Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This is what I see

This is what I see, everyday, up in Vermont.

Pictures never do justice to actually being there. Nonetheless, this is a pseudo panorama scanning from left to right. The first picture faces due north, looking into the north country. It's hard to tell, since blogger has reduced this image to a thumbnail, but one can see about 60 miles to the North.

The next picture is one turn to the right (or Eastward). The thin line of white on the horizon are distant mountains. They're almost a hundred miles to the North and East.

Another small turn to the right and East. The snow capped mountains in the center of the picture are some of the Presidentials and if the resolution were better, you could see Mount Washington - the most dangerous Mountain Top, weather-wise, in the world. The highest wind speeds on the surface of the Earth have been recorded on Mount Washington - well over 200 miles per hour. The top of Mount Washing literally brushes against the Jet Stream. Also, the tops of the mountains are bare. Trees can't grow there, conditions on the top of the White Mountains being equivalent to the arctic tundra. It's possible to ski atop Washington even into July.

The last picture, another turn to the right and facing East, is of Moosilauke. This picture simply doesn't do justice to the mountain. The top spends most of its time in or above the clouds. Moosilauke is a massive mountain by East Coast standards. I'm about 20 miles, as the crow flies, from the Mountain (I think) in this picture. It's a great climb in the summer but the mountain, as with the Presidentials, is deceptively dangerous in the Winter.

This is what I see, everyday, up in Vermont.


Aaron said...

Is that Robert Frosts house in the distance with the spray paint on the sides?

They should have filmed Lord of the rings there. You have mount Doom, Rohan and Lothlorien all within walking distance.

upinVermont said...


That house is owned by an old Vermont farm family. The farm is worth almost a thousand acres which, in itself, makes them multi-millionaires - but they don't look it.

The family has the reputation, among locals, for being the meanest in the county. The farmer once shot some rounds at some snowmobilers who dared to cross his fields without permission.

Anonymous said...


You mistakenly wrote:

"Is that Robert Frosts house in the distance with the spray paint on the sides?"

Instead, you should have written:

"Is that Robert Frost's house in the distance with the spray paint on the sides?"

You seem to have difficulties with possessives, and disambiguating between "its" and the contraction "it's." I'm not trying to attack you. I just don't want other people to mistakenly come to the conclusion that you, who possess a smart mind, are dull-witted and illiterate, owing, perhaps, to brain damage, which is known to account for difficulties in spelling and so forth.

"Its" does not mean "it is." "Its" is a possessive, used this way:

"The dog hit its head."

"It's" does mean "it is," and is used accordingly:

"It's that dog, again!"

Robert Frost would be very, very, very [very] upset--very upset.


Aaron said...

Yes I am aware of that Steve. But please enjoy editing quick scribbled blog comments. i will admit that my training in grammar was not up to par. Why? Because i was put into a gifted program when i was in middle school. We never diagrammed sentences, we read clan of the cave bear and wrote essays. Why did they suppose i was gifted? Don't know really. Nowadays any IQ over 100 is considered gifted. there is a big rift in public schools because in some schools the average IQ of the students is in the "gifted" range. This all proves a point- IQ tests test mostly how well a child is acculturated when they are young. My father is a pipe fitter and my mother is a school bus driver. I came to my "gifted" class saying things like "will you pass me them crayons" without having the slightest idea that this was wrong. they made fun of how i said that and i finally came to realize the correct way to say them and those. I suspect had I been groomed by a more literate family, I could have spanked the shit out of an SAT test by the time i was in highschool. I never took the SAT test, because my ambitions were so low that i did not plan to attend college.

As for my horrible typing, I have purposely typed unedited in order to display my abject hatred for the shallow keyed apple keyboard. i also hate the mighty mouse with a vengeance. The keyboard doesn't seem to accept my pushing of the caps lock key unless i stop and deliberately push it slowly. Every other keyboard and it works just fine. I still have not become used to this. I cannot right click and cut and paste with the mighty mouse. It is like an embarrassing little toy of a mouse and my only guess is that apple expected people to dish out more money to purchase a real mouse. Only recently when i was learning imovie did i find out that you even can right click... just not with my mouse. Maybe Steve Jobs' pancreatic cancer is karmic retribution for this intentional slight of the consumer.

upinVermont said...

I left behind Apple computers *years* ago, and have never looked back.

I never thought I'd say this but: Thank god for Microsoft. We might be stuck with the operating system, but at least we can run it on whatever computer we want to.

If Apple had had their way, not only would we be locked into their software, but their hardware as well. The only reason 97% (I think) of the computer market belongs to Microsoft is because Apple made the monopolistic and phenomenally short-sited decision *not* to license either its operating system *OR* its hardware. If they had, Microsoft would be a niche company and we would all be running MAC OS on HPs, Dells, IBMs, etc...

Anonymous said...


You sound depressed. It infuriates me to think that your ambitions were ever low, because as I've repeatedly said, and as you've compellingly demonstrated at various times, you have a first-rate mind. You could, and should, become a medical doctor. Very, very few people could hope to compete with you, and I strongly suspect that your IQ (an arbitrary measure of some imaginary intellectual capability that IQ tests purport to assess) is very high, indeed.

For a long time, I've supposed that you suffer from undiagnosed depression, or dysthymia. Remember that depression isn't a matter of mood alone, but physiology. There are various indicators to suggest depression, such as your lack of motivation in writing, its superficial content matter in recent (and infrequent) posts, and your own self-deprecation. This is not like you. I honestly feel sorry for you.

