over several years. I provided some editorial revisions that Sidney agreed to, to combine the three texts and for clarity.]
I normally don’t read or comment on blogs and I hope that you will not mind posting this, but I thought I could offer some insight into this topic. It is just something that has been on my mind a lot lately. 
When I was a teenager I began experiencing severe depression, but I always thought it was normal. It never occurred to me that not everyone found it difficult to do basic things like get up in the morning. I remember laying in bed feeling like I hurt all over while also feeling like I had done something terribly wrong and I would never be a good person. I felt I was fated to end up somewhere in the Telestial kingdom, and would never be able to do anything righteous with my life. I felt like a perpetual sinner. The few times I talked to friends about it they would say they occasionally felt the same way. It never occurred to me that they only felt that way rarely, not 5-6 days a week for months on end. I still have the page in my journal where I wrote about the pain I felt and how I wish I could make it stop. No one ever saw that page.
Later when I went to college, and then on a mission, I was still dealing with my depression, but I didn't know that was what it was. I just thought I was tired, or I just had to be more spiritual, or I had an impure thought and therefore I had lost the companionship of the Holy Spirit. If I just tried harder then I wouldn't feel bad. I remember an Elder from my mission got sent home because he had bipolar disorder and was unable to function. I looked at him and thought I wasn't that bad so I couldn't have bipolar disorder or depression because the only people I had ever known who had depression were on 15+ medications and on suicide watch, or so it seemed. I thought I didn't have a problem because it wasn't that bad.
When I came home from my mission and returned to college I continued with my same problems. I felt that my mission had been a waste, my family was distant and friends never wanted to talk. I received some priesthood blessings that came at a very specific time when I was feeling my worst and the Lord told me that He was pleased with the work I had done on my mission and had accepted my offering. (Quantum was there for that blessing, though he was not the one who gave it.) It was just the thing I needed to hear.
About that time some basic training I received in a psychology class kicked in. What I thought were feelings of inadequacy and the withdrawal of God's Holy Spirit were actually a disconnect between my body and my spirit. I began to keep track of what I was feeling and when and after a few months I noticed a pattern. Like clockwork there were times when I would experience severe depression that had nothing to do with what I was doing. Even if I was reading my scriptures, saying my prayers, doing well in school and maintaining a good social life I would still hit rock bottom. These darkest days would be followed by a few days of intense euphoria where I felt superhuman. As if there were nothing that could stop me.
Eventually I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which means sometimes I am severely depressed and other times I have more energy than I know what to do with. With bipolar disorder there are two phases, a depressive phase, and a manic phase. I have experienced all parts of the spectrum.  Many people are familiar with depression and the depressive phase of bipolar disorder but few people talk about the manic phase, usually because in the manic phase the person is feeling very happy, energetic, and in many cases relatively normal, if just a little on the hyper side. Many people do not recognize that the manic phase is just as problematic as the depressive phase. They think, "Oh, they're back to their 'normal', 'happy' selves. There's nothing to worry about." To put it in terms that we can understand it is in almost all ways the exact opposite of depression. Just as someone has little or no energy when depressed, in the manic phase we have an overabundance of energy. In the manic phase, it is not just feeling like you have more energy, you do have more energy. In one of my more energetic manic phases I once managed to do 100 pull-ups (5 sets of 20, with a 30 second pause between sets).
Through my experiences I have learned about depression, emotions, and how they are different from feeling the Holy Spirit. I have learned that even in the deepest parts of depression I can still feel the Holy Spirit. It is a distinct feeling that can be felt through the cloud and pain of depression. The Spirit can be something that is difficult to feel at times, but it is something that can always be felt. One of the pernicious side effects of depression is that many times the feelings of depression are indistinguishable from the feelings of sin or the loss of the Spirit. Someone with depression can very easy assume, mistakenly, that they are somehow more sinful than others and that they cannot access the healing power of the atonement or have access to the feelings of the Spirit.
In those times I try to take stock and carefully consider my life. I remind myself that the Spirit does not withdraw for petty and inconsequential things. Even if I am committing some of the sins of omission I have learned that the Spirit still strives with me and more often than not my feelings result from depression and not a loss of the Spirit.
We all have to deal with feelings that come from our own bodies and from our own spirits and telling those apart is hard enough. So sometimes it can be even harder tell what are promptings from the Holy Spirit and what comes from ourselves. The hardest part is learning to tell the difference between the Spirit telling me that I have done something wrong and that I need to repent, and experiencing a feeling of biological depression. Over time I have learned to recognize the sweet, peaceful feeling of the Spirit that permeates everything he does. It is a very distinct and personal feeling that, when learned, can be recognized very readily, just as the flavor of mint can easily be distinguished from the flavor of oranges. But at first it may be very hard to learn to discern the feelings of the Spirit from our own feelings. 
When I learned to recognize the feeling of the Holy Spirit it became a very personal thing, and I could recognize it as being distinct from all other feelings, much in the same way that we might recognize a brother or sister or good friend as distinct from all other people. If we are not familiar with the Spirit then the feelings he brings may be covered over by our own feelings, including the feelings of depression, much in the same way that we may pass a stranger in the street and not give them a second thought. Even in the depths of depression I can still feel the promptings and peace of the Holy Spirit, though it has taken me years to learn to tell the difference between my own feelings and the feelings he brings. 
