There are 21 thoughts on “Looking Deeper into Joseph Smith’s First Vision: Imagery, Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Construction of Memory”.

  1. Thank you for taking time to send such a thoughtful and personal account of how memory works (and often doesn’t). In beginning to write my own life story, I find myself unsure of certain narratives, especially the kind of detail you mention. There are other times when I am aware of telling a story of making it more dramatic, not falsifying it but rather telling it for a particular effect. This happened recently when one of my sons characterized my proposal and marriage to his mother as being rather precipitous. I responded that that wasn’t the case, that I had known her for three or four years, that I dated her for over a year (and she broke many of those dates) and that I proposed to her at Christmas and we were married on April Fool’s Day (that I won’t forget!), although we originally planned to get married the next August and then June before throwing common sense and caution to the wind and driving half way across the country to get married in the Los Angeles Temple. His response, “Don’t blame me for getting it wrong; that’s the way you told it!” Which I am sure is true.

    We have much to learn about memory and that should make us both humble and cautious when we ascribe ulterior motives to Joseph Smith’s or anyone else’s memory.

    Thanks again for your comments.

    Bob Rees

    • Bob,
      To echo our separate exchange, thank you for providing a framework and rationale in which to interpret my personal observations.

      Your engagement and marriage story gave me a good chuckle.


  2. I unwittingly conducted a somewhat relevant but uncontrolled personal experiment on this subject.

    I was pretty faithful about keeping a journal from my late teen years, through my mission, and well into my twenties.

    More recently, as my children have been leaving the nest, and inspired by reading Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ “Life’s Lessons Learned”, I started sharing stories and lessons with them from my youth and young adulthood. After a while, I realized that some of these stories might have also been recorded in my early journals. Upon consulting the old entries, I indeed found significant differences in what and how I remembered things compared to how they were interpreted and recorded at the time they occurred.

    As I continue to remember experiences from my youth, I now intentionally record them according to my memory and then research them in my journals to see if they are there, and if so, what my different viewpoint was at the time. It has become a fun little exercise and I encourage others to do the same if you have older personal writings like I do.

    I have generally observed these four phenomena as I compare my recent recollections with the old contemporaneous accounts, with the separation between the two ranging from 25 to 35 years:

    1. Separate experiences occurring at different times tend to merge together into one instance.
    I told my children the story of my “Senior Trip” – a multi-day excursion I took with some friends to southern California around the time I graduated from high school – several times for over a year until I went to my journal to look for some details. What I found was that I actually went on TWO “Senior Trips” over a month apart and whose adventures my memory had merged into one eventful vacation. But the reality was there were two distinct trips. Another example was related to the experiences I had when dating a girl the year I returned from my mission. A two week Christmas separation in my memory was in reality, per my journal, an expected eight month sabbatical on her part (the story was much more interesting when the separation was expected to be only 2 weeks, not 8 months!).

    This concept of merged memories is particularly relevant when studying historical statements. It might well apply to the case of Addison Everett’s recollection in 1881 of a conversation he overheard between Joseph and Hyrum in 1844 wherein the brothers discussed events surrounding the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1829. Some details provided in Everett’s recollection seem to push Peter, James, and John’s visit back to July 1830 instead of 1829. It is probable that there was some memory merging going on, possibly on the part of Joseph discussing an event 15 years earlier, but more likely with Everett who was recalling a conversation he overheard 37 years prior.

    2. Recall more details later that are not written down (sometimes important details).
    I have a photo with my date at my Senior Prom, but there is absolutely no mention of that experience, or related events and preparation, in my journal. I likewise make only a terse mention of my high school graduation, after the fact, and yet I have several photos taken at that event as well. Why, at the time, did these two defining experiences of youth not merit any reflection in my journals? Instead I recorded forgettable things like the score of sports contests I either played in, observed, or heard about. This is what excited me at the time, apparently, but they are of little real interest today. I did make an entry when, while on an Aaronic Priesthood outing, the June 1978 revelation on the priesthood was received. I recognized the importance at the time, but my recorded positive reaction was fairly restrained. Examples of omission or understatement like these are plentiful.

