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Truth is like a fractal?
by Thinker of Thoughts | Jan 24, 2014
There is a helpful analogy that has been passed around among some faithful mormons
helping them to reconcile some of the troubling issues in church history.
It is not my analogy and I can’t take credit for it,
but I think it does provide some thought provoking ideas.
(it is from a free e-book called “Oh Say What is Truth”
by Robert Smith who blogs at upwardthought.blogspot.com)
People growing up in the church have had a certain type of doctrine taught to them.
Church doctrine covers many different facets about our knowledge of the world,
God’s plan and the role and identity of the Church and it’s leaders.
These things, taught in the weekly sunday school classes, sacrament meetings,
seminary and institute lessons, and general conferences make up “the truth”
of the universe as understood by the Church Leaders,
whose responsibility it is to correlate these teachings
and disseminate them among the various stakes and wards of the church.
Now to most people, “the Truth” is something that should stand upon it’s own merits
and withstand all of the scrutiny that can be brought to bear upon it.
It must be conceded, however that our understanding of “the truth” is admittedly limited,
even with the light and knowledge that the living prophets are able to provide.
This is where the analogy is helpful, and it goes as follows:
Truth is like a fractal.
You see a fractal is a beautiful visual expression of a complex and intricate mathematical formula.
It contains infinite detail as you zoom in closer and closer at any particular part,
and in doing so you are exposed to beautiful vistas that are completely unlike what is seen
from a wider, less magnified view.
If we consider the fractal to represent all of the truth in the universe,
then we can imagine looking more closely or deeply at the certain part
of the fractal as a metaphor for receiving more deep knowledge
about a particular truth.
In such a way, a person who is only familiar with “the Truth”
at a certain level would see a very different picture from someone
who had “zoomed in” and understood “the Truth”
at a much deeper level.
In this way, each person could describe what they saw as “the Truth”
at their particular level of magnification and each would be correct,
but appear to be describing very different things.
Things which would appear to be completely contradictory.
This is an admittedly confusing analogy at first,
but we can use a fractal to explain this visually:
The complete truth, circumscribed in one great whole
Here we see a mathematical visualization of all of “the truth”.
This is the starting magnification of the Mandlebrot set,
one of the most popular fractal expressions.
we could magnify any part of this image infinitely and as we do so,
more intricate detail is revealed at each level.
Now you could ask someone to describe this view of “the Truth”
sort of like a wonky rorschach test and they might say something like:
“It looks like a bulbous glob with lightning shooting out of zits that it has around it borders,
and it has a bigger tumor on it’s left hand side
which has it’s own lightning spewing pimples.”And they would be correct. Now suppose that you zoom
into the intersection between the largest glob
and it’s left-sided tumor.
You would get something like this:
Intersection between glob and tumor
More detail is seen at this level of magnification,
but lets go deeper and really get into the fine points
of some of the contours that we see here.
We will zoom into one of the pimples on the border that appears to be shooting lightning.
Lightning from Pimples?
So now we are at a level of magnification of “the Truth” which was technically present
on the original view at the original magnification, but it was too fine and dwarfed
by all of the adjacent structures to be visible on a computer display or by the human eye.
If you were to ask someone to describe this view of “the Truth” they might say something like:
“It is like a tunnel of sunflowers extending into infinity encompassed
about by dragons who have curved spines”And they would be more or less correct.
It is a completely different description and a completely different view
from the original big picture but it is correct.
The person who is familiar with this level of “the Truth” might hear someone
who only had seen the original level of magnification describe it
and know that while the description was adequate for that level of detail,
their own description of this particular area of “the Truth”
was far more detailed and accurate.
Even though the descriptions would conflict
– they would both be accurate.
This is how people hearing this analogy can find comfort in hearing troubling
and apparently contradictory accounts from Church History.
If you hear something that doesn’t make sense in your own understanding
of “the Truth” then you just assume that what you hear is from a different level
of knowledge about the truth.
Past, Present and Future
This can be broken down into what is past and what is future.
