Book of Mormon Notes– How deep can you dig?

2009, March 4

Book of Mormon: Ammon’s Cataplexy

Well, I just found out, to the best of my research, what Ammon in the Book of Mormon experienced twice: cataplexy. Simply, it’s where your emotions overcome your body, making the muscles relax. (I wonder if there’s another form not mentioned in the literature I’ve read, because I know two children who, with one pinch, suffer immediate total collapse/ are on the floor, and a few others that are close but not that bad. In other words, it seems the cause is not just emotional/ psychological.) By the way, if you know something better, sound off on the comments.

Here it is in the Book of Mormon:
Alma 19:14 Now Ammon seeing the Spirit of the Lord poured out according to his prayers upon the Lamanites, his brethren, who had been the cause of so much mourning among the Nephites, or among all the people of God because of their iniquities and their traditions, he fell upon his knees, and began to pour out his soul in prayer and thanksgiving to God for what he had done for his brethren; and he was also overpowered with joy; and thus they all three had sunk to the earth.

Alma 27:17 Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth.
Alma 27:18 Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.
Alma 27:19 Now the joy of Alma in meeting his brethren was truly great, and also the joy of Aaron, of Omner, and Himni; but behold their joy was not that to exceed their strength.

Is it possible that Joseph Smith had cataplexy, and that this condition is how he had the First Vision? (For example, one ex-Mormon critic I know believed that the First Vision came by way of Joseph Smith suffering narcoleptic attack, then having a hypnagogic hallucination/ sleep paralysis, then having an epileptic seizure including a drawn-out participatory visual and auditory hallucination; and, in fact, his other visions were similar. In his own words: “Couldn’t a person with an unusual brain learn to induce such a state more or less at will? Unsual and surprising isn’t the same thing as impossible and why shouldn’t we give a naturalistic account a chance for something like this?” I guess he could also use his powerful mind control brainwaves to induce the same conditions in others that shared his visions and experiences, along with their own… Ok…)

Nope. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there is nothing about Joseph Smith having any of the other accompanying principal signs or symptoms. Besides, “hynagogic hallucinations” are never positive, “sleep paralysis” doesn’t allow one to move and speak as Joseph did, and for Joseph–a person of a jovial nature–to have never had a previous cataplectic attack, nor one afterwards, seems to be extremely unnatural.

From @ikipedia:
“Cataplexy is a medical condition which often affects people who have narcolepsy, a disorder whose principal signs are EDS (Excessive Daytime Sleepiness), sleep attacks, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations[1] and disturbed night-time sleep.”

From Scholarpedia:
“Emotions that may trigger attacks include laughter, fear, anger, frustration, annoyance, nervousness, embarrassment, and sadness. Positive emotions, specifically laughter, are most predictive of triggering a cataplectic event. Data from the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic of 200 patients with cataplexy showed that 100 percent of these patients reported laughter as the most common trigger, followed by a feeling of amusement, or surprise with happiness and joy [2]. A study by Anic-Labat et al reported that emotions arising from “hearing or telling a joke,” “laughing,” or “when angry,” were most predictive of the loss of muscle function in clear-cut cataplexy [3].”

Note that the experiences of cataplexy in the Book of Mormon are not normal in that the person experiencing them doesn’t have the disorder, just a one- or two-time experience. There is also another difference with usual cataplexy: during at least one episode, Ammon lost consciousness. Compare that to this typical definition of cataplexy: “a medical condition in which strong emotion or laughter causes a person to suffer sudden physical collapse though remaining conscious.”

So when was cataplexy first reported, and how aware of it would Joseph Smith have been? (Or are fainting spells close enough that they count?)

From http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2564780:
“To publish the first English translations, with commentary, of the original reports describing narcolepsy and cataplexy by Westphal in German (1877) and by Gélineau in French (1880).”
“Results: Both Westphal and Gélineau correctly identified and described the new clinical entities of cataplexy and narcolepsy, with recurrent, self-limited sleep attacks and/or cataplectic attacks affecting 2 otherwise healthy people. Narcolepsy was named by Gélineau (and cataplexy was named by Henneberg in 1916)…”

So, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon predate medical literature by many years. It is possible, of course, that Joseph Smith had known or heard of someone with cataplexy or having a cataplectic attack.

Ammon is not the only one; Lamoni, his wife, and his father all experience it or something similar.

I know from personal experience similar to that of Ammon’s that his experience as written in the Book of Mormon is absolutely possible. (Hey, I doubt I was as righteous or faithful as him, and it wasn’t 14 years separation for me.)


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