The Light Never Moves

By Spencer J. Condie

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    An interesting experiment in social psychology investigates how much the judgments of others influence the way we see things. A psychologist built a small machine containing a bright light which could be switched on in pinpoint bursts. When one views a small burst of light in a dark room, the light appears to move, even though the machine producing the light is stable and doesn’t move at all. This is called the autokinetic (self-movement) effect, and it plays an important role in this experiment.

    During the first stage of the experiment one person, let’s call him Bill, is led into a dark room and instructed to judge how far the tiny pinpoints of light move each time he sees a burst of light. His judgment is two centimeters the first time, three centimeters the second time, and four centimeters the third time. After several trials he settles on three centimeters as his average judgment.

    Bill is then excused from the room, and Susan is invited to be seated several feet from the light machine. She then voices her judgments each time she sees a burst of light. She begins with three centimeters, then two centimeters, and she finally begins to repeat estimates of about one centimeter.

    After her judgments have been recorded, Bill is then invited back into the room with Susan, and both of them are instructed to voice their individual estimates of another series of light bursts. After the first burst Bill says, “three centimeters,” and Susan counters with “one centimeter.” On the next trial Susan says, “one and a half,” and Bill replies, “two and a half.” After several subsequent trials, they concur that the light moves two centimeters each time.

    The interesting conclusion to this experiment may appear, at first, to be trivial, but in many regards it is profound. The light never moves. It is only our perceptions of the light that change. As we associate with others whose opinions differ from our own, their judgments often influence how we view things, and we, in turn, influence their view of the world.

    Few of us are ever invited into an experimental laboratory to share our opinions, but each day of our lives we are required to make important judgments in the laboratory of life. Sometimes we tend to forget some important eternal truths. For example, “the Spirit of Christ is given to every man that he may know good from evil.” The Lord assured us that if we are responsive to his spirit, he will “show [us] the way to judge” (Moro. 7:16). The Savior also referred to himself as “the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). This light never moves, and if it appears to move from us, we are the ones who have moved.

    Sometimes in everyday life, just as in the darkened laboratory, we lose our perspective as familiar landmarks vanish. We think the light has moved. One of the ways we move from the light of Christ is engaging in the “Not As Bad As Game.” You know how it goes:

    “I swear a lot, but I never take the Lord’s name in vain.”

    “I don’t pay a full tithing, but at least I pay something.”

    “I go to a few movies that might be considered a little bad morally, but I never go to the ones that are really bad.”

    “Sure. I cheat on my taxes, but not as bad as other people I know.”

    “I don’t consider it gossip when I’m only telling the truth.”

    “If the clothes I wear look a little wild, you should see what some of the kids at school wear.”

    And so, in the words of our beloved friend Nephi, “thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Ne. 28:21.)

    Although the light never moves, the more often we are in contact with that which is abnormal, degrading and undesirable, the more normal and desirable it begins to appear. We become less sensitive to the promptings of the still, small voice. In that same great epistle which motivated the boy prophet Joseph to seek the Lord in prayer, the Apostle James shared some great insights into this process:

    “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

    “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

    “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

    “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. …

    “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of haughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:12–15, 21).

    Youth of the noble birthright, you have been lovingly commanded to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

    Remember, the light never moves.