If what you hear about is from the past, then you assume that they were describing “the truth”
from a magnification level that did not include all of the detail that you have at your own level
They were working without the light and knowledge that you have been blessed
with through the revelations of your contemporary prophets.
“Line upon Line, precept upon precept” is just another way of stating
moving to higher levels of magnification in our fractal analogy.
Bruce R McConkie alluded to this idea when explaining to people
why they should not be alarmed that Black men could now receive
the Priesthood despite the blatantly racist things that prior prophets
had said was the Lord’s doctrine on the matter:
“We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept.
We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject,
and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past.
They don’t matter any more.”
(Bruce R. McConkie “All Are Alike to God”
August 18, 1978 CES Religious Educators Symposium address)If you hear something from a current church leader that contradicts
what you currently know to be “the Truth” then you can safely assume
that that leader has an understanding of the truth which is at a higher level
of magnification from your own.
Their description includes detail that is unavailable to someone at your level of understanding
and so you trust their description and adopt it as your own
– moving you to that level of magnification yourself.
You can’t be led astray
Ignore the lower half
How do you know you can trust them?
Well, they are the Lord’s anointed.
They have the keys of the Priesthood which are specifically for the purpose
of conducting the business of the Lord’s church and making sure that false doctrine
does not get promulgated throughout the Lord’s flock.
You will pray to receive a confirmation by the spirit, of course,
but you have heard from your days in primary that your job
was to “follow the prophet” and you are a good Mormon.
You want to please God, and that means praying until you recieve a confirmation
that what the Prophet is saying is true.
If you don’t receive that confirmation,
then it means that you are swallowed up in the pride
of your own heart or you have some iniquity that has blocked
the Spirit from sealing “the Truth” into your heart and mind.
You keep asking until you find that confirmation.
If that doesn’t work then you boldly testify of “the Truth”
as though you had that knowledge until it manifests itself in you.
That is how the General Authorities have instructed that you do it,
and you are a good Mormon, so that is what you do.
Having understood this idea that truth is like a fractal your understanding
of the Gospel and how to relate to new revelation is clarified.
You mustn’t be afraid of new revelation
– that is the singularly defining aspect of God’s restored church after all!
People who leave the church because what one prophet says appears
to contradict what another prophet simply don’t have this understanding.
They are losing their salvation just because they don’t have this refined
and enlightened view of the different levels of understanding
and how God’s reveals his Truth to his Prophets line upon line
and precept upon precept.
This idea is very comforting to people who read the analogy
because it allows them to maintain their intellectual integrity.
This analogy is very problematic.
If you only take a superficial view of it, seeing only those aspects of fractals
which support the believing perspective then it seems very reassuring,
but if you take it to it’s full extent, it actually demonstrates exactly
why those people who leave the church for apparent inconsistencies are every bit justified.
Any particular view of a fractal can be replicated by providing the fractal set,
exponent variables, iterations, level of zoom, coordinates and color map.
Since every image produced by whatever fractal generating software that you use is based
upon the underlying mathematics (which are actually “true”) then providing these data points
will always produce the same image.
It cannot produce a different image unless you changed some aspect
of the underlying equation.
If you do that, however, then the entire set of “truth” changes
and you are looking at something altogether different.
A whole different universe.
If God’s truth is “circumscribed in one great whole” changing
the equation means moving outside that that “one great whole” of God’s truth.
So lets apply this analogy in it’s true character to the Gospel
and see why it demonstrates the necessity of those who look for truth
leaving abandoning the claims of truth that the Church insists on maintaining.
Lets look at the baseline view of all of truth, with regions of the truth labeled as such.
“The Truth” with key parts labeled
Here we have a wide view of all of “the Truth” with some key parts labeled:
Christ, Temples, The Book of Mormon, Homosexuals and the Priesthood.
Lets select the priesthood and zoom into some of “the Truth” as it relates to the priesthood.
Okay, here are some aspects of the priesthood:
Priesthood blessings, the restoration of the priesthood, the gender specific traits of the priesthood,
and oh – the relationship between blacks and the priesthood.
