Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pics of the Day



Blizzard. I got caught many miles away in a sudden snow storm yesterday. Barely made it back, lost control of my car a couple of times. 














26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

I'm glad that you survived. Be careful. Check meteorological reports before driving anywhere, so that you're prepared and avoid taking imprudent risks.

You don't want to die (or kill someone else) before your time, do you?

Yours,

Steve

Aaron said...

I knew it was going to snow and I took the risk knowingly. I drove about 20 miles and got about half a mile from the store before deciding to turn around. Ambulances everywhere, cars flipped over, took two hours to get back.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

Why did you take the risk?

Steve

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

Your first picture is an excellent, deeply satisfying one. It somehow captures my current mood. Perhaps you should entitle it "Golden Winter."

I've concluded something about Pat and many others. It's nothing unique to him, but I suspect to most humans--a self-defense. He seems to focus on his life and turn away from others' suffering because that would blight his enjoyment.

I say this not to be cruel, but to recognize that there is so much suffering in the world that if we truly allow ourselves to take a lot of it in, it would harm us. I suspect that it's mostly for that reason that he won't speak any further of his NDE-like experience.

I wonder if there's a way to balance the desire to alleviate others' suffering with the need to protect one's own well-being. The latter manifests as cruel indifference or apathy, even though I'm certain in his case that that's not the intention.

I appreciated what you said about not being surprised if you "woke up" after you died, although you would very seriously question the motives of the powers that be in such a scenario--quite understandably.

Is there anything, Aaron, that any of us can say, that Camus hasn't already said in Caligula? Do you understand why I exalt it above all other literary works?

I see a book on my shelf entitled The Lucifer Principle. Although it's not about Darwinian evolution...don't you think that it ought to be?

Yours,

Steve

upinVermont said...

Hey A.,

Between Friday's blizzard and Yesterday's blizzard we have gotten three feet of snow. I'll post some pictures shortly.

//seems to focus on his life and turn away from others' suffering because that would blight his enjoyment.//

Actually, Steve, the answer is that I have zero patience for mawkishly indulgent self pity.

Aaron said...

This rarely happens around here. This is more snow than anyone can remember. It just keeps coming. It usually snows less where I live than surrounding areas. There is about 9" here. Where I grew up there is well over a foot. I have lived here for 27 years and there was one other time we had a foot of snow on the ground, but we were isolated. I think in that was in 1985.

I am planning to take a vacation to Rome Italy in 6 weeks. As of last night, my manager still hadn't decided whether to call it an official "snow day" (so we don't have to use paid time off), despite knowing that none of us are coming to the clinic. So it is as I knew it all along- this mythical "snow day" might not be true. It has never snowed this much before, and they still haven't declared one. What does it have to do? I listened to my neighbor this morning squeeling his tires stuck in his driveway. People are driving atv's pulling sledders with ropes down the main roads.

Steve, I don't understand why you feel qualified to judge anyone of anything. I heard an interview with Paul Kurtz where he said he slightly disagreed with Camus. He said we are successful in finally getting the boulder to the top of the hill, but then there is always another boulder waiting to push up another hill.

Aaron said...

I couldn't get my car out of the driveway. My neighbor helped me shovel it out. I went to the store, avoiding little hills on which I would surely have got stuck. i walked to starbucks where I made conversation with a decent looking young woman with a nose like frosty's. I found an excuse to flee like I always do. My coworker called from her home where she was stranded and said the office was considering sending a cab for me to come to work, all for one single patient. They decided not to I heard, as I uncorked the bottle of cabernet with the phone pinched against my shoulder.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/science/23angi.html?_r=1&8dpc

I bet that such articles make "NDE Pat" seethe and foam at the mouth.

Yours,

Steve

Aaron said...

It is a great article. And the interesting thing is, if you open a conversation with 90% of people discussing this topic they will look at you and say something like "you have such a negative and bleak worldview", despite that you are stating clear and obvious facts.

But Pat accepts this reality Steve. Your assessment of him sounds like intentional ignorance designed to garner attention.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

I don't know what Pat believes or doesn't believe, since he feels ill-disposed to communicate with me. However, it may interest you that my latest philosophical speculations have led me to believe in panentheism as a reasonable (though hypothetical) solution to the "problem" of naturalism.

By the "problem of naturalism," I mean not only that if it were true, we would be annihilated at death, which I don't want to happen, but that no one has been able to solve the mind-body problem ("How can matter produce consciousness?") using naturalistic hypotheses, all scientific pretenses to the contrary notwithstanding (for philosophers of mind find them all lacking).

Panentheism can best be illustrated this way:

Let U = the universe, everything that exists.
Let S = the natural, empirical realm that science studies.

U = S + epsilon.

Naturalists believe that epsilon = 0 (or more accurately, that it's null, that there is no such term at all).

