Get on a train of thought (our one-track minds)

September 21, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 5:38 pm   Category: Theology

In my last post on the Oneness of the members of the Godhead I brought up the idea that a fundamental difference between our minds and the mind of the Godhead is that we can only think of one thing at a time and they can think of multiple things at once. Here is a link to the Nibley article I referred to earlier called “Zeal Without Knowledge.” In this paper Nibley leads with the idea that human minds literally can only think of one thing at a time. We really do have one track minds — we are just good a flickering back and forth between things so quickly that it is as if we are thinking of multiple things at once. God does not have this limitation. The connection to the last post is that I think that without this limitation, the notion of me vs. other becomes a different thing entirely. Clearly, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

The claim that God can think of many things simultaneously is nothing shocking. How else could he hear and respond to thousands or even millions of prayers simultaneously? The Son could have a deep conversation with Paul at the same time He is having a deep conversation with Peter. All the while the Father and the Holy Ghost are sharing his thoughts on those conversations he is sharing their thoughts as well. It is a hard concept to grasp for those of us here with one-track minds. I honestly don’t really understand it. But I do think this idea could help us reconcile the Oneness that the Godhead enjoys (and that I believe they want us to join in with them) with the notion that they retain separate minds and bodies.

But it does bring up some interesting (if currently unanswerable) questions. If we are in the image of God’s body here, are our brains the image of his brain? If so, then perhaps it is just a matter of some sort of governor placed on our mortal brains to keep us thinking of one thing at time. (Nibley suggested that our one-track minds are what will make our judgment so easy at the last day – every thought is a choice and every choice reveals the desires of our heart.) Or maybe God had a different model of a brain entirely. Just because we are in his image here does not mean that everything is the same “under the hood” after all. And what model of brain do spirits have? Are their brains like God’s or like mortal brains or another model entirely?

Any thoughts? How literally should we take the concept that we are built in the image of God here on earth? If we do take it literally, does it apply mostly to the chassis or does it mean we are like him “under the hood” as well?


  1. 1) My wife (all females in general?) can almost have 20 thoughts at once (or at least 20 projects), which, for her is good. I can’t handle that, but I do do one project (thought) at a time really well, which for me, is good.

    2) Small nit: You use the word “conversation”, which to me (perhaps I’m wrong) means vocalization. God has one pair of lips, can he really have simultaneous conversations?

    3) Likewise does God “hear” our prayers? I know that it is good (to help us concentrate), but not necessary to vocalize our prayers , but does the H.G. move our sound waves into God’s ears or just move our brainwaves into his brain?

    4) I vote for literal (whole body and brain) interpretation of “in God’s image”. When we are ressurected we get these brains back, correct? And they can’t ever be seperated, correct? If we are going to be gods, with these brains, I submit that they have to be the same as His brain.

    Comment by Daylan Darby — September 21, 2005 @ 7:54 pm

  2. I think projecting our current physiology onto the eternities is really quite unfounded (except for you MMP folks). All our physiology is currently designed to metabolize oxygen and carbon. Our blood, heart, lungs, bone marrow, liver, lymph system, etc. are all there to get oxygen to the cells effectivly. My guess is that God doesn’t require oxygen (because we know we won’t have blood). All the rest of our physiology is a function of this oxygen dependent fallen state and so all our DNA is eternally insignificant. Our organs become completely transformed or superfluous in a non-oxygen based physiology. If we won’t have a heart, why would we have a brain (as presently constituted)?

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 21, 2005 @ 7:55 pm

  3. Stapley,
    Couldn’t you go so far as to suggest, then, that Gods don’t beget children in the same way as we do (nor conceive those children in the same manner)?

    Comment by Rusty — September 21, 2005 @ 9:09 pm

  4. grin.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 21, 2005 @ 9:23 pm

  5. Nice. A vote in both directions.

    J – I assume you are responding largely to Daylan. I certainly did not suggest that God’s anatomy is exactly like our current mortal anatomy — in fact I brought the subject up because I have suspicions that it is not. It is true that if MMP is an accurate model then we will continue in the same anatomy in some sense until we attain the exalted state that God has in mind for us (becoming as He is). But that does not mean that the body we will potentially inherit then must be as this one is (as you aptly point out).

