In the midst of an increasingly divisive and overheated debate about illegal immigration, The Anchoress offers some profoundly sensible and sensitive thoughts.
Someone asked me what I thought of the Bush administration's announcement that they intend to prosecute leaks of classified information. To me, this is like announcing that you intend to have milk with your cereal. What is the point of cereal without milk? And what is the point of having classified info if any Tom, Dick, or Jane can leak it?
Speaking of Dick, the very same people who are opposed to prosecuting leakers are simultaneously in favor of prosecuting Dick Cheney for allegedly leaking classified info about Valerie Plame. There seems to be an inconsistency here. (BTW, as best I can tell, Plame's CIA status was not actually classified, since she wasn't an active covert operative, so even if Cheney did blab, he didn't break any laws.)
Anyhow, my response to the question took on book-length proportions. Since, as I have repeatedly stressed on this blog, I am very, very lazy, I figured I could get a new blog post out of this topic simply by cutting and pasting my answer:
I think it's always been illegal to leak or publish classified info. It's just that the law is rarely enforced. Of course, back in (say) WW2, the press wouldn't leak classified info because they actually wanted the US to win the war. Now they want us to lose, so it's a whole new ballgame.
We couldn't fight Hitler today; as soon as we lost the first 500 soldiers, the media would declare the war a failure and call for FDR's removal. ("Delano lied; people died!") And about 24 hours after our codebreakers deciphered the German codes, the news would be all over the front page of the New York Times: "German Codes Broken, US Illegally Eavesdropping on U-Boat Crews!"
Hitler, assisted by the ACLU, would sue the Roosevelt administration for violating the privacy rights of his U-boat commanders. The investigation would broaden into a review of POW camps maintained for German prisoners, where it would be determined that the prisoners had been deprived of basic human rights like high-quality German beer and regular access to The Charlie McCarthy Show. The administration's claims that conditions in German camps were far worse would be dismissed as self-serving lies.
Eventually all the German prisoners would be released, rearmed, and transported by limousine back to the front lines to resume fighting. Not long after, the press would celebrate V-E Day, marking the final victory of Hitler's forces in Europe. A cover photo of a triumphant Panzer Division soldier sweeping his girlfriend into his arms would make the front pages.
Meanwhile, Roosevelt would be on trial in the Senate after having been impeached by the House. Critics would allege that the president had been guilty of a massive coverup. Among other things, he had concealed the fact that he was wheelchair-bound, and that he was a rich white male. Also, his fireside chats were not really delivered by a fireside at all!
Soon after, VP Henry Wallace would be sworn in as president, while the disgraced FDR would retire to Warm Springs, Georgia, where he would spend the rest of his life fending off lawsuits from former German POWs and U-boat commanders.
Eventually someone would notice that there didn't seem to be quite as many Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and handicapped people in Europe as there used to be. The New York Times would run an investigative series on the mystery, but would come to no conclusions. The general consensus would be that Roosevelt was probably to blame.
One of the more interesting things about the Gospels is their depiction of Pontius Pilate, an enigmatic figure who comes across as surprisingly sympathetic. Why should the man who sentenced Jesus to death, and who was reviled by Jewish writers as a devious tyrant, be presented in such a seemingly favorable light?
One explanation is that the Gospel writers were eager to establish their loyalty to Rome, so as to persuade the Romans that Christianity posed no threat to the empire. This is possible, but there is another explanation - namely, that the presentation of Pilate has been misread all these years - that, in fact, the Gospels depict him not as a sympathetic figure but as a canny and manipulative politician.
This theory is nicely laid out by the Christian apologist J. Patrick Holding in his article, "The Trial on Trial," which concerns the historicity of the accounts of Jesus' trial. The whole article is interesting, but the section on Pilate, which begins here, is what intrigued me the most.
I won't attempt to present the argument in any detail. Suffice it to say that in Holding's view, Pilate was suspicious of the Jewish leaders who brought Jesus to him. He feared that they were leading him into a political trap, or perhaps simply using him as a pawn in political games of their own. He was not the type to take kindly to this kind of treatment, so he complicated their efforts and attempted to frustrate their designs. He did so, not out of any sympathy for Jesus - whom he likely regarded as a deluded maniac - but from a finely honed sense of self-preservation.
Read this way, the various accounts of Pilate's statements and actions make good sense, and fit quite well with what little we know of him from other sources.
It's an intriguing point of view and, for those who are interested in this sort of thing, well worth a look.
You know, ever since Tom Cruise started talking publicly about his Scientology beliefs, people have been treating him as an object of ridicule. I've been guilty of this, myself. It's so easy to make fun of a guy who takes L. Ron Hubbard as his guru.
But recently it occurred to me that it's pretty hypocritical of me to make fun of Tom. Because the truth is, I have plenty of beliefs of my own that would be considered weird, eccentric - okay, let's face it - downright nutty.
As readers of this blog know, I believe or am inclined to believe, among other things ...
That the works of Shakespeare were written by the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.
That the universe is the conscious product of a superhuman Mind.
That the first living cell did not come together by chance, but was willed into existence by this same Mind.
That paranormal phenomena, including telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis, are real.
That the spirit survives the death of the body, and that talented mediums can communicate with the dead.
And that's just for starters! Every one of these ideas is highly controversial and would be considered crazy by many intelligent people.
So who am I to make fun of Tom Cruise for his seemingly oddball ideas? For that matter, why should anyone lampoon a guy whose only crime is to speak his mind? Do we want to live in a society where any dissenting opinion is immediately met with catcalls?
For saying that he disapproves of psychiatric medication and that he is a Scientologist, Cruise has been attacked in a variety of odious ways. Disgusting and absurd stories have been circulated about what he did with the placenta after his child was born. Insinuations have been spread that he is a closeted homosexual. (If so, he's doing better than most heterosexuals - I mean, this is a guy who's been involved with Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Katie Holmes ...)
It's become open season on the guy. Poor Tom has been made into a punchline, and for what? Having unorthodox opinions? Are we really so insecure that we can't tolerate the slightest dissension from the conventional wisdom?
I say, Let Tom be Tom! For that matter, let all of us be who we are.
That said, I still have no interest in seeing Mission Impossible 3.
Just finished watching the two-hour wrap-up of season five of 24. This was the best season yet, and the finale delivered the goods and left me wanting more. I was hoping there would be some mention of a rumored 24 feature film, but I guess that idea has been shelved for now. Which means (shudder) I won't get my next 24 fix till January! The withdrawal pains have already begun ...
If I had to name my favorite TV show of all time, it would still be Buffy the Vampire Slayer - a brilliant mix of horror, action, comedy, teen angst, soap opera, and half a dozen other genres (at least), somehow seamlessly combined into a phenomenal 7-year run.
But Buffy was not exactly a "guy show." It was more like Gilmore Girls - another smart, niche series that I am slightly embarrassed to admit watching, because I am not part of the targeted demographic.
In the category of "guy shows," 24 gets my vote for the greatest of all time. What self-respecting male would not want to be Jack Bauer?
There's been a lot of ink spilled (and pixels generated) about efforts to reinvent the James Bond franchise by casting a new actor and going back to basics. It may work in terms of reviving the box office. But Bond will never again be the kind of cultural icon he once was. Like Steed and Mrs. Peel, or even (dare I say it) Austin Powers, he's a product and a reflection of the '60s.
The new James Bond is 24's Jack Bauer (he even has the same initials), a macho hero for our era. Let's face it, Bond is just so last-millennium with his gadgets and his dapper Etonian charm. These days we want our heroes to have an edge. No tuxedos, no martinis, no fancy cars ... just a pistol and a cell phone and a no-nonsense attitude that borders on the psychopathic. Bond's cool quips and unflappable demeanor reflect a less nervous, more ironic Zeitgeist. Today we're all looking over our shoulders as we pass through metal detectors. We don't want irony; we want somebody who, when faced with the next terrorist threat, will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
A few days ago Matthew Cromer, a frequent commenter on this blog and the blogmeister of Science Is a Method Not a Position, suggested to me that physical reality may be best understood not as an objective phenomenon independent of consciousness, but rather as a subjective experience arising out of consciousness. Here's part of what he wrote:
What is ultimately real is the "space" in which reality unfolds. We could call that space "Awareness" or "Consciousness" or "God" if we like....
The difference between [a hallucination] and [a physical entity] is not that one is real and the other is not. The difference is one is part of a shared matrix of perception we call "physical reality", while the other is a matrix of perception that only one individual is experiencing. But both are ultimately subjective. It is just a matter of how many loci of consciousness are able to perceive them.
In an email, Matthew clarified his view by saying that the universe could be seen as consisting of the thoughts in God's Mind, with our individual consciousnesses as small extensions of this greater Cosmic Consciousness.
Although I had heard this kind of idea before, I had never really thought about it or taken it too seriously. But this time, something about the suggestion appealed to me, and since I was flying across the country and would have a lot of time on my hands, I figured I would ponder it.
Which I did.
Over the course of my travel I came up with 17 different issues to which the subjective universe may be relevant in one way or another. Some of these are philosophical or scientific dilemmas, while others are simply personal thoughts. I decided to list them here briefly, in the hope that they may stimulate other people's thinking on this subject.
As for me, I don't know quite where I stand on this whole issue of objective vs. subjective reality. But it certainly is an interesting thing to think about.
Here then, in no particular order, are some of the things that occurred to me.
1. Ordinarily I feel a certain amount of stress while flying, hurrying through airports, etc. But on this trip, with the idea of a subjective universe on my mind, I felt no stress at all. Could stress be a result of feeling separated from our environment, feeling that the environment impinges on us? If we feel we are intimately connected with the environment so that there is no separation, is there also no stress? Could the modern curse of chronic anxiety be related to a sense of separation from our environment brought about by the "objectivity" paradigm?
2. An ethical doctrine I find appealing is moral intuitionism, which holds that certain moral values are simply obvious -- for instance, it's wrong to torture a helpless baby. No matter what complicated, sophisticated arguments an ethicist might construct to defend the practice of torturing babies, most people would know instinctively or intuitively that it is wrong. Of course, this can be explained as some kind of biological conditioning, but there are many problems with the sociobiological approach -- not least of which is that, according to this view, nothing is really right or wrong; an action is merely helpful or not helpful in promoting physical survival. The moral intuitionist view is that certain moral values, certain fundamental rights and wrongs, are simply inherent in the nature of things, part of the "furniture" of reality, so to speak. To cast the argument in a more religious tone, we could say that values exist as ideas in the Mind of God. Clearly this hypothesis has more force if we assume that all of physical reality is ultimately an idea in the Mind of God.
3. Another philosophical issue is the problem of universals -- whether properties such as whiteness or smoothness exist in reality or only as categories in our minds. A very elegant solution to this problem is to say that such properties -- in fact all properties, qualities, attributes, relations, etc. -- exist in the Mind of God. This presupposes a universe that arises out of Cosmic Consciousness.
4. Probably the most philosophical book of the New Testament is the Gospel of John, with its famous prologue: "In the beginning was the Word ..." The term word is the Greek logos, which means something like "a universal principle of order and understanding expressed in action." Perhaps the closest English equivalent is "mind." In the beginning was the Mind ...?
5. Experiments performed by quantum physicists indicate that observation and measurement of subatomic particles can directly influence the behavior of those particles. In some cases the particles seem to "know" what kind of experiment is being performed even before all the steps have been completed. These anomalies are very difficult to explain on the premise of an objective reality independent of any consciousness. But if reality is subjective and dependent on the consciousness of God (and, to a much more limited extent, the consciousness of individual observers), then these anomalies are perhaps more readily explicable.
6. There are numerous cases of miraculous healings that seem to involve a mind-body connection that goes beyond materialistic science. If the body itself is a projection of consciousness, then perhaps the ability of consciousness to heal the body makes more sense.
7. Psi phenomena of all varieties do not fit into the materialist paradigm of an objective reality independent of consciousness. They fit much more neatly into the subjective universe model.
8. The fine-tuning of the cosmos, which seems to have made life possible, is perhaps best understood if "the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine," as the physicist James Jeans once put it. (The same holds true for the origin of the first living cell, which may be better understood as the expression of a conscious plan than a random accident.)
9. The British biologist Rupert Sheldrake has developed the theory of morphic resonance, illustrated by many examples drawn from nature and from the laboratory. Morphic resonance, in brief, amounts to the idea that the behavior patterns of one living thing may influence the behavior patterns of other living things of the same or similar species, even if they are separated by time and space. If physical reality is an expression or projection of ideas in the mind of God, then these patterns of resonance may be seen as analogous to thought patterns, rather than to any physical energy forms.
10. When I was about ten years old, I frequently had the thought that my life was somehow unreal -- that it was only a movie that I was watching. I assumed this was unusual, but one day a friend of mine said he had same experience, only he compared his life to a book that he was reading. Perhaps this feeling of observing our life as a spectator is not uncommon among children, though it seems to fade as we get older. If the world around us is, in some sense, an expression or projection of consciousness -- our own or Cosmic Consciousness -- then this childhood intuition may be quite valid.
11. A related phenomenon is the "witness" feeling often noted by psychologists -- the occasional sense of standing outside ourselves and observing our own thoughts, emotions, or behavior with equanimity. Although there may be mundane psychological explanations for this phenomenon -- defense mechanism, depersonalization -- it's also possible that the perspective of the "witness" reflects a deeper or higher level of consciousness than the one we ordinarily tune in to, and that at this higher level we are aware of the ultimately subjective nature of the events we perceive, including our own thoughts and actions, even our own personality.
12. People who have had a near-death experience frequently report undergoing a "life review," in which they relive all the events of their lives and learn how those events affected other people, for better or worse. Moreover, they directly experience the effects of their own actions on others; they feel whatever joy or suffering they are responsible for in other people's lives. Perhaps the real lesson of the life review is that ultimately we are all one. Perhaps we can experience how we affected other people because ultimately we are the other people and they are us.
13. The most fundamental maxim of ethics, the Golden Rule, may be seen as based on the same premise as the life review. We should do unto others as we would have them do unto us -- because we and they are ultimately the same consciousness, or at least threads in the fabric of the same higher consciousness.
14. One difficulty with both spiritual studies and parapsychology is that they seem to suggest a dualistic world, a reality that is bifurcated between matter and spirit. However, if we see physical reality as an expression or projection of consciousness, then the distinction between matter and spirit disappears, and we may be in a position to develop what mystics call Unity Consciousness -- the sense that all is one.
15. The idea that reality is subjective can be liberating if it implies that we are co-creators of the world, intimately connected to our environment and to our fellow sentient beings. As the ancient Roman playwright Terence wrote, "Nothing human is alien to me." Or as the physicist Freeman Dyson put it, "I do not feel like an alien in this universe."
16. In my early childhood I often had a feeling of nostalgia for a perfect world, one that was more beautiful than the world I found myself in -- a world I pictured as a wonderfully landscaped park, free of litter, crime, or any other blight. Was this just childish imagination, or was I dimly recalling a higher spiritual realm that my consciousness had previously known?
17. Most people have an inability to accept the reality of their own death, at least if death means personal extinction. They may say they accept it, but in fact our own nonexistence is impossible to conceive of and is generally dealt with by means of denial. Does our inability to imagine our own oblivion originate, not in fear, but in the deep-seated knowledge that our consciousness really is indestructible, because it is part of the basic fabric of reality itself?
As I say, just some things to think about, if you wish ...
I'm not a big horse-racing fan, and didn't even remember to watch the Preakness. But my good friend and fellow suspense novelist J. Carson Black is a major aficionado, and is understandably upset about the injury to Barbaro, who came up lame during the big race on Saturday. In an email, she wrote me,
I’m afraid it looks very bad, due to the nature of the break. Horses cannot withstand rest the same way as people do. They can’t do bed rest, because of the way their circulatory systems are. They have to be standing, and there are all sorts of complications that can arise, because thoroughbreds in particular are highly strung. The main problem is that there are two breaks, and the one to the pastern is very serious, because if blood flow is compromised, it will not work out. They are doing surgery tomorrow,and will know then. It’s 50-50 at this point. So, here’s a chance for us to really put our prayers to good use. I’ve been spending my time at thoroughbredchampions.com, the forum, getting updates. So many people are praying for this wonderful horse, who really is unbelievably special. I feel like we’re holding a vigil for him. So send up prayers, and maybe put something up on your site and ask for prayers too.
Ask, and you shall receive.
For those of you who love horses, please keep Barbaro in your thoughts. He's a champion, and he's already shown that he can beat the odds. Let's hope he can do it again.
If you read essays and books supporting the idea that near death experiences are real spiritual journeys into the next life, you typically find a heavy emphasis on the similarities of these experiences across historical and cultural boundaries. On the other hand, if you read skeptical analyses of NDEs, you often encounter the claim that these experiences vary widely in their content, and thus should be taken as hallucinatory.
