Archive for the ‘instinct’ Category

My apologies to any regular Just and True blog readers that are left. This last year has produced a number of events that pulled my attention toward other pressing issues. I now, some fifteen months after the first of several life stretching episodes, feel I have a short respite from the challenges of life before the next onslaught begins.

The topic that has often rested on my mind these last few months has been the way we receive guidance from the heavens. We are taught of a mechanism, given to us, that can be used to receive direction from God; the burning of the bosom (hence the title for this article, my apologies to the Bernie Sanders supporters who may be offended by my use of the tag line) as described in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 9:

7  Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

8  But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

9  But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

Oliver was told to study the problem, form a solution, and then ask God if it is the correct translation. He, unfortunately, appears to have simply opened his mind and waited for the Lord to provide the translated text.  The section has been used often, in a general context, as instruction how we can receive revelation. We are told to ponder the question and formulate a plan which is then presented to the Lord. If it is correct, we can expect to receive a confirmation that is characterized as a warmth in the chest. If our proposal is not aligned with what God would have us do, we should expect to have our thoughts mangled.

Does the gift of being a translator, as Oliver aspired to, something that we are all considered recipients? Consider what Ammon taught of seership found in Mosiah, chapter 6:

13  Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God.  And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish.  And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.

We do not have our own set of interpreters and it isn’t clear whether Oliver employed the Urim and Thummin in his attempt to translate, although the device was available in April, 1829 after the loss of the 116 page manuscript. We read here that anyone who used them lacking a commandment would perish but permission of the Lord was given to Oliver.

I would suggest that the attempt at seership by Oliver Cowdery may not constitute an appropriate mechanism of communication for non-seers. With that said, let’s at least consider the topic in the context of our implied common spiritual worldview

Dallin H. Oaks, in the March 1997 Ensign, described what he considered as revelation:

What does a “burning in the bosom” mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.

The burning in the bosom is characterized as a feeling of comfort and serenity by this apostle. I do have some anxiety in presenting the idea of ‘burning’ fitting the description but that does seem to be the prevailing wisdom.

In the June 2014 issue of the New Era, a similar message was presented. In an article entitled “What If I Don’t Feel a Burning in the Bosom,” Rachel Nielsen wrote:

If you’ve never felt a burning in the bosom, don’t worry. There are many people who recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost in this way, but He also speaks in many other ways too, and you don’t have to feel a burning in the bosom to feel His presence. In fact, as you learn the ways the Holy Ghost inspires you and look for them in your life, you may find that He is communicating with you more than you realized.

“The spirit of revelation typically functions as thoughts and feelings that come into our minds and hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See D&C 8:1–2100:5–8.)”2 The Holy Ghost can speak to you through:

  • Feelings of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faith, meekness (see Galatians 5:22–23).
  • Thoughts that occupy the mind or press on your feelings (see D&C 128:1).
  • A desire to do good and obey the commandments (see Mosiah 5:2).
  • A feeling that something is right (see D&C 9:8).
  • Feelings of comfort (see John 14:26).
  • Feelings that “enlarge [your] soul” (Alma 32:28).
  • Thoughts that “enlighten [your] understanding” (Alma 32:28).
  • A hunger for more truth (see Alma 32:28).
  • Feeling constrained (encouraged) to take an action or restrained (held back) from doing something (see 1 Nephi 7:152 Nephi 32:7).

While the author, in this statement, doesn’t eliminate the opportunity to experience a fire in the bosom, it is suggested that feelings of peace, a desire to do good and a feeling that enlarges your soul are characteristic of the communication with the Holy Ghost.

I would note that the above reference to a ‘desire to do good and obey the commandments’ contains a link to Mosiah 5:2 speaking of the people of King Benjamin at the time of their remission of sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Does this suggest, in the mind of the above author, that the baptism fire is an example of the burning in the bosom? I would certainly assert that there is a distinction between the communication of the Holy Ghost and the baptism of fire but it should be included in the list. Does the communication of the Holy Spirit as we exercise the faith to believe constitute an example as found in Alma, chapter 32? Yes, of course.

In my feeble mind, however, this begs the question: How does one draw the distinction between the guidance of the Holy Ghost, something that is only conferred upon righteous members of the church and the ‘light of Christ’ that is available to all?

According to the Bible Dictionary:

The light of Christ is just what the words imply: enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (D&C 93:2; see John 1:9). The light of Christ fills the “immensity of space” and is the means by which Christ is able to be “in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” It “giveth life to all things” and is “the law by which all things are governed.” It is also “the light that quickeneth” man’s understanding (see D&C 88:6–13, 41). In this manner, the light of Christ is related to man’s conscience and tells him right from wrong (Moro. 7:12–19).

The light of Christ should not be confused with the personage of the Holy Ghost, for the light of Christ is not a personage at all. Its influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost. The light of Christ will lead the honest soul who “hearkeneth to the voice” to find the true gospel and the true Church and thereby receive the Holy Ghost (see D&C 84:46–48).

