Friday, August 12, 2016

Robin Williams: Two Meetings

Robin Williams as a mime in Central Park 1974
"No matter what people tell you,
words and ideas can change the world."
Robin Williams

I was sitting outside The Plaza hotel in Manhattan one beautiful summer late afternoon in 1975, when I noticed a mime who was shadowing people on Central Park South. He would walk right behind someone, following them within one step of theirs for about 100 feet. Toward the end of miming one person he would pick out another victim walking in the opposite direction, studying them for only a few seconds. Then he would quickly do a 180 and mime them, instantaneously becoming them. He had every mannerism of every person down pat. He literally became each person. It was unreal.

He would constantly pick totally different people to become. He would transition from a business man, to an old lady, to a flaming gay guy, to a tourist, to a beautiful woman, to a punk rocker and on and on it went. I sat there in utter disbelief for around 30 minutes (until he stopped) and watched the most amazing and funniest performance I have ever witnessed in my life. And I have seen it all, well almost. It was a 30 minute non-stop belly laugh. A few times I had to turn away, just to catch my breath. It was so funny that I was in tears the whole time. This mimes performance was so incredibly wondrous, that it was hard to believe. I asked myself over and over, how could this mime so quickly and perfectly become all of these extremely different people?

I went up to the mime after he was done and asked him his name. He told it was Robin. When I watch the show Mork & Mindy a few years later in the late 1970s I thought to myself, this guy Robin Williams must have been the mime I watched a few years earlier. He was about the right age, he had the correct height, weight, color hair and processed the same facial characteristics that I remembered. But I wasn't 100% sure.

Years later (in the mid 1980s) I was driving my taxi one night in Manhattan when I picked up Warren Zevon and Robin Williams together. I soon thought back to that glorious day watching the greatest performance in front of The Plaza. The mime that was better than anything I ever saw on Broadway (and I saw almost all the great Broadway shows and revivals), television or in film. So, I told Robin and Warren the mime story. Then I asked Robin if it was indeed him. He said yes, it was. I told him that it was the most brilliant and funniest 30 minutes of my life. He was very appreciative of this compliment. I could see on his face how genuinely happy it made him.

Thank you Robin Williams for all of the inestimable joy and laughter you brought to the world. Thank you for being one of the greatest stand up comedians ever. Thank you for your magnificent acting career. And especially, thank you for that special summer afternoon in front of The Plaza hotel where that 17 year old young man witnessed first hand the extraordinarily virtuoso performer that you were.

I will miss the beauty you gave us all. Bless you and may you rest in peace.

Reblogged from Mark R. Elsis at

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Saul-Paul Sirag's New Math Book

Saul-Paul Sirag in Eugene, Oregon plus some Japanese numerals

Back in the 1950s Reader's Digest ran a monthly feature "The Most Unforgettable Character I've Ever Met". In my long life I've met many such characters but Saul-Paul Sirag must be near the top of the list.

Saul-Paul was born in Borneo of Dutch-American parents who were fundamentalist Baptist missionaries to the Dayak headhunters. When Japanese troops occupied Indonesia in 1942, they imprisoned Saul-Paul, his older brother Mark and their mother Sylvia in the Banju Biru concentration camp in Java. His father, William, was interned in a separate camp where he died before the end of the war. Each morning the occupants of the camp had to line up in front of their cell blocks to count off in Japanese. I like to think that this prison-camp countdown was Saul-Paul's first experience of an exotic form of mathematics.

Back in the States, Saul-Paul was educated in various ultra-conservative Baptist schools, most notably Christ's Home in Warminster, PA and Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada. During high school in Canada both he and his younger brother David showed exceptional interest and ability in physics and math. In 1960 Saul-Paul graduated from PBI and soon ended up in Berkeley (Berkeley in the 1960s!) where he continued his science education but also befriended a number of artists and musicians, notably Don Buchla and Charles MacDermed.

Saul-Paul Sirag plus a Hair poster
Energized by 1960s Berkeley, Saul-Paul moved to New York City where he reviewed books, wrote and acted in plays at La MaMa in the East Village, participated in an Andy Warhol Fashion show and, by his own account, inspired a Broadway hit: "Jerry Ragni, who wrote Hair, told me that he got the idea while watching me dance to the Grateful Dead in the East Village." Ah, Saul-Paul Sirag: woolly-headed icon of the Age of Aquarius.

By the early 1970s Saul-Paul was back in Berkeley where he resided at Arthur Young's Institute for the Study of Consciousness (ISC) on Benvenue Street, a kind of boarding house and meeting hall for people interested in the mystery of human awareness. I first met Saul-Paul in 1973 at ISC and was impressed by his uniqueness. Everyone was into Tarot cards at the time but Saul-Paul had created his own private deck, made up of images (including porn) that had significance only to Saul-Paul himself. Saul-Paul was privately schooling himself in math and physics and was writing a popular science column called "The New Alchemy" which was syndicated in college newspapers. ISC was a nexus for people interested in ordinary and altered states. And through Saul-Paul and his friends at ISC I was able to meet many smart people who helped me write my own book on consciousness.