The truth lies somewhere in between. There are both significant similarities and significant differences among NDEs. Let's take a closer look, and then see if we can come up with an explanation that fits the facts.
In what follows, I rely mainly on NDE studies but also on studies of deathbed visions - statements by the dying about what they perceive in the moments before death.
First, the similarities. Most NDEs share these characteristics:
A sense of leaving the body and hovering over it or standing beside it. The awareness that one still possesses a body with arms, legs, etc., but a more subtle body than the physical one. Any injuries or illnesses are cured. The blind can see, etc.
An awareness of what is going on around the body, usually perceived with preternatural acuteness. These reports are frequently verified later; the experiencer has observed details that he should not have been in a position to know.
Movement at a very high velocity toward a bright light. (Sometimes, but not always, movement through a tunnel.)
In positive NDEs, a beautiful landscape peopled by human figures who seem to glow from within; often they are seen wearing white robes; other times they wear familiar earthly garb. Individual homes are seen, and sometimes cities are observed from a distance or (more rarely) visited.
Reunions with departed loved ones. Communication in words or thoughts (telepathy). People are often seen looking much younger and healthier than when they died. Great love and understanding are expressed. The message is conveyed that there is important work being done in this sphere of existence, and that after death we continue to learn and grow.
Often, a sense of virtual omniscience - that the answers to all questions are instantly available on request, and that the overall meaning and purpose of life are suddenly clear.
Frequently, an encounter with a religious or spiritual figure radiating compassion and wisdom. This may be accompanied by a life review - a panoramic replay of our life, in which we directly experience whatever pain or joy we have given others. The tone of the review is more instructional than judgmental. The lesson is that love, service, knowledge, and kindness are the important things in life, and material striving matters little.
Often the message is conveyed that there are levels to the spiritual world, ranging from "lower" spheres in which bewildered or wicked spirits reside, to the "higher" spheres that draw nearer to God. Everyone makes progress upward to God, but at different rates. Like attracts like, so souls of similar mentality tend to cluster together.
In negative NDEs, the experiencer finds himself in a lower realm - sometimes a dark void, other times a violent and frightening place. Often these NDEs are associated with great emotional pain at the time of passing - as, for instance, in suicide attempts.
In positive NDEs, there is almost always a reluctance to return to the physical body. Either the person is gently persuaded to go back, or he is ordered to go back and must obey.
The return is nearly instantaneous. Reentry into the body is experienced as painful. The person is sometimes upset with the doctors for bringing him back.
That's a pretty substantial list of similarities, but as noted above, there are also differences in the various accounts.
Some people are aware of being escorted by a guardian spirit, while others make the trip seemingly alone. (Sometimes the person is unaware of the guide until he consciously looks for one.)
When religious figures are seen, they are typically appropriate to the person's upbringing. Christians see Jesus; Hindus see deities of the Hindu pantheon.
The information given to the experiencer may vary according to his belief system. Mormons, who believe in the preexistence of souls and the importance of genealogies, will often be told that they preexisted their life on earth, and that a major task in the afterlife is keeping family records. These ideas are much less likely to be imparted to non-Mormons.
The person's actual experience may differ also. Hindus seem to find themselves in a more bureaucratic afterlife, in which their temporary death is explained as a kind of clerical error. Christians are more likely to be told to go back for some other reason - usually because there is important work that the person still must do. (This work is rarely specified, but sometimes involves raising children or spreading the message about the afterlife.)
The very appearance of the afterlife seems dependent, to some extent, on a person's preconceptions. In one case, a fundamentalist Christian with very rigidly held religious views found himself in a stereotypical Christan heaven, complete with choruses of angels and "pearlescent" gates fencing off a city with streets of gold. (This is the only case I know of that features the proverbial pearly gates.)
In some NDEs, the experiencer is told that it is very hard for the deceased to look in on the world of the living, while in others, it seems comparatively easy to do so.
Now, with all these similarities and differences, is there any way to make sense of NDEs? I think there is, and it involves the teachings of the Tibetan Book of Dead, a sort of travel guide to the afterlife.
The Book of the Dead is insistent in saying that what we see in the next world is, at least in part, a projection of what we expect to see. The adept is urged to go beyond the illusions that confront him and to discover the underlying reality.