    3. Forget some details over time.
    This is probably the most unsurprising observation. We are expected to forget things over time. Several times in reading an old entry I’d think “Oh yeah, that was great!” For example, I had forgotten that the dedication of our new Stake Center occurred on Christmas morning, or that my non-LDS father attended that gathering as one of the few times he came to a church meeting, but my old journal brought back this memory. And of course memory frequently misplaces dates and event sequencing.

    4. Perspective of time as experiences are placed in the larger context of a life lived.
    Items 2 and 3 above could probably be sub-headings under this heading. There are many things that were important to me then but less so now, and that were of little importance then, but have deep significance now. I interpret the same past experience much differently today than I did at the time.

    I don’t know if the above observations are particular to me, but thought they might apply to the subject at hand.
    There is value in both the immediate recording of events as well as later retelling from memory which is usually accompanied and accentuated by perspective.

    I think it unlikely that the various versions of Joseph Smith’s first vision testimony are deliberate attempts to revise that event. Based on my experience, I believe the passage of time redefined the context of how he recognized the importance of that experience. He initially told very few people. A few days after the vision, the minister he entrusted with the experience responded with surprising negativity. When his mother asked him ‘what the matter was’ almost immediately after, he replied with what we now see as a gross understatement “Never mind, all is well – I am well enough off…I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true”.

    Didn’t Moroni have to instruct Joseph to tell his father about the repeated nighttime visitations, and assure Joseph that his father would believe him? I think Joseph was more comfortable sharing his personal experiences later on as he gained perspective, as the Church grew, and he was given different contexts in which to share them.

    I tend to give preference to the 1838 telling of the first vision as it was intended to be published and to correct erroneous stories circulating about the origins of the Church. It was meant to set the record straight.
    And each version of the story does not represent a progression either. Take for example the 1842 Wentworth version that describes the heavenly visitors as “two glorious personages” without specifying their identity as he had done in the 1838 version.

    This post went way too long.


    • John Perry,

      Thanks for your great comment. It was both pertinent to the subject and edifyingj to me.

      I am reminded of the Lord’s command to Nephi to write the small plates many years after writing the larger plates. The larger plates were important records in themselves, but the perspective of many years distance and different instructions from the Lord probably changed how Nephi remembered and wrote about his younger days.

      I love how you have been reviewing your memories and journals for useful stories to share with your kids. I’m of a similar age and could usefully do the same for my family. Thanks for the ideas!


      • Tom,
        Thank you for your kind remarks.

        That’s a great observation about Nephi’s records containing both at-the-moment and retrospective elements. I would think this would make for an overall richer content to his narrative.

        It reminded me of some of the biblical criticism we see occasionally wherein the critic discounts the gospels, for example, because they were likely written years, even decades, after the Savior had completed His mortal ministry. However, the synthesis of eye witness testimony seasoned with the perspective offered by time probably makes them overall better.

        My efforts to share personal stories from yesteryear have been greatly appreciated by my children. As they live in separate states and cities, I send the stories out to them via email. My oldest daughter pleasantly surprised me a couple of Christmases ago when she presented a bound copy of the first two years of my stories.

        If you’d like some inspiration and ideas for sharing your stories, I have a couple of suggestions:

        I already mentioned the book “Life’s Lessons Learned” by Dallin H. Oaks. His intent is to share insight and wisdom he has gained through his experiences over the years. I was impressed by the way he evaluated his experiences and how they have shaped his life.

        Another inspiration of mine was a newspaper article that you may have heard of, entitled “The Stories That Bind Us” by Bruce Feiler, New York Times, March 15, 2013. In it Feiler underscores how developing a strong family narrative is an important ingredient in giving children self-confidence and in binding families together.

