I have read with fascination your book The Sword of Laban, Joseph Smith Jr. and the Dissociated Mind, William Morain, American Psychiatric Press, Washington 1998.  I was hoping to draw three threads from it: Mormon interest in genealogy, Mormon high birth rate and dissociation on the part of the founder.  The first two I did not find.  The third was amply examined and did not seem to involve the others.  Still it is a splendid book even from my perspective, so radically askew.  I shall not encumber the ongoing and wonderful interaction of our classmates on the website we have been gifted with by posting a review.  (Didn’t I get a hint from the post indicating there was far too much about fish tanks?) So I shall seek a wider audience and post it on my own site within a week or so if anybody is interested.  I shall email a copy, and if you are unhappy with it (I know not why you should be.) there will be time to amend it or drop the project altogether.  On the other hand if you would like it posted for our classmates, I invite you to.

Sword of Laban is such a tour de force that I must begin by orienting myself by discussing reality.  Personally I think there is only one reality, but we have a number of ways of evaluating it.  You describe how Joseph Smith Jr. would skry by placing a stone in his hat and burying his face in the hat and then announcing what he perceived.  So for the nonce I shall use the word “stone” to mean a specific window on the universe; be it internal, external or a mixture, it’s all universe. 

The obvious stone is common sense.  Another stone is psychiatric analysis.  I hear somebody shouting, “Hold! Psychiatric analysis is common sense applied to recordable observation and systematically applied.”  But in common usage, there is a distinction.   For instance I never seem to see common sense applied over a ten year interval; it is always immediate.  That obviously is a problem when one is dealing with things that develop slowly – like climate change.  And you are describing events effective twenty years after their being experienced; so it’s not exactly the same.  And in due course I shall introduce my own stone, effective over centuries, which beggars common sense AND psychiatric reality, and that alas is a problem.

You mention the Missouri Mounds.  Common sense suggests they were built by people a long time ago and that the people vanished.  But why?  There common sense falls silent.

You mention that Smith’s grandfather taught Greek, Hebrew and Chaldean.  (You have gently clarified that the teaching was done and the book from which Smith cribbed was written by an unrelated Smith so I am forced to fall back on the less plausible possibility that somebody, maybe a member of that treasure hunting club may have known something he passed along to our Smith.)  One may assume (not) he read a lot of it.  Edgar Allan Poe in the novelette “Narrative of A. Gordon Pym” hints that too much learning, particularly of the ancients, will destroy the mind; and there are those who will say that Poe’s mind was pretty thoroughly scrambled.  Isaac Newton studied what was known of the ancients in his time; it was his last book.  Say what you will about his mind, but it does seem like a very strange subject of a physicist even though he gives two conflicting explanations of why he did it.  Now Newton’s enthusiasm for number crunching is beyond question and Poe’s was so impressive that his work was once the best reading for military code crackers, not to be surpassed until Alan Turing turned his machinery (and his mighty intellect) to the task.  And Smith may have had at least some exposure to the kind of thing his grandfather taught, however indirect.  When he produced something he called “hieroglyphics” it was a mixture of Latin, Greek and Hebrew letters turned odd ways.  In other words he knew or at least knew where to find some of those letters.  And although he was not known to be a math whiz, dictating a 600 page book off the top of your head cannot be a trifling accomplishment; yet that is where the Book of Mormon came from.  So the question emerges, What do you get if you look at ancient history and do some arithmetic?  The short answer is that you get crazy, which is to say you find you must resort to a different stone.

One popular answer should be, “My stone is science.  So there.” 

Ah, but there are a couple of problems with science as your only stone.  To begin with it is not constant.  A shocking number of papers cannot be reproduced on the first try.  Of those that make it through, they are disproved or radically reworked on a regular basis with a half life of about 30, years.  That is consistent with psychiatry but beyond common sense and obviously far short of an attention span of centuries; for that you need to consult ancient cultures at hazard of your sanity.  And I think it fair to say that whatever stone you choose, you are going occasionally to suspect that another is a case of dissociation (or madness as we used to say.)

But more crucially, “science” is more than one stone.  For instance Alan Turing (same guy) proved that there is no computer program that can predict what another program will do without running the program.  For instance “Take the number 1,000,0… (insert three hundred zeroes) … 00,000.  Subtract 2.  Repeat subtracting until you reach 0.  If you get 14 at any time print, ‘Eureka.’  Then stop.”  Will you print zero?  Your answer is, “Of course.  You are going down by even numbers.  You will hit 14.”  And everybody will agree.  Thing is, the computer, any computer, can’t do that.  It would have to run the program and it can’t because energy sources will all have burnt out long before it gets there, not to mention other cosmic changes that will stop the program.  So your mind is capable of things no computer can possibly do.  That is one stone; it’s hard science.  Yet there is an entire industry dedicated to duplicating the human mind with a computer.  Sorry.  Can’t be done.  But they are trying.  It’s a different stone. 

For now my stone is the book itself.  That will change later.

One thing striking about the book is that it sounds rather biblical.  And I mean that in a good way.  For one thing there is lots of violence in the Bible.  This is a good marketing ploy.  My own writing generally tones violence down, although I have never read a story or seen a movie that can match my own mediations when they wander in that direction.  There is one story of a man assassinating a king.  Now if you are right handed and are concealing a knife and my heart is on the left you might stab for my heart going under the ribs. In so doing you would be likely to penetrate my transverse colon, and, the abdominal muscles going into spasm, I would evacuate down my abdomen or if I had no shirt it would spurt into the room.  This is described in the scripture, a crisp little detail that promotes credulity and rivets attention.  There is a lot of violence in your book, nay it is the main point. 

For another thing, I am told that Canaanite poetry did not rhyme audibly but the sense rhymed.  Consider these:

Lift up you heads oh yea gates … And be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors.

They shall mount up on wings as eagles … They shall run and not be weary.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures … He leadeth me beside the still waters.

His rod … and his staff shall comfort me.

The rhyme can be a word long, a phrase long or a sentence.  Or it can be even longer.  There are two different creation stories.  Both Adam and Noah people the earth after a flood.  There are four gospels.  And longest of all, as you start scripture there is this narrative voice.  The characters are highly developed.  The motivations are intense.  Then eventually that breaks down.  The “begats” become tedious.  (Begat means sired.  If there is one problem with the Bible it is that there is too much sex.)  And somewhere in there you get the visions of Ezekiel.  You would have thought he saw extra-terrestrials. But after Isaiah you get into the “minor prophets.”  The books are short and repetitious.  They are no match for the earlier writers.  Smith did a lot better.  Then comes the New Testament, and by golly the voice is back.  And it winds up with Revelation, which easily matches Ezekiel and even quotes from Isaiah.  Got it?  It’s fractal; same pattern on every scale. 

So it is with your book.  You give a bit seen through Smith’s stone and then again with the psychoanalytic stone.  It’s good old Canaanite stuff.  And of course it is a way to get an abstract concept across that isn’t easily in your vocabulary.  The Canaanites didn’t have abstract nouns.  The Greeks used their gods as abstractions, but that’s not permitted if you are claiming monotheism. 

So I say reading you is like reading scripture.  Care to try it with my stone (we’re almost there)?  I could use a good prophet.  If people say you are entertaining too many women, tell them it’s my fault.

So let’s look at the numbers that drive men mad.  Going to southern Mesopotamia we will look at how long each regime lasted.  A regime change is easy to see; the language, descent of the ruling class, laws, culture and so forth all change abruptly.  The ruling class is put up against the wall.  (That’s a figure of speech.  I haven’t seen ISIS put anybody up against a wall, and they look like a typical regime change in process.  I wish I were twenty years older.) 

Here’s the graph:

Survival experience of lower Mesopotamia.  Information taken from R. H. Carling, The World History Chart, International Timeline Inc. Vienna, VA 1985.  The vertical axis is the chance of an empire of any age continuing to rule locally for another 50 years.  The horizontal axis is the ages of the empires. 
What does common sense tell you?   Not applicable.  It’s more than ten years. What does psychoanalysis tell you?  Not applicable.  It’s longer than the lifetime of the subject and the parent combined.  What does science say?  Actually there are two papers:
There is the chapter 19 “Marry in or Die Out” in the new textbook Handbook on Evolution and Society.  And there is my own paper Fluctuation of Fertility with Number in a Real Insect Population and a Virtual Population which you can get through the link Mickey found for us:

That’s pretty slim pickings.  So here goes.  Obviously only one or two things are knocking off essentially every empire.  The line is too clean for it to be otherwise.  Were it (or they) outside of the population the line would be horizontal; the resilience of the empire (or regime or what have you) would be independent of its age.  Were it within the population, then the less resilient would fall early and the resilience of those that remained would rise.  But the line falls.  The only explanation must be the very fact of the large urban population. 

And that has been investigated.  A man took some mice, 4 males and 4 females and put them in a big cage with plenty of room, food and nesting material.  Then he watched them for years.  This is what he got:

Roughly drawn from John Calhoun, Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine vol. 66, January 1973 page 80. 


On a day all live births ceased.  The population then went into irreversible decline.  Calhoun attributed it to psychological effects and predicted that civilization would collapse in 1992.  That didn’t quite happen.  So if it isn’t psychological and if all physical needs are met then it isn’t environmental.  And if it isn’t environmental it has to be hereditary.  Normal Mendelian genes won’t account for it, so it must be epigenetic, something to do with the control of genes.

There is the stone.  Now let’s go back and look at the book.  What happened to the mound builders?  Like those mice, they died out.  Smith might have seen the same pattern had he tapped into his grandfather’s erudition (however unlikely that sounds). 

Mormon’s are interested in genealogy, as is scripture.  Did Smith say it was important?  I do not pick it up if he did.

Mormons have a rather high birth rate, maybe 3 per woman   

The average for other white Americans is about 2, which is unsustainable.  They have to be marrying kin.  It can’t just be marrying other Mormons.  There are 15 million of them, far more than Calhoun’s mice.

Was there anything in Smith’s teaching that promoted marrying kin?  Apparently not. 

Polygamy tends to limit gene pool size, but so far as I know it is and has long been exceptional to non existent. 

So the use of my scrying stone offers no insight.

But there is another thing.  I have known for years what I have told you and I have told others by the thousand on my web site and have contacted hundreds by mail.  Almost nobody even answers.  If someone came to you and screamed that a turtle was eating a baby in the next room you would immediately attend to it, dropping all else.  That’s only common sense.  And I don’t know how people are reacting.  They almost never respond (I except the brilliant Professor Fox).  But babies are going down at a rate that must exterminate the developed world while the 6 or 7 billion people can only be fed with the help of ever more sophisticated science and technology.  Absent that the world can support 2 billion under the best of circumstances, and when the starving childless desperate urbanites pour out heavily armed scouring the world for a bite to eat circumstances won’t be the best.  Yet nobody sees it.  So I earnestly implore you to consider how a new stone can be introduced. 

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