Remember the Christian who saw actual pearly gates? He wrote a book about his experience. Toward the end of the book, I was somewhat startled to read that the author, despite having had an NDE of his own - which he regarded as unquestionably genuine - nevertheless expressed some doubt that other people's NDEs were real! His reason: The content of some of their NDEs was "non-Biblical." So here we have someone who is so firmly wedded to his belief system that even after having an NDE of his own, he remains skeptical of NDEs reported by other people, because their experiences did not conform to his expectations.
Now, suppose he had not seen the pearly gates or heard choirs of angels. Would he have accepted his own NDE as real? Or would he have fought against it and found it frightening and confusing?
In his case, his expectations of the afterlife were very specific, and anything different would have created cognitive dissonance, at the very least. So he saw what he expected to see.
Similarly, Christians expect to see Jesus, and they do. Hindus expect to see Hindu deities, and they do. Hindus perhaps are more inclined to see the afterlife in terms of a bureaucracy that is constantly recording and balancing karmic debts - so they see their own temporary death as a clerkish error in the system. Mormons expect to find that they existed in heaven before birth, and this is what they are told. They also expect that genealogy will be very important in the next life; not surprisingly, it is (for them).
Does this mean that the entire experience is subjective? I doubt it. There are too many commonalities - which do, in fact, far outweigh the differences. What seems to be the case is that people gravitate toward an afterlife environment that is most suitable for them. They gravitate toward other souls who share their preconceptions and assumptions. They may assume that everybody who passes over will have the same experience they're having, but this is only short-sightedness on their part - like the American abroad who assumes that everybody speaks English.
In other words, I am imagining that there are communities of souls in the next world, and that these communities tend to function in accordance with the group's expectations. Over time, members of the group will evolve beyond the need for narrow doctrinal assumptions, just as they will evolve beyond the need for such pseudo-physical accouterments as domiciles, clothing, and even bodies. But this evolution in thinking is not immediate. It takes time. The transition from an earthly mentality to a fully spiritual mentality is very gradual and incremental - which is a good thing, as otherwise it would be disorienting and scary.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead, then, is correct in saying that we will see what we expect to see, and that there is a deeper underlying reality that initially eludes us. It is not that what we see and experience is unreal - only that it is not the final, ultimate reality, any more than is our physical world.
For Mormon (and other) NDEs: The Eternal Journey, Lundahl & Widdison
For Hindu (and American) deathbed visions: What They Saw ... At the Hour of Death, Osis and Haraldsson
For a Christian NDE (the "pearly gates" vision): Ninety Minutes in Heaven, Piper & Murphy
Somewhere P.J. O'Rourke observes that if you've ever been tempted to think you would have preferred to live in some earlier time period, like ancient Greece or the Renaissance, just remember one word: dentistry.
It's true. Unlike in times past, dentistry today is amazingly painless. I was recently reminded of this fact when I had dental implant surgery.
In this procedure, a dental surgeon removes your tooth (which in my case had already been root-canaled), then inserts a titanium post into your jaw, grafting it to the bone. He then covers the post with a temporary tooth. A permanent tooth will be attached several months from now when the titanium rod has fully bonded with the bone.
He assured me that the procedure would not cause much postoperative pain. I did not believe him. You're telling me you're gonna pull my tooth, drill a hole in my jaw, embed a metal rod in the hole, and it's not gonna hurt? Yeah, right.
But it turned out to be true. I had almost no pain from the procedure. The little postoperative discomfort I experienced was easily treated with Advil. I didn't even need the prescription pain pills I had bought as a precaution.
The operation itself was also painless. The only time I felt any pain at all - a brief twinge - was when they stuck a needle in my arm to draw blood (which was centrifuged into plasma for the bone graft) and to insert an IV (for the sedative). I was awake for the procedure, but totally out of it - a condition known as conscious sedation. I have amnesia about the operation itself. I remember knowing that the IV drip had started, and then being aware that the surgeon was fitting the temporary tooth onto the post. Everything in between is a blank.
Now I have a new chunk of metal in my head. It doesn't hurt. It never did hurt, really. Amazing!
(X-ray of the implant. The white thing that looks like a screw is the titanium post. You would think this would hurt, wouldn't you? Click image to enlarge.)