        Best of luck to you!

  3. One unspoken assumption underlying all this intense discussion is that the First Vision is essential to establishing Joseph Smith’s bona fides and the need for and value of the Restoration. As all of you almost certainly know, the story of the FV was hardly known among the membership until 1842 or thereabouts. A few would have known about it much sooner, but apparently did not think it was important enough to publish, let alone make it primary in missionary work. I would give a nickel to know when it came to have such importance in proselytizing, and whether there is or ever has been a correlation between its use and missionary success. It seems to me that its chief import has been to proclaim the generality, even universality, of the Apostasy and the corruption of every professing Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean, etc. Or am I too literally minded? No amount of study or thinking can make us privy to Joseph’s revelatory experiences, but we can all make our own judgments about what he taught. For myself, I doubt that Joseph himself understood his gifts. The wind blows where it listeth.

  4. For the most part the discussion thread on this paper is completely tangential to the point of the paper itself, and everyone seems to assume the paper’s soundness (except perhaps Glenn). I’m not getting it, so can we please back up?

    The most significant feature of this article is its attempt to explain variations in accounts of the First Vision by “the vagaries of memory.” (By “variations” I mean only those differences central to the vision itself—which are the only ones of spiritual and theological significance). The paper does not try to determine which account represents the *best* memory of what occurred in the vision, but merely casts a question over all of them. Simply put, Joseph remembered the vision differently at different times—and that helps explain the different accounts. The problem is that the paper ends with an affirmation of the Father and Son appearing in the vision, when nothing in the paper that I see justifies such an affirmation. If Joseph simply remembered differently at different times, what is the reason for thinking he remembered correctly *this* time? The paper does not provide one. In fact, by the paper’s standards there is no reason to believe this.

    But this internal inconsistency is not the most important point. The larger point to me is that the paper sets itself up as a defense of the Prophet, even though the defense reduces to this: Joseph was not a deceiver, he was just repeatedly confused. Isn’t that the actual upshot of the article?

    This kind of “defense” seems completely unnecessary. For one thing, differences in context and purpose are sufficient to explain every variation in Joseph’s description of the vision proper. For another (and putting all other issues with the references to memory research aside), the Spirit would obviously have exercised huge influence during the First Vision (close to an unprecedented degree in the history of the world, it is fair to say) and no research on memory has come close to approximating *that* and the influence it would have on memory. Indeed, Joseph’s case is unique enough that it would seem to render memory research (particularly the highly generalized summary of it appearing here) virtually irrelevant in understanding the First Vision. For example, how study subjects remember what they were doing and who they were with when they first learned of the attacks on 9/11 (the kind of question asked in “flashbulb” studies), has precious little to do with whether Joseph could remember whether one or two divine persons attended him and whether there were no angels or many angels who attended as well. Completely unlike standard (and countless) incidents of memory that have been studied experimentally, the Spirit was a crucial and overpowering element in the First Vision. No theory of memory accounts for the Spirit and its effects on prophets’ memories (no one has even conducted an experiment on it—how would one?), so isn’t it true that no current theory of memory can really hope to apply meaningfully to that event? How could it if it doesn’t even attempt to account for such a significant variable?

    In short, I don’t see how the paper’s discussion of memory permits *anything* in the way of a conclusion about Joseph’s memory of the First Vision. And thus I don’t see how it supports the idea that variable accounts of that event are largely, or even partly, due to his repeated confusions.

    If I am missing something, I’m sure someone out there can tell me what it is.

  5. And then, there is the very real possibility that the 1838 account was via revelation itself, with the Holy Ghost “bringing all things to his remembrance” as Jesus told His Apostles in John 14:26.

    I think that such would also explain how he was able to remember the scriptures that the Angel Moroni quoted to him and noting the differences.

    Just a thought.

  6. I think some are overcomplicating things. What would be the point of Joseph having some dream thing when the crucial question is the rejection of the Nicene creed?

