"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious" ~ Albert Einstein

Sunday, September 29, 2013

An Autumn Adventure in Mono County

As I was driving home with sore, tired muscles, feeling windswept and dusty and stinking like sage brush, that peaceful feeling came over me that always does after a rugged day in the outdoors.  This particular trip, however, did not go quite as planned.  It was mostly in retrospect that I was able to realize I had a great day.

The plan was for three dirt bike rides.  Each ride was one that I had been talking about for some time now.  With a week off, I decided to just go and crank a few of them out in one shot.  For my first ride, I decided on ~135-mile loop, starting in Sage Hen Meadows south of Mono Lake, which goes around and over the southern crest of that range, visiting Adobe Valley, Crowley Lake and other scenic areas.  My second ride would be the Coyote Flat loop between Bishop and Big Pine.  My third ride was going to be the Hunter Mountain, Racetrack, Saline Valley loop out of Lee Flats in Death Valley.  Long story short - I only got in the first ride - and barely!

If it had been a little while since my last multiday hiking trip, it was a really long time since a motorcycle trip of that type.   With motorcycles you've got to bring a lot more stuff with you.  Feeling a little scattered in my mind, I was having a hard time thinking of what I needed to bring.  I was sure I would forget something!  Sure enough, about two hours north of my home, I realized I forgot my daily medication for Mitral Valve Prolapse.  Not a trivial item!  Luckily I was able to track down a Rite Aid in Bishop and they were able to refill my prescription.  Phew, trip destruction narrowly averted, part one!

Not too long afterwards, I arrived at one of my favorite camp sites, which is located up in Sage Hen Meadows around 8,500' in elevation.  This is a secluded, primitive camp site (a dirt pull out, really) in a spectacular setting with fantastic wide-open views of the whole Mono Lake area and the Sierra Nevada.  I had a few hours to relax with my delicious sandwich from Schatts in Bishop, unload the bike, and take care of other business before the sun set.  I took the bike out for a small ride and for some reason it was idling really low and feeling like it wanted to stall out.  It eventually went away, so I chalked it up to cold temperatures, not having used it in a while and not warming it up enough.  However, it chipped away a little at my confidence to head out into remote areas the following day.  The trip "bad luck" bug was biting at me again.

I quickly realized it was quite a bit cooler up there than in Ridgecrest too.  Being a guy used to 100+ degrees during the day and overnight lows in the 70s, the low-to-mid 20s the next morning was a bit of shock and made the first part of the ride bone chillingly cold.  My hands were switching back and forth between stinging really bad and going numb, while shivering so bad I felt like I might accidentally jump right off the motorcycle while still in motion!  As I headed down into Adobe Valley and out into the sunlight, I started to warm up a bit, but not quite warm enough to stop and take a picture of the herd of wild horses I saw.  I am still regretting that one!

In Adobe Valley

There was quite a few spots of deep sand in Adobe Valley, and one part of the loop turned into a dead-end of sorts.  One section of the old road dropped down into a dry creek bed and climbed up out the other side.  When I came to the next section like this, the creek was flowing and an 8-foot wall of plant growth was blocking the way!  I had to back-track and cut down to Hwy 120 to catch the next part of the loop.  Here, one slowly heads over to the east side of Glass Mountain and then traverse over to the southern part of the range before crossing over just north of Squaw Teat.  Rebecca and I had hiked up Glass Mountain in a mega-day trip from Ridgecrest several years ago with the pups, so I was looking forward to seeing even more of the range on dirt bike now.  Many of the roads cut through some beautiful areas with fall colors.  The range is called Glass Mountain because of all the Obsidian Rock, which shines like black glass in the Sun.

Glass Mountain

Fall Colors in the Glass Mountain Range
The roads leading from Sawmill meadows to Squaw teat were fun, curvy and narrow, cutting through several sections of aspen in beautiful fall colors. Once I got to Squaw Teat, the road curves around the peak and then goes down a long ridge line all the way down to Long Valley below.  The views of the valley, Lake Crowley and the Sierra Nevada were awesome!  However, lots of sand and some rocky sections made for a rugged ride in spots.  I pretty much bulldogged the bike down a couple sections.  One uphill at the very bottom required four attempts before I finally got up it - very deep sand, plus my bike always feels pretty underpowered at altitude (as if it didn't at sea level!).  There was another road, but having no idea where it went, or even if it was a dead end, or not, had me feeling a wee bit trapped for a few minutes.  Some desperate Fred Flintstone maneuvers got me up the hill on that last attempt, though! Seriously though, that might be all that got me up there in the end.

