Skip to content

Typical Mormonism Fallacy…at Wheat & Tares

February 17, 2012

My latest post at Wheat & Tares, Typical Mormonism Fallacy, has been up for a day.

Also, for something completely different…I won a Brodie! Unfortunately, Wheat & Tares had no chance in the faithful-perspective Mormon blog category one John Dehlin’s crowd caught a whiff that Joanna Brooks was on the ballot too…but eh, that’s just the way things roll in these popularity contests.

One thing I’ve noticed especially in the past few weeks is the extent to which people generalize their own experiences with Mormonism as being what Mormonism is all about. If they’ve experienced Mormonism as stifling and painful, then Mormonism as a whole becomes stifling and painful. But if someone else has experienced Mormonism as eye-opening, then that’s what Mormonism is.

I think that this leads to some of the big disagreements we end up having discussing the church.

One person is seeing things from his vantage point…the other person from his, and both think the other person’s perspective is inconceivable…or so far out of the norm as to be a huge botchup by everyone involved. For a historical, non-Mormon example, here’s a sample of a LessWrong post on the Typical Mind Fallacy (which I think relates to why the Typical Mormonism Fallacy occurs):

…There was a debate, in the late 1800s, about whether “imagination” was simply a turn of phrase or a real phenomenon. That is, can people actually create images in their minds which they see vividly, or do they simply say “I saw it in my mind” as a metaphor for considering what it looked like?

Upon hearing this, my response was “How the stars was this actually a real debate? Of course we have mental imagery. Anyone who doesn’t think we have mental imagery is either such a fanatical Behaviorist that she doubts the evidence of her own senses, or simply insane.” Unfortunately, the professor was able to parade a long list of famous people who denied mental imagery, including some leading scientists of the era. And this was all before Behaviorism even existed.

The debate was resolved by Francis Galton, a fascinating man who among other achievements invented eugenics, the “wisdom of crowds”, and standard deviation. Galton gave people some very detailed surveys, and found that some people did have mental imagery and others didn’t. The ones who did had simply assumed everyone did, and the ones who didn’t had simply assumed everyone didn’t, to the point of coming up with absurd justifications for why they were lying or misunderstanding the question. There was a wide spectrum of imaging ability, from about five percent of people with perfect eidetic imagery to three percent of people completely unable to form mental images.

Dr. Berman dubbed this the Typical Mind Fallacy: the human tendency to believe that one’s own mental structure can be generalized to apply to everyone else’s.

For a Mormon specific example, see the LDS Cult of False Expectations…this post relies upon the idea that the poor way in which some members treat each other or the impossible expectations some draw from the church is simply false, whereas those who practice true Mormonism wouldn’t get caught up in that trap. Of course Carl’s Mormonism is the appropriate Mormonism. Anyone who doesn’t think that is either trapped in the cult of false expectations or is simply insane.

This also provides for interesting ideas about how to change the pattern of exit in the church. Last week, Jake wrote that he believed disaffected members believed too much…I wrote then that belief — and the way one engages a community — is built up by and within that community. It’s not just from the individual.

If I’m not just making a typical Mormonism fallacy-style generalization in my latest W&T post, it should be the case that if people can have different experiences in the church — as mediated by family, friends, and ward members, then those who grow up with those different experiences will internalize a different “real Mormonism” than a lot of people currently internalize.

(Of course, that raises the question: do we really want to have more Joanna Brooks running around? Then no one would be able to win a Brodie! But seriously…what does the church look like if we stop raising people to be “TBM” and raise people to be more cafeteria, liberal, unorthodox, or uncorrelated?) I personally don’t think the church has too much motivation to try this out, because it doesn’t know where uncorrelated Mormons put their money.

  1. Andrew S, thank you for creating a thought-proving post. I notice that you wrote: “Although I wouldn’t have a name for it until years later, I now realize that I had fallen prey to the Typical Mind Fallacy.” Yet, as I read your personal story, it sounds to me like you did not believe that your experience was like everyone else’s. In fact, it sounds to me like the opposite. You had a nagging feeling that you experienced the world differently, and as you engaged in dialogue with others, and as you read Annie Dillard, you felt more confident that people did in fact experience the world differently.

    The post you reference has Professor Berman defining the Typical Mind Fallacy as “the human tendency to believe that one’s own mental structure can be generalized to apply to everyone else’s.” I’m curious why you say this is what happened to you given your story.

  2. Aquinas,

    I didn’t quite think of my experience like that…although maybe I phrased things vaguely. For me, growing up I never considered that people really had the capability to be so absorbed in books…so I thought of the stereotype of the studious type who reads as being more like that is a role people played…that they did it because that’s what people expected them to say rather than because that’s how they actually felt.

    To be frank, that was tr way I felt in church too…that people didn’t REALLY have spiritual experiences…they just bore testimonies of such because that was expected…and think about the almost standardized nature of many testimonies borne…it’s not a completely unjustified assumption to make.

    In both situations, it took an outside event for me to shake out of that typical mind fallacy and then realize that people really were different…for reading, it was really that not everyone found Annie Dillard’s comments as profound as I did
    For church, it was a number of things, but I think things culminating in wondering why I was so uncomfortable with the prospect of a mission.

    I would say that now (since those events) I try to avoid typical mind fallacy…but one: I find situations where I realize I still cling to it. And two: it now sometimes really bothers me to think I may be really different…because abnormality is a stigma, often.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Main Street Plaza » Sunday in Outer Blogness: Short & Sweet Edition!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: