Sunday, June 30, 2013

Intelligence and agency

[Note: I could be wrong about everything. I frequently am. I do however find my own insights convincing or I wouldn't bother to share them. ]

Dear Sister G.,

"Intelligence." "Agent." These words are used in the scriptures. I think they are well-chosen. Obviously the gospel concept predates the word choice--the gospel was true before English was invented--but I think Joseph Smith did an even better job than he probably knew, translating them into English.

The scriptures say that men are "agents unto themselves," and the JST of Moses 7:13 says, "in the garden of Eden, man had agency." The word "agent" comes from Latin "agere" (ago/agere/egi/actus). Textbooks often give the meaning as "to do, to act, to make, etc." but what it really is is a generic verb which gets its specific meaning from the associated noun, just like the English word "do." (Consider the difference between "I did my taxes", "I did the dishes", "I did my duty", and "I did him in".) Basically it means "to whatchamacallit." In English, "agent" can refer to something which catalyzes or acts (as in chemistry, or expressions like "agent of change"), or to someone who acts ON ANOTHER'S BEHALF. When the scriptures say then that men are "agents unto themselves," I feel like the Lord intends for us to see 1.) we have the power to act, to do, to make, etc., 2.) when we do so, we represent ourselves--but we also have the choice to become HIS agents, to act at his direction and on his behalf. It's a good, subtle choice of word and I love it.

The scriptures also talk about "intelligence," especially in D&C 93 (which refers to "intelligence" as a singular undifferentiated "mass noun" like "information", without discrete subsets) and in Abraham 3 (which refers to "intelligences" as a synonym for premortal spirits). The word "intelligence" comes from Latin "intellegere" (intellego/intellegere/intellegi/intellectus), which textbooks say means "to understand." It comes from "legere" (lego/legere/legi/lectus) which means "to read". "Inter" (between) + "legere" (to read) = "to read between [the lines]", "to understand". But here's the neat thing: I learned a few years back that the original meaning of "legere" was actually "to choose." Because reading consisted of picking the right meaning out of a set of letters, "legere" also came to mean "to read" as well as "to choose". So "intellegere" not only means "to read between", it must also mean "to choose between". That makes "intelligence" an extremely appropriate word for the scriptural concept of that which not only sees and understands, but also chooses a course of action.

We are intelligence, endowed with agency.


P.S. Moses 7:13 originally said, "the Lord said unto Enoch, behold, these thy brethren, they are the workmanship of mine own hands, & I gave unto them their knowledge in the day that I created them & in the Garden of Eden gave I unto man his agency;". During revisions by the Prophet, the word "knowledge" was crossed out and replaced by "intelligence", the phrase "in the day that I created them" was crossed out, "gave I unto" was crossed out, and "his" was partially crossed out and rewritten as "has". "I gave unto them their knowledge & in the Garden of Eden man had agency;"

I mention this both because it's interesting doctrinally and because it says something interesting about the process by which revelation comes: line upon line, precept upon precept.

Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty.
Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him.
Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place.
Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret.
Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

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