Here the light of Christ is characterized by some of the same descriptors as the revelation associated with the burning in the bosom, including enlightenment and the feelings of an uplifting and ennobling influence. The New Era article referenced the Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, with this description:

How do we recognize the promptings of the Spirit? I don’t think that’s too difficult, really. … Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God. If it is dark, sinister, ugly, not good, then you may know that it is of the adversary.

Similarly, President Hinckley’s message suggests that the Spirit of God engenders feelings encouraging us to do good, of doing the right things, of loving and supporting one another. This suggests a somewhat murky line between the light of Christ given to all and the Holy Spirit suggested as a gift only to members. Is a feeling of peace or a desire to do good related to the light of Christ or a revelation through the Holy Ghost?

Recent physiological research also adds to the complexity of understandings the communications with the Spirit discussed here. Jonathan Haidt coined the term ‘elevation’ to describe the uplifting feeling when witnessing acts of kindness. Here is his description from a 2009 research paper coauthored with Sara B. Algoe entitled ‘Witnessing excellence in action: the ‘other-praising’ emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration

“Elevation is elicited by acts of charity, gratitude, fidelity, generosity, or any other strong display of virtue. It leads to distinctive physical feelings; a feeling of ‘dilation’ or opening in the chest, combined with the feeling that one has been uplifted or ‘elevated’ in some way. It gives rise to a specific motivation or action tendency: emulation, the desire ‘of doing charitable and grateful acts also.’ It is the opposite of the disgust reaction towards vice. In sum, elevation is a response to acts of moral beauty in which we feel as though we have become (for a moment) less selfish, and we want to act accordingly”.

The event of elevation is characterized by feelings of a physical nature including a swelling of the chest and incites one to join in doing charitable acts.  In another paper published in 2001 entitled Elevation and the Positive Psychology of Morality, Haidt added more to this aspect:

“In the Japanese interviews, as in the Indian interviews, the same elements are conjoined; the perception of compassionate or courageous behavior by others causes a pleasurable physical feeling in the chest of movement, warmth, or opening, coupled with a desire to engage in virtuous action oneself.”

Here Haidt characterized this feeling of elevation with some of the same descriptors as could be applied to the burning of the bosom and other spiritual manifestations I have discussed earlier. In my opinion, his description fits reasonably nicely with both the light of Christ and the experience those who are confirmed members of the Church. They all suggest the experience a feeling of uplift, a feeling of warmth in the chest, a desire to act with charity and do good.

Are we possibly conflating the gift of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost conferred upon members of the Church with the innate response to seeing good, or hearing an inspiring talk recently coined as ‘elevation?’ What is this thing called revelation? How does one communicate with the heavens?

There have been only a handful of cases in my life that I can honestly say were of the caliber of a ‘revelation.’ They could not all be characterized as presenting a question to the Lord and waiting for a confirmation. They were times when I heard what I could best describe as a voice that spoke words that revealed a course of action.

I am reminded of the description in 2 Nephi discussing the doctrine of Christ in chapter 32:

2  Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels?  And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

3  Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.  Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

4  Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

5  For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

These words were recorded after the description where the baptism of water followed by the  baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost was pictured as the gate to the strait and narrow path. We were told to follow the example of our Savior and be baptized, both with water and with the spirit. This gift described above is a result of employing the doctrine of Christ in our individual lives.

Could the ability to speak with the tongue of angels be the ability to hear and understand angelic discourse? We are told here to feast on the words of Christ that are spoken by angels. We are encouraged to trust in these words as they will tell us all things that we should do. Is that not what revelation should be?

We are all blessed with an innate desire to seek after things that are lovely and of good report. We may call this revelation or the light of Christ but, in the end, we need to seek after the discourse of angels and receive the words of Christ that they have to offer.

What think ye?

I am going to diverge from my usual discussion items relating to doctrines in this post. I want to spend some time rehearsing some of my thoughts on genetics and the human soul. I have a son who is finishing his PhD in Molecular Biology at Berkeley. I have been ‘forced’ to educate myself on the topic so as to be conversant with him on his research and studies.

First, please understand that I am by training a computer engineer so this relieves me of any claim of expertise in my presentation on the topic. Here is some base information on the topic. The human genome is made up of 3.2 billion base pairs. These base pairs are made up of four different sugar and phosphate-based molecules which have been identified as adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G). As you may know, DNA is represented by a twisted ladder with pairs of these ‘chemicals’ loosely mated together by nitrogen based compounds where adenine and thymine (A-T pair) and cytosine and guanine (C-G pair) form the steps. So, you have the 3.2 billion rung ladder that represents the set of instructions that are used to guide the operation of our bodies. These base pairs are grouped together by function into genes of which there are about 30,000 in humans. These genes are grouped into chromosomes. All living things use this same template of base pairs and genes. The number of base pairs range from about 1.8 million in the influenza bacteria to 100 million in plants to 2.6 billion in mice and up to our 3.2 billion pairs.

Every cell in our body (with the exception of sperm and eggs) contains the complete DNA string described above. Every cell also only ‘activates’ a small portion of its genetic information in the production of proteins which are necessary for the purpose of that particular cell. In the normal operation of a cell, the nucleus or center of the cell manufactures a particular protein that is then transported to the edge of the cell where it is used for some purpose. So, a liver cell has the same base information as a skin cell but they operate completely differently with selected gene being activated in each circumstance.

Hopefully that is enough background for what I would like to discuss. For those interested in this topic, I would highly recommend the book Genome by Matt Ridley.

One aspect of this topic that amazes me is how incredibly complex the process is to get us to a functioning human being. What begins as a single cell, the union of sperm and egg, results in a uber-complex body with each subsystem working off the same ‘template.’ As this original single cell begins to divide, it is only a few days before these cells are called upon to begin to specialize. The mass of cells, which were originally identical, now are called upon to form every organ, bone and muscle found in our bodies. How does one cell know what it is to do? Right now there are only theories on how a cell at one end of the mass of cells is guided to start forming the head and its components while another at the other end works of the feet and toes. How do these cells ‘communicate?’ At this time, I have only found theories that suggest the original mass of cells differentiate based on the presence of electrical or chemical markers that vary by the position in the cell mass. I find these theories woefully inadequate in explaining how my fingers and finger nails formed at the end of my arms rather than on the top of my head ;-].

The other amazing aspect of ‘life’ is commonly referred to as ‘instinct.’ Those innate abilities that we are born with that seem to be hard-wired into our brains. One example is that kittens separated from their mother before their eyes are opened will attempt to cover their fecal matter. Is there some ‘universal’ cat etiquette that is carried into the next generation?

One of my favorite examples of instinct is the cuckoo bird. There are species of cuckoo bird that do not build nests but simply lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. The cuckoo egg is ‘programmed’ to hatch before the eggs of the host nest and the young cuckoo chick pushes the other eggs out of the nest. Having removed the competition, the young cuckoo bird now is nurtured by the host. The thrush, in this picture from Wikipedia, continues to feed what is an obvious (to us) intruder. I think that the positive aspect here is that there are no bounds to the love of a parent. Looking at the size of the nest, you can get some perspective on how ‘out of context’ this situation is.

So… how does the young cuckoo bird know to push the other eggs out of the nest? It had no clues from its parents or the environment to trigger this behavior. How is this invasive species able to continue this behavior over generations?

These are only a couple examples of instinctive behavior among living beings. How does a human baby begin life with the innate ability to suckle from the breast of their mother? How does a sea turtle deposited as an egg in the sand of the beach inherently know to move toward the ocean when it emerges from the egg? How does a spider know how to create a web even though they are separated from any examples?

These are all questions related to how species-related information is transferred to offspring. Through the miracle that is the development of a living organism; basic skills are, somehow, implanted in the brain. In many cases, these implanted skills, or instincts, are necessary for survival.

So, this brings me to the crux of the matter. How can a sequence of sugars and phosphates linked by nitrogen-based chemicals govern the incredibly complex process in the development of a living entity? How can this sequence of chemicals develop into a cognitive being with certain skills imbedded in their brain?

As I peruse the available scientific literature, I find references to this information contained in what is currently called ‘junk DNA;’ segments of our genetic material that has no apparent purpose. There are other theories regarding how this information is carried in the DNA structure but none seem to satisfy the programmer in me. We share with other mammals between 70 and 90% of our genetic material. The unique material is what differentiates us physically from the mice and birds and whales in the world. I find it implausible that the same code used to build the physical body could also contain the programming.

In my mind, the argument is the same as saying a computer parts list when assembled correctly will automatically contain the operating system. As an engineer, I know that I can easily assemble a computer if I have all the physical elements needed. I also know that the computer will not be viable until an operating system is installed. The operating system is the set of instructions needed to make use of the physical components.

Our brain and the associated body are not viable without the equivalent operating system software. In my opinion, the ‘instincts’ we are born with partially represent the fundamental equivalent to this operating system. This is where I need to inject the spiritual aspect of this discussion. I hold that we, as souls or living beings, are a combination of spirit and body.  I believe the spirit which is embedded in the physical body at some point when the cells begin to differentiate carries with it the basic information needed to act in the ‘role’ defined.

It is easy for me to believe that all living things are a combination of physical and spiritual entities. The spirit of the yet to be born bird, or spider, or for that matter, any other living thing brings with it the necessary instincts and basic operating system to function in the context of its existence. We begin with this basic instinct to build our knowledge. I believe that this basic toolkit with which we are born gives us not only the basic tools but also the intrinsic uniqueness that every living thing enjoys.

As I contemplate the incredible complexity of my own body and as I have watched the process wherein new life is brought about, I find it much easier to believe in a creative God than in evolution’s process of trial and error .

From Genesis, chapter one, we read:

20  And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21  And 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: and God saw that it was good.
22  And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

The miracle of life is a testimony to me of the existence of this unseen world. There are clues all around us, if we but pay attention.

What think ye?

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