Thought for the Day- Share What Matters
To Live Freely: Part Seven
I’ve spent several days discussing why we should not deceive others, even when we say we are doing it for their own good. After yesterday’s post I thought I was finished with the matter, but some more thoughts have occurred to me that I would like to get down. Today I want to call out how improbable it is that our lies can be harmless in the long run, and tomorrow I will look at the matter from a more global scale.
The Arrogance of a Lie)
When we lie, we concoct a world that is in some way different from the real one. Most of us think we will get away with a “little, white lie” because we think we are concocting a world that is virtually indistinguishable from the real one. We believe that the person we deceive will still continue along the general path of reality, just with an imperceptible tint slightly coloring their view.
But that is a supremely arrogant assumption. If telling such a lie were even possible, it could only be done by having a perfect understanding of our subject and their context in life. We would have to know what they already know and believe so that our lie would not have any unintended side effects. For example, if our lie was about another person, we would want to know what our subject already thought and felt about that person in great detail, so that our deceit wouldn’t warp the relationship in any way.
We would also require a comprehensive view of our subject’s situation in life to know if our lie, seemingly harmless by itself, might unravel in terrible ways when combined with other factors. Not only this, but we would also need to be prophetic, anticipating all future states that our subject would be in, so that our lie would not become harmful in future situations.
And finally, if this is to be at all moral, we must also know that our subject, if made aware of this intended deception, would willingly choose to have it administered to them. Obviously we cannot ask them that, but we have to somehow know for certain that this is what they would choose. For even if you did believe that it was genuinely good for this person to be deceived, everyone should still have the right to embrace hard truths if that is what they choose.
Of course, none of us know all of these things when we set out to deceive another. As such, we are not at all sure whether telling them this lie is good for them or not. If we could be honest about our deceit, we would admit that it really isn’t about doing what is best for them at all. It is about what is doing what is best for ourselves. We are trying to moderate and manage another person’s experiences in a way that is more pleasant for us to deal with. It is, put simply, entirely selfish.
When we tell another person a lie, what we are really doing is gambling with their safety and their happiness. We are putting their heart on the line, rolling the dice, and hoping for our desired outcome. We hope that we won’t hurt the other person, we tell ourselves that that won’t happen, but we create the very real possibility that it might happen. That is our exposure, that is what is on the table to lose, and we are deliberately making a decision to accept that. And what’s more, with every lie we are stacking the odds higher and higher against the person’s happiness, but most of us still continue rolling the dice for as long as we possibly can.
Gambling with just money is morally questionable enough, certainly there can never be any justification for doing so with another person’s heart. No matter what sort of justification you might have for your lie, it should be abundantly clear that it is still immoral. Even if the odds of success were far in our favor, it would still be fundamentally immoral.
As I’ve explained above, we have nowhere near the perspective or the intelligence for even half decent odds of success. It’s impossible to know what the chances really are, but in my experience, virtually every lie gets undone eventually. The house always wins sooner or later, but we’re stupid and arrogant enough to think that we’re the ones in charge. We are totally, unjustifiably confident, and so much so that we’re betting with the most valuable commodity that we can. Is there any more obvious a recipe for failure?
To Live Freely: Part Three
Propositions and Predicates)
I have explained the necessity of adhering to physical truths in the field of aviation. In order to overcome the forces of gravity and air resistance, great minds had to search out the realities of the physical world and build machines that would act in accordance with them. Today I’d like to consider another example of this in the world of logic. This time we won’t just consider the usefulness of truth, though, but also the chaos of untruth.
There is a concept in mathematics called propositional and predicate logic. In this system, propositions are statements of truth, such as George is Abe’s father, Steven is George’s father, and Marcus is not Abe’s brother. These are simple facts that contain a single piece of valid information. Then there are predicates, which are rules for how these propositions can be combined to reveal entirely new truths. For example, we might have a predicate that if A is the father of B, and B is the father of C, then A is the grandfather of C. Given our initial propositions, we can derive that George is Abe’s Grandfather, a fact that wasn’t in the original set of information.
This might not seem that useful, but once we expand our set of propositions and predicates to thousands of items there are literally millions of implied facts that a computer can derive from, something that our brains simply don’t have the capacity to process. Our modern-day databases are built upon this system of logic, allowing a large dataset to have its parts combined in a multitude of ways, revealing hidden patterns and trends, secrets and truths that were hiding in plain sight.
Let’s build expand on our example of a family tree to see this process more clearly. Suppose we have the following propositions and predicates (feel free to skim over these):
Propositions: #1 George is Abe's Father #2 Susan is George's wife #3 Penny is Susan's daughter #4 Penny is Abe's sibling #5 Helen is George's sister #6 Gabe is Marcus's father #7 Steven is Marcus's maternal grandfather #8 Agnes is Helen's mother #9 Steven is Agnes's husband #10 Howard is Susan's father #11 Jill is Susan's mother Predicates: #1 If A is the father/mother of B, and B is the father of C, A is the grandfather of C #2 If A is the father/mother of B, and B is the mother of C, A is the grandmother of C #3 If B is a parent of A, and C is the husband/wife of B, then C is also a parent of A #4 If A is the father/mother of B, and C is the other parent of B, then A is the mother/father #5 If A is the father of B, and C is the mother of C, then A is B's husband and B is A's wife #6 If A is the child of B, and C is the child of B, then A and C are siblings #7 If A is the maternal grandfather of B, and B's mother is C, then A is the father of B #8 If A is the sister of B, and B is the parent of C, A is the aunt of C #9 If A is the child of B, and B is the aunt/uncle of C, A is C's cousin #10 A cousin is not a sibling #11 A mother is not a father
Given this setup, we could piece together the following family tree:
This tree is a visual representation of all the separate facts we get by combining all of our initial information. We can ask our system any number of questions, even ones that go beyond the scope of the original data set, and it can derive answers for them. It will answer yes, no, or uncertain, and so long as our propositions and predicates are all correct, then we can know that any derived answer is also correct. This data is a source of truth because it is based on logically sound principles.
But what if all of our propositions and predicates are all correct…except one? What if among all the truth facts and rules we include just one falsehood? It might occur to you that this would tarnish our confidence in the system, because there would always be a possibility that the answer it gave to us was that one lie. But actually, the effect is far, far worse. It has been proven that introducing just one logical falsehood into a system such as this will make any possible lie seem true. It won’t just be one lie that comes out of the system, it will be all lies. That might seem improbable, but allow me to illustrate.
To the system up above I will introduce one logical falsehood. Given the previously established rules, it is impossible for this to be the case, but I am going to enter it as a fact even so:
Susan is Abe's father
This statement is completely contrary to the logic of Predicate #11, but we add it to our system regardless. This creates a logical contradiction, and now let us look at all the new falsehoods we are able to infer from it. By Predicate #4 we can infer that since since Susan is Abe’s father, then Abe’s other parent, George, must be his mother.
Of course, we previously had derived that Steven and Agnes were Abe’s paternal grandparents, because they are George’s parents. But now that we know that George is Abe’s mother, then they must also be his maternal grandparents. By the same token, Howard and Jill are now no longer only Abe’s maternal grandparents but also his paternal.
Of course, now that we know that Howard is Abe’s paternal grandfather we can combine that with the already-known fact that Agnes is his paternal grandmother, and we can now infer that they are married together, something we never knew before! And by the same token, Steven and Jill are now also married together. Thus all the grandparents are intermarried in some sort of free-love commune! This does have the unfortunate effect of making George and Susan, Abe’s parents, siblings to one another in addition to still being husband and wife! Furthermore, since Abe’s parents are also siblings, then his sister Penny is also his cousin because her mother is the sister of Abe’s father (and her father is the brother of Abe’s mother).
But we aren’t even really going yet! We still haven’t invoked the powers of NOT and ELIMINATION. First let’s consider the NOT. Predicate #10 stated that a cousin is NOT a sibling, and Predicate #11 that a mother is NOT a father. So, since we just proved that Penny is Abe’s cousin, then she is NOT his sibling. Of course, she also is his sibling, since Proposition #4 explicitly says so. Thus, she is his sibling, and she is not. These are both totally valid answers in the eyes of our data set. And Abe’s parents George is his father and Susan is his mother, but also, they are not. And his grandparents are his grandparents, but also, they are not.
And now that we’ve shown that we can prove that the exact same relationship can and cannot exist simultaneously, by ELIMATION we can also prove that every relationship can and cannot exist. So, from the initial data set we know that Abe has a sibling. But who is it? Well, we can go through each member of his family and prove that they are not that sibling. So, let’s do that for every family member except one, Steven, and now we know, by process of elimination, that Steven must be the one who is Abe’s sibling. And by the same process we can prove by process of elimination that it is Agnes, and Howard, and Gabe, and Helen, and George, and Susan, and Marcus. And by the same process they are all his father, and all his mother, and all his aunt, and all his uncle, and all his cousin, and all his grandfather, and all his grandmother.