    Joseph was the founder of a dispensation. We have a couple of other records of Dispensation founding visions: Moses and Enoch. Plus, we have the Three Nephites vision. Moses and the Three Nephites also couldn’t tell if they were in body or out, and it seems particularly odd for the Three Nephites to be restricted to a vision only.

    The hypothesis seems to be that if someone had been walking through the woods and run across Joseph during the 1st vision, that they would have found him catatonic or apparently dead, as his spirit or mind was caught up in heavenly things.

    Yet we know that many if not most scriptural encounters with Deity have involved the glory of God being placed on the human, or transfiguring them for a short time, so they can bear the presence of God.

    I suspect that rather than some “mystical” experience, Joseph was simply transfigured, and anyone who saw him before he “came to himself” would have seen him glowing like Moses did.

    Whatever happens during transfiguration probably really messes with our human sense. Indeed, anything outside our telestial frame of mind would be… weird, from our point of view. Just consider the physics of the Garden Of Eden, where apparently the 2nd law of thermodynamics was not in effect. Or exactly how does a resurrected body manage to, you know, be invulnerable? Once we start discussing that level of divine power, I have no idea how it would feel. How would being transfigured feel, especially after the fact? It’s got to mess with our minds to some extent. I mean, ask Shadrach, Meshac and Abednego about how they felt while in the fire and yet not being burned. Would they say they were in the body or out of it? I don’t know.

  7. Brethren,
    An interesting discussion, to be sure. Joseph was a mystic and the mystic experience finally cannot be reduced to words alone although we can’t escape trying to name and define such experiences to whatever extent our poor vocabulary and style permit. it seems to me that if Joseph were as brilliant (and cunning) as some say and he was and actually hoping to perpetuate a fraud, he would have done a much better job of telling what happened. The fact is, the simplest explanation seems the most plausible to me: there was a different motive, a different setting, and a different context for each of the narratives, which in fact is what one would expect from an authentic narrator. If all of the accounts harmonized perfectly (or even nearly so), that would be more suspect than what we have.

    Thanks for your good thoughts.


  8. Although science is only beginning to understand the mechanisms by which Spirit, spirit, and matter meet in the prophetic mind, it should be apparent that nothing in Robert Rees’ excellent article leads to the inexorable conclusion that the First Vision was merely a function of Joseph Smith’s own physiology interacting with the physical world. To believe otherwise, is to deny the Prophet’s testimony that God the Father and Jesus Christ “did in reality speak to [him]” (JS-History 1:25). He knew not only that he had seen a vision, but also that the source of his revelation was divine. He also “knew that God knew it, and [he] could not deny it, [and] that by so doing [he] would offend God, and come under condemnation” (ibid.). That God in reality speaks to man is also my testimony as a scientist and as a believer.

    • Have you read theologian/philosopher’s book on the non-existence of the soul in Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?