The main reason that I've been so mercilessly critical of you for a couple of years now is that although it's undoubtedly difficult for you to see this (we are never good at seeing ourselves and objectively interpreting our feelings, thoughts, and behavior), you seem to have fallen into a naturalistic atheistic dogmatism that has led you to conclude that life is meaningless, or at the very least, futile. You've expressed this in numerous ways, through sarcasm, derision, and, of course, your blog posts, although you've largely abandoned your brilliant thinking in favor of the inanity of politics since your transformation from a believer in something to a believer in nothing.

Even though this has led to an intense and violent value clash between us, you're still my friend. I care about you. I don't want your environment, history, brother, thoughts, feelings, or past experiences and current situation to sabotage what you're capable of, which is--and I say this without the slightest hesitation--greatness.

You deserve a superb life. You've been artificially held down, but you have to believe in your own resourcefulness to surmount the few missteps that you've succumbed to along life's journey thus far. The best is yet to come, and you have a long life ahead.

It pains me when you disparage your own credentials. Don't. You're learning and growing. You know far more than most people ever will. What I want is for you to not stop growing, exploring, and finding hope and meaning in this life.

I know that you didn't simply decide to become an atheist or nihilist. You discovered these thoughts and feelings within yourself. The rest was automatic. If anything, you're authentic. You seem incapable of living a life of deception, as evinced by turning your back on your enormous financial investment in chiropractic "medicine." I know that you're doing the best that you can and that circumstances have been unkind, and even cruel, to you. I hate that that has happened, but I have unswerving faith in you. I believe that you will surmount these unfortunate and temporary problems and thrive.

I lost one of my best friends--Doug Stewart--because he gave up. He decided that he would no longer agree to play this game of life, which was constantly and cruelly abusing him without giving him the pleasure and support that he needed in order to go on living, never mind flourishing. The tragedy is that he was so enormously talented, as both a writer and a cellist. But that didn't matter to him. When he came to believe that his whole life had been reduced to a pattern of yearning for a life mate whom he'd never been able to find, he decided to end his life. I don't want that to happen to you.

Is it really possible for life to have meaning without an afterlife, without the possibility--the probability--that things will get much better? I can't see it, Aaron, and I don't think that you can, either. We've always been deeply attuned to each other's beliefs. You, like Freud, have taken life with quiet resignation. I, meanwhile, am kicking and screaming at the conclusion that we're annihilated at death, that this life is all that there is.

If there's any unambiguous and incontrovertible lesson at all to be learned from NDE's, it's this: this life matters! Immortality is now. And now. And now. And now. And only now. Change is the only constant.

What we label as good or bad is simply that which either enhances or harms our health or prospects for achieving a goal. It's a survival mechanism, as are emotions and the many behaviors and flexible planning and thinking that we're capable of. But just because Darwin was right and we're human animals doesn't mean that we might not be more. No one knows.

I just feel horrified when you write that your father was a pipe fitter, and your mother, a school bus driver, as if your fate is in any way tied to them. It's not. You are a muddied yellow Porsche. Wash it. Dry it. Wax it.

And do what you were meant to do.



Aaron said...

Steve, I am sorry to disappoint you, I am not depressed. Sorry to disappoint all my former NDE listers- I am not insane and my reasons for losing the faith have nothing to do with bitterness or insanity. The only hope they have to cling to, regarding me, is that no sane and reasonable person could possibly come to believe that the NDE experience is not a true AD experience, and that only insanity or anger would lead someone to believe so- thus they imagine me to be so for no other reason. the fact I harbor none of these traits infuriates them and they absolutely require it to be the case in order to prevent their own madness and make their own worldview congruent.

Anyways, Pat, those are good points, but I like my mac so far. At least when I buy something or load something I know it will work.

Anonymous said...


If you're not depressed, you do sound as if you feel hopeless. I know you from years and years of interaction, through reading your posts, e-mailing back and forth with you, talking with you on the phone, and interacting with you in person. I've witnessed a significant change in the tone and content of your thought, as expressed through all of those media. You're the ultimate judge, but it appears to me that you were happier, kinder, and less angry when you were a believer in something than you are now.

You bury a lot of emotion because it's not the dominant feature of your personality. Rational computation is. Unfortunately, this makes you more susceptible to subtle emotional tugs beneath the surface of awareness. Rationality can't function without emotionality. I fear that that you're trying to rely on rationality overly much in guiding your actions, while the world is simply too complicated to rationally parse.

Let me get to the heart of the matter. Technically, no one is afraid of death. We are afraid of the bodily sensations that we experience and the thoughts that we think when we imagine our bodies succumbing to disease and impairment, causing ever greater pain, to the point of death. We are afraid of pain (naturally), but even contemplating pain creates echos of the real thing within us. Through imagination, we can create an echo of reality--either as it is or as we imagine that it might be. Our cognitive biases virtually ensure that we get it wrong most of the time.

However, we're not blind. We read tales of people in their death throes. We know what it's like to have water go down "the wrong way," and be unable to breathe. We immediately experience panic, our faces might turn read, we begin to wheeze, our heart rate quickly accelerates, we look around us for help. We experience fear and sometimes pain, but the bodily sensations of fear, which precipitate thoughts of our own demise, trigger a positive feedback loop of escalating sympathetic nervous system activation until either we recover or die.

