A common rubric for deciphering communication between oneself and the Holy Ghost is whether the communication contravenes ones expectations or prior thinking on a topic. For instance:

You know that you’re really beyond confirmation bias when the Spirit starts teaching you things that are different from what you thought was true. And that can happen pretty frequently when you’re really working at it.

On one level, this seems to be a perfectly valid approach to discerning information sources.1 Were we able to quantify the information content of a closed container and then some quantity of information that seemed foreign to the original source were to appear all in an instant, the most reasonable conclusion would be that the information originated elsewhere.

The research on cognition suggests a different potential source for unexpected (or surprising) conclusions that seemingly appear out of nowhere into our conscious awareness–the brain’s own sub-conscious. For instance:

  • Roger Sperry’s split brain experiments demonstrated that the mammalian brain shares some kinds of information with other parts of the brain (mainly via the corpus callosum).
  • Hasher and Zacks demonstrated that our brains are constantly sub-consciously processing information. This allows us to “know” things that we have never deliberately rationalized or even consciously thought about.
  • As discussed in their chapter on Intuition, incubation, and insight, Dorfman et al. discuss models of insight and intuition. In particular:
    • lots of insights occur after a period of incubation and then external activation (often unrelated to the original problem!)
    • “… it is almost an article of faith among cognitive psychologists that people lack introspective access to the procedures by which we perceive and remember object and evens, store and retrieve knowledge, think, reason, and solve problems”
    • “we do not always know what we think and know”

A large corpus of research on how we think, how we process information (i.e., much of it subliminally), and how that processing manifests itself to our awareness suggests that we expect people to have sudden strokes of insight which may, at times, contravene their previous conscious thinking on a given topic. The body of research linked above does not in any way rule out communication with a disembodied 3rd party consciousness,2 but on its face we might expect such phenomena to occur as a result of sub-conscious processes so we do not need to invoke another explanatory source necessarily.

also posted at /r/mormon

  1. Information may be defined in terms of its surprise, so when an observation contravenes our expectations, it seems valid to view that as information and reasonable to seek its source. 

  2. In theory, the information content of the communication could be demonstrated to be beyond the capacity of the individual to generate sub-consciously (e.g., accurately predict a future, extremely improbable event) or be demonstrated to be beyond the access of the individual (e.g. test for a disembodied consciousness). Though a variety of relatively simple experiments could be constructed to ascertain if a person were communicating with a 3rd party or disembodied consciousness, the results of such experiments are mostly contingent on the willingness of the (potential) entities to submit to such tests and/or communicate messages that are extremely high in information content.