Saul-Paul's room at ISC was stacked floor to ceiling with unusual books. One of my favorite finds in the Sirag scriptorum was a German-language edition of John von Neumann's classic Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics which announces behind the title page: "Copyright Vested in the U.S. Alien Property Custodian 1943, Pursuant to Law." I don't know exactly what this means but it conjures up the image of a famous German physics book ending up as "spoils of war." ISC was only a few blocks from the UC Berkeley campus. No day spent with S-P was ever complete without a jolly tour of campus bookstores in search of exotic codices. This was before the Internet, when bookstores in Berkeley were as common as pizza shops.

Saul-Paul was a founding member of the Consciousness Theory Group (CTG) which held meetings first at ISC, then later, across the Bay in San Francisco when Saul-Paul moved into Henry Dakin's Washington Research Institute (WRI) where both consciousness and the Soviet Union were central topics of concern. While at WRI, Saul-Paul served as president for a few years of the Parapsychology Research Group (PRG) in which Russell Targ (of SRI Remote Viewing fame) was a prominent participant. While at WRI, Saul-Paul devised an ambitious hyperspace model of consciousness which, unfortunately, only Saul-Paul was able to understand.

A description of S-P's hyperspace model appears in Jeffrey Mishlove's authoritative tome The Roots of Consciousness. Saul-Paul penned the Afterword for Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger and published at least two papers on obscure physics phenomena in Nature, Earth's most prestigious science journal. Saul-Paul has also produced an irreverent and unpublished manuscript about his school days at Prairie Bible Institute entitled Jumped by Jesus.

Saul-Paul Sirag at Esalen Institute (1980 - 1988)
 During the 1980s, Mike Murphy invited Saul-Paul and me to host invitational seminars on physics and consciousness at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The major focus of these seminars was Bell's theorem which proves that if certain quantum experiments are correct, then reality must be "non-local". Bell's theorem is unique in that it is a statement not about experiment nor theory but about "reality itself". Moreover, BT is no mere conjecture concerning the nature of reality but a rigorous mathematical proof.

Many of the participants in the Esalen Seminars on the Nature of Reality were members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group (FFG) founded in Berkeley by Elizabeth Rauscher and George Weissman as recounted in David Kaiser's recent book How the Hippies Saved Physics.

Saul-Paul was also present at the creation of Sirag Numbers and Siragian Triangles, two small mathematical curiosities with no known real-world application.

Saul-Paul Sirag's New Math Book
Earlier this year (2016) Saul-Paul published a new math book ADEX Theory: How the ADE Coxeter Graphs Unify Mathematics and Physics.

Saul-Paul Sirag and the five Coxeter graphs
ADEX Theory is basically a taxonomy of mathematical objects similar to the classification of life forms on Earth, into fundamental categories such as kingdoms, phylums, classes, genuses and species. All animals, both alive today and in the fossil record, can be organized into only 16 phylums with names such as Protozoa, Anthropoda, Mollusca and Ctenophora. Humans belong to the phylum Chordata along with cats, dogs, lizards, birds, sharks and sting rays. "Possessing a backbone" is the passport to membership in phylum Chordata.

Compared to mathematical objects, life on Earth is easy to classify because life has a common origin and all life forms are members of a single tangled family tree. A mathematical object, on the other hand, consists of any structure whatsoever that the human mind can invent and find interesting. Categorize the human imagination? Impossible.

Saul-Paul describes in ADEX Theory the successful classification of a large variety of seemingly unrelated mathematical objects using only five "mathematical phylums" called Coxeter graphs (after Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter). Here I will confess from the outset that the task of reviewing this book is well above my pay scale. Only a person with considerable mathematical sophistication can truly appreciate ADEX Theory.

What amazes me, as a mathematical pedestrian, is 1. the enormous variety of mathematical objects that can be brought together into a few communal families by this simple classification scheme and 2. the peculiar nature of the five "mathematical phylums" that are able to tame this giant population of unfettered figments of the human imagination.

Get this: the mathematical phylums, called Coxeter graphs, are symbols for something called Reflection Groups which are analogous to a set of mirrors in multidimensional spaces. Each Coxeter graph stands for, if I understand things correctly, a particular KALEIDOSCOPE in hyperspace. So, instead of a backbone, each member of the same mathematical phylum possesses, in some sense, the same brand of kaleidoscope.

And here is a partial list of the variety of mathematical objects which Saul-Paul shows how to classify using just five mathematical phylums (five Coxeter graphs):

1. The Coxeter reflection groups, or Weyl groups
(the objects these diagrams were originally designed to represent)
2. The Thom-Arnold "simple catastrophes" of dynamical systems
(the "butterfly catastrophe" lives in phylum A5)
3. Digital error-correcting codes
(Hamming-8 code lives in phylum E8)
4. Knot and Braid theory
(E6, E7, E8 phylums important for classifying knots)
5. Maximal quantum entanglement of 3 qubits
(related to the E7 phylum)
6. Roger Penrose's "twistor theory"
(twistors live in every ADE phylum)

And that's just some stuff I can almost begin to understand. Saul-Paul goes on to show how ADE phylums can help organize Lie groups, Klein-DuVal singularities, McKay correspondence groups plus Kac-Moody and Heisenberg algebras.