Again, I say that fear of death is the experience of certain highly unpleasant and incapacitating physical sensations in the body as we contemplate the dying process, as we imagine it to be. When we have a long time to contemplate the dying process--such as in the tragic case of long-term cancer--I would expect that our anxiety would be all the greater. We would imagine all the more scenarios--virtually an infinite number.

Therefore, what we call the fear of death is really aversive sensations arising from certain bodily experiences rooted in life: specifically, anxiety, sympathetic nervous system arousal, and anticipation of physical and psychic pain. The capacity to feel such fear is literally wired deeply into our brain.

The idea of death is a concept, and when we write about the fear of death, what we're really doing is telling a story. It's a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. This story correlates in lesser or greater degree with what's happening to us on the bodily level, namely disease, organ failure, and the entire process through which an individual organism goes until conscious life as a human person can no longer be sustained and ceases.

As we imagine dying, the content of our cognitions that accompanies the visceral physiological sensations that constitute fear's affective aspect are such that they prime the organism to try to fight or escape, which is usually impossible, or it involves ideas about loss and sensory deactivation (darkness in place of sight, deafness in place of hearing, and so on, as if we were losing parts of ourselves until only a disembodied mind, unable to perceive or communicate, exists in an imagined pitch-dark vortex). The latter form of thought content only serves to create a positive feedback loop that intensifies the fear response, causing misery. Add to this the physical pain associated with dying, and the conditions are ripe for enormous suffering. It's no wonder that most of us are terrified of the dying process (which is what we really mean when we say that we're afraid of death).

Fear of death (again, more accurately, the imagined process of dying, with its affective, physiological sensations, namely anxiety and pain) is interesting, in that death, or dying, are ideas; they're narratives. That we can be afraid of ideas that occur to us while we're in robust health at, say, the age of twenty-five, sitting in front of a roaring fireplace in a luxurious cabin in Flagstaff, Arizona, next to our terrier wagging his tail delightfully on one side of us and our adoring, bombshell girlfriend, whom we deeply love, on the other, sipping egg nog, is rather amazing.

But we are, indeed, afraid of ideas--some more so than others. Some seek out risk, whereas others do everything in their power to avert it. This has much to do with genes and early learning history in life. Then, there are the truly fortunate individuals, who score very low on the neuroticism dimension of various psychological instruments (tests), who don't seem to experience much anxiety over anything. In my mind, these individuals are greatly blessed, if that's the right word to use.

Of course, being afraid of dying is a proactive, biological mechanism to avoid risk. It can keep us out of trouble (safe, alive), but as the body gets older, our behavior has less and less effect on longevity. One's age is the best predictor of the probability of dying.

It's not death, or even the dying process, that seems to me to be the problem that causes us so much misery as we contemplate our own finitude. Instead, it's the cascade of chemical reactions that occur within our brains and nervous systems, in general, that bring about unpleasant physiological sensations that make us feel miserable. When chronic, these impair the strength of our immune system, making us more susceptible to disease and leading us precisely in the direction that we want to forestall: disease and, ultimately, death.

It is not death, but the fear of death, that contributes to incalculable suffering and misery, not only for those who are dying (or anxious about dying decades hence), but for those around them--friends, loved ones, family members. If only we could find a way to turn (way) down our chronically activated sympathetic nervous systems, I'm supremely confident that we would all live much, much better, happier lives and accomplish a great deal, having shed the brake of fear.

So what is the antidote to this debilitating fear (which we can legitimately generalize not only regarding death, but fear about our children's safety and well-being, about paying bills, about being seen positively by others as valuable and capable individuals, etc.)?

In a word, love.

I'm going to make some generalizations that will necessarily have possibly many exceptions, but I present my thoughts here as a point of departure for further discussion rather than as a definitive statement of my beliefs, which are constantly evolving as I acquire new information.

I believe that, as a woman wrote in the most recent issue of _Psychology Today_, love is the continual pursuit of a secure relationship with someone else who provides us with safety and emotional nourishment. When we feel loved, such as when our beloved spouse (if we're fortunate enough to have one) is present in a room full of strangers, it allows us an almost miraculous psychic liberation that allows us to act confidently toward others and go out and shake hands with strangers, comfortably look them in the eye, and enjoy their company. But without knowing that that magical being, one's spouse, is near at hand, or even far away in a hotel room but still present, you're just as likely to clam up, feel anxiety and diffidence, and stare at your feet or mill about without having anywhere to go, all the while wishing that you could escape because you feel completely socially incompetent and don't want to make a complete fool of yourself. How amazing that just the thought of having someone who unconditionally loves and believes in you can completely transform your experience of reality. What greater gift than this can there be?

Yes, drugs help. Benzodiazepines are a godsend for me, and numerous other sufferers of anxiety. But I feel certain that if I had the boyfriend--the husband--of my dreams, my Luke, such drugs would be utterly unnecessary. No drug can cuddle up against you, put its arms around you, tell you a joke, ruffle your hair, and tell you how much it loves, and adores, you, or, on a whim, drag you into a car, drive to a carnival, ride Ferris wheels and eat cotton candy with you, and spend the night laughing, soaking up novel sights and sounds, and kissing under starlight, oblivious of the rest of the world.