Panentheists believe that epsilon is something. That is to say, the fundamental conflict between naturalists and panentheists has to do not with science, but with metaphysics. Panentheists fully accept what science tells us about the natural world, but posit the existence of a broader realm that embraces and extends that world, whereas naturalists deny that there is anything beyond the natural world.

Why do we even need to posit an epsilon? It seems the same as positing the existence of an invisible White Father who is intimately concerned with humnan action and whom we're exhorted to not offend but are to bend before at the knee in praise and supplication.

The reason is this. Can an individual be held morally responsible for his actions in a presumably causally closed (fully determined, if we only knew all of the variables and equations) universe? If determinism is true, it seems to me that choice is an illusion, and the act of praising or (as is the more usual case) blaming others for their behavior is ludicrous and nonsensical.

Can you imagine a defense attorney saying, "Why, Mr. Jones isn't a murderer. On the contrary, an inopportune, purely random, electrical anomaly occurred within his diencephalon, triggering a firestorm of efferent action potentials from the amygdala that traveled down the spino-thalamic tract and contracted various muscles in his right hand, pulling the trigger.

"In summary, Your Honor, Mr. Jones is the tragic victim of a voltage spike!"

If there is no epsilon, how can this defense be refuted?

The fact is that despite our claims of being rational and scientific, we don't behave that way! We do condemn others for their actions. Why do we do this if determinism is true and the laws of physics apply equally well to inert matter and to human organisms?

If determinism is false, then the hope among naturalists that there is no epsilon might be redeemed, but how, then, are we to account for even the smallest measure of freedom? Random voltage spikes in the brain? Some nebulous--as Einstein would have put it, "spooky"--quantum mechanical theory? What?

I don't mean to suggest that panentheism is true. It is an unprovable metaphysical assumption (but then again, so are the foundations of science). Science gives us results that improve our lives, whereas epsilon doesn't seem to disclose itself to us, prompting us to deny that there could be anything there. But then we are back to the problem of determinism versus human action.

Aaron, you and I both know that if the AWARE study produces positive results, demonstrating that remote out-of-body perception occurs, naturalism will suffer a fatal blow. No intensity and volume of intellectual contortions will be able to salvage it.

If the NDE represents a vulnerability between S and epsilon (assuming the latter exists), then the portents are inestimable, and, not coincidentally, the best news that we could ever hope to receive as human beings!

Steve

upinVermont said...

Panentheism appeals to me and I think there may be some truth to it, though without the concept of god or a god. What I don't like is that it ultimately asks us to *believe* something without evidence - unless we treat consciousness as evidence.

The naturalism you refer to is really *metaphysical* naturalism.

My own view is closer to methodological naturalism. It asks us to *believe* nothing without evidence but also doesn't rule out the possibility of something like panentheism. Methodological Naturalists, however, would argue that if LAD were shown by evidence to be true, then it would be a natural phenomena, not a paranormal phenomena.

And, yes, thanks Aaron. You're right. The article is right on. I don't disbelieve a word of it.

Duplicitous primates!

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Methodological naturalism is a metaphysical position espousing the scientific method as the only valid method for investigating reality. I'm tempted to concur, but I cannot, because it's simply a sesquipedalian term used to paint a pig's mouth with lipstick. Methodological naturalism is scientific reductionism, which cuts up observable phenomena into ever smaller pieces until the phenomena vanish and all that we're left with is untestable theory.

One needs intuitions to formulate theories, which guide scientific investigation. Without theory, there would be no map, however rough and incomplete, to navigate by, severely hampering productivity. Are intuitions purely natural artifacts of brain processes? Perhaps, and probably, but this is a metaphysical assumption. What we really have with methodological naturalism is a set of methods for exploring the reality that we perceive through our senses or intuit using mathematical theories.

"Supernatural" is a superfluous word. It adds nothing to our understanding of reality. "Naturalism" is similarly troubling. It may turn out that it's perfectly natural for humans to survive death, but that we simply don't yet have an effective method for exploring such an hypothesis, which is an epistemological limitation of methodological naturalism's current techniques.

Panentheism embraces our reality--exactly as scientists believe it to be--and extends it to include phenomena such as NDE's, out-of-body perception, post-mortem survival, discarnate spirits, and so on. There is anecdotal evidence that psi phenomena exist, and that mediumistic communications might well occur, but there is no conclusive proof.

At the end of the day, we're left where we began, with science, which has utilitarian value and improves our lives through technological applications and the alleviation of suffering, and with hope for immortality, which accepts science but metaphysically posits a realm possibly (and probably) not explorable using our current methods. Perhaps we can never explore it due to human limitations, or because there's nothing to explore.

