Gospel Tangents Podcast

Gospel Tangents Podcast

Automatic Writing/Bill Davis’s Visions of Seer Stone

October 20, 2021

We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Brian Hales on Book of Mormon authorship.  What are some naturalistic explanations are there to explain how Joseph Smith could have written the Book of Mormon? Brian will tackle a few more theories, such as automatic writing, as well as Bill Davis recent book, “Visions in a Seer Stone.”  Are those good explanations?

Brian:  The fourth theory is really interesting. We call it the automatic writing theory. Now, automatic writing, there’s actually two flavors. Psychologists, particularly around 1920, were doing experimenting where they would take a person and what the psychologist wants to do is find things that are in a person’s unconscious. They’ve been stuffed there because they’re too hard to deal with by the individual. And if you can get them out carefully and talk about them, you can increase a person’s mental health. They’ll feel better, less anxiety and things. So, they want to get stuff out of the unconscious part of their brain. They would isolate their arms and get them kind of really relaxed, and then their arm would just spontaneously write. That’s automatic writing. That’s the most clinical version. Then, the words that are written would be used in therapy to try to help the person with things that have been stuffed into their unconscious mind.

Brian:  The next one is a storyteller theory. I have an article coming out in Interpreter that compares Joseph Smith to professional storytellers. Now, they can tell stories day after day after day, or one big, long story that could take five or six days to put together. To make a long story short, Rick, all they’re doing is memorizing formulas that are sentences with words that can be plugged in here and there. So, they memorize these and as the story goes along, they just have to plug in a word here or a word there. The rest of it’s all memorized and comes out very much as a routine for them. They’re called formula patterns, formula systems. When you write down or make a transcript of the stories that are told this way, you can see the pattern right there in the text. We look at the Book of Mormon, there are no patterns like that. I mean, there’s chiasmus and things, but the whole book isn’t out of a chiasm. And honestly, trying to create a chiasm in real time, doesn’t necessarily make it easier, I think it makes it more difficult. So, the storytelling theory hasn’t gotten a lot of traction. Bill Davis mentioned it in his Ph.D. dissertation. I mention Bill Davis because he wrote the book of Visions in a Seer Stone.
GT:  Right.
Brian:  I admire what Bill is trying to do.
GT:  Well, I was going to ask, is this pattern the same thing as laying down heads that Bill mentions in his book or is it different?
Brian:  Well, it’s interesting.  Bill is trying to give us an explanation of what’s going on in Joseph’s head. While he’s dictating the stream of words that become the Book of Mormon. Nobody else has done this. My friend, Dan Vogel, has published this 715-page biography.[1] He never once tries to tell us how Joseph was able to create all of these final draft sentences. He just assumed Joseph could do it. Bill is trying to go in and explain what is going on cognitively and what kind of thoughts Joseph was having, as he’s dictating. I admire Bill for that. In fact, in his Ph.D. dissertation, he gives us a couple of views because he does talk about professional storytellers right at the end of his book briefly, but the primary theory that he promotes—I’m sorry, in his Ph.D. dissertation. He briefly mentions professional storytellers. But, in his book, Visions in a Seer Stone, he focuses on an idea that laying down heads is how professionals,