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How could Joseph Smith keep track of at least 151 unique geographical relationships in the Book of Mormon? Wouldn’t we expect around 28 mistakes if Joseph tried to go into that much detail?

Not only does the Book of Mormon contain so many geographical locations, it also contains over 150 geographical relationships. It would be an incredible task for Joseph Smith to maintain such consistency while dictating.

Using the Plagiarism Memory task, Kyler Rasmussen estimates that Joseph Smith should have made around 28 mistakes while dictating the Book of Mormon when it comes to geographical relationships; however there are only two debatable errors.

This brought me to the appropriately named Plagiarism Memory task. In this task, a person is brought into a room with a confederate, and both of them are asked to provide six creative solutions to a particular problem (e.g., an environment-related policy issue). Then, a day later, the participants returned, and were asked to recall their own ideas, as well as the confederate’s ideas, and then to generate new ideas listed by neither them nor the confederate. This might seem like a relatively simple task, but it’s harder than it sounds. Often people would recall the ideas, but would get the source of the idea wrong, attributing their partners ideas to themselves and vice versa. They also had trouble coming up with genuinely new ideas, and, more often than not, unconsciously stole from their partner (or from themselves!) when trying to generate new solutions.

Though it’s not a perfect fit for the situation Joseph would have found himself in when maintaining an internal geography, there are some definite similarities—Joseph would’ve had to recall things he said a day or more prior, and he would have to make sure not to confuse them with yet other things that he’d said. And forgetting who came up a particular item should be pretty comparable to forgetting whether one city is north or south of another, or whether it’s near the coast or near the wilderness. In the study, the error rate on the recall task was somewhere between 18.3% and 33%, depending on the experimental condition, and Joseph’s error rate should have been somewhat similar. For the sake of a fortiori reasoning, we’ll use the bottom of that range. When applied to the 151 geographic relationships in the text, that means he should have messed up somewhere on the order of 28 times, substantially more than the 2 we’ve been able to identify.

Kyler Rasmussen – Estimating the Evidence – Episode Episode 17: On Geographical Consistency

How would Joseph Smith have been able to do this without any notes? How can anyone maintain consistency when dictating over 150 geographical relationships?


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