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Change Blindness

The Situationist excerpted an article about change blindness and included this related video.

Were you taken in, even though you knew it was about change blindness? I don’t think this shows that we are deficient because we failed to notice what should have been obvious. As the article suggests, it would be dysfunctional to be aware of everything around us at that level of detail. Conscious thought is a limited resource because our brains are limited in size thanks in part to the limited size of women’s hips (I am sure mothers thank the stars that babies’ heads aren’t any larger). We just don’t have enough brain to take in more information.

Predictably, I thought about this in relation to Mormonism. The doctrines of Mormonism have changed radically over the course of its short history, yet people still insist that the Gospel according to Mormonism is eternal. Even in my own lifetime, doctrines have changed enough that I have noticed some changes.

Some may dismiss these as changes in Mormon folk doctrine, but that’s really all Mormon doctrine is. It lacks a defining written or oral creed, so everything is folk doctrine. That’s beside the point.

I’m talking about how unaware I was of these changes. I thought the changes in doctrine were minor and inconsequential. I absorbed this attitude from the people around me who all seemed to believe that the Gospel was unchanging. Why this belief despite ample evidence to the contrary?

The answer is complex, to be sure. Perhaps human change blindness can help explain some of it. If changes in doctrine are made quietly and slowly enough, it is quite easy to forget that we used to believe differently just a few years ago.

For example, I’ve recently learned that the LDS church has begun sealing women to more than one husband though not at the same time. Let me explain for anyone unfamiliar with the niceties of Mormon practice. A sealing is a marriage for “time and all eternity”, an eternal marriage. If a person’s eternal spouse dies, Mormonism considers them to still be married. So you can’t get sealed to another spouse after your first spouse dies because you’re still married to someone else.

Except that this is Mormonism and polygyny is okay. Men have long been allowed to be sealed to another woman as long as all previously sealed wives have died. Polyandry, on the other hand, isn’t kosher in the LDS church (even though Joseph Smith apparently practiced it), so women have only been allowed to be sealed to one husband ever. Make sense?

Anyway, that’s recently changed. As I mentioned, women are now allowed to be sealed to another man after their spouse dies. This may seem to some to be a small policy change, but this policy was based on the doctrine that polygyny was ordained of God while polyandry was not. I’m sure the rationale is that God will sort out in the world to come which (one) man the women will be sealed to forever.

I can’t help but speculate, however, that this represents another example of how Mormon doctrine changes over time without anyone suspecting it. Maybe a few years down the road Mormons will believe that God will also sort out which one woman a man will be sealed to, that polygamy was just a practical expedient here on earth to raise up Mormon seed to God, and that all polygamous sealings will be dissolved in eternity. That’s a long way from teaching that polygamy would be required of everyone who wanted to inherit the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

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  1. Lincoln Cannon said,

    April 3, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

    Joseph taught that God commands according to circumstance. Any Mormon who does not anticipate change is hardly Mormon.

  2. Lincoln Cannon said,

    April 3, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

    By the way, I hope the description of the policy change for sealings is accurate, and would consider that an improvement.

  3. Jonathan Blake said,

    April 4, 2008 @ 9:49 am

    I hope so too.

  4. Jason Richards said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 7:25 pm

    Jon, that would mean they’ve reinstated polyandry–do you have a reliable source on this rumor?

  5. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 1, 2008 @ 8:21 am

    No good source, just a couple of people mentioning that women they knew had been allowed to be sealed to more than one husband.

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