Your Sunday Brunch Special: Joseph Smith, Black Holes, and Minds

Fun nonsense on a Sunday Morning. I’ve been working on a book about Joseph Smith’s (JS) King Follett Discourse (April 7, 1844) for quite a few years and it could appear in print next year. In the book I don’t go into theoretical critique much since the book is focused on an oral text, its recovery, and interpretive critiques and receptive evolution over time. One aspect that I’m fascinated about is JS’s talk about human spirits, or souls, or minds (he uses the terms interchangeably and so I will do that here). I mention black holes in the title, and I don’t want to get down deep into that much. Briefly, the quandary about BH’s is that they seem to form a laboratory where questions about the very small (quantum mechanics) and the very large (gravity) come together to form sharp paradoxes.

The two things team up when you take JS seriously about what he says late in his career. Minds, spirits, whatever, are eternal beings, without beginning or end. I won’t try to drill down much here but it seems to be an empty exercise to explicate much beyond this except to say that JS deploys the idea as a notion of comfort in terms of fleeting mortality. You don’t have to worry about losing a child or other loved person because the thought, person, mind is not going away (there are issues here but they are irrelevant the point I want to crawl around) to put it his way: anything that has a beginning will have an end (there is much more to say about this idea but not here). What does this have to do with black holes? Well, go with me a bit. A black hole is a space time singularity surrounded by a kind of shell called the event horizon–stuff that may be inside can’t get out. The diameter of the shell can be very large. What’s inside? Some current thought, when I used to keep up with that–its been a few years, is that there is maybe nothing inside–what’s ought to be inside is actually reflected far away in Hawking radiation. The big problem is about information. Think of information in terms of “bits” in this case a bit might be represented as a very low frequency photon which heads toward the black hole. What happens to information that heads “into” a black hole? Does it disappear? That’s a no, no. Information has to be conserved. Now there are things like entropy and such that come in here but I don’t think we need to go there. The idea is, for JS, people are like black holes. Mind is the central, indivisible thing. There’s stuff smeared around on the event horizon that is linked into the far field but nothing else inside the horizon. It’s inviolate. And I’m off to church.


  1. More, please.

    Conservation of information implies or is implied by reversibility of time-evolution which requires some careful thought about agency.
    And I don’t think we can ignore the complexities of macro level thermodynamic irreversibility and/versus/compared to/contrasted with/etc. quantum level time reversibility. I’m sensitive to the risk that we choose concepts by reason of how they seem to fit or not fit something Joseph Smith said.

  2. Agency is a huge issue. Also, JS’s materialism (the “all spirit is matter” meme). None of this makes good sense outside the Scottish philosophy of the day. I’m not saying JS can’t be reformulated, in fact, I see that as a fascinating exercise for competent theologians. There are exceedingly few I’d wager who know QFT and Einstein+Hubble. Of course, physics is not without its own difficulties. Then there is the math. I think incompleteness has a lot to say about mind (that’s a controversial point).

  3. This is incredibly interesting especially if you consider the psychology of sociopathy/narcissism. Are we venturing too close to the event horizon of not just a lack of conscience, but rather a black hole of conscience?

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