    Daylan – I use the terms conversation and hearing and speaking in the sense that God generally speaks to us — that he hears all of our spoken and unspoken prayers simultaneously and answers via anything ranging from the still small voice to visions. Nothing in that range of answers necessarily requires his physical body to be present (though admittedly he could only make one actual visitation at a time).

    Rusty – Stapley has a rather dim view of our connection to the Father… In other words, he doesn’t think we can ever grow up to be like him.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 21, 2005 @ 10:31 pm

  6. I can think of several things at once. I noticed it when I was having an MRI and one part of me was panicking and one part of me was singing Abide With Me and one part of me was wandering all over the place. That is not good thinking or clear thinking, but it is thinking simultaneously. I noticed it.

    Comment by annegb — September 22, 2005 @ 1:29 am

  7. God is multi-threaded and multi-core :) AMD and intel are just starting to catch up…

    Comment by Ben S. — September 22, 2005 @ 7:45 am

  8. Great piece, Geoff! A bit mind-boggling, if you don’t mind a pun; oops, that’s two, sorry. Hey, what if the brain itself is that governor? Perhaps our spirits are unlimited, but the brain of the physical (and mortal) bodies is the governor that limits us to one thought at a time? I remember a human development professor talking about an anencephalic woman who got a Ph.D…. My prof said lots of people are found to be anencephalic (having no brain) upon autopsy. Made me wonder if I’d be one of ’em. Wouldn’t want to know it when I was still alive, though. Might be depressing or at least confusing. Anyway, I am glad that our Heavenly Father’s thoughts are not like ours, and that He can attend to each of us simultaneously (oops again, He is outside of time, not being time-blind as we are). Very hard for infant minds like ours to comprehend the infinite…. Wonderful post; thanks for making me think, even if it is only one thought at a time….;)

    Comment by Peggy Snow Cahill — September 22, 2005 @ 8:24 am

  9. Au contraire, mon frere. I do think we share the same physiology as the the Father and will one day have a body like his.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 22, 2005 @ 8:36 am

  10. J – How do you sync your comment #2 with your comment #9? They seem contradictory to me.

    Peggy – Thanks and welcome back to the Thang. I was sort of thinking the same thing you were about our mortal brains potentially acting as a governor. I’m not sure how to justify that with the commonly repeated notion that we only use a tiny portion of our brains here, though. BTW — I actually am among those that believe God exists within time, so calling it simultaneous is very literal in my view of things.

    Ben – I considered evoking a computer multi-tasking analogy, but I have sort of played that general theme into the ground recently.

    Anne – It is certainly possible that the research used to make the claim that we can only think of one thing at a time is incorrect. (I just lifted it from Nibley and he quoted a book from 1970 after all.) But I suspect it is accurate and that our brains are just faster than any man-made computer. I suspect they are so fast that it is as if we had truly simultaneous thoughts.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 22, 2005 @ 10:21 am

  11. I see. I beleive that we now have the physiology that Jesus had when he was on the earth. I think our resurected bodies will be like the Fathers.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 22, 2005 @ 11:20 am

  12. Just because our present bodies are oxygen based and our organs are set up to get oxygen to the cells doesn’t mean those organs in their resurrected state won’t be used for getting something else to the cells. If we are getting rid of things because they are oxygen based, then the skin and all the organs go too. I can imagine that those same organs could be used to get “spirit ether” to the cells.

    OK, I do see some problems too, like the organs used for elimination of waste. Will our resurrected bodies need to eliminate waste.

    The resurrected body does work differently, but also the same. It is interesting to note that almost every time Jesus appears with His resurrected body that He eats. Did He need to eat? Why did He do it? How did His resurrected body digest the food, and will we be able to do the same? (Food tastes good, does spirit food taste?)

    Comment by don — September 22, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

  13. Interesting. The idea that resurected bodies have spirit in their veins instead of blood is rather spurious to me. Where did this originate? Not from any doctrinal source I am aware of.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 22, 2005 @ 12:41 pm

  14. These conversations illustrate the reason I brought the subject up. Most Mormons have assumptions about the body the Father has but when we begin to unpack the idea it immediately leads to all sorts of absurdities. Even the idea about skin makes very little sense if God live in “everlasting burnings” in any literal sense. The whole “above the brightness of the Sun” thing makes it a difficult subject too. Anyhow, I lean toward the idea that the actual body the Father has is not nearly like our mortal bodies as we commonly like to think in Mormonism.