I’m not going to try to show the family tree at this point, because it is simply all names connected to all other names in every possible way. But also…all names connected to none of the others. Every statement is true. Every statement is false.
Our data set was useful at one point. It was full of true statements, and it could be used to infer many other true statements. But now, after a single lie the entire thing has been corrupted. The only answer it has to provide are “yes, no, maybe, I don’t know…I guess it depends on how you look at it.” It has lost all confidence and isn’t useful for anything.
And sure, this is a rigorous and mathematical system, which is particularly prone to collapsing at the slightest instability. The system in our minds is far more nuanced, able to continue functioning with illogical assumptions and idiosyncrasies…but only to an extent. The same principle does apply to us to at least some degree. Adopt the wrong belief and suddenly every other concrete conviction starts to be undermined by it. People start going through logical acrobatics to try and make incompatible beliefs fit together, corrupting all that was once good and losing the certainty they once had. We cannot accept a lie without somewhat losing our grip on all truth.
The Trouble with Statistics in Recovery: Part One
In addiction recovery it is natural to wonder what one’s chance of success is. If you’re like me, then shortly after you start a program, you’ll be googling something like “what percent of addicts relapse?” I’ll just tell you right now, the results are not encouraging. Depending on your personal flavor of addiction, your chance of never slipping again might be as low as the single digits. This can be a very discouraging realization, both for the addict and for any loved ones that are involved. It can be enough to make one feel that “once an addict, always an addict.”
But I am here to tell you that statistics like these are next to useless when it comes to predicting what your personal story will be. Something about them rang false to me when I first started recovery, and after walking the journey for several years, I gradually came to understand the reasons why.
Statistics of Uncertainty)
Let’s suppose I hold out a coin in front of you, heads-up, and ask you what the chances are that it is heads-up.
“Well it is heads-up,” you might say. “So 100%.”
“But there are two sides, aren’t there? So isn’t it a 50/50 chance?”
“No, I can see it. It’s 100% heads-up, and 0% tails.”
And you’d be right.
Now suppose I cover the coin with my other hand, but I do not rotate it. Still 100% heads?
“Of course,” you say, “it may be covered, but I still know what state it is in. 100% heads up.”
But now suppose I call our friend in, I show him my closed hands, and I tell him there is a coin underneath. I ask him what is the chance that it is heads.
“50%” he says, “and 50% tails.”
And he is right. But you still know it is 100% heads and you are also right.
You are both right because when we talk percentages and statistics we are not talking about the actual state of the coin, we are talking about the state of our own uncertainty. With your inside knowledge you are 100% certain of what the coin is and our friend, without that knowledge, is 50% certain. The numbers you give represent a state of your own selves and not the coin.
And what of the coin? It just is what it is. It isn’t 25% something, or 50%, or even 100%. It just is heads-up or it isn’t, and no matter of ignorant guessing is going to change what it is, even when that guessing is based on statistically sound principles. And not only is the coin what it is, it is also going to be what it is going to be. The mystery and uncertainty of what a flipping coin will land on is only a side-effect of how we view only a narrow slice of time, moving forward at a gradual rate.
The Statistics of You)
And as much as the coin just is what it is, you just are what you are, too. And as much as the coin is just going to be what it is going to be, you are just going to be what you are going to be as well. When you decide to go to recovery, you don’t split off a hundred separate universes and spin a cosmic roulette wheel, hoping it lands on one of the ten realities where you happen to stay sober. When you decide to go to recovery you just are going to see it through, or you just aren’t.
Outsiders may remain uncertain of whether you will maintain sobriety or not. They are ignorant of your inner state, so the best they can do is estimate your chances as a percentage. But you are not an ignorant outsider. You know what your state is and what it isn’t. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably already know whether you’re going to be acting out later this week or not.
The reason why the statistics didn’t feel like an appropriate fit to me when I started recovery was because I knew my own state. Outsiders didn’t know, but I did. I knew some of my group were only there because their wives made them come, but I wasn’t. I knew some were just going through the motions, but I wasn’t. I knew I was going to faithfully be at my recovery group every Tuesday night, and I knew that I was going to be doing my recovery work every other night of the week. I knew that my commitment was real, and I knew that my intentions were serious.