In some cases the problems of depression are enhanced because the person who is depressed does not only have to deal with their own feelings, but also with feelings brought on by evil or malicious spirits. Not all episodes of depression are caused by the influence of evil spirits, and not all people who experience depression will ever have to deal with the influence of evil spirits, but it is something that I have had to deal with and it is something that requires the power of the priesthood to overcome. When it comes to depression there is perhaps something wrong in the connection between body and spirit, and that misconnection will occasionally induce those who cannot have bodies to try to exploit that opportunity to gain some influence over the body. For those spirits who cannot have their own body, a body that is broken and not working properly is preferable to none at all, even if they have little or no control over it. 
In these cases it requires someone who is very much in tune with things of the Spirit to exercise their priesthood power and to remove the influence of these evil spirits. These spirits can both cause and exacerbate the problems of depression. Like I said, not all people who have depression are being influenced by evil spirits, but some are and it takes the gift of discernment to recognize the presence of these spirits. A bishop has specifically been called to exercise the spirit of discernment so they should usually be the one to recognize and help out in this matter, but I have found that my bishops were not always aware of this or even willing to attempt to help in this way. In these cases I have had to rely on inspired priesthood holders who were sufficiently in tune with the Spirit to recognize the problem and to help out. (If at this point you have in your mind some scene from the movie The Exorcist then you are understanding this all wrong. I am not talking about anything like that at all. The workings of the priesthood and of the Spirit are never creepy. They only provide peace, if not then something is wrong.) 
So the things that I have learned by experiencing depression are that I can still feel the Spirit, even if it is very difficult and it seems that I am “past feeling”. There can be something biologically wrong with my body that interferes with my feeling the Spirit, but even in the most extreme situations the Spirit can still speak to my spirit without a physical intermediary, such as my body, and the Spirit can always be felt and heard. Every once in a while it is not sin, nor a biological problem that creates or worsens my depression, but the influence of those who can never have bodies. In these cases prayer, a reliance on the Spirit, God and His priesthood can dispel these evil influences. 
When I am in my manic phase how I connect to the Spirit is remarkably similar to when I am in my depressive phase. Most people would see me in my manic phase and think it a good thing I am out of my depression, but the manic phase is just as dangerous. It warps my thoughts and makes me think things that aren't true. Just as depression gives me feelings of inadequacy and makes me feel like I have sinned, even when I haven't, my manic phase makes me feel superhuman, like I can do anything, and also makes me feel like I can do no sin.
So how does this affect how I connect to the Spirit? It is like turning up the volume on the radio. If there is static then turning up the volume will just make the static louder. If there is music then the music will be louder. If there is music and static then both will be louder, but in many cases when the static is minimal with the volume turned down, when the volume is turned up the static can override the music. It is the same with the Spirit. If I am feeling the Spirit when I enter one of my manic phases then the Spirit is amplified greatly. Some of my most spiritual and revelatory experiences have come when I was on my manic phase, but just as depression can override the feelings of the Spirit, the feelings of my manic phase can just as easily override the feelings of the Spirit. Going back to my radio analogy it is not just an increase in volume, but the frequency or the tuner also tends to drift in my manic phase so it is just as easy to lose the feelings and promptings of the Spirit when I am in my manic phase as it is in my depressive phase. The problem is I am on a high so it makes it hard to recognize that I have lost the sweet, peaceful, calming feelings of the Spirit.
Alma may have wished to be an angel to cry repentance to the whole earth, but when I am in my manic phase, I feel like I am an angel and I am going to do all of God's work myself. I feel so righteous I think I am good enough to be the prophet (someday). Those moments don't last long and I have learned that if I feel what I think are promptings of the Spirit while I am in my manic phase then I try to verify the same feelings and thoughts when I am not in a manic phase. I found that this deliberate approach to sorting my own feelings from the feelings of the Spirit has kept me from falling into error and mistaking my own feelings for promptings of the Spirit. I have frequently received assurances through the Spirit that God is aware of my limitations and takes extra care to lead me carefully to distinguish what He wants from the sometimes random noise that I can produce in abundance.
What I feel when I am depressed mimics the feeling of losing the Spirit, which is the feeling of having sinned. We must never mistake depression for sin. It is a feeling that is all too common among those who have depression. They feel they are not good enough, that they are a disappointment to God and others, and that they can never be righteous. That is not the Spirit. That is depression. The Spirit always brings hope, even when it chastises us for sin, it gives us hope and peace.
So those are my thoughts. I hope you do not mind me sharing them on your blog, but I have been thinking about these things recently and felt like sharing them. 
I ask that you not use my real name. For this subject I have to be careful since there is still a strong stigma against having these issues. Tell someone you have cancer and they will organize the whole Relief Society to bake dinners till the end of time. But tell someone you have bipolar disorder and they go tell the bishop that they are not comfortable with you being their children’s Sunday School teacher.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I know my comments were rather lengthy but I guess it was just something I really felt like sharing.
[For anyone who wants to comment, you can post anonymously in the comments if you do not feel comfortable using your name or email account. Keep in mind that nothing I say should be taken as medical advice. I'm a astrophysicist not a psychiatrist. ;-) I encourage anyone who is experiencing depression/bipolar disorder to seek help from competent medical professionals.]