Starting Around Squaw Teat

Lake Crowley, Sierra Nevada

Getting Close to Bottom of Ridgeline

From here, I had a blast zipping across Long Valley on the way to Lake Crowley.  Fast, curvy trails with some mild whoops and sand thrown in for fun.  After Crowley, one heads into the hills and woods to the north, with great views of Mount Morrison.  Much of the trail was covered in sharp Obsidian rocks.  I also stopped for lunch in here and had a delicious almond butter and honey bagel.  I must have been pretty hungry, because that sure hit the spot!

Mount Morrison From Long Valley

Somewhere in this area I started noticing a funny sound every time I let off the gas, like a high pitched whooshing noise.  Couldn't figure out what it was until I pulled over and realized my tire was going flat.  Fuck!  I was still a little over 10 miles from the highway, or an easy access area.  I just decided to keep going with the little air that was left in the tire and see if I could make it to the highway.  Then, I could try and change the tube, or call for help.  I was pleasantly surprised that I actually made it!  First, I tried to pump up the tire only to find out my pump was broken too!  There went the option of changing the tube.  I called Rebecca and let her know what was going on.  I noticed what little air was left in the tire seemed to be holding.  I figured, hell, I'm going to hop on the freeway and try and make the 30 miles of road and 5 miles of dirt back to camp.  Sure sounded like a better prospect than wait three hours on the side of the road for Rebecca.  I was pretty sure she would be pretty relieved not to have to come up there too. Once again, to a much greater and even more pleasant surprise, I actually made it back to camp!  My back tire swerved around a bit and the valve stem disappeared up into the rim, with a completely flat tire right as I pulled into camp.  Even though I had no mirrors, a close to flat tire, hugging the side of the road at 50 mph, none of the highway patrol I saw pulled me over, either.  Lucky!

I cracked open a hard-earned beer, or two, enjoyed the views and rambled around the nearby fall colors, while snapping some photos.  It was nice to relax with the great views before starting the drive home

I took some video too, but it turned out pretty disappointing.  The mount was loose and the camera ended up looking down at the ground more than the scenery!  Most of the fall colors and scenery never even made it into the field of view.  Really wish I snapped more photos of the fall colors and even the wild horses I came across, but I thought I was capturing a ton of video, so why bother!  Oh well.  I still managed to put together a half-way decent little clip.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Study on Rats Proposes a Mechanism for NDEs

Quite frequently a new study will come out purporting to explain Near Death Experiences (NDEs).  These are typically attempts to explain NDEs as some aspect of a dying brain.  If you're a staunch materialist, I guess it really is the only reasonable way to view the NDE phenomenon.  But, almost all of these fall short of explaining most aspects of the NDE phenomenon.  Some can even get pretty darn silly.  One claimed, "many of the phenomena associated with near-death experiences can be biologically explained", which was done by comparing different aspects of NDEs to various common and uncommon disorders.  Quoting just some of the disorders they used, I facetiously summed up their analysis of NDEs in the following manner.

"So, basically, if I happen to simultaneously have Cotard's syndrome and Parkinson's disease, while suffering from interrupted sleep patterns, while tripping on acid and become afflicted with some strange eye problems, it then becomes possible for me to have an NDE?"

However, a study came out recently that was pretty interesting.  They found highly coherent, global oscillations in the brains of dying rats.  (yes, they killed the poor little guys).  I planned to write something up on this, but I noticed Robert Mays of the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) wrote up an article, which is probably better than anything I would write and he is far more qualified to discuss the issue.  So, I will just quote the contents of that article below and provide a link.

I would add one extra flaw to his list.  One cannot actually ask the mice if they had an NDE.  I think this is especially important, given that the level of electrical activity found would not normally be sufficient for normal waking consciousness, let alone a hyper-real lucid experience that is reported in NDEs.

Nonetheless, I've said for a long time that even if NDEs are a result of consciousness becoming free of the brain (I discuss this "filter" model of the brain in this blog post), certain aspects of the NDE may be modulated by the dying brain, or by trauma to the brain.  So, if any electrical activity is found during a period when an NDE is suspected to occur, it must be investigated and may provide some insight into the NDE experience and to what extent it is modulated by the brain.  Clearly, it should have nothing to do with the veridical aspects, or the hyper-real lucid states of consciousness that are reported.  Eben Alexander mentioned the Earth-Worm Eye view aspect of his NDE (again discussed in the post linked above) may have been the best consciousness his meningitis-ridden, pus-soaked brain could put out.  Perhaps, similar aspects of his and other NDEs are modulated by the brain, at least partially.  However, this is just my idea, which doesn't seem to be widely supported, so take it with a grain of salt,

Anyhow, here's the content of the May's article (links provided below)


"A recent study by Jimo Borjigin and colleagues (University of Michigan) reports that highly coherent, global oscillations in the brains of rats occurred from about 12 to 30 seconds after cardiac arrest. The investigators found that near death, some of the electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, providing "strong evidence for the potential of heightened cognitive processing in the near-death state." "The measurable conscious activity is much, much higher after the heart stops." They assert that this evidence provides "a scientific framework to begin to explain the highly lucid and realer-than-real mental experiences reported by near-death survivors."  

How well do these assertions hold up to scrutiny?

Commentary by Robert Mays, NDE researcher
There are three major flaws in the reasoning that the University of Michigan researchers used. The first flaw is that a near-death experience, with its elements of the sense of being out of the body, feelings of peace, hyper-real lucid sensations and mentation, and so on, occurs only when an individual is near death. It's important that any explanation of the phenomenon of NDEs explain the broad spectrum of cases in which they occur. NDEs can be triggered by cardiac arrest or a physical trauma, but they can also be triggered by an accident in which the NDEr is not hurt and even in a healthy individual who experiences an NDE spontaneously.

Furthermore, shared-death experiences provide even further evidence where a healthy person at the bedside of a dying loved one experiences many of the same elements of the NDE (see Moody and Perry, Glimpses of Eternity, 2010).

There is no physiological explanation of NDEs and SDEs that can explain the variety of trigger conditions and elements of the experience. So while the results of Dr. Borjigin and colleagues are interesting, they do not provide a scientific framework for explaining NDEs.

The second major flaw in reasoning has to do with the assumption that coherent oscillations in widely separated regions in the brain constitute a general signature of consciousness. In fact, coherent oscillations are neural correlates of consciousness, but are specific to cognitive activity that is directed toward a particular task such as visual spatial attention or directed motor activity. The oscillations tend to be transient, lasting only a few hundreds of milliseconds and the brain regions involved are related to the cognitive task at hand.

In fact the transient pattern of coherent gamma oscillations (25-55 Hz) that were observed in the awake rats in this study prior to anesthesia is typical of consciousness. The coherent oscillations are only a small part of the overall picture of the rat's consciousness. Coherent gamma oscillations are indications only of specific, directed cognitive activity rather than general consciousness. These oscillations always occur in the context of other electrical activity that indicate general consciousness. Thus the result that the gamma oscillations increased significantly in the period after cardiac arrest is not an indication of a heightened general consciousness.

Finally, the third major flaw is that the researchers discounted or ignored the overall power of the electrical activity in the awake rat, where there is clearly consciousness, compared with the greatly reduced power of electrical activity after cardiac arrest. The overall power of electrical activity in the conscious rat is more than 30 times greater than after cardiac arrest. (This is an estimate since I do not have access to the specific data).

There is ample evidence that consciousness is supported only by a certain minimal level of electrical activity. After the cardiac arrest, the rats do not have sufficient electrical brain activity to support consciousness. This conclusion is consistent with EEG studies in humans who experienced cardiac arrest and who immediately lost consciousness.

So what do the highly coherent, global oscillations in the rats indicate? Most likely they are a natural oscillation that occurs in resonant neural circuits when the neural activity of the living rat has ceased. In other words, they are the remnant electrical activity of a dead brain."

IANDS Article: Study on rats proposes a mechanism for NDEs 


Original Paper:  Surge of neurophysiological coherence and connectivity in the dying brain


UFO Videos

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post on John Mack's book Abduction and within that I shared a video on UFOs called "I know What I Saw", directed by James Fox.  Since then I came across a few more good ones I wanted to share.

The first one is called "UFOs Out of the Blue" and is by the same director (James Fox) of  "I Know What I Saw".  This is probably my favorite UFO video to date.

The second one is "Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO sightings".  Although, I kind of disagree about some of them being the "best evidence", it's a pretty good list of the some of the better known sightings.  There are also some new ones not covered in the James Fox videos.  The narrator's voice is a little creepy, though ;-)

The last video is on the Hessdalen lights.  This one is pretty cool.  This is an unexplained UFO-type phenomenon that has been seriously studied and caught on film many times.  It's existence isn't debated, just it's explanation.  I suspect there is a natural, "terrestrial", explanation for this one, but either way, it's pretty neat.