Now you may not be so certain of yourself over the next month and year and decade, but it is possible to be certain of the now. And unlike flipping a coin multiple times, your behavior in the future is affected your behavior in the past. What you choose today weights you more towards one side for the next day. If you are certain of sobriety today, and you follow through with that, then you will be that much more likely of sobriety tomorrow as well.
The Scope of Statistics)
Statistics have their place in the world. They help in defining the probabilities of what is unknowable, and they are useful for modelling large groups. But you are knowable, at least to yourself, and you are an individual, not a group. We’ve spoken to the first of those points today and we’ll examine the other one tomorrow.
Never forget the wonderful fact that you are a person who has free will. You get to choose. You are not a spinning roulette wheel. You are the card that draws itself, and the coin that turns itself. You get to decide your own outcome.
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:29-32
29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: 30 And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; 31 And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. 32 And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.
Joseph explains the message of the dream in plain terms. Seven years of plenty, immediately followed by seven years of famine. Twice Joseph stresses that the dearth will far surpass the plenty, such that all who are caught within the famine will not even regard the good years any more.
Verse 32 further confirms my theory that the river and the stalk, from which both plenty and famine emerge, are representative of God Himself. I do not believe that every hardship we experience in life is by the hand of God, some tragedies are just the natural result of living in a fallen world. Some trials are authored by the Almighty, though, and the famine is one of these.
It is important to note that God does not only send the famine, though, He also precedes it with years of plenty, by which one could save up and survive the deprivation. That is, they could if they knew to do so, and so it is also important to note that God sent the knowledge beforehand as well. He did not send that knowledge to just any man, either, He sent it to Pharaoh, the single most powerful person in all the country, a man who could really do something about it.
Thus God sends the trial, the solution, and the knowledge. All the tools are there, one has only to pick them up and use them. Of course picking up the tools and using them requires one to have faith that what God has said will be will actually be. They must take Him at His word and trust in His plan. So whatever else God meant to accomplish with this trial, at the very least He was teaching His children in Egypt that they lived by dependence on Him.
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 2:8-9
8 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Note that the presence of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden was no coincidence. God adorned the grounds with all manner of plants: trees that were lovely to look at, trees to provide the food man needed to live, and even a tree that gave immortality. But He also intentionally added this one other tree, one that would enable mankind to fundamentally change his state from innocence to being able to perceive evil.
At times I have wondered what the nature of this tree was that it would give knowledge of good and evil. The thought occurs to me that just by God forbidding the eating of that tree it would already qualify as a tree of knowledge of good and evil, for now it could not be eaten except by an act of disobedience, which would necessarily break one’s innocence, which would bring them face-to-face with guilt and consequences. Had God instead commanded Adam to not lift a particular rock then we could just as easily be talking about the rock of knowledge of good and evil.
However this tree has the title of “knowledge of good and evil” even before God forbade the eating of it. That seems to suggest there was something inherent in its nature that God was steering Adam and Eve away from, just as He gives us commandments today to keep us from inherently harmful behavior.
But maybe these questions don’t matter, though. What is more pertinent to me is that this tree is an allegory for the breaking of innocence in my own life. I have had my own trees of knowledge of good and evil, like that time I colored red crayon on the carpet and found myself facing negative consequences on the one hand or the temptation to lie about it on the other. It was an opportunity planted in my life, able to bring me to a knowledge of both good and evil. And like Adam and Eve, I gave in to the temptation, I lied about the mess, and I entered a more fallen world as a result.
Discussing Spiritual Differences- Summary
The idea of how to share the gospel message with others has been a recurring theme on this blog. I guess I have many questions about how to negotiate that intersection of living a godly life and living as a cooperative member of society.
Wanting to share the gospel in a socially kind way isn’t only about avoiding unpleasant tension, it is also essential to presenting your message in the light that was always intended to accompany it. You simply do not become a good missionary without first learning how to be a good brother or sister to your fellowman.
This study helped me to reiterate some of the ideas I’ve had on the subject before and also gave rise to some new ones. Here are some of the core concepts that stood out to me from my research.
Come to Your Own Knowledge)
First and foremost, you cannot properly testify of what you do not personally know. Testimonies that come from a place of “or so I’ve been told” are unhelpful to everyone involved. A testimony is not what you think and it’s certainly not what you’ve been told, it is what you have come to actually gain a knowledge of for your own self.
