Ep 125 – The Truth-Seeking Brain

Written by on November 9, 2014

Randy, Jake, and Glenn talk about truth-seeking brains, empiricism, naturalism, and the true origin of Arizona’s saguaro cactus.  Sort of.

  1. Craig Keeling   On   November 9, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I agree with Randy on this. It seems to come down to whether people are comfortable or interested in the truth or not.
    Perhaps it would help to couch it in terms of “settling on conclusions” rather than “seeking the truth,” since truth is such a slippery concept.

  2. Wes Cauthers   On   November 10, 2014 at 9:11 am

    So weird to hear my name mentioned as I was listening to this episode.
    Apparently, Glenn thought I might be the survey participant who was “male, 40-49, active, semi-believing, thinks the church is kind of a crock but is a firm Jesus believer…” Well, I am male and a firm Jesus believer, but that’s where the similarities end. I don’t turn 40 for about another week, had my name removed in 1994 and I would actually lean more towards the church being a total crock. Also, it’s been unclear to me who the militant atheists are except for Randy. But thanks for thinking of me, Glenn. 🙂

  3. Devin   On   November 10, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    “Afterlife” is a word inherently claiming meaning. Empiricism is on the behalf of those using the word, like a truth claim. Empiricism and evidence has established there is not such a thing or evidence to suggest such a thing. Those appealing to an “afterlife”, the evidence must be provided by them.
    Agreeing in a debate that we don’t know if there is an afterlife is a false assumption and false premise. Accepting that assumption then places empiricism at a disadvantage.

  4. Devin   On   November 10, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Plus…I was yelling at “truth”being used instead of the word “real”. It’s like panel didn’t get a full appreciation of the “Placebo” podcasts on IOT
    I also love you guys (all of you) unconditionally and non passive-aggressively. 😉

  5. Craig S.   On   November 10, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    This episode was a little weird (understandable, as you said it was just a conversation that wasn’t originally meant to be an episode). But right off the bat, Glenn, I think your introduction from the guy with the truth-seeking brain was a bad idea. Given the conversation that followed, it basically amounted to poisoning the well. Especially given that you took Randy’s personal story about how he felt at a loved one’s funeral and turned it into a quip about how truth-seeking guy was more sad than everyone else and that made him superior. That was a low blow, and it felt kind of gross, to be honest. I think I see what you were going for, that we should be wary of thinking we’re all that because we “found the truth,” but it really rubbed me the wrong way.
    Regarding the conversation itself, you started off mentioning liberal Mormons and talking about that a bit, but I kinda wish you had continued with that subject more than you did. Because I think Randy’s idea that there are some people that care more about truth-seeking than others has a lot of merit, but I think it was getting misapplied a bit here. You were talking a lot about regular orthodox Mormons, and on that I think I agreed more with Glenn and Jake. I think most of them do care a lot about the truth, they just have a screwed up epistemology that they use to determine what the truth is. I was that kind of Mormon. I deeply internalized the stories that Joseph Smith was so intent on finding the truth that he was willing to face persecution his whole life to find it and stick to it (of course, whether those stories accurately represent what Joseph Smith actually did in his life is up for debate, but those were the stories that stuck with me). And that willingness to look for truth no matter the cost led me right out of the church. Before I could get there I had to change the criteria I had for evaluating the truth, but the core desire didn’t change at all when I went from believer to non-believer.
    Going back to the liberal Mormons, I think that is a group that is a much better fit for the whole “don’t care as much about the truth” mindset that Randy was talking about. And I’m really not trying to straw-man anyone here, I’ve had numerous conversations with liberal Mormons who say outright that they don’t care too much whether the claims the church makes are true or not, and they often argue that other people shouldn’t worry so much about that either. For them it’s more about the lived experience of being in the church (some of them will say that’s a kind of truth as well, but in any case it’s not the same thing that you guys are talking about). So I think that is an area that could have been explored more in the podcast.

  6. Boyd   On   November 10, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    How about training and environment though? Example: I grew up watching Sesame Street, and really developed an affection (empathy?) for Gordon and Maria – the Black/Hispanic interracial couple. (I hope I got that right, it’s been a very long time). With that, I was then unable to be down with the fact that blacks or Hispanics were “lesser” people. While I do feel that I have a brain more attuned to empiricism, I’m not able to discount the effect that exposure to new ideas had on it’s wiring.