What if you were a church member in the 1950’s who asked the Prophet to explain
to you the nature of the ban on Black men of African descent receiving the priesthood
and hence being denied the blessings of eternal families, priesthood officiation
and the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom?
What is the picture of truth that you would see?
I have previously written about Dr. Lowry Nelson who did just that.
This is the picture that was presented to him by the Prophet George Albert Smith:
“the Truth” about blacks and the priesthood pre-1978
Here you can see that several aspect of “the Truth” are displayed, including:
the sin and curse of Cain, the pre-existence/First Estate,
the sin and curse of Canaan (Son of ham, son of Noah),
black skin as a mark of unrighteousnessas depicted in the Book of Mormon.
All of these were offered as “the Truth” regarding this question.
Okay. So if God’s law is unchanging then these explanations must stand
– regardless of the passage of time.
The equations beneath the fractal cannot change.
That doesn’t mean that the blacks will never get the priesthood
– just that these explanations for why they didn’t have them prior to 1978 shouldn’t change.
We could receive further light and knowledge that would give us greater insigh
t into why these various explanations were necessary
– i.e. why God felt it was necessary to curse Cain, Ham
and their descendants or why and how less valiant pre-mortal spirits
are punished in this life.
All of these features should stand
– you could zoom deeper into them and get more detail
which would make them fit perfectly into God’s great truth at this view.
So time passed and greater light and knowledge was revealed
and Blacks were given the privilege of full standing before God
in relation to the Priesthood.
Now if you return to the Prophet today and ask about the nature of blacks
and the priesthood – this is the picture that is presented to you:
“the Truth” about Blacks and the Priesthood today
So at the same level of inquiry a totally different view is presented.
Where is the curse of Cain or of Canaan? Gone.
Where is are the less valiant spirits from the preexistence?
That has nothing to do with race or priesthood eligibility.
Where is the dark skin as a mark of unrighteousness?
Absolutely irrelevant regarding the issue.
All of these aspects were specifically disavowed in the recently published
Gospel Topic essay on Race and the Priesthood on lds.org:
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin
is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life;
that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race
or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else.
Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present,
in any form. (“Race and the Priesthood” lds.org)Members who see this contradiction have to identify the source of it.
Why, at the same “magnification” does the image of truth change in such a manner?
Is it because God’s laws and reality and the nature of our souls
(at least the black ones) is changing?
Is it because God chose to reveal false doctrine to his servants up until 1978?
Is it because the men who claim to reveal “the Truth” to us are, in fact,
just espousing their own opinions on it and passing it off as truth?
Which of these is more likely?
Race is not the only issue
The issue of race and the priesthood is certainly one of the most visible areas
where this sort of complete reversal/disavowal has taken place,
but it is not the only one.
Other examples include teachings on Adam-God, Blood Atonement,
the cause of homosexuality, evolution, the drinking of beer, and laughter.
Fractals are beautiful.
This analogy about truth and fractals is beautiful.
Mathematics is the closest thing to the language of God that we have.
It transcends race, nationality, time and space.
We may gain deeper understanding of how mathematics may explain our universe
and this can have great effect on our own view of reality.
When purveyors of truth give you contradictory evidence which cannot be reconciled
– it is a gift.
It reveals the deception that they are enacting upon you,
giving you a chance to escape.
Members who see this dilemma and conclude that it reveals the false nature of those men
who claim divine authority and power can then walk away.
As truthseekers they must abandon falsehoods in order to stay true to themselves
and to their commitment to the divine – be it God or reason.
It is painful to do.
Letting go of comforting falsehoods leaves you feeling like you are in a boat
without a mast or an anchor.
You keep waiting for the course to be set for you by someone else,
but sooner or later you realize that it is up to you to take the oars and find your own way.
The Most Famous Fractal by John Briggs.
Largely because of its haunting beauty,
the Mandelbrot set has become the most famous object
in modern mathematics.
It is also the breeding ground for the world's most famous fractals.
lots to learn on fractals
see here; http://www.skytopia.com/project/fractal/2mandelbulb.html
Separate names with a comma.