Moving on to more practical topics, the guy that inspired Hair uses ADE to clarify and unite topics in string theory, black hole physics, the holographic principle plus his own rendering of the possible ADE underpinning of our current Standard Model of elementary particle physics.

Oh, and this theory can also help us understand something called "quivers".

This book should appeal to specialists in any of the above-named fields who will appreciate Saul-Paul's passion for these esoteric topics and his fine attention to detail. In a rare literary aside, Saul-Paul shares this: "In his preface to Regular Complex Polytopes, Coxeter wrote: 'Its relationship to my earlier Regular Polytopes resembles that of Through the Looking Glass to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,' This book which Coxeter says he 'constructed ... like a Bruckner symphony' is the most beautiful mathematical book which I possess (among several hundred)."

And you there reading these words now. Which is your most beautiful book?

The author of ADEX Theory lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife Mary-Minn.

Saul-Paul Sirag at the Eugene, Oregon Ken Kesey statue
plus the first nine Sirag Numbers

Friday, July 8, 2016

Virtual Reality

Doctor Jabir 'abd al-Khaliq

Let's pretend to be perfect
Let's pretend to be bad
Let's pretend to be low life
Let's pretend to be mad

Let's rip off our clothing
And pretend to be holy
Let's dress up like cops
And go out patrolling

Let's pretend to be starving
Let's pretend we are fed
Let's pretend we are single
Let's pretend we are wed

Let's pretend to be prostitutes, porn stars
Medieval Russian saints
Let's pretend to be scientists, housewives
People with horrible complaints

Let's pretend we're telepathic
And read each other's minds
Let's pretend we're individuals
And live like porcupines.

Let's pretend we are artists
Ann Rice or Jimmy Joyce
Let's pretend to be what YOU want
Live in the daydream of YOUR choice

Pretend you're someone special
And I am special too
Prima donnas in a drama
Or fairy tale for two

With supporting cast of thousands
Playing enemies and friends
Who pretend to love and hate us
In ways we don't intend

Let's pretend we're evil devils
With stinky old cracks
Let's pretend we're good angels
With wings on our backs

Let's pretend we are gods
That run this whole show
And whatever we please
Is the way it will go

Let's play we are separate
Let's play we are One
Let's play we are dying
Pretending is fun

Let's pretend we are suffering
From a wound that won't heal
Let's forget we're pretending
Let's pretend it's all real.

Large Hadron Collider: Atlas Experiment

Friday, July 1, 2016

Vidyakara's Proof


How could He have made you so beautiful
And not kept you for Himself?

Therefore there is no God.

(from Vidyakara's Treasury (ca 1100AD)
translated by Octavio Paz.
Compare with Schrödinger's Proof)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Esalen SuperNature 2016

Bridge over Hot Springs Creek, Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA
For more than 50 years, Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA has been exploring the furtherest reaches of human nature inspired by its co-founder Michael Murphy's words: "We live only part of the life we are given."

Early this month (June 2016) I was invited by Michael Murphy and Jeffrey Kripal to participate in a conference on human superpowers which featured philosophers, historians, psychologists and physicists. Michael Murphy and former participants in earlier versions of this conference had produced a number of books on extraordinary human experiences in sports, in sex, in parapsychology labs, in religious ecstasy and in ordinary life.

Books by Jeffrey Kripal and Jenny Wade
Books by Ed Kelly and Michael Grosso
Books by Kelly et al and Michael Murphy
If this conference were a college class, these books would be part of the required reading. Each book (and several others) points in its own way beyond ordinary experience into the realm of powers and experiences utterly inexplicable by the currently fashionable materialist Weltanschauung (If you hang with philosophers, you've got to speak their language; with this group of specialists Nick felt almost entirely out of his depth.)
Esalen SuperNature 2016, opening circle
The conference was divided almost equally between theory and experience. The overarching tentative theoretical model for our explorations was a view of the universe in which an invisible Spirit immanent everywhere behind material form was progressively emerging in and through matter in increasingly sophisticated visible forms. This vision of a world spirit struggling to be born everywhere in Nature and particularly in human beings is a central theme in the philosophy of Shri Aurobindo, in Plotinus and the Neoplatonists and in Hegel's picture of an Absolute Zeitgeist emerging from infinite potential into finite actuality. Each of these three spirit-driven evolutionary philosophies had a representative at Esalen in the persons of Michael Murphy, Gary Shaw and Glenn Magee.

Coincidentally, when I arrived home, I discovered that Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, had recently written a novel God's Debris espousing this very same evolutionary philosophy.

From my point of view, the notion of our world being brought into being moment-by-moment by a hidden potentia changing mysteriously into visible actuality seems entirely consistent with quantum physics. Physics however omits the God bit and regards these world-producing potentia/actuality transitions as perfectly random.

This might be a good place to mention Erwin Schrödinger's Proof for the Existence of God -- which might also be called "Schrödinger's I-am-That".

Another theoretical perspective was offered by Adam Crabtree, a psychotherapist from Toronto, who has researched the history of Mesmerism and uses trance states in his practice. Adam presented the case that trance states (extreme focus, exclusion of irrelevant perceptions and the marshalling of subliminal resources) could be a royal road to the understanding both of ordinary life and its supernormal extensions.

Jenny Wade describing Berzerkergang
On the experimental side, psychologist Jenny Wade presented material from her book Transcendent Sex, where she describes a wide variety of supernormal states experienced by normal, undrugged people "just having sex". Jenny then transited abruptly from love to war to describe techniques used historically and by modern warriors to attain an altered mental and physical state optimally conducive to destroying the foe.

The central experimental focus of the Esalen conference was Michael Grosso's presentation of material from his recent book, The Man Who Could Fly, St Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation.

Joseph of Copertino (1603-1663) was an Italian monk who was unexceptional in every way except for the fact that he was continually transported into ecstatic religious states during which he would rise from the Earth and levitate, sometimes for several minutes. Joseph had been ordained a priest and his levitations would so frequently accompany the Consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, that his superiors eventually forbid him from saying Mass in public because his levitations inevitably distracted the faithful from their prayers. The Catholic Church did everything they could to keep Joseph out of the public eye and even subjected him to several Inquisitions to determine whether his powers (which they could not deny) were from God or from the devil.

The case of St Joseph of Copertino is one of the most thoroughly documented facts of human levitation during religious ecstasy. More than 150 people put forth written testimony under oath (which was a lot more serious in the the 17th Century when oath-breakers might fear punishment in Hell). Hundreds and no doubt thousands witnessed this monk's marvelous flights over an extended period of 35 years. Father Joseph's flights were no one-shot miracle but a highly replicable set of phenomena occurring throughout his lifetime until the moment of his death.

OK, scientific materialists, explain this!

Ummph, ahh, gee-whiz, mass hallucination?

It is a curious fact that St Joseph's miraculous ascensions took place in Italy precisely at the time when his countryman Galileo (1564-1642) was laying the foundations of the mechanical science that would today confidently prove that Joseph's feats are impossible. Another curious coincidence is that the city of Cupertino, CA, the headquarters of Apple Computer, happens to be named after the levitating saint.

Miraculous Medal
 Two physicists, besides myself were invited to deal with Michael Grosso's exposition. But Hal Puthoff and Henry Stapp had conflicting schedules, so I was left by myself, by default "the house physicist", to confront these persuasively presented miracles with the vast explanatory structures of quantum mechanics, modern cosmology and general relativity.

I was frankly baffled.

Instead of getting into physics, I slyly chose another path. In Ohio, I had been educated in both a Catholic grade school (St Augustine's) and a pre-seminary Catholic boy's school (St Charles Borromeo) so I volunteered to explain what it felt like to dwell in the Catholic Weltanschauung, some taste perhaps of how people might have experienced the world in the days of Father Giuseppe of Copertino.

In the first place Catholics are everywhere surrounded by MAGIC. There's the holy water in every church (and in little bottles at home), there's medals, scapulars and holy cards (baseball-card-like pictures of the saints) topped off with the most magical medal of them all, the holy Miraculous Medal which confers a cornucopia of blessings on its wearers. There's the Marian rosary and the colorful liturgical calendar which hangs in every home plus the Seven Sacraments -- seven "outward signs" which represent direct channels to the Grace of God.

And all that just for starts. The primary magic, which as a Catholic you could experience every day if you wanted to, is the Mass, which in my day was performed in an ancient language that nobody understood. (Nick was an altar boy and participated on stage in hundreds of these magical demonstrations.) 

The Holy Mass. Of all the Catholic practices, none was so magical as this. The central fact of every Mass is that the words of the priest would cause the very God that created our Universe to reside in some mysterious way in the substance of Bread and Wine. And that Catholics could partake of the very Substance of the Divine simply by swallowing a small white wafer.

Heap big juju.

And this holy Catholic miracle -- the Mass and Transubstantiation -- happened every day.

I also related to the philosophers and psychologists how I subsequently lost my Catholic faith and met an angel in Berkeley.

Now back in Boulder Creek, doing my homework (reading some of the books on the list), I was eating breakfast (which for a Ukrainian like Nick inevitably involves a quart of beer) and suddenly came up with a way to explain the levitation of St Joseph.

It is of course not an adequate explanation, but an indication of a possible path to an explanation, a path that involves neither quantum mechanics nor relativity but a far more fundamental result in physics called Noether's Theorem after German mathematician Emmy Noether (1882 - 1935) who first derived it. Here is what Matthew Francis writing in Symmetry Magazine has to say about Noether's Theorem:
We are able to understand the world because it is predictable. If we drop a rubber ball, it falls down rather than flying up. But more specifically: if we drop the same ball from the same height over and over again, we know it will hit the ground with the same speed every time (within vagaries of air currents). That repeatability is a huge part of what makes physics effective.
The repeatability of the ball experiment is an example of what physicists call “the law of conservation of energy.” An equivalent way to put it is to say the force of gravity doesn’t change in strength from moment to moment.
The connection between those ways of thinking is a simple example of a deep principle called Noether’s theorem: Wherever a symmetry of nature exists, there is a conservation law attached to it, and vice versa. The theorem is named for arguably the greatest 20th century mathematician: Emmy Noether.
The falling-body reliability that Galileo first measured and that modern science abundantly confirms is a consequence of the Conservation Laws of Energy and of Momentum.