    The idea that J brings up that our resurrected bodies will be “like the Father’s” raises all sorts of questions too. The scriptures make it clear that not all resurrected bodies are alike. So how much could a Telestial resurrected body actually be like the body the Father has? One has glory like the stars and the other glory like the Sun — Sounds very dissimilar to me.

    The question of the resurrected Christ is a difficult one. I wonder if he received a transition resurrected body (with wounds and all) in preparation for the body he was to receive that was like the Father’s. Admittedly I am making this up and can’t support it except for with a few hints I see (like the “touch me not” episode, the wounds, the fact that he was not “above the brightness of the Sun” and that no one seemed to be in danger of burning up in his presence with that body, etc.)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 22, 2005 @ 1:46 pm

  15. Geoff,
    I have not read the other comments to your post, so I hope I am not repeating what others have already said.

    I question how God could have more thoughts than one. It sounds like a multiple-personality disorder to me. If God can be carrying on a conversation with me, and at the same time be carrying on a conversation with a guy in sector b of the milky way galaxy, couldn’t we very well say that it’s another person who is talking to that other guy?

    I think to understand where your coming from on this I would need to know what your model of the Godhead is. What do you believe the nature of the unseen world to be? Couldn’t it be possible that God has messengers do the work that he cannot do? I think there are other possibilities other than assuming that God can have more than one stream of consciousness.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — September 22, 2005 @ 10:39 pm

  16. Craig,

    I am not claiming this is the only solution, but I do think it is a better one than the alternative you provided in your comment. Humans with multiple personalities also only think of one thing at a time, so that is not an applicable analogy. They apparently lose grip on reality and slip into different characters. I am describing a scenario where God has a brain/mind that could think more than one simultaneous thought – not becoming different linear characters. As I said, it a very foreign to us, but I think it may be required.

    The alternative that you suggest might be ok if we assume God sends millions of employees to deliver simultaneous responses to us, but if God has a one-track mind as we do then he can only listen to one person at a time as well. That is a notion I find unacceptable. As I mentioned in the last post — I think we try to fight for our separateness and singleness of mind too aggressively sometimes. I believe God wants us to join him in Oneness of mind — not to the obliteration of self but in the sharing of thoughts in a perfect relationship. (You should check that One Love post and the comments out.)

    The only way I can think of to allow God to personally hear all of our prayers and still have a human-like one-track mind is to assume he lives outside of time (as many people do). I don’t think this is the case though.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 23, 2005 @ 8:14 am

  17. I am describing a scenario where God has a brain/mind that could think more than one simultaneous thought – not becoming different linear characters.

    Just because God has one brain/mind does not make him one person. If God can carry on two conversations at the same time, it would seem that he is two different persons. He may store his memory in the same place, but the agent that is interacting elsewhere is someone else. This is why I say the view that God has messengers and agents who stand in his place is just as viable an option. If what they learn, he comes to know, it would be the same as what you are saying, except God would still have a mind similar to ours. I do not think it is necessary that it is God who speaks to us personally as long as his agents would say the exact same thing he would say. Like the scriptures say, from the voice of my prophets or mine own voice, it is the same.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — September 23, 2005 @ 10:27 am

  18. Craig,

    You have not resolved the problem of a God that exists in time hearing millions of prayers simultaneously. Are you implying that we are praying to God but it is really his employees that are listening? Do they then go get in line to pass our message on to Him? These are obvious absurdities. (Sounds like the administrative Jethro had to advise Moses on…)

    If my desktop computer has the capacity to do realy multi-tasking — meaning simultaneous tasks/”thinking” as opposed to extremely fast linear tasks/”thinking” — then I see no problem with idea that God can do the same. True multi-tasking does not make my computer suddenly become multiple computers any more than the ability to truly multi-task makes God different persons.

    Again, our thoughts are not his thoughts. I think Nibley was right in this implication of his.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 23, 2005 @ 10:51 am

  19. You have not resolved the problem of a God that exists in time hearing millions of prayers simultaneously.

    How have I not? If God’s messengers not only speak for him, but also hear for him and that becomes part of his memory, what does it matter? Either way God “hears our prayers.”

    These are obvious absurdities.

    I’m failing to see how my comments qualify as “absurdities.” Just because they don’t fall in line with your presuppositions does not make them absurd. It could be very likely (logically) that what I’m saying is true. It is not absurd. I never said they waited in line to give him the message. It is very likely that their thoughts become his thoughts, it just wasn’t him who was interacting with the individual agents.