I met an amazing woman at the ex-Mormon conference that I attended. She had such a tremendous gift with making people comfortable and welcome. It came so naturally to her that her gift is on the level of pure genius. She gives great hugs, too. It just amazed me how she was able to bridge very different people together and make everyone feel valued and appreciated. I can't imagine any greater gift. She was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside, and that's saying a lot. We need so many more people with her gift. It would alleviate so much suffering and conflict in the world. I really admire and like her.

As Frank Herbert wrote in his novel, _Dune_, "Fear is the mind-killer." Yes, and it's also the life-killer. I think that everyone who is able to diminish their level of fear about life commensurately opens up new vistas for experience. If fear leads to contraction, a mischievous confidence with a taste for adventure opens up a life to us that many of us can't even imagine exists. It's within reach, if only we can somehow find a way to cross the long and rickety bridge of our fears onto solid ground, laughter, glasses clinking in toasts celebrating life, under the beams of moonlight that remind us that romance infuses life with delight and all the meaning that one could ever dream for.

The secret to finding love is perhaps the biggest challenge that we face. Not everyone was constituted in such a way as to get along well with everyone else, but when it does happen--spontaneously--such as it did with Luke and me, the whole world becomes a numinous gift from the universe, a playground for adventure and joy.

How can we find The One, or Ones, to love, to establish secure and permanent connections with, those who inspire, invigorate, nurture, sooth, and protect us? How can we make good matches? Some of us know in our hearts that we can't compromise. We intuit that there really is a The One, and that he or she is looking just as hard for us as we are for them.

The physical sensations of joy correspond, inversely, to those of fear. Happiness is the flip-side of misery. Sometimes we forget that. Even though Joseph Smith's Myth is a fairy tale, there's one aphorism that I've always loved: "Man is, that he might have joy."

Joy comes first and foremost from relationships--not reluctant and pragmatic marriages, but love-at-first-sight passion that finds endless ways of expressing, reaffirming, and reinvigorating itself across decades. Our needs are so great. The quality of our lives depends on finding who we're looking for. And yet our time on this planet is so brief.

In my view, if only we could find a way--through the aid of science and good sense--to help all people find their The One--our world would quickly become a paradise. We would work for each other because we want to make the world better for our life mates. We want them to live in a world where they neither personally suffer nor ever see misery in others: no poverty, no crime, no disease.

We're all in this together. Why do we hide behind computer screens and anonymous nicknames? It's because we're afraid of rejection, or that someone who seems amazing on the screen is, in reality, not the Romeo or Juliet that we so desperately want them to be, but quite possibly a desperate hanger-on, psychic or financial leech, and threat.

Let's break down the walls and meet each other, and talk with each other face-to-face, and not be so concerned with impression management but authenticity.

These may seem like ideals, but without ideals, we're lost. Let's *try*! The potential rewards are inestimable and ineffable.

Life is a battle of faith opposing fear. If we can find a way to love others, to do good, and to cause others no harm, we'll have gone a long way in creating and living the meaningful life that we're forever waiting to happen *to* us.

As I've said before, the most important lesson of the near-death experience is that this life, right now, matters. Not an afterlife. Not a pre-birth life. This life. The eternity of now, and now, and now.

I hope that we can all find it within ourselves to love ourselves enough to value our lives enough to strive to live them to the fullest degree possible, and not have any regrets. Maybe, just maybe, a happy life can lead to a happy death and, best of all, the greatest surprise of a lifetime: not only more life, but eternal adventure, and never ending progress beyond our wildest hopes.


Anonymous said...


Regarding your Mac, I still don't understand what problem you're having with the caps lock key. It should work as any other key does. Why don't you take it to an Apple Store and have them look at it? Schedule an appointment first at

Go to "One on One," "Make Reservation."

Also, most people hate the so-called Mighty Mouse. One of the reasons that you should have gotten a laptop is that the trackpad is amazing, but it's too late now. The best mouse on the market, which I, myself, use, is the Logitech VX Nano. Get it. It will solve all of your mousing problems.

Note that I use the same external keyboard that you do and have no problems whatsoever with the caps lock key, although I hardly ever use it. (Why do you use it? This still confuses me. WHY DO YOU TYPE THIS WAY?) I've plugged my VX Nano mouse into the right side USB port of the keyboard, and it works perfectly well. Most of the time, however, I just use the laptop without resorting to external peripherals like the keyboard and mouse and monitor.

Pat, it's great that we have Windows and can run it on lots of inexpensive hardware. However, we also need to run anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and deal with driver incompatibilities, inexplicable crashes, long bootup and sleep or shutdown waits, and never-ending support issues. I want to buy my father a Macintosh so that I don't need to constantly work to keep it functioning.

When you bog a Windows machine down with a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and other necessities and conveniences, it runs slowly. The Mac gives you a seamless experience.

Generally speaking, a Mac costs literally three times as much as a comparable Windows laptop. It's true. The question that no one seems to want to seriously consider is what the total cost of ownership is, when you factor in how much time you spend maintaining the computer, paying for anti-virus upgrades (or losing massive amounts of time trying to crack existing apps), etc. How much is your time really worth? Would you rather be working using the computer, or working in service of the computer?

Don't get me wrong. I like Windows and fast hardware. I also like inexpensive but high-quality hardware. Unfortunately, the more that you know about Windows machines, the more you realize that while the initial cost of ownership is low, the long-term costs are brutally high. Both for Aaron and me, it's not worth it.

Additionally, I personally have a MacBook Air, which is widely regarded as the sexiest laptop ever made. It's physically beautiful. I like using it. I like being able to carry it around as if it were a paper notebook. It's gorgeous and it works. I can even run Windows software on it using VMWare Fusion, a virtual machine emulation app.

Aaron is a good test case. Ask him to elaborate on why he switched. I think that you'll find it instructive. I used Macs from 1988 through 1994, and which point I got disgusted by Mac OS and inferior hardware, so I began using Windows. I continued down that path until April 2008, at which point my first and up to that time only laptop, after 4.25 years of use, started having problems, so I purchased a MacBook Air. I've never looked back.

The Mac is a work of art. It's not only beautiful, but it's functional: it was designed to enable you to get work done. Once you learn how to use it, you won't ever want to go back.



Anonymous said...

PS Correction: I used the Mac from 1998 through 1997, Windows from 1997 through early 2008, and then my MacBook Air from April 2008 onward.

Anonymous said...

PPS 1988 through 1997. I can't seem to type! :)

Anonymous said...


How are we to count persons?

By hearts? Brains? Penises? Vaginas?


More importantly, what constitutes a proposed "soul?"



Anonymous said...

Aaron and Pat,

I'd like to point out a very useful website: are dozens of thousands of book links here, many of them academic. Just sign up for a free account and go. For example, you can find Michael Gazzaniga's "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique" here. Once you have an account, do a search on "Gazzaniga" and scroll through the list of matches. Click on the relevant link, and you'll see a few tabs at the top of the resulting page. Select the "links" tab, and you'll see a couple of servers that you can download the PDF file from. Most of the PDF's are "rar'd," which means that you'll need WinRAR to unrar them before you'll be able to read them. lets you download a few files for free each day, but you can also pay around $60 for full access for six months. Since no one can actually read as much as they can download in a day, even for those who can't afford the money, this shouldn't be a problem.

This is the most important website that I've ever found since the beginning of the web! I was stunned to find most of the books that I've been lusting over for months. The philosophy and history (and many other) sections are priceless. I'm a firm believer in education and the power of knowledge to slowly liberate us from superstition, dogmatism, and fear, and to promote human flourishing. I hope that you find this as useful as I have.

Happy Reading!

Additionally, Aaron:


Aaron said...


What do you use to convert .BUP .VOB and .IFO files to video files that can be played or burned to DVD?

I found several that can be purchased, but I am sure there is a free way to do it. You can get free versions but they put a watermark over your video until you buy the converter.

Anonymous said...


A .VOB file is the movie. The .IFO file contains metadata (hints) to let you navigate through the scenes, etc. The .BUP file is a backup of the .IFO file just in case of file corruption.

Do you have FrontRow? I believe that that will play the VOB's, but I'm not certain. Google around, Aaron. I'm not sure what they do on the Mac; I never really got into this type of thing. Instead, I download "DivX" movies from or and watch them. There are also tons on, but that requires some education.

What can you tell me about teratomas? Have you ever diagnosed a fetus-in-fetu, or a parasitic twin?


Anonymous said...


Sorry, not FrontRow, but "DVD Player." It's in your Applications folder. Try using that to play the .VOB file. If that doesn't work, try opening the .IFO file. It should be smart enough to play the DVD from the files, themselves.

Or, if you have a real DVD and you've mounted it in your iMac, just double-click the icon and it should start playing in DVD Player.

As for ripping the DVD to other formats, you're on your own, but let me know what you come up with.

Good Luck,


Anonymous said...

PS This may help:

Also, you can use VLC Media Player ( to play DVD's and lots of other formats.

Finally, if you haven't downloaded "Perian" yet, do so and install it. It enables QuickTime to play all sorts of formats, including the all-important DivX, the most ubiquitous (pirated) format online, because it creates small files, around 700 MB per movie.


Aaron said...

I have perian.

Your other info was helpful. I can now watch the movie using VLC. Not sure if I can burn the movie, but I'll try that tomorrow.

Anonymous said...


Will you explain your caps lock problem in detail, as I've asked about in a previous comment? I'd also like to know about your other complaints. There are solutions, but I can't help you unless you tell me what you're encountering.

Regarding DVD copying, keep in mind that DVD's are generally copy protected, which means that you need to crack them first before you can copy them. On the Mac, I'm not entirely sure how to do that. I'll investigate. However, once cracked, you can use apps like Roxio's Toast 10 to create a copy of the DVD or (I believe) convert to various formats. I'm still not certain yet, as I've never had a need to do it, but I will find out, and so will you.

Interestingly, I've just installed ESET Nod32, an antivirus and anti-spyware utility on my Vista virtual machine. It is scanning in the background right now and has found 9 infections--in Vista, running on a virtual machine in VMWare Fusion 2.0.1, on my MacBook Air! I certainly don't miss that!

Also, I spent some time at Best Buy earlier, looking at NetBooks (I'm not impressed), and inexpensive PC laptops. I've concluded that Macs cost, at the very least, twice as much as PC's and, at the high end, literally four times as much.

However, for reasons that are very difficult to articulate (I suppose that they have a lot to do with my frustration with malware, viruses, slow performance, driver problems, a lack of innovation, and the generic nature of PC's and Windows).

Can a business case be made in favor of the Mac? If you're a consumer, yes. You don't really have to do anything to maintain the computer. If you work in a corporate environment, no, because there are large numbers of IT people there to set up complicated firewalls, and proxies, and keep things running. Since, as individual users, we don't have help desks to call and various specialists to recruit for help, even though the cost of a Mac is nothing short of astronomical, I think that it's worth it primarily for two reasons:

1. It simply works with minimal fuss;
2. It's a bombshell, a true looker and status symbol;
3. You can run Windows on it if you need to.

That said, point 3 applies, because MS Office for the Mac, and MS Office for the PC are rather different, the latter being far superior (faster, more modern, etc.). Some apps that I rely on, like MS Project, don't exist on the Mac, and there are no satisfactory substitutes. Running VMWare Fusion on my MacBook Air almost grinds it to a halt, but it's impressive that it works as well as it does given how hard I push my laptop. And it does work--make no mistake.

While it would make economic sense for me to buy an inexpensive PC laptop for work, I'd still prefer to spend $3k on the 17" MacBook Pro, which is uncompromising. Of course, it's a complete ripoff, but it will get any job that you throw at it done, Mac or Windows.

For now, however, I'm satisfied to have my MacBook Air. It's beautiful. It's light. It's thin. I can transport it anywhere. And underneath it all, it's running UNIX, which I far prefer to anything else (e.g. the command shell or even the PowerShell in Vista).

I think the fact that so many apps simply work seamlessly on the Mac is a tremendous advantage. Computers should be fun. The Mac is. I'm very glad that you listened to me and purchased one, although I still wish that you would have gotten a laptop so that you could carry it with you wherever you happened to be. There's no telling when you might be in a university library doing research. You really need portability.

Finally, I exhort you to help me to come up with a viable business idea. We need to make a great deal of money, quickly (unless you want to spend the rest of your life working as an ultrasound technician!).



Anonymous said...


I thought that you might like this film:

It won many awards and is based on Ernest Becker's work. (He wrote _Denial of Death_.)

You may also find this helpful as background information:

Happy Viewing,


Anonymous said...

Aaron, Pat,

We need another NDE book, one that will seriously rock us, incorporating evolutionary theory, real insights from the alleged other side, an understanding of how souls relate to parasitic twins (if at all), what life is and if it can exist without carbon, if there's intelligent life elsewhere and what form(s) it takes, and so on.

Why hasn't there been a blockbuster of a book since Betty's and, particularly, Dannion's? It's not as if people have stopped having NDE's. Similarly, I'm disappointed by the Christian-tainted books that are out there. They seem completely false, as if they were hallucinatory NDE's.

Speaking of hallucinatory NDE's, everyone who has an NDE should read this several times:

However, as William James pointed out, all we need is one white crow. Was that crow Mrs. Piper? Sometimes she was hot. Other times, she was not. It's almost as if there is an other side--populated by demonic entities that like to play with and psychologically torture us.

Aaron, why can't you have an NDE? If you think that an out-of-body experience can be produced by ketamine, why don't you procure some and try it? I just have to know! Of course, I would never risk myself to find out, so I volunteer you. :)

Pat, as far as I can tell, over the past decade since you enthusiastically proclaimed your NDE-like experience, the opposition has not only countervailed your beliefs, but silenced you altogether. That amazes me. That you should be in such agreement with Aaron, who is the exact opposite in beliefs as you, is a disturbing turnaround from your initial beliefs. I don't know whether to feel sorry only for you, or for everyone who believed you. Now, you call your experience "just an experience."

And then there was some shadiness with you and Mike on Linda's mailing list (I think), where apparently you admitted that what you experienced was a dream that you had while sleeping on a hill somewhere. How can we trust anything that you tell us? I ask that honestly.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Read, Pat:

Read, and then tell us that we survive death. And that life has meaning. And that this has meaning, too:

I close with another post:


I just read this:

It's rather long, but the gist of it is that since at least some cases of NDE's exist where the experiencer reports of seeing things that contradicted reality ("hallucinatory NDE's"), we have reason to doubt the veracity of anecdotal accounts. Moreover, there are plausible explanations to account for the NDE (such as a combination of hearing fragments of conversation while "dead," combining fragments of memory and imagination, and reconstructing and embellishing the narrative over time; or lucky guesses). Cross-cultural studies of NDE's bear little resemblance to each other. And, as Steve Benson has pointed out by referencing various sources, various aspects of the NDE have been induced through drugs such as ketamine.

Furthermore, it seems clear to me that NDE researchers desperately want to know whether or not we survive death. The idea of old age, degeneration of the body, and pain and suffering culminating in oblivion terrifies us. It's no surprise that those of us who come to the NDE reports with an admixture of hope in an afterlife and fear of oblivion have tremendous biases. A title, such as "doctor," even one regarded as a genius by his or her peers, in no way alters these biases. There is good reason to be suspicious whenever individuals investigate a phenomenon, but execute the task with a predetermined desired outcome.

Although we can't prove that there is no afterlife, is there any reason, based on the standards for scientific evidence (systematic empiricism; repeatability; public verification), to justify having hope, based on evidence--such as it is--from NDE's and purported mediumistic communications?

What makes this difficult to assess is that the individuals who have NDE's believe, generally speaking, that what happened to them is absolutely real and indicates life after death with the very highest degree of certainty. Although this may ameliorate their death anxiety, and the death anxiety (to a lesser extent) of those around them who have heard their stories and witnessed their sincerity and intensity of belief in an afterlife, just because an experience happens doesn't mean that it signifies anything beyond itself. In other words, it could all just be a very lucid hallucination combined with various psychological and sociological factors that foster true belief in the experiencer accompanied by profound life transformations.

The Tao Te Ching says, "Wanting to be right blinds people." We don't know, and apparently can't know (because we can't get outside of our own skins and psyches as humans) the truth. We can only speculate, or make inferences with a certain degree of confidence (probability). By scientific standards, the probability of surviving death looks to be exceedingly low.

As neuroscience uncovers more and more about how our brains work, and ethology and anthropology and biology and psychology and many other fields arm us with more and more data, guided by the overarching theory of evolution through natural selection, there appears to be a powerful convergence on the idea that this life is all that there is. It is an idea that appears to be held by the vast majority of the vast minority of geniuses among us.

Consciousness, as we experience it, is a process. We lapse into "unconsciousness" (essentially, a state characterized by, among other features, drastically diminished attention to and awareness of external surroundings) whenever we sleep. When we sleep, we go into a mini-coma. Dreamless sleep is no different from nonexistence, from the subjective perspective. It's the same non-experience as being under general anesthesia.

Because most of us suffer psychological pain (in the form of aversive emotional states such as anxiety or depression and physical states such as involuntary muscular tension and insomnia) at the prospect of aging and dementia, never mind oblivion, perhaps belief in an afterlife is a proactive means of social co-regulation to alleviate or fend off such pain.

Let me put this in slightly different terms. If we were brought up by just our atheist parents on an otherwise unoccupied island, we might ask the "big" questions and perhaps invent gods, but it's exceedingly unlikely that we would come up with the tenets of Christianity or any other specific religion. If so, then we would probably have no reason to believe in life after death. It's possible that a belief in life after death takes root in human culture because it mitigates existential anxiety, and since (thanks to mirror neurons) we mimic each other, and emotions are contagious, by publicly professing (affirming) belief in Jesus or Allah and life after death, we are unconsciously regulating the emotional states of others, and they, of us, in such a way as to confer protection on us from psychological pain.

If this hypothesis is plausible, then it theoretically makes sense that those who attend religious services regularly (rather than practicing prayer, say, in isolation from others) would benefit psychologically which, through various social mechanisms, might lead to greater longevity. We know from studies that this is exactly what happens. As to what the mechanisms could be, perhaps socializing promotes and reinforces healthy behavior, such as talking about problems to alleviate personal stress and distress, rituals that promote serenity and reduce stress through music and bodily movement (similar, perhaps, to a meditative state), and so on. It would be interesting to see if the longevity effect holds for members of non-religious groups, such as chess clubs or secular humanist meetings.

It's important not to make sweeping generalizations, so I should point out that my line of thinking here is tentative and hypothetical. Furthermore, there does appear to be a (relatively) small percentage of the population that doesn't believe in an afterlife and is vibrantly healthy both psychologically and physically and lives a longer life than expected. These people appear not to be affected much, if at all, by the terror of oblivion at bodily death. We may attribute this to "good" genes, enviable mental habits, and good luck. (Most of us can't talk ourselves out of panic.)

As I've gone from 22, when I suffered from a potentially life-threatening illness and was desperately looking for irrefutable proof of life after death, to 39, where I'm equally desperate for evidence but much less naive, the well-known stories told by Betty Eadie and Dannion Brinkley seem somehow childlike and too good to be true, like fairy tales.

The best current explanation that we have from the best minds on the planet (not that they couldn't be wrong) who have spent their lifetimes in devoted research in biology, physics, medicine, and other fields is that we are human animals who really do die when our bodies die: we are utterly and permanently annihilated. No one can definitively know whether or not this is true, but that does appear to be where the evidence and thought experiments that we have presently point.

No amount of fleeting evidence would be enough to convince a scientist that we survive death. By fleeting, I mean anecdotes, mediumistic readings that can't be replicated, etc. However, most of us can agree with the bleak conclusion I've mentioned above, going to sleep, experiencing something positive the next day, and having a reignited, if irrational, hope that there is life after death.

I continue to study this problem. If one takes the scientific approach, the conclusion seems not only bleak, but utterly and ineluctably damning. What I wonder about is where deep philosophical inquiry may lead.

Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes set the stage for science as we now practice it: the former stressing empirical observations, and the latter, theory building through reason, logic, and mathematics. In other words, science is guided by what we observe, and by theories that attempt to account for observations and make future predictions which can be falsified (i.e. which lend themselves to experiments that could either show them to be false or, by not contradicting the prediction, lend support to the validity of the theory). We need both. Empirical observation, alone, only gives us data. We need theories that predict results that can be tested if we're to assemble a collection of effective tools (particularly important in medicine) with which to battle against an otherwise indifferent Mother Nature in order to improve the quality of our lives.

There is evidence to suggest that by taking certain psychoactive substances such as LSD, many people have "transcendent" experiences where the boundaries between them as beings encapsulated in skin dissolve into a "cosmic consciousness." There is also evidence that suggests that nuclei (clusters of cells) in the brain stem are implicated in having a sense of self. Perhaps LSD diminishes action potentials in these nuclei, thereby creating a feeling of cosmic consciousness.

Can societies be reduced to individuals, individuals to neurons, neurons to molecules, molecules to atoms, and atoms to subatomic particles and forces? There are epistemological limits to what science can tell us, beyond which we can know nothing. We can only speculate.

How are emergent properties possible? How is subjective experience possible? Will we ever know? Will science eventually answer these questions?

All we know for certain is that we do have this life--in greater or lesser measure. Those with dementia have less of it. Those of us fortunate enough to be young and healthy have more of it. If the bleak hypothesis of oblivion is true, I think that it's all the more important to study happiness research and strive for insight into ourselves by every means possible (genetic testing, psychological testing, self-reflection, asking friends and neutral observers, etc.) so that we may live as well as the elastic leash of our DNA, as Ed Wilson puts it, and our environment, will permit.

The journey of discovery brings me great satisfaction, even if it's frustrating and any answers found are, at best, provisional. My pragmatic approach to truth applies equally well to life: science is our best means for understanding ourselves and the world. What's true, ultimately, is what leads to useful results. Whether belief in an afterlife helps most people to have a higher quality of life that lasts longer than for nonbelievers is an interesting question, regardless of whether or not there is an afterlife.

I make one final observation. The more that I've learned about science, in particular, and more generally, anthropology, geology, history, and linguistics, the less credible that I've found the NDE evidence to be. Perhaps I, myself, am descending from atheism into nihilism. But not so fast. I am a philosopher. Let's take a deep look together into survival from a philosophical perspective and see what we find.

Perhaps, in the end, there may be good reason for hope after all.

upinVermont said...

//Why hasn't there been a blockbuster of a book since Betty's and, particularly, Dannion's? It's not as if people have stopped having NDE's.//

If other NDEr's are anything like me, they have learned to keep their mouths shut. So many people who have *not* had them (including you Steve) want to see in our NDEs whatever beliefs they are predisposed to hold; and if they don't see them then we are called self-deluded or liars (pick your euphemism). This is true of skeptics as well. NDEs can prove whatever you want them to. Not every NDE is the same, though, and when they conflict I have been asked to explain why - and I have explained *why* over a hundred times. Literally.
The fact that you are still asking these questions only illustrates you're habit of breezily ignoring everything I have ever written you.

//Similarly, I'm disappointed by the Christian-tainted books that are out there. //

Yet more reason why NDErs are learning to keep their mouths shut. We are percieved as a threat to Christianity, and we *are*. Some Christians, at first, tried to portray us as being deluded by Satan. Some still do. Others, realizing that this wasn't working, responded by trying to co-opt the experience. It's all an absurd game I want nothing to do with.

//They seem completely false, as if they were hallucinatory NDE's. //

Little wonder.

//the opposition has not only countervailed your beliefs, but silenced you altogether.//

You have *completely* misread the reason for my silence. It's not the opposition that has silenced me; it is the believers. Believers want to fit NDEs into their predisposed belief systems. Steve, most people don't *really* want to hear what I believe, including you. The fact of the matter is this: Nobody can prove anything as pertains to the experience. It's a profoundly personal experience and will ultimately only have meaning to the person who experienced it.

//That you should be in such agreement with Aaron, who is the exact opposite in beliefs as you, is a disturbing turnaround from your initial beliefs.//

Again, you don't get it. Aaron and I *never* had oppositie beliefs. We still don't. Our friendship is based on a recognition of just how much we share and just how similarly we view the world despite our different experiences. We are both empiricists and have been ever since we were disillusioned by "new age" excess.

//I don't know whether to feel sorry only for you, or for everyone who believed you.//

The very fact that anyone believed anything spiritual because of *me* makes me regret anything I ever said.

//And then there was some shadiness with you and Mike on Linda's mailing list (I think), where apparently you admitted that what you experienced was a dream//

My NDE happened just before sunrise, beginning as a dream. The dream was transformed into a fully conscious experience that transcended anything dream-like. It was an NDE before I ever knew or heard of them. As to Mike and Linda. There was no shadiness at all. If you go back to my very first post and my description of my NDE (which you can do) you will see that I wrote this from the outset. Mike lied and is a liar. I am still friends with Linda. The proof is in what I wrote. It's all there. The fact that you still believe this canard that Mike started is a testament to your own laziness, Steve, and gullability. Anybody with any interest in the matter could easily verify what I've written.

But I'm so fed up with all this, Steve.

I wonder about your intellectual capacity. You never seem to mature or grow intellectually, but ask the same questions over and over and over again. It's as though you were incapable of synthesizing information. I get no sense of progression in your thinking or philosophy. Your sole interest in Aaron (and by extension -me) appears to be *affective* - as though you were symptomatic of some kind of psychiatric disorder.

If you want to affectively provoke and prod Aaron for the rest of your life, be my guest. But leave me out of it, Steve.

Aaron said...

I would have to concur with Pat, Steve. You have good ideas at times but you are clearly driven by anxiety and paranoia to the point where you don't really absorb what anyone says. I have made the same case before as Pat is making now. you ascribe attitudes and beliefs on me and Pat which you MUST KNOW by now we do not have. Is it done intentionally to grab attention? I cannot accuse you of not paying attention to what is written because you often remember things fairly clearly. It seems there is a selective filter your brain uses.

Anonymous said...

Pat and Aaron,

I will reply soon.

Meanwhile, I thought that you would find this useful: