Following the Sprit and Echolocation

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JohnW
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Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by JohnW »

I received a couple comments in another thread wondering if people just make up their relationship with God, and if it isn't all just in our heads. I agree that I sometimes worry about this. This exchange reminded me on an analogy I have used elsewhere which may be applicable to our relationship with God. I figured it deserved a new thread.

For me, following the spirit is often an extremely frustrating endeavor. I am a highly logical and rationally-minded person who, if you ask my wife, isn't very emotionally self-aware. I almost never "feel" the spirit—like literally maybe once or twice a year. Maybe a little more often while I was bishop, but not much more. And even then, it was difficult for me to know whether I was feeling the spirit or just empathizing deeply with the struggling person whom I was trying to help. (Empathizing is another thing I'm not great at). I used to tell people while I was bishop that I almost never felt the spirit. I think that was disconcerting for some and validating for others. Of course, I personally think I've sort of figured out how to follow the spirit, at least at the amateur level. Being bishop gave me lots of practice, even if it was still frustrating.

Anyway, sometime during all that practice, I came up with an analogy to following the spirit that describes my experience extremely well. For me, following the spirit is something like echolocation. In humans, echolocation is found primarily when blind people use clicks of the tongue or taps of a cane to gain some spatial information of their surroundings by listening to the reflections of those sound waves. I've been told expert echolocators can navigate a simple obstacle course using this technique. This isn't just for blind people. They just have much more opportunity to practice than most. Anyone can use echolocation at a very basic level. Put your face close to a wall, close your eyes, and make some clicking sounds with your tongue. Move your face away from the wall and make the same sounds. You should notice a difference. This isn't some new sixth sense, it is just using your current senses in a new way.

When following the spirit, some people seem to be especially adept. My wife is like this. She is the equivalent of a spiritual bat (although I haven't dared say that to her face). When she is navigating her complex spiritual obstacle course with ease, my response is something along the lines of, "No way! You had to have been peeking." Meanwhile, if my spiritual obstacle course consisted of only one small box in an entire warehouse, I would somehow find it and trip over it . . . multiple times.

I just wasn't born with any natural ability to follow the spirit. It seems as foreign to me as echolocation, often to the point of disbelief that any of it even exists. When I was in graduate school, I almost became an atheist. I still remember exactly where I was, walking through a field on campus, when I decided to give God one more year, even though I felt like he had failed me over and over. After that year, things were almost imperceptibly better, so I decided to give him one more year, and then another, and another. I'm forever grateful that I somehow was able to muster enough faith to continue on.

Now I feel like I sorta, kinda get it. Yes, I'm still at the amateur level. I still almost never feel the spirit. It tends to come in the form of an idea or an epiphany. This has its own set of challenges, but I'm experienced enough now to work thorough those challenges without giving up.

Anyway, (sorry for the length) back to the topic of the beginning of the post. I think my relationship with God is very similar to this relationship with the spirit. Building a relationship with God was not a natural thing for me, hence the almost-atheism. It has taken many years of painfully slow progress, trying my best to carefully follow the church's guidance, while recognizing I had to adapt that guidance to my own specific situation. It came as a bit of a surprise when it somehow began to work. I somehow ended up with a relationship with God. Yes, it is sometimes a shaky relationship, but a relationship nonetheless. Do I still wonder if it is all just made up in my head? Yeah, on my worst days I definitely wonder that. But I also wonder if echolocation feels the same way, especially after tripping over a box. Does the blind person first learning this skill wonder if it isn't all just in his head? I can only imagine what sudden blindness would feel like and how frustrating learning echolocation would be. When you are in crisis mode, I can only assume you will try anything. That is why we see a lot of people begin their spiritual journey during a crisis. Their crisis may not be as traumatic as sudden blindness, although I would argue it can often be more traumatic, but there are some similarities. We don't all of a sudden become more spiritual during trials, but we certainly get many more opportunities to practice. Some people just seem to be naturally spiritual. For the rest of us, it is a long, frustrating process. At some point during that process, it can be a little surprising, and even just plain weird, when we being to "see" with our spiritual eyes.
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by Marcus »

...Do I still wonder if it is all just made up in my head? Yeah, on my worst days I definitely wonder that. But I also wonder if echolocation feels the same way, especially after tripping over a box. Does the blind person first learning this skill wonder if it isn't all just in his head?
Only until they receive feedback in the form of real world experiences. There is no going back once you legitimately learn that something you are experiencing is real, and that it is something that actually exists outside of your feelings.

"Following the spirit" isn't real, in my opinion, hence the continuing concern, possibly even for a lifetime, that this is "all just made up" in your head. That constant unease seems like a rough way to live.
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by drumdude »

I really like this metaphor about following a 6th sense, but I have a few reservations stemming from my similar logical and rationally-minded predelection.

I think a similar argument could be made for water-dousing. Water dousers say that they experience something like a 6th sense, some force that is moving the rods they are holding towards water. Daniel Peterson describes dowsing similarly to how you describe following the spirit:
Many years ago, perhaps before I was married, I was in the offices of the family construction business. My brother suddenly came out of his office and handed me two metal rods, each something like the thickness of a relatively heavy metal clothes hanger. They were maybe 2.5 feet long (perhaps slightly more) and perfectly straight, except that roughly six inches of each were bent at a right angle.

He told me to hold them loosely in my hands, gripping the short portions but allowing them some “play,” and to walk slowly across the reception area. I did so, holding them parallel in front of me. At a certain place, they crossed. And then, as I continued on, they fell apart again.

I was quite confident that I was not responsible for the movement in the rods. So I walked across the reception area again. And again. And again. Each time, the rods crossed at the same place in the room.

So I had the secretaries do it, too. And a guest who came into the office while I was there. And the mailman, when he came.

In each case, the rods crossed at that same location in the room.

Only once did this fail to occur. That was in the case of our mechanic, Red Faler, a massive bear of a man who, I suspect, held the rods too tightly in his huge hands to allow them to move freely.

I asked my brother for an explanation. He told me that there was a water pipe under the floor at the place where the rods crossed. “Ah,” I said, “so it’s magnetism.” No, he responded. It was a clay pipe.

This seemed to me a clear case of water witching, or divining, or “dowsing.” I had read about such things.

I found the experience — I find the experience — quite troubling. It didn’t fit my worldview. It still doesn’t.

I’ve mentioned this story publicly a few times, and it has drawn considerable scorn down upon me (in certain entirely predictable quarters) for my allegedly superstitious gullibility with regard to the “paranormal.”

But I propound no grand theory, I advocate no particular position on water witching, and I have no explanation. I simply say that this happened to me. I can’t deny that it did — and I think that to do so would be both dishonest and, in a very real sense, unscientific. Since that time, I’ve read a little about water witching — not much, but enough to assure me that the statistical, scientific evidence seems powerfully arrayed against the effectiveness of the practice — and I’ve heard a few anecdotes (from people I respect) who report experiences similar to mine. That’s where it stands. On “dowsing,” anyhow.

Here's the part that bothers my logical mind.

I think that Daniel's brother telling him "there's a water pipe under you" is the same as Mormonism telling you "that's the LDS spirit that you're feeling." If I'm Daniel, I want to verify this water detecting 6th sense. I want to test it. I want to lay out a network of water pipes unknown to me, and see if I really have a supernatural ability to find water. You can't hone a 6th sense without some sort of feedback that you're making progress.

Similarly with Mormonism, I want to verify this. There is a definite possibility that Mormonism is false and my time, talent, and treasure is better spent elsewhere. I need a test to be able to tell if I'm honing my 6th sense against something real. But here we run into a problem: how do you verify that these feelings are actually related to Mormonism? You cannot devise an experiment like you can with water dousing. So then, in my opinion, you have to face the fact that this is an unfalsifiable belief. And for me, that was a huge problem. Because I want to believe as many true things as possible, and discard as many false beliefs as possible.
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JohnW
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by JohnW »

I hear you Marcus. Yeah, that is the part that is frustrating to me. There is definitely real-work feedback to the process, in my opinion, but it isn't concrete. I'm not sure what I mean by concrete, but it definitely isn't the same sort of feedback you get from a scientific test. Maybe it is the lack of repeatability or traceability or something along those lines. As for the unease, I don't think spirituality or religion have a monopoly on life situations that provide periodic, or even constant, unease.
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JohnW
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by JohnW »

Drumdude, I see the similarities. That might be where the analogies break down. In echolocation and dowsing, you should be able to run a few double blind tests to see if the phenomena are real. In spirituality, that doesn't happen on any reasonable timescales. The only real test come after years of working with the process, and even then, the outcome of that test is difficult to quantify or describe. Did I become a better person because of this spiritual path? Was it the spiritual efforts that made me the better person, or would I have become better regardless of the spiritual part? Is God now part of my life, or is this some weird mental state I've put myself in by worrying about this topic for so many years? These aren't questions that lend themselves well to quantitative description or examination. Introspection is great in this situation, but then we can potentially fall for our own biases and lenses.

One thing to note is that the analogy isn't exactly testing feelings, it is testing general outcome. This is because it is a combination of the phenomenon of echolocation and a person's skill at the process. If a particular test fails, echolocation could work fine, I'm just bad at it. If a test is successful, maybe I just got lucky. This happens in various other phenomena. Did the pilot crash because of his lack of skill, or was the aircraft faulty? To hazard a scriptural example: when a seed fails to grow properly, was the seed bad or the ground bad or the care bad? Ideally you would test these variables separately, but what about when you can't separate the variables, as may be the case in spirituality?

But I definitely agree. It is frustrating when people attempt to use this type of argument for things I consider a sham (such as dowsing). In scenarios like that, it is relatively easy to just lump in the argument as part of the sham. I personally think this is unfortunate, because the argument can be powerful if not misused (as it so often is).
MG 2.0
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by MG 2.0 »

JohnW wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 2:34 am

I just wasn't born with any natural ability to follow the spirit. It seems as foreign to me as echolocation, often to the point of disbelief that any of it even exists.
I am a natural born skeptic. I too have always struggled with this concept of ‘The Spirit’. What it is, who it is, how it works, is it me, etc. I’ve always had what I refer to as Spiritual Autism. The inability to recognize and feel the Spirit at will. Although I have, periodically, had experiences in which I’ve had difficulty explaining the serendipity associated with certain experiences. Chance? External source?

Possibly the Spirit. And that’s where I choose to give faith a chance.

These experiences, in the main, have almost always occurred when I’ve been in the middle, so to speak, of service within the church in different capacities. And a few times when I have said and done things in regards to my children and my wife. And some times while serving a mission eons ago. Preternatural in comparison with normal experience. Serendipity again? I’m left to choose between the intellect/mind and the supernatural.

Also, I think that Spiritual Autism is more prevalent among those that are cerebral in nature while in the world. My father was a neuroscientist out of UCLA back in the day. I respected alot of his views of seeing the world through neuro-networks and chemical interactions as being the beginning and end all of perception and experience/learning.

But over time I’ve come to think that there is more to it. What that ‘more’ is, is something I struggle with and probably will to the end of my days. I’m willing to give this space of wonder and incomplete understanding to God with the hope that He exists and does take a watch care over His creations and inspire/guide us if we seek Him.

Realizing that one size does not fit all.

Atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists, I believe, receive inspiration when trying to reach greater heights in understanding and knowledge. Being that all knowledge and power theoretically resides in God, humans, in whatever endeavor, receive guidance through what LDS folks call the Light of Christ.

Albeit unknowingly.

As long as we are seeking goodness and love towards others, and reaching towards a greater good, I believe…as Stem said…God is with/in us. Even if in a figurative sense.

But do I know when and if/how that is happening on a day to day basis? No, I don’t know. It’s too hard to tell. At least for me.

Belief, for me, comes more from the cerebral than the spiritual…whatever that is. Not to discount, however, the Spirit’s potential and/or hoped for reality.

The scriptures, of course, play an integral part in all this, that is, choosing faith over doubt. Without them I think we would be left in darkness concerning the things of God.

Regards,
MG
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by MG 2.0 »

JohnW wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 2:34 am
I came up with an analogy to following the spirit that describes my experience extremely well. For me, following the spirit is something like echolocation.
I like your echolocation analogy.

Regards,
MG
drumdude
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by drumdude »

MG 2.0 wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 4:25 am
JohnW wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 2:34 am

I just wasn't born with any natural ability to follow the spirit. It seems as foreign to me as echolocation, often to the point of disbelief that any of it even exists.
I am a natural born skeptic. I too have always struggled with this concept of ‘The Spirit’. What it is, who it is, how it works, is it me, etc. I’ve always had what I refer to as Spiritual Autism. The inability to recognize and feel the Spirit at will. Although I have, periodically, had experiences in which I’ve had difficulty explaining the serendipity associated with certain experiences. Chance? External source?

Possibly the Spirit. And that’s where I choose to give faith a chance.

These experiences, in the main, have almost always occurred when I’ve been in the middle, so to speak, of service within the church in different capacities. And a few times when I have said and done things in regards to my children and my wife. And some times while serving a mission eons ago. Preternatural in comparison with normal experience. Serendipity again? I’m left to choose between the intellect/mind and the supernatural.

Also, I think that Spiritual Autism is more prevalent among those that are cerebral in nature while in the world. My father was a neuroscientist out of UCLA back in the day. I respected alot of his views of seeing the world through neuro-networks and chemical interactions as being the beginning and end all of perception and experience/learning.

But over time I’ve come to think that there is more to it. What that ‘more’ is, is something I struggle with and probably will to the end of my days. I’m willing to give this space of wonder and incomplete understanding to God with the hope that He exists and does take a watch care over His creations and inspire/guide us if we seek Him.

Realizing that one size does not fit all.

Atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists, I believe, receive inspiration when trying to reach greater heights in understanding and knowledge. Being that all knowledge and power theoretically resides in God, humans, in whatever endeavor, receive guidance through what LDS folks call the Light of Christ.

Albeit unknowingly.

As long as we are seeking goodness and love towards others, and reaching towards a greater good, I believe…as Stem said…God is with/in us. Even if in a figurative sense.

But do I know when and if/how that is happening on a day to day basis? No, I don’t know. It’s too hard to tell. At least for me.

Belief, for me, comes more from the cerebral than the spiritual…whatever that is. Not to discount, however, the Spirit’s potential and/or hoped for reality.

The scriptures, of course, play an integral part in all this, that is, choosing faith over doubt. Without them I think we would be left in darkness concerning the things of God.

Regards,
MG
Spiritual autism is an interesting concept. It’s kind of the inverse of the God delusion.

If God and spirituality are real then it’s an apt idea. But if they aren’t then I think spiritual delusion is more fitting.

Unfortunately we won’t know the truth until we’re dead. I think God will have mercy on us autists, after all he created us this way.
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by dastardly stem »

I appreciate the explanation. I'm not sure too much what to make of it. My theory is those who believe in God and say they do so because of what's happening inside them, aren't giving sufficient reason to think there's a God. Additionally somehow that often grows to their religion is true, which is another can of worms to open up. Meaning we might be kind enough to grant someone's internal workings as giving reason to think there's a higher power, but that people tend to take their internal hopes and desires as God telling them their religion is true seems like quite a leap.

If, though, someone's internal workings are simply them deceiving themselves then personal claims of God being in them is really just people elevating their emotions, hopes, desires, and such to God. Nothing more. The data seems to favor that hypothesis over there really is a God hidden to us all but somehow inexplicably pops up in people's desires when they feel really compelled to find him there. It seems to me we're all too prone to confuse ourselves and trick ourselves to think our hopes and desires aren't the driver here. We too easily convince ourselves of silly things.

With that said, i'd say the burden remains on those who believe and it feels too easily mistaken to use the ad populum fallacy (not that anyone has done that). We're all getting God beat into us our whole lives. Even kids raised in atheist homes get it beat upon them from all corners (I know, 'cause I ask my kids). Some try to argue that's just more proof of God, because why else would people accept the info getting beat into them? Or something. I don't find that a balanced perspective.

JohnW, you speak of some people being really good at spiritual things, which comes off too much as people being really good at convincing themselves of something they really want, it seems to me. I can't see how we go from people being good at convincing themselves of what they really want to be true to what they really want to be true is actually true. And given very little if any reason to think they have a point otherwise only widens that huge gap more.

In terms of people who are good at spiritual things I think I see what you mean, I've had tons of people around me tell me they really do know God loves them and wants the best for them and they know it because he makes them feel good or sends them a way to make more money or something. If they have a point, I can only see God as a monster--sitting idly by while people suffer, hoping, as religious teaching often has it, to send many people to eternal tortures, but somehow has time and energy to pop up inside people who are prone to believe what they really want to believe. And somehow the rest of us are supposed to be, what, convinced by that? I'd continue to say if God works that way, then he favors many based on where they are or when they are. I know that fits well with LDS teaching (you are saved to come forth in this last day to...) but to me it's a terrible thought. God is playing games with everyone. Toying with us so he can hurt many and save some. And it appears he saves some so he has someone to love him back. Or something. To me, as hopefully this explains to some extent, the whole idea of God and religion is just terrible. More to the point, though, believers don't have good reasons for their belief, it seems. And that's a pretty big problem.
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
MG 2.0
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Re: Following the Sprit and Echolocation

Post by MG 2.0 »

drumdude wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 6:30 am
MG 2.0 wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 4:25 am


I am a natural born skeptic. I too have always struggled with this concept of ‘The Spirit’. What it is, who it is, how it works, is it me, etc. I’ve always had what I refer to as Spiritual Autism. The inability to recognize and feel the Spirit at will. Although I have, periodically, had experiences in which I’ve had difficulty explaining the serendipity associated with certain experiences. Chance? External source?

Possibly the Spirit. And that’s where I choose to give faith a chance.

These experiences, in the main, have almost always occurred when I’ve been in the middle, so to speak, of service within the church in different capacities. And a few times when I have said and done things in regards to my children and my wife. And some times while serving a mission eons ago. Preternatural in comparison with normal experience. Serendipity again? I’m left to choose between the intellect/mind and the supernatural.

Also, I think that Spiritual Autism is more prevalent among those that are cerebral in nature while in the world. My father was a neuroscientist out of UCLA back in the day. I respected alot of his views of seeing the world through neuro-networks and chemical interactions as being the beginning and end all of perception and experience/learning.

But over time I’ve come to think that there is more to it. What that ‘more’ is, is something I struggle with and probably will to the end of my days. I’m willing to give this space of wonder and incomplete understanding to God with the hope that He exists and does take a watch care over His creations and inspire/guide us if we seek Him.

Realizing that one size does not fit all.

Atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists, I believe, receive inspiration when trying to reach greater heights in understanding and knowledge. Being that all knowledge and power theoretically resides in God, humans, in whatever endeavor, receive guidance through what LDS folks call the Light of Christ.

Albeit unknowingly.

As long as we are seeking goodness and love towards others, and reaching towards a greater good, I believe…as Stem said…God is with/in us. Even if in a figurative sense.

But do I know when and if/how that is happening on a day to day basis? No, I don’t know. It’s too hard to tell. At least for me.

Belief, for me, comes more from the cerebral than the spiritual…whatever that is. Not to discount, however, the Spirit’s potential and/or hoped for reality.

The scriptures, of course, play an integral part in all this, that is, choosing faith over doubt. Without them I think we would be left in darkness concerning the things of God.

Regards,
MG
Spiritual autism is an interesting concept. It’s kind of the inverse of the God delusion.

If God and spirituality are real then it’s an apt idea. But if they aren’t then I think spiritual delusion is more fitting.

Unfortunately we won’t know the truth until we’re dead. I think God will have mercy on us autists, after all he created us this way.
I think it’s more a roll of the dice on the evolutionary path along with whatever we came here with as individual beings/intelligence.

I agree that God will judge our hearts, so to speak.

Regards,
MG
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