    If my desktop computer has the capacity to do realy multi-tasking-meaning simultaneous tasks/”thinking” as opposed to extremely fast linear tasks/”thinking”-then I see no problem with idea that God can do the same. True multi-tasking does not make my computer suddenly become multiple computers any more than the ability to truly multi-task makes God different persons.

    There is a mistake in comparing the mind to a machine. A computer is not a conscious mind, and never will be. A computer does not “think” in that sense of the word. I have no problems with Gods mind working at infinitely faster rates than even our modern computers. My issue lies in the idea that God’s center of consciousness can be in more than one place at one time. This sounds like two persons to me, not one.

    Again, our thoughts are not his thoughts.

    I’m not clear as to why you choose to quote this scripture. Was it to imply that God’s mind is different than our mind and may have different centers of consciousness? Or was it to say we don’t understand how this could be possible, but God’s reasoning is different than ours? If it was the latter later, then I take issue with the idea that God’s reasoning is different than ours. But that’s another topic for another day. If it was the former, it seems obvious to me that the context of the scripture in no way implied what you are arguing for in this post.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — September 23, 2005 @ 11:26 am

  20. If God’s messengers not only speak for him, but also hear for him and that becomes part of his memory, what does it matter? Either way God “hears our prayers… It is very likely that their thoughts become his thoughts, it just wasn’t him who was interacting with the individual agents.”

    I’m confused. What are you talking about here? I thought you were arguing that God’s brain acts like our brain (linearly with one thought at a time). If that is the case (and God is time bound) then he must learn what his servants know one at a time in a lineup. You seem to be describing something else in this comment (something that sounds very much like what I am arguing for). What do you mean?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 23, 2005 @ 11:36 am

  21. I have some really vague notions about how God communicates but I don’t have the vocabulary or intellect to explain it well. Mostly I just have questions!
    The scriptures talk a lot about light. Beings of light, intelligence as light, the pillar of light that is sometimes mentioned as preceding a visitation, Jesus as the light of the world, the brightness of the countenances of angelic visitors…
    Information is transmitted in our brains by electrical impulses.
    Light travels in waves and as particles.
    So could light transmit information not only much faster, but in much larger amounts? Could a resurrected brain be equipped for either knowledge literally as light, or at least some other faster more powerful way of processing information?

    Comment by C Jones — September 23, 2005 @ 1:07 pm

  22. Geoff,
    I think where you and I are in disagreement is exactly by what means God receives his knowledge. You seem to be arguing that God is somehow directly communicating with more than one person at one time. As if his consciousness is divided among different states. I argue that God gets his knowledge through the means of other messengers. The real question is, what type of knowledge does God have. For example, I have the knowledge that Joseph Smith was killed in 1844. I have that knowledge, but that knowledge is not immediate knowledge, it is knowledge that I have to call up. That’s how propositional knowledge is. Is that how God’s knowledge is? It would seem that a being that exists in time must have this type of knowledge. So technically for God to be able to have access to this knowledge does not mean he has immediate perception of that knowledge. I think you would disagree with this Geoff. Yet, I cannot see it any other way.

    Granted, the downside of this type of thought is that God is not immediately concerned with each and every individual, which is the reason, I think, you have developed your theo-epistomology. This theory of yours attempts to reconcile the belief that deity exists in time, and also God has an intimate relationship with each of us. This may have greater existential import than my theory has, but it just doesn’t make sense given my concept of a conscious being.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — September 23, 2005 @ 2:58 pm

  23. Craig,

    Thanks for the clarification. A couple of comments:

    This theory of yours attempts to reconcile the belief that deity exists in time, and also God has an intimate relationship with each of us. This may have greater existential import than my theory has

    I think you are right on both counts. That is what I’m trying to accomplish and it is a crucially important concept. Of the two (God’s direct dialogic communication with us no matter whom else he is communicating with at the time and God being time bound) I would jettison the time-bound concept long before the immediately dialogic relationship. But I don’t think I have to do either.

    I don’t have any problem with the concept of knowledge needing to be accessed from the “database” by God either — I’m not sure why you assume I do (though maybe I should and don’t know it yet — if so please let me know why).

    I do have serious reservations with this idea: I argue that God gets his knowledge through the means of other messengers.