I don't know. But it was you who had the NDE-like experience. What is your explanation for how it was possible, and for the meaning behind it? Moreover, why would souls incarnate in mortal bodies?

Yours,

Steve

upinVermont said...

//metaphysical position espousing the scientific method as the only valid method for investigating reality//

No Steve, this is a very shallow understanding.

//Methodological naturalism is scientific reductionism//

For all your talk of being a philosopher, statements like this lead me to think you're more of a poser.

I'm only passably educated in philosophy, but I know enough to know the difference between reductionism and methodological naturalism. The former makes assertions of belief as to the ultimate nature of reality, the latter does not.

//What is your explanation for how it was possible, and for the meaning behind it? //

I have no explanations for NDEs. I've given up. There is either a natural explanation or a supernatural explanation. Both explanations are inadequate and always have been. So, I've stopped speculating. It happens. The experience is like *any* experience. We ascribe to it whatever meaning is of value to us. In the case of NDEs, they can be extremely powerful and life-altering experiences - and so are deeply meaningful and valuable, but that says nothing as to the *nature* of the experience.

As to souls, bodies, incarnation...

You might as well ask me how many angels dance on the head of pin.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

I appreciate your answer to the final question of mine that you quoted. It was an honest and valuable admission from someone who had an NDE-like experience.

Regarding my limited understanding of methodological naturalism, it's an epistemological and not an ontological position. Reductionism is a scientific method, not a metaphysical claim (although the followers of Scientism have used it as such).

Some ignorant, but not dumb, people masquerade their lack of knowledge behind long words. Or worse, smart people use these long words to entertain themselves in the same manner as Medieval theologians contemplating how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. It's a ridiculous waste of time in my view.

You've admitted that you don't know what the NDE means, only that such experiences happen. I don't know anyone who would dispute this.

The conclusion to all of our speculations amounts merely to words in a window on a computer monitor. Etchings. Pixels. It's interesting how we go from pixels, to pattered constellations of pixels, to clumps of such constellations that become symbols laden with meaning, which is imparted on them by a consciousness capable of symbolic manipulation. What's equally remarkable is how not only does the human mind endow arbitrary symbols with meaning, but it acquires meaning from them, no matter how imperfect the transmission from author to reader.

Words are suspicious. They're like rocks that geologists study. It seems absurd to study rocks, yet as inert as they are, they interact intimately with life to frame it, to provide structure and impediments and cause adaptation (though "cause," as a verb, isn't quite the right term.

Like point, line, and plane, consciousness and meaning are concepts with which we're intimately and infinitely familiar, while their mysteries continue--perhaps forever--to elude us.

Yours,

Steve

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

Which is your favorite book by Ian McEwan? I'm thinking of reading either Saturday or Enduring Love soon.

I wish you a happy Thursday. May Father bless you with health, wealth, and a subscription to What Is Enlightenment.

I'm Yours,

Steve

CS in Jersey :~) said...

Ahem.... Yes Aaron, I too would be curious to know which of these books by McEwan you would recommend....

Anonymous said...

PS I think that this TED talk is worth watching over and over again, and reflecting deeply on:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dan_gilbert_researches_happiness.html

PPS CS, if you haven't read them already, Albert Camus's The Plague and his play, Caligula are extremely important to read. Camus, even by today's standards and Ian McEwan's consderable talents, was a superior writer, and a philosopher on top of that. Of all people, I think that he got too close to the truth, and so the universe had to kill him.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

At what point did you start calling yourself an atheist? Did you become an atheist quickly, or was it a gradual process? In the former case, what was the tipping point? In the latter case, what was the most consistent and persuasive evidence?

Yours,

Steve

Aaron said...

Some time in my 30's. The tipping point was reading pop neuroscience books like phantoms in the brain and some owen flanagan as well as the case studies of neuropsychologists. That mixed with the impossible to get evidence from prayer research (which mysteriously equates with the null hypothesis when tight controls and large test groups are used), and just my over-all experience with the spiritualist community.

I have moved to a level now where I almost don't even have an interest in the subject. If an NDER were giving a talk down the street I probably wouldn't care to attend. I am 99.9% certain that there will be no further evidence for survival when I am 80 years old than there is now.

Aaron said...

I meant to say sometime when I was 30.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

That coincides with my own atheism, although it has taken years to work out my current position. I expect it to be further refined.

If you're right that there will be no further evidence of post-mortem survival when you're 80 than there is now, then I shudder to think how you'll feel (barring enormous medical breakthroughs), knowing that your time is limited.

What changed me was Darwinian evolution. There's no way around it. It's not merely that it serves effectively as the only broad, explanatory framework for how life arose on our planet, but that it dovetails with history. That is, the evolution of the brain corresponds with historical developments such as cities, writing, architecture, complex tools, great art, and so on. That couldn't have been an accident.

Of course, just because our species evolved doesn't mean that we're not spirits having a human experience. However, the nature of that human experience is frightening. As Alain de Botton writes in How Proust Can Change Your Life on p. 3:

"There are few things humans are more dedicated to than unhappiness. Had we been placed on earth by a malign creator for the exclusive purpose of suffering, we would have good reason to congratulate ourselves on our enthusiastic response to the task. Reasons to be inconsolable abound: the frailty of our bodies, the fickleness of love, the insincerities of social life, the compromises of friendship, the deadening effects of habit. In the face of such persistent ills, we might naturally expect that no event would be awaited with greater anticipation than the moment of our own extinction."

In my opinion, he stated the case too mildly.

When you realize that Dannion Brinkley and Betty Eadie would be reduced to zombies were they stricken with, for instance, Pick's disease, what then? One cannot pick and choose what one should believe and yet remain honest with oneself. Dementias occur, and they eradicate memory and personality. Perhaps in some ways equally bad are the everyday mental illnesses, such as my own, persistent, intransigent, unapologetic, unrepentant, unmitigated, and uninhibited generalized anxiety disorder. Within one hour of taking 1 mg of Clonazepam, I'm fine for many hours. And then I'm not. The cycle repeats. Sometimes I can go for years, doing well, taking nothing. Other times, I feel miserable and am barely able to function due to overwhelming anxiety, which intensifies avoidance behaviors, isolation, and so on--none of which are good when added to being gay.

I think that I'm aware, better than most, of the effects of alterations in brain chemistry and connections (circuits) on affect and behavior. Although I'm quite fortunate not to be psychotic, not to experience hallucinations, it's not difficult to imagine that if small regions of my own brain can cause me chronic suffering, that equally small regions could cause others to hallucinate and so on.

Can we ascribe "Saint" Paul's visions to temporal lobe epilepsy? Yes, and we should, for the less charitable ascription would be that he was a flat-out liar, a prototypical fraud later perfected by Lafayette R. Hubbard.

While some may accuse us of "medicalizing" spiritual visions and so forth, let them. What alternative is there? Are we to believe that various gods gave people contradictory religious experiences? I think not, unless they're at war with each other, or there is only one, but he is psychotic or malevolent. It makes far more sense that such visions arise from the natural workings of certain brains.

Over the coming decades, I expect to have a lot more to say about the possibility that we're spirits having a human experience. Perhaps I'll become an annihilationist, as you are now. Perhaps I'll find evidence to support survival (which, as you know, is an hypothesis that I already favor). I don't know.

I do know this, though. Mental illness hurts those who are ill, and others around them. But so do many other things. How can we come to an agreement (would it really be that simple?) to treat each other well so that as a society, we can work productively and harmoniously together to achieve worthwhile goals to benefit everyone that we could not achieve by working alone?

I understand why you're depressed--if that's the right word--about the results of your involvement in the New Age movement, within which I think it's fair to say chriopractic "medicine" is contained. You've indebted yourself for decades without having a degree that you can actually use to make money. You've done the right thing given your conscience. Others might have made a different decision.

You deserve better than what you've gotten in life, Aaron--much better. And so do I.

And so, in closing, on this Christmas Day, 2008, I wish us both peace, happiness, health, wealth, new and inspiring relationships, literary triumphs, fun, and above all, and for all time...

Love,

Steve

Anonymous said...

PS See http://www.mindbodysymposium.com/Human-Consciousness-Project/the-Aware-study.html

I love the description, which is coached in language to distract the reader from the true (and sole) purpose of the work: to irrefutablyprovethat we survive bodily death!

Anonymous said...

PPS I bet that you didn't know about this at Harvard:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Court_of_1920

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

The red is like a virus--don't you think?

http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/2008/01/27/237-regionalism-and-religiosity/

Yours,

Steve

Anonymous said...

By the way, Aaron, newspapers seem to have a preoccupation with reporting the deaths of famous people or, in the absence of fame, of anyone near at hand, so to speak. They routinely make front page news.

Then, there is the gratuitous "Obituary" section, but what does "obituary" really mean? Why should not the deceased appear beneath the appellation: "Annihilated," "Exterminated," "Terminated," "Nonexistent," "Recycled," or any number of synonyms?

For instance, why cannot we say:

EXTERMINATIONS

Wray, Fay (1907-2004): BAM!!

Instead, we are forced to read eulogies lionizing those whom many are more than happy to be rid of. Why not, for once, tell the truth, and not throw a warm, literary caul over the brutal process of biological (and, consequently, social) death?

What single word could possibly be more impactful, more fitting, more perfectly formed to express this most final of all states of human being than my own:

BAM!!

?

I'm Yours.

Steve

Aaron said...

Funny how it is all as arbitrary as your geography.