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mormon, Cumorah, Sihyaj K’ahk’ and the Entrada of 378 AD

The year is 378 AD and Sihyaj K’ahk’ has just seized control of the Petén Basin, the heartland of what we associate with classical Mayan civilization. But Sihyaj K’ahk’ was not a Mayan, he was in fact from Teotihuacan, which is located in the central Mexican highlands where modern day Mexico City stands today. The event which we currently refer to as the Entrada of 378 AD radically altered Mayan culture to the point that much of what we think of as "Mayan" started in 378 AD. Even 40 years later the significance of what happened in 378 AD was still being memorialized in stone and offerings were still being offered more than 250 years later at a shrine commemorating the event. The fact that we know so little about the Entrada is due to Mayan politics hundreds of years later that conveniently forgot about the huge event that made it all possible.

So what does all of this have to do with Mormon and the battle at Cumorah?

In the second half of the 300's there were several large wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites. Mormon outlines the major events of a war that lasted from 360-367 (cf. Mormon 3-4:15). The next and final war lasted from 375-385 (cf. Mormon 4:16-6:5). There some events recorded for which we do not know the year, but in either 378 or 379 the war takes a turn for the worse and many major cities are lost. As we read in the Book of Mormon, in the beginning of the year 385 the Nephites gathered in the land of Cumorah in a final defense and were defeated and hundreds of thousands killed. It would have been an immense moment in history that greatly changed the course of kingdoms and empires around them.

Apparently this major battle happened just seven years after the Entrada. This is significant because the Petén Basin is one of the leading candidates for the location of the Book of Mormon lands. If this was the location of the Book of Mormon lands then what we know as the Entrada happened in the middle of the final war between the Nephites and the Lamanites. But, as I have mentioned before, calendars are funny things, and a year isn't always a year.

If we assume that Mormon was using the standard Mayan long count calendar then a year, as recorded by him, would have been 360 days, rather than the 365(.24) days in a solar year. This means that a date of 385 recorded in the Book of Mormon may not have been 385 AD according to our calendar. If we account for this then 385 years in the Mayan long count would be ~378.5 +/- 1 years in solar years. Thus, assuming there was no mistake in the reckoning of the date, the final battle at Cumorah may have taken place in 378 AD, the exact same year of the Entrada that marks the transition from pre-classic to classical Mayan civilization. If this is the case then the Entrada was a transformative event in more ways than we now realize.

There is much we do not know about the Entrada. Scholars have only been aware of it for about 20 years, but as one scholar put it "the texts say almost nothing about the circumstances surrounding [the Entrada]." We still have much to learn about that period of history and there may be more than a few surprises left to find.