  9. Thanks for this well-written and timely paper. You have made some very good points, one being that memory is fluid. And that, as an explanation for the varying First Vision accounts, works well also with Bryce’s suggestion that the First Vision may have been an internal rather than a physical experience. Sacred visions are often portrayed in scripture as dreamlike experiences, and sacred dreams are seen as “vision[s] of the night” (Job 33:15). Lehi also equates visions and dreams (1 Nephi 8:2). If Joseph’s First Vision was a dreamlike “imaginative” (not to be confused with “imaginary”) experience, it was not limited by space and time to a single scene, as Bryce noted. Joseph could have seen angels, God alone, and the Father and the Son together, all in a dreamlike amorphous mix, and would not have necessarily reported all of what he experienced each time. Joseph didn’t seem to be able himself to understand how he was experiencing visions (see D&C 137:1). And, in fact, when he and Sidney Rigdon had the next great vision of the Father and the Son (which also included angels, and even the prince of darkness), it was with “the eyes of [their] understandings” (D&C 76). The prophet Lehi’s great inaugural vision that opened a previous dispensation was also similar in important ways to Joseph Smith’s First Vision, and it was apparently not a physical experience (1 Nephi 1:7-13). While lying on his bed Lehi was “carried away” in a “vision” and “thought he saw God sitting upon his throne.” He also saw angels and “one descending out of the midst of heaven” whose “luster was above that of the sun” and who “came down and went forth upon the face of the earth.” In this dreamlike experience, he saw extreme brightness, the Father, the Son, and angels, just as Joseph Smith reported from his inaugural vision. As you noted, Joseph says that when he “came to [himself] again” he found himself “lying on [his] back, looking up into heaven,” which would have been similar to Lehi’s supine posture in his bed. Such a posture would not have been conducive to a face-to-face conversation with God or anyone else; but in an internal (“imaginative”) vision, the posture of the body is irrelevant. That Joseph “came to [himself]” suggests he was in an altered state of consciousness. Perhaps similarly, he later had a vision of Moroni after falling unconscious to the ground (JS-H 1:48). This is not the way we have tended to assume the First Vision happened, or the way it is portrayed in paintings (with Joseph kneeling, etc., despite what he says in JS-H) but as you wisely state, “there is still much to learn and many erroneous assumptions to correct.” Thanks again for moving the conversation forward.

    • I don’t have a source for this, but someone has argued that the 1st Vision has the characteristics of a Near Death Experience. In short, they didn’t come down to him, he went up to them.

      • Joseph may have considered that a possibility as well, having said regarding a later vision: “whether in the body or out I cannot tell.” I should clarify that an imaginative vision, as traditionally understood, is a vision seen by means other than the physical eye. It is not necessarily any less real or believable than regular visual perception.

        • Well put, Stan. In giving “a reasonable defense of the prophet’s intention and integrity” in the Prophet’s successive recountings of the First Vision, Rees also provides more reasons to believe that these accounts represent, not merely a “sweet dream of a pure minded boy” (as the father of Martha Fox called it), but rather an actual “visitation by the Father and the Son.”

          • Exactly, Jeff. Thank you. It was more than just a visual experience, than a dream. He felt God’s love, presence, and deliverance, and had his questions answered. Its effect on him is evidence that it was a divine manifestation. The exact manner and content of that visitation is probably unknowable, even incomprehensible, to us presently. That’s OK. The manifestation served primarily as a witness, a Pauline conversion, for HIM. His quoting of James suggests that we can each have our own divine witness, our own “first vision.” Mine was in my teens, and was entirely non-visual, but I felt an assurance of God’s love that has sustained me. The great witness of the Restoration for us, of course, was the revelation of the Book of Mormon. It was the marvelous work attested by many witnesses, the evidence of Joseph’s divine calling given by missionaries from the beginning, and is still present as a testimony for us.

  10. Thank you for your article, Robert. I appreciate how we have begun to deeply investigate how Joseph’s mind and consciousness were involved in his First Vision experience. It seems we may have only just begun to investigate what neuroscience, neurobiology, cognitive science, psychology, phenomenology, etc., might teach us about Joseph’s divine experiences in the beginnings of the church.

    I’m curious if you have considered that the First Vision may have been a profound mystical experience in a visionary altered state of consciousness within Joseph’s mind, and may not have necessarily occurred physically in the grove. In the 1842 account, for example, Joseph notes that “my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision” (corroborated by Orson Pratt’s secondhand account). The Orson Hyde account also notes that “the natural world around him was excluded from his view, so that he would be open to the presentation of heavenly and spiritual things.” This may have all taken place within Joseph’s consciousness.