    I have no idea why that would be the case or where you get this idea. If messengers can read our thoughts from afar then why can’t God himself do it? If 1000 people are simultaneously silently praying are you saying God is not actually listening, but rather 1000 thought-reading servants are listening, and then running to the data input center and individually passing the info on to God? And further that God only hears our prayers a fast as these messengers can tell him? I am baffled by that concept… perhaps that is not what you mean at all. Please set me straight in my assumptions about what you are saying. And then please help me understand how God can hear and respond to thousands or millions of prayers simultaneously.

    I suppose one way it would be possible would be for the “processor” that is God’s brain to be so immeasurably fast that it can flicker back and forth between all of our prayers and not miss any relevant data… Sort of like I can sometimes read and listen to my three year old at the same time (mostly because what he is saying is so basic it requires little of my attention.) That model would allow for God to have a mind similar to ours in function though not in capacity. (This has nothing to do with your messenger idea though…)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 23, 2005 @ 3:29 pm

  24. Geoff,
    I’m heading to work so only have a second. But I just wanted to throw this idea out there. What if God does not know every detail, and works through his messengers and through us to accomplish his designs. In otherwords, God does not directly answer our prayers, but we on earth and God’s messengers on Earth do. Just a thought.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — September 23, 2005 @ 3:47 pm

  25. I’m interested in hearing more details, Craig. I’m curious to hear how you resolve the issues I already mentioned in #23. I’m also wondering what you see as the strengths of such a model.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 24, 2005 @ 10:16 am

  26. Geoff,
    The way I resolve your issues is be not getting into them to begin with. If there is only one being who hears and answers and prayers, then there are issues with the model I have suggested. But if there are many beings who hear and answer prayers, then it does not raise the issues you have brought up. I may be forced though to reject the omniscience of a single being. Joseph Smith said that Elohiem is plural, and so when we speak of Elohiem we are not speaking of one God, but many Gods. So what if one being doesn’t know everything? There could be a God over all other Gods whom we worship, and yet at the same time there could be a mulitipicity of Gods who are engaged in his work. I know this is very unorthodox, but so was Joseph Smith’s doctrine of the pluarality of Gods. This doctrine, which may have been one of the reasons he was killed, plays no part in our doctrine today. If Joseph Smith was willing to lose his life over such a doctrine, I would be willing to say its an important doctrine. The implications of such a doctrine are what led Brigham Young to declare that Adam is the only God with whom we have to do. I’m not saying I agree with the Adam-God theory, but I do see truth in the principle.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — September 24, 2005 @ 1:41 pm

  27. Craig,

    My worry is that you are painting a picture of an organization with “God” as the CEO. In this picture you paint, a non-omniscient (even less knowing than the maximal knowledge Blake prefers) God is completely reliant on the non-omniscient employees to do his work in the Universe. I find such “God” completely unworthy of my absolute faith (at least as I picture what you’ve said so far). What happens when the chain of command breaks down? What happens when communication lines break down?

    Further, why would God even need others to listen to our thoughts from afar if he could do it himself? Are you implying that each of us has a personal “god” that is something like a guardian angel? If not then why bother with all of the “middle men”? I can understand a general disbelief in the idea of simultaneous thoughts, but I would only be willing to replace that with the idea that God has linear thought patterns (like ours) that are so much faster than ours that it is as if he has many simultaneous thoughts. The alternative you have suggested remains completely untenable as I have understood it.

    I suspect your theory might require a much larger and more explicit exposition though — maybe I do not understand what you are saying still…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 26, 2005 @ 11:05 am

  28. I found this site doing a search for simultaneous thought. I realize the thread has long ago stopped, but have to write. Simultaneous thought is possible. Not just thoughts and ideas running close to each other, but actual fully engaged, separate thoughts running simultaneously. I have a seizure disorder (not classified as epileptic). This morning during a large seizure, I was fully engaged in completely separate memories/thoughts at the same time. It was amazing beyond words…it seemed so natural until I realized it wasn’t. My first thought was whether this was a tiny glimpse of our eternal capacity of omniscience. I understand that the seizures are massive random electronic firings blazing across my brain synapses – and this experience raises many questions in my heart and soul. Questions for which I currently have no answers. But, again, I testify to you that simultaneous thought is definitely possible.

    Comment by Laura — March 8, 2008 @ 9:39 am