But Noether's Theorem proves that these two conservation laws derive from two basic SYMMETRIES in Nature -- the symmetries of TIME and of PLACE.

Conservation of Energy derives from the symmetry that as far as physics is concerned, ALL MOMENTS OF TIME have the same nature -- in physics there are no magic moments.

Conservation of Momentum derives from the symmetry that as far as physics is concerned, ALL LOCATIONS IN SPACE have the same nature -- in physics there are no privileged places.

However, our conscious experience does assign a special time and a special place to the world. We experience the world in the HERE and NOW. Conscious experience seems to break the universal time/space symmetry of physics and hence (via Noether's Theorem) opens the way for Mind to violate the laws of conservation of Energy and Momentum.

But perhaps human minds in their normal state exercise only a insignificant influence on Nature's basic time/space symmetries but in Mesmeric trances, sexual transports or religious ecstasies, the powerfully experienced here/nowness of consciousness might induce extraordinary acts that violate the cherished laws of physics over and over and over again.

Thus Emmy Noether can explain St. Joseph of Cupertino.

The details are left to the student.

Esalen SuperNature 2016 participants (photo by Daniel Bianchetta)

Friday, June 10, 2016

32 Irish County Jig

Several months ago Blarney, the Irish band I'm pleased to be part of, played a concert at a theater in Santa Cruz. The concert was captured on video by Virtual World Studios run by Al and Sun Lundell, also known as Doctor and Mrs Future, whose Doctor Future Show emanates every Tuesday afternoon from our local radio station KSCO (1080 AM). This morning Mrs Future sent me a clip from that wonderful concert that be featurin' me self performin' me own composition.

32 Irish County Jig

There's Wicklow and Wexford, Westmeath and Kilkenny
Waterford, Sligo, Roscommon, Kildare
Meath, Down, Armagh and Derry
Donegal, Monaghan, Leitrim and Clare.

There's Carlow and Cavan, Cork, Tipperary
Fermanagh, Antrim, Longford and Tyrone
Laois, Louth, Galway and Kerry
Limerick, Offaly, Dublin, Mayo.

Matt Johnson, August O'Connor, Kim Fulton-Bennett, Nick Herbert

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Four Meetings

Nick Herbert and Rudy Rucker: Boulder Creek, CA
These days I'm pretty much of a hermit living with my cat Onyx at the Boulder Creek Quantum Tantra Ashram, going into town a couple times a week for food and spending much too much time indoors browsing the Internet. Occasionally however I enjoy meeting offline with real people.

A few days ago my friend, science-fiction writer Rudy Rucker, dropped by for his traditional yearly pilgrimage to Reality House West and brought bread and cheese for lunch. Rudy is best known for his Ware Tetralogy, a high bizarro-density drama of near-future Earth. Rudy is also a publisher (Transreal Books, Los Gatos) and the editor of Flurb, an on-line anthology of high-weirdness sci-fi stories by Rudy and his pals. He also paints pictures in a primitive style suggestive of Grandma Moses on mescaline and is an accomplished photographer.

After the usual jokes about my Dogpatch lifestyle, Rudy and I exchanged gossip and he shared the excitement about his latest project Million Mile Road Trip in which Dark Matter is made of consciousness and is called "smeal". Consciousness is one of our favorite topics and we engaged in the usual speculations typical of humans at this stage of ignorance about the way the world really works. As he departed, Rudy gifted me with Transreal Cyberpunk, a recent collection of sci-fi "buddy stories" written in collaboration with his buddy Bruce Sterling, a similarly daring explorer of edge-science themes.

Gabriel Guerrer and Nick Herbert: Boulder Creek, CA
A week after lunch with Rucker, I was visited by Gabriel Guerrer, a physicist from South America (Sao Paulo, Brazil) who is also interested in the topic of consciousness. Gabriel had worked for a year at CERN investigating the properties of B-mesons -- a peculiar member of the particle zoo that violates time-reversal invariance, a puzzling glitch in the deep nature of things. Gabriel had worked both in high-energy physics and in high-finance but is now situated at the University of Sao Paulo's Center for Anomalous Psychology attempting to replicate Dean Radin's elegant experiment measuring the effect of human intention on a laser-sourced double-slit interference pattern.

We met at my German-born friend Reno de Caro's house where we were joined by Bruce Damer and Allan Lundell (Dr Future) who participated in a conversation centered around the life experiences that led Gabriel (and the rest of us as well) to take an interest in the risky off-beat territory of consciousness research. I was pleased to see that someone so smart, enthusiastic and qualified as Gabriel was carrying on the torch. A good time was had by all. And Reno captured most of our conversation on video.