    Mystical experiences in the mind can produce significant and powerful emotional and mental sensations and intuitions, which often seem paradoxical, illogical, and irrational to the one experiencing them. Mystical experiences are often categorized as ineffable or indescribable, perhaps because they occur when the brain is functioning in a non-ordinary altered state of consciousness, and so the phenomena subjectively experienced may be related to neural activity in areas of the brain that are pre-conceptual and/or pre-linguistic (even as Brant Gardner has suggested may have been happening in Joseph’s translation of the Book of Mormon with the seer stone). The mystical experience may even be so powerful as to be beyond language, unable to be described using the common symbols of language and vocabulary with which one is familiar. For example, if the experience was beyond time and space, how would one relate in a chronological way what happened where one didn’t experience time, and what distinct objects could be present where there was no space?

    Perhaps God communed with Joseph entirely within his mind and consciousness, in a spiritual mystical vision, much the same way as it seems he did on numerous other occasions, in such a way that was far beyond ordinary eyewitness description of an mundane consensus “objective” reality event. This could also help explain why the various accounts all differed, even greatly, as Joseph may have been groping to better describe an ineffable experience that could not simply be communicated in language, and which even he struggled to understand and process. It may have been like trying to describe the color red to a blind person, or what salt tastes like.

    I’m interested in your thoughts about this. Again, thank you for your work in helping to open up this conversation and study.

    • There may be some merit to your ideas, but I personally think they look beyond the mark and frankly they diminish a very explicit doctrine of the restored church: God the Father and Jesus Christ have real bodies of flesh and bone that are integral and important parts of their being (D&C 130).

      Christ visited his apostles (and many others) after his resurrection and told them that he was no ghost. He asked for and ate food to prove it. He even had them touch him and feel the wounds in his flesh. He did likewise with the Nephites and Lamanites he visited shortly thereafter in the Americas.

      I don’t think there is any good reason to think that God the Father and His son Jesus Christ were not physically present during the visit to Joseph Smith that we commonly call the First Vision.

      On the other hand I do think it legitimate to wonder what kind of state Joseph Smith was in during the First Vision. The scriptures indicate that physically enduring the Celestial glory of God is not trivial (Moses 1:2).

      • Tom D., thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        Reconciling a “mystical” First Vision experience that may have occurred within Joseph’s consciousness with our traditional understandings is unquestionably difficult, and is certainly different than what we have conventionally thought. As we learn more about what may have occurred in that event, we may need to rethink our assumptions, and adjust our current understandings. If it is more true that Joseph experienced the First Vision in his mind’s eye, with his spiritual “third” eye, rather than his physical eyes (as many other of his divine visions seem to attest), then that means a lot, and could teach us much more, including about the nature of God. It seems to me that we should not ignore or reject this possibility, simply because it differs from our current understanding. There are many great and important things yet to be revealed to us, when we are ready to receive them (Article of Faith 9).

        As Joseph noted in his 1842 account, if his “mind was taken away from the objects with which [he] was surrounded,” then it is possible that even he seemed to know that his experience was not occurring in a physical objective reality, but in a more spiritual heavenly realm, quite apart from his natural physical surroundings in the grove. Orson Pratt’s secondhand account is even more descriptive, inserting the word “natural” before “objects”: “his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision.” Pratt’s use of the word “caught away” rather than “taken away” also recalls other spiritual visions of the mind, such as Nephi’s, where he too was “caught away in the Spirit of the Lord” to an exceedingly high mountain (1 Nephi 11:1). There are many other scriptures that speak of one being “caught up” in the Spirit (3 Ne. 28:13; D&C 88:96; D&C 101:31; D&C 109:75; Moses 1:1; Moses 6:64; Moses 7:27). It seems that these experiences did not happen in a physical space, but in a heavenly spiritual space in the minds and consciousness of the seers and visionaries.