But most of us are terrified by the idea of admitting when we do not know something. Everyone has an answer to every moral question, even when they haven’t given the matter any prior thought. And I know that this game of pretended knowledge occurs because I have played it myself. I have spoken as if I had a sure confidence when I really didn’t. And I have seen enough to know I am not the only one that has done so. There are pretenders everywhere.
And there is no point in considering the question of how to testify of good and renounce evil unless we have first come to truly know what is right. To be able to testify with power you must be able to testify with confidence. You have to be able to believe your own words before you can expect anyone else to. And if you don’t really know what you’re talking about, then set aside the question of testifying for a time and focus instead on just coming to really, really know.
Matthew 15:14- Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Alma 32:34- And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
Wake Up the World)
But bit-by-bit one can come to know what they’re talking about. Not all at once, not the entire whole as a single piece, but gradually one can come to be sure that faith yields fruit, that repentance yields cleansing, that sacrifice yields humility, and that following God yields true happiness. Even before one can testify of all things they are able to testify of some.
And not only are they able to testify, they must! For there is already such false confidence given to hurtful philosophies that many men and women are left confused and derailed. When one awakens to the truth one sees how much untruth is being championed as fact. And untruth actively causes harm, it is sure to hurt the lives of those that abide by it.
One cannot idly sit back when these realities become apparent. We must try to help those in harm’s way, even if it means speaking with such boldness that some will become angry at us. We are compelled to renounce the lies and champion the truth. Not because we wish to condemn our brothers and sisters who are deluded, but because we love them and we want to help them.
Matthew 5:14- Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid
Acts 4:29-30- And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.
Ever an Invitation)
We are meant to preach with boldness, we are meant to renounce sin without reservation, we are meant to speak of absolute truth in absolute terms. Our words and our example should testify of the truth with such weight that those who hear it cannot help but be moved. Moved to say to themselves “well I had better find out for myself on this matter.” Truth testified boldly has that effect: to compel the hearer to come to their own knowledge. It inspires men and women to find their own surety.
But…though we seek to be bold, to compel, and to inspire, in none of these ambitions is there justification for trying to force. I can make clear my own convictions, but I must never try to make your own convictions for you. This gospel is one of invitation. The message should be given in a very clear and powerful manner, but then it must be left to the hearer what they will do with it.
And some will choose to do nothing with that message and some of them will choose to fight against it, and we must accept and allow that. Though we seek to make the world a better place, we know that it can only be better when people are able to choose it for themselves.
2 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.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:41- No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
Optimism in a Falling World- Moroni 7:40-42
And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? If a man have faith he must needs have hope
In my previous post I spoke of the need for faith, and how it is to be exercised before we even see the path to success. Faith is not founded upon knowledge. As these verses suggest, it is founded upon hope. For while we may not know how good will triumph over evil and a lost soul will be saved, to act in faith we must hope that these things can and will happen. God does not unveil to us His master plan, but He often does show us a corner of it, enough so that we can have hope in the rest.
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal
And as with my last post, our hope is not meant to be founded upon anything earthly or mortal. Frankly what makes us believe in the salvation of mankind is not what we see in mankind, only what we see in God.
This verse speaks of having hope in the atonement and the resurrection, in being brought from this fallen state to one of eternal life. And first of all we are meant to have that hope of reclamation for ourselves. Then, when we feel the reality of it, we are meant to have that hope for all our fellow man as well. For if I was once able to be so lost, yet was found, then these others are not beyond hope either.
A Surety of Truth- 1 Corinthians 13:13, Luke 22:32
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen they brethren.
When thou art converted
Yesterday I shared an example from the life of Peter where he was commended for having a testimony of Jesus’s status as the Christ. And yet, while he had this knowledge directly from God, he would later deny the Savior three times in a moment of fear. Though he had a testimony, Jesus still stressed Peter’s need to be more fully converted.
And so it is with each of us. Even after we obtain our first witness from God we still need to become more fully converted.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face
Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known
And perhaps we don’t attain a perfect knowledge for every matter of the gospel in this life. Perhaps some testimonies must wait until we see God face-to-face on the other side of the veil.
And perhaps we only attain moments of pure knowledge, brief experiences where we know the reality of God and His love for us, but then, like holding water in our hands, the experience fades and we have to ask Him to remind us again.
Perfect knowledge is an ever-evasive goal, yet still we strive for it, because just by making the effort we better ourselves every day.