  7. Craig S.   On   November 10, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Another thought I had about this podcast is that when we talk about matters of spirituality or metaphysics, we tend to give far greater benefit of the doubt, and require far higher standards of disconfirmatory evidence, than we do with just about any other subject in life. Randy made one declarative statement about the afterlife, and Glenn would not let up about it (even after Randy softened the language he was using). But let’s think about this. Would anyone really bat an eye if someone told you “the truth is that you’re not going to win the lottery”? Technically speaking, that statement has a tiny probability of being false, but for all intents and purposes, it’s true. I’m pretty sure that anyone who decided to latch on to the one in a hundred million chance that a given person will win the lottery and use that to argue against making absolutist statements would be seen as tendentious and nitpicky. And that’s with something we know actually happens! We have far less reason to believe that our consciousness continues on after we die, and all sorts of reasons to think that our consciousness is a property of our physical brains, and thus ceases to exist when we die. Saying “we know that our consciousness doesn’t continue after we die” (i.e. “there is no afterlife”) is comparable, empirically speaking, to saying “we know that matter can’t escape from a black hole.” That statement doesn’t have direct empirical evidence, either, but we don’t have any problem with saying it’s true.
    That brings me to my overall point. When Glenn was insisting that Randy modify his language to talking about probability instead of knowledge, I was thinking “But it’s all probability!” Everything we say has some percentage chance that it’s wrong. Absolute certainty doesn’t exist. We can always be wrong, even about the black holes. But that doesn’t mean we have to discard the concept of knowledge or truth. There are all sorts of things that have so much evidence behind them that it would be perverse to say that we can’t claim to know they’re true. But when we talk about metaphysics, a lot of people seem to switch to an almost solipsistic mode of thinking, and say that because we don’t have direct disconfirmatory empirical evidence, we can’t claim any knowledge at all about it. This despite the fact that in many cases the concepts being discussed are not logically coherent or are philosophically ungrounded, and are defined such that it would be impossible to empirically prove or disprove them (that’s a feature, not a bug, apparently). So, please, guys, stop hounding Randy every time he uses language that is perfectly acceptable when talking about mundane things but sounds “absolutist” when it’s referring to something metaphysical or religious. Because chances are good that there’s a double standard being used and you just end up derailing the conversation for no good reason.

  8. Mike B.   On   November 10, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I agree with Randy that there seems to be a difference in brain response to this stuff. I also agree that environment, confirmation bias, and mental gymnastics can be sufficient for some to remain a believer, in spite of the overwhelming evidence against the truth claims of Mormonism.
    The discussion on this podcast is similar, in principle, to many discussions I have had with fellow professional psychologists. Nature vs. Nurture. The reality is, in most cases, nature and nurture both play a roll and it’s almost impossible to quantify which one is more dominant. So, here’s another thought, based on both:
    Like Randy, I was appalled the first time I learned about the ‘blacks and the priesthood’, in spite of been a young TBM. I have always had close friends with varying skin pigmentation and I could not defend the church on this one. Then polygamy and it’s oppressive nature towards women, along with other sexist issues did not settle well with me. As a missionary in Hong Kong, I met a lot of incredible people from all over the world, with numerous different beliefs, cultures, etc. It became painfully apparent that the Mormon God favored Americans, especially white males. This bothered me and yet I remained TBM for many years after.
    I do believe that my brain is wired more to value what is empirically real and also that my environment enabled me to see, as a TBM, that if God is the God of the entire world, then there is no way to justify such an American, white male, centered church claimed to be run by God.
    So, the combination of valuing empirical truths AND feeling empathy for the numerous people in this world that are harmed by the doctrines and practices of Mormonism (because they are not white males from America) just might be the difference between those of us who learn the facts and leave vs. those who stay.

  9. Orrin Dayne   On   November 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Rather than saying some people “don’t want to find the truth,” I would say some people “don’t want to challenge what they understand to be the truth.”
    From most TBMs’ perspective, the finding has been accomplished. There can’t be any refusal to find truth that they’ve already found. Right?
    The issue is that they might not want to know what others have to say because they aren’t interested in challenges to what they understand to be the truth.
    If someone wants to characterize people who aren’t interested in challenging what they believe to be true as not truth-seekers, then so be it. But I wouldn’t say they are consciously deciding not to find the truth because, in their minds, they’ve found the truth and any contrary information is “not helpful.”

      • Orrin Dayne   On   June 21, 2016 at 6:56 pm

        I just re-listened to this episode yesterday on my way through the catalog. The second time around I found myself still sharing’s Glenn’s reservation about the term “truth seeking brain” but finding myself wanting a term that explains the phenomena we all have observed.
        If it’s mostly unconscious, I wonder if there is an emotional/biological component that might be characterized as the propensity to avoid the pain of considering and understanding evidence contrary to one’s deeply held worldview. In other words, one might frame it as “the pain avoiding brain” rather than a “non truth seeking.” Framing it as “pain avoiding” feels a little more compassionate to me, even if the result is the same.