        How might we reconcile this with our understanding of God having real bodies of flesh and bone, and even flesh and blood (Ether 3). That’s an important question, and one that I think delves into very deep and sacred space, and we should approach it with the utmost respect and care. One of the singular insights gleaned from mystical experiences is the oneness of God with the mystic. God is not perceived as a separate “Other,” but is at-one with the visionary. The prophet-mystic does not see God as a separate being apart from himself or herself, but as a total unity and complete union of himself/herself with the Divine, where the human and the Divine meet and combine in utter Oneness. It is the ultimate atonement (at-one-ment), theosis, deification, and divinization (which are important Mormon teachings). The human is not separate and independent from God, but one with the Divine, or God. At times it is even helpful to not think of them as two separate ideas that are one with each other, but simply that there exists One, and that One is God. What does it mean to be “Christ,” the “Messiah,” the “Anointed One”? We may need to ponder much more on these thoughts, and consider how the mystical insight might apply in the Mormon paradigm, and what Joseph was trying to teach the Saints, even in the temple. This may open us up to new insights and understandings, and even bring us closer to God ourselves.

        It should be strongly emphasized that even though the First Vision may not have taken place in a physical space in the grove, that in no way implies that the experience was not real, or did not actually take place. Another common aspect of the mystical experience is the absolute utter conviction of its reality, objectivity, and realness. Mystics often describe it as being far “more real than real,” or feeling as if it is even much “more real” than ordinary everyday waking physical reality. They don’t describe their experiences as merely being like a “sweet dream,” but as being the most intensely real experience that can be experienced in mortal life. Even extreme “physical” experiences do not seem to compare even remotely to the unitive mystical experience of God.

        I think it is also important to recognize that we too may have such personal direct communion with the Divine. It may be that it is our physiology acting in unique ways with physical reality, particularly within our mind and consciousness, of which we may only now be beginning to understand the full extent, that is precisely what enables us to walk back into the presence of God. Instead of God residing in a magical supernatural realm quite separate from us and remote in the cosmos, or even outside the cosmos, God may be much much closer than we have realized, in a space that we can each apprehend, the same as Joseph did. As our primary hymn notes, “Some say that heaven is far away, but I feel it close around me as I pray” (“A Child’s Prayer”). It seems that is what Joseph was trying to do throughout his life—prepare the Saints to bring them back into the direct presence and communion of God, that God may speak to each and every one of us personally and individually. God excludes no one. “Come unto me… and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

        What we typically consider real and true may also need rethinking. Even what we consider to be our ordinary physical reality is not as straightforward as we usually think it to be. Neuroscience is finding that our mind may be actually constructing our perceptual subjective reality in real-time every moment, based on prior experiences, something which also affects our memory, as Rees has so well shown in this article. We don’t see reality “as it is,” but rather as our mind makes it appear to us to be. I believe we should take neuroscience, cognitive science, and the fields of psychology seriously, and not brush them aside as nonsense, as inapplicable to the gospel, or as seemingly reducing such divine experiences to mere imagination or fabrication “in the mind.” I perceive that is simply not the case, and it may even be offensive to those many scientists and researchers that make it their life’s work and mission to investigate such inner subjective realms of the mind and brain, and how these relate to our everyday reality.

        It seems to me that the “natural man” or the physical carnal “flesh” cannot endure the presence of God, because that is not where God ultimately resides, and that is not where communion with God takes place. It seems to me that God resides in a higher dimension or more comprehensive and perfect realm that we may only now be beginning to apprehend that is an even more complete or fundamental reality than the “physical” reality with which we are familiar. I perceive that such understandings do not diminish our doctrines, but rather they exalt them to higher spheres, and perhaps may reveal deeper and richer understandings of Joseph’s teachings.

        • My sincere thanks to Tom D. and Bryce for your thoughts. I am glad we are all in basic agreement as to the “what”–i.e., that God the Father and Jesus Christ “did in reality” speak to Joseph Smith (JS-H 1:25). As to the “how,” of course we still have much to learn “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).
          I know of no more encouraging statement to each of us in this respect — novices in spiritual matters though we are — than the following from Joseph Smith: “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but he will make known unto … even the least Saint … as fast as he is able to bear [it]” (Words of JS, 27 June 1839, p. 4).

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