  10. Born again Mike   On   November 10, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
    “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. JOHN 18:37,38

      • Jason   On   November 11, 2014 at 7:18 am

        I think we need a Mike-Off on the podcast. Born-Again Mike vs. Mike Tannehill. Two Mikes enter, one Mike leaves. And then later, the other Mike leaves.

      • Born again Mike   On   November 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm

        In John 14 Jesus tells his boys he is going to prepare a place for them in his fathers house and he was going to come back for them, he told them they knew the way to where he was going, so Thomas spoke up and said “we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way”? Jesus answered and said ” I am the way, the TRUTH and the life , no one comes to the Father except through me” so there is your answer

  11. Randy_Snyder   On   November 10, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    I think what I should have said was that I suspect a personality difference is at play. Of course environmental factors play a large factor and it’s a complicated issue but to use the term “truth-seeking brain” is too simplistic, too loaded and too open to equivocation.

  12. Allison   On   November 11, 2014 at 12:39 am

    When you guys start arguing, I just want to tell you that ALL of you are smart and pretty. 😉
    No, but seriously. I wonder, is “truth seeking” really just about being right versus being wrong? I wonder if I, as a post mormon, have such an aversion to ever being wrong about something so huge again, if I have become more of a truth-seeker than I ever was. I just don’t want to be THAT wrong about something again. It feels awful. But for that to work, I have to save my feelings of truth-knowing for things that I really can know the truth about. But I have years of egotistical “I know THE truth!” self-talk that I am training myself to get over. It feels like a tug of war.
    And I do agree with Glenn on this point–I have noticed myself too easily going into the “I’m totally correct–because them over there, they’re totally wrong” mindset. I need to be more careful about this. Just because I’ve decided that them over there are wrong, doesn’t mean I’m not wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m right either. Right?

    • The Professor   On   November 12, 2014 at 4:01 am

      It’s a really hard thing to do for anyone that can’t stand not having a stable narrative of “the truth.” Some days I wish I could just not question everything, and just swallow the literal tenants of a religion like Mormonism, because it would make my narrative of the world and other things so much simpler (if not totally screwed up, but I wouldn’t really know it if I were TBM, probably).
      But I can’t, and I guess that’s fine because I’m not the only one.
      — Carmen

    • Christian Hawes   On   December 2, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Ouch, but thank you. I think it’s just as much about being afraid to be wrong as it is a love for truth. As a member we kind of got off on being part of the elect and having the truth and now I kind of get a false sense of satisfaction because of how empirical I think I am. Yikes.

  13. Jeremy   On   November 11, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Was it Randy who said that people generally experience some emotional disconnection with the church which is followed by an intellectual deconversion? I think that’s correct. We can compartmentalize our “truth-seeking” ad infinitum unless something happens that causes us to look under the hood, so to speak, and start to question and doubt. That stimulus is different for different people. For some, it’s political ideology. For myself, it was the endless feelings of guilt and unworthiness even when I did nothing wrong. Every month I was supposed to home teach, attend the temple, pay tithing, fast, read scriptures, pray, do genealogy, have home evening, perform service projects, and make sure that everyone else in my quorum was doing the same. And after a perfect month, the slate would get wiped clean and I’d have to start all over again, like Sisyphus pushing the stone up the hill. Since we’re saved by grace “after all we can do,” the grace never kicks in, because we can always do more. Around the age of 35, I paused and realized that something was wrong with always feeling unworthy and anxious. That’s when I began to question the doctrine, and as I tugged at one thread, gradually the whole carpet unraveled.

  14. aerin64   On   November 12, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    It’s a sidebar, but I definitely have relatives that are/were dyed in the wool Democrat and dyed in the wool mormon. Dyed in the wool mormon meaning travelling to temples throughout the country and world, etc. (I feel it’s pretty mormon to go to the temple on vacation, perhaps this is just me).
    It should go without saying that these Democrat mormons are outside of Utah/Idaho/Arizona. I think it’s definitely possible.
    I’m interested in the political studies mentioned – is this just a US phenomenon? Do people react (like the vomit thing) differently with other political parties in other countries? While there may be some correlation between religious belief(s)/politics and even human sympathy – I think the jury is still out.
    Of course, I haven’t exercised my truth seeking brain in making this statement (by researching it myself and looking for references…)

  15. daniel frost   On   January 3, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    Just discovered you guys (I’m also the guy who over shared on your survey and kinda regurgitated my experience as a Mormon in Afghanistan) but just listened to this podcast and am chuckling at the Showlow connection. My last name is Frost, and my Dad was born and raised in Showlow. I think it might have been my Grandad who taught one of you boys to lasso. Not sure if you even read old comments like these, but if you’re interested to know my cowboy grandpa is still alive and kicking. Lives in Tempe now.

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