Patricia Burchat and Nick Herbert: Stanford Physics Department
About this same time last year, Reno de Caro, who is interested in the history of WW II, decided to travel to the Hoover Institute at Stanford which houses one of the world's largest collections of original documents on World Wars I and II. I decided to tag along on Reno's trip to the German-language archives both as a tour guide and as a returning alumnus of the Stanford Physics Department (graduate class of 1967). Stanford is very picturesque, a reflection of its eccentric founders. Reno brought his camera and captured some beautiful scenes, including candid pictures of excited young men and women dressed in suits and gowns to celebrate their graduation from this prestigious institution.

While Reno was busily copying microfilmed pages of the Joseph Goebbels Diaries onto a thumb drive, I ambled over to Stanford's physics and engineering sector which seemed to have quadrupled in size since I left its hallowed halls. I decided to stop in the physics office to inquire who was around during graduation break and immediately ran into Patricia Burchat, whom I recognized from alumni publications as a former head of the physics department. Jackpot! We talked about the changes in the department and what we both found exciting in the field. Before we parted, I mentioned the old grad student Christmas Party tradition of spoofing the professors and the field of physics with corny, insider-joke skits. Burchat replied that this tradition was still going on. And that she was often one of the organizers of these amateur theatrics. I told her about Les Blatt, a fellow grad student, who, if he had not majored in physics, might have made a name for himself writing Broadway musicals. I mentioned that I still possessed the script from Les's clever parody of My Fair Lady and would send her a copy when I returned to Boulder Creek.

Like Gabriel Guerrer, Patricia Burchat had spent time investigating the kinky behavior of B-mesons, not at CERN but at the BaBar B-meson factory powered by the Stanford Linear Accelerator. Burchat was a prime mover of the BaBar collaboration which published hundreds of scientific papers on the behavior of B-mesons and anti-B-mesons -- symbolized by B-bar, an upper case "B" with a line on top, hence the whimsical name for the project and its association with Babar the French elephant who naturally became the mascot of this giant particle physics collaboration. Patricia is presently associated with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile which, when completed in 2023, will take high-resolution photographs of the entire sky every three nights for at least 10 years. One of the primary goals of this full-frame sky video is to discern the effect of invisible Dark Matter on the matter we can actually see.

Blas Cabrera and Nick Herbert: Stanford Physics Department
On a second occasion when Reno was copying documents at the Hoover Institute, I took him and his camera on a tour of campus hot spots ending up again at the Stanford Physics Department. Once there I discovered that my old grad student office was now occupied by Blas Cabrera who is famous for designing a detector of magnetic monopoles that picked up a single signal of the right magnitude on St. Valentine's Day 1982. But Cabrera's detector and others like it were never able to repeat this momentous event, leading physicists to conclude that if monopoles really exist they are very rare in this part of the Universe.

In my former office I discussed with the new occupant changes in the department that had taken place since the sixties while Reno took pictures of our conversation. I was especially curious about the giant black-and-white diagrams posted in the hall outside Cabrera's office. They looked like some kind of labyrinth or the esoteric badges of a mysterious secret society. Turns out that they are the detector design drawings for the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS). As Cabrera explained to me how these sophisticated detectors were expected to respond to Dark Matter (an explanation I could barely follow), I asked him if these giant charts represented the actual size of the Dark Matter detectors. "No," he replied. The actual detectors are only about 3 inches in diameter" "And made out of Germanium."

I found it a bit odd that the two physicists with whom I spent the most time at Stanford were both involved in experimental searches for Dark Matter: Patricia Burchat in the foothills of the Andes in Chile; and Blas Cabrera thousands of feet underground in an abandoned iron mine in Canada.

Monday, May 9, 2016


Ragnar Lothbrok from Vikings (History Channel)


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed,
and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought,
and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: 
the deep moans round with many voices.

Come, my friends,
Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven,
that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

--Alfred Lord Tennyson 

Sunday, May 1, 2016


Demetrios Kalamidas, creator of the TKO superluminal signaling scheme.

Page 1 of Kalamidas's TKO FTL proposal

Page 5 of Kalamidas's TKO FTL proposal

A few days ago I received 6 or 7 hand-written notes from Demetrios Kalamidas outlining a new faster-than-light (FTL) signaling scheme that he had devised. Three years ago, Kalamidas had proposed (and even published in a major optics journal!) an FTL scheme which was so devilishly clever that it occupied the time of several smart physicists before his scheme (which I irreverently called KISS for Kalamidas's Instant Signaling Scheme) was finally wrestled to the ground and definitively defeated.

Not one to give up so easily, Kalamidas has now come up with another FTL scheme (which I christened TKO, for The Kalamidas Option). "Refute this one, Nick," he challenged.

Well, before I could refute TKO, I had to understand it. So I made a little sketch, which Kalamidas agreed captured the gist of his new scheme.

Kalamidas's TKO Superluminal Signaling Scheme

In the TKO scheme a single photon |1> is divided by a beam splitter into two equal paths |a> and |b> and recombined at ALICE's beam splitter into two other paths |c> and |d>. This simple photon divide-and-recombine scheme is called a Mach-Zehnder (MZ) interferometer which has found numerous uses in the field of optical physics. Before the |b> photon enters her beam recombiner, ALICE has the option to add a phase Q to the |b> beam, altho in the TKO scheme ALICE does not exercise this option.

In BOB's |a> beam is placed a photon up-conversion crystal (symbolized by the blue circle labeled XTL which, with 100% efficiency, converts two incident photons to one photon with twice the energy. This double-energy photon (which Kalamidas calls OMEGA) exits the scene along path |H>.

In the simple MZ configuration the up-conversion crystal XTL is never triggered, since there is never more than one photon |a> in BOB's beam.

But then BOB adds a second pulsed source of light |G> that is timed to strike the XTL at the same time as each of the |a> photons. If |G> were a simple pulsed source of single photons |1>, then this XTL would remove every |a> photon from BOB's beam by transforming |1> + |a> into an OMEGA. No |a> photons would ever be sent to ALICE who would receive only |b> photons. No interference (between photon path |a> and path |b> would ever occur. The resulting situation would be utterly boring.

So instead of letting |G> be a boring source of single photons, Kalamidas makes |G> a more interesting source of "Gray Light" which is a coherent superposition of the zero-photon vacuum state |0> and the single photon state |1>:

|G> = X |0> + Y |1>         EQ 1

where X^2 + Y^2 = 1

So now whenever the Gray Light contains a single photon |1> (which happens with probability Y^2), this photon combines with BOB's photon |a> and is removed from the |B> beam by the up-converting XTL in the form of a doubled-frequency OMEGA photon.

Whenever the Gray Light contains the zero-photon vacuum state |0> which happens with probability X^2, then photon |a> remains unmolested and travels to ALICE's beam combiner where it's mixed with ALICE's photon |b>.

Given this physical setup, how does ALICE send a signal to BOB?  In Kalamidas's scheme, ALICE has two options which I call YES and NO. In the YES option she sets her beam combiner to 50/50 and maximally mixes photons |a> and |b> into her outputs |c> and |d>.

Choosing the NO option, ALICE removes her beam combiner (or equivalently sets its transparency to 100%) so the |a> and |b> photons do not mix. Photon |a> goes directly into counter |c> and photon |b> goes directly into counter |d>.

ALICE's choice amounts to a decision whether to mix photons |a> and |b> (YES) or not to mix the photons (NO). If BOB observes any difference in his results when ALICE switches between YES and NO, then this difference can be used to send a signal faster than light.

If BOB's experience is always the same, then no signaling occurs.

I looked at TKO and came up with an immediate refutation.

Let's suppose that the Gray Light is equally divided into NOTHING (the vacuum state |0>) and SOMETHING (the one-photon state |1>). This means that half the time there is a Gray-Light photon hitting the crystal and half the time there is not.

1. Whenever there is not a Gray Light photon, BOB will see nothing = 50% of the time.

2. Whenever there is a Gray Light photon but no |a> photon, BOB will see 1 photon. This happens 25% of the time since the photon takes path |b> 1/2 the time and Gray light emits a photon 1/2 the time: 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4 = 25%

3. By the same reasoning whenever there is a Gray Light photon that meets an |a> photon, BOB will see nothing, because the Gray Light photon will be converted into an OMEGA.

By adding up all possibilities we see that 50% of the time BOB sees NOTHING, 25% of the time he sees an OMEGA and 25% of the time he sees ONE PHOTON.

Furthermore this 50/25/25 behavior is completely independent of any action on ALICE's part. Therefore no signaling ever takes place. 

I considered this refutation particularly simple and obvious. So I sent my result to Kalamidas.

"No, no, no, no, Nick! You did not even look at what I have written (his seven pages of hand-inscribed notes). Your calculation is much too simple. IT IGNORES ALL THE PHASES!"


"Yes, Nick, phases." BOB does not just get either SOMETHING or NOTHING at his detectors, He gets SOMETHING and NOTHING between which there exists a definite phase relationship. And that phase relationship depends on ALICE's choice of YES and NO."

"Phases, Demetri? Phases between SOMETHING and NOTHING?"

"Yes, Nick, phases between SOMETHING and NOTHING. That's what makes Gray Light so special. Gray Light's not a mere incoherent mixture of SOMETHING and NOTHING. Gray Light is a coherent superposition (like Schrodinger's Cat) -- a superposition of two possibilities that are linked by a definite phase relationship, a relationship between two objects that only makes sense in quantum mechanics. "

"Yeah, buddy. I know about phases. Phases are the meat and potatoes of every quantum calculation. But in my way of thinking, phases only exist between actual possibilities of something happening. How can NOTHING possibly possess a phase?"

"It can, it does. And that fact is the secret ingredient of my TKO scheme. Check it out, dude. If you include phases in your calculation for what BOB sees (including the phase of the vacuum state |0>) you'll discover (just like I did) that BOB sees something when ALICE makes her YES choice and BOB sees something different when ALICE makes her NO choice. I don't have to tell you, Nick, that if my result is correct, then FTL signaling is a done deed, hence signaling backwards in time, hence breakdown in causality and hence AN END TO THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT!"

"Ummph! I gotta sit down and think a bit about whether NOTHING can possess a phase. Let me get back to you, man."

So Nick gets out his optics books and several cups of coffee and generates a little essay called: "Can NOTHING have a phase? And he decides YES. So the Kalamidas TKO proposal must be taken seriously.

Paying attention to vacuum phases, Nick calculates what BOB will see for ALICE's two choices of 1. inserting a beam splitter -- a choice I call YES. and 2. taking out her beam splitter and observing the |a> and |b> photons separately -- a choice I've called NO.

And here are the results: here is what BOB sees when ALICE makes her two choices:

YES ===> [ |G(1)> ] + 1/2 Y [ |1> ] + sY [ |0>           EQ 2

NO ===> s [ |G(2)> ] + sX [ |0> ] + sY [ |0> ]               EQ 3

where |G(1)> and |G(2)> are two different kinds of Gray Light given by:

|G(1)> = X |0> + Y/2 |1>  and |G (2)> = X |0> + Y|1>    EQ 4

where the square brackets [ ...  ] indicate a quantity that has "lost its phase" and must be added incoherently. Inside the square bracket, phases still must be taken into account. I have found this unconventional square bracket notation useful in dealing with entangled systems which routinely destroy the phases of entangled sub-systems while preserving the phases of the system as a whole

These results express the quantum amplitudes that appear in BOB's observation channel |B>. To obtain probabilities these amplitudes must be squared. But squaring these raw amplitudes will destroy the phase relations and merely reproduce the results that Nick obtained earlier -- if phases are not important then BOB's results don't depend on ALICE's two choices so no signaling can occur.

But BOB is not restricted to merely passively observing the output of his |B> channel. Instead he has the option to deploy a phase-sensitive detector at |B> that might be able, in principle, to detect the two different forms of Gray Light that appear in EQ 2 and EQ 3. Such a detector might be realized by optical homodyne experiments -- subtle kinds of experiment that have produced such peculiar phenomena as the famous "squeezed vacuum state". Both Demetrios and I begin to look into the homodyne literature for some clue as to how BOB might effectively carry out a phase sensitive measurement.

Our literature search went nowhere. Homodyne experiments seemed designed for tasks far removed from our concerns. At this point Kalamidas and I were stuck. Our search for a REAL MACHINE that could measure the phase between NOTHING and SOMETHING had come up empty handed.

But then came the crucial breakthrough. We both realized this: "We don't got to show you no steenking measuring device". At this early stage the TKO proposal is only a thought experiment, which meant that Demetrios and I had unrestricted access to the vast warehouses of the ACME thought experiment Super Store. The fabled ACME warehouse contains all conceivable measuring devices provided only that they don't violate the laws of physics. The ACME shelves, for instance, are empty of perpetual motion devices and quantum-state Xerox machines. Who supplied that box-on-a-spring which could weigh a single photon, that Einstein used in his famous debate with Bohr? ACME, of course. Or its European equivalent.

Before we raid the ACME shelves, let's take a closer look at BOB's two results. On the surface his YES and NO results look completely different, with the exception of the last zero-photon event sY [ |0> ] which occurs only when an OMEGA is created. This OMEGA term is common to both of ALICE's choices. On the other hand the fact that BOB's two remaining terms seem distinctly different (the same result Kalamidas obtained on page 5 of his hand-written manuscript) gives us hope that, equipped with a 100% sensitive phase-discriminating device, BOB might be able to detect a difference between ALICE's YES and ALICE's NO choices. Hence, given an appropriate device from the ACME store, the TKO proposal might actually work as an FTL signaling machine. Such was our optimistic expectation.

So this is what I ordered from ACME -- a device (called GL (MAX) that splits reality into two orthogonal kinds of Gray Light which I call |S> and |D>:

|S> = s ( |0> + |1> )     And |D> = s ( |0> - |1> )      EQ 5
where s = 1/SQRT (2)

The detector GL (MAX) is maximally sensitive to the phase angle between NOTHING |0> and SOMETHING |1>. If this phase angle is positive, the photon ends up in detector |S>. If this phase angle is negative, the photon ends up in detector |D>. In the general case where the phase angle (and amplitude) can be anything, the photon has a definite (and calculatable) probability of ending up either in detector |S> or detector |D>. How the detector GL (MAX) might be physically realized is not our concern. If there were a way to make tons of money from this kind of photon phase detection, a detector of the type GL (MAX) would soon be realized.

Lacking a plausible real way to measure photon phases, Kalamidas and I resort to the ACME thought-experiment warehouse. The price is certainly right: this "ACME Miracle Detector" costs absolutely nothing.

The first thing to notice about the ACME Miracle Detector is that BOB's basis states NOTHING |0> and SOMETHING |1> can be conveniently expressed in terms of AMD states |S> and |D> as:

|0> = s ( |S> + |D> )      |1> = s ( |S> - |D> )                EQ 6

These two expressions will be especially useful for expressing EQ 2 and EQ 3 in terms of phase-sensitive quantum states |S> and |D>. And also useful for calculating the probabilities of the responses of our two orthogonal miracle-detector results <S|S> and <D|D>

Expressing EQ 2 and EQ 3 in terms of the miracle detector bases |S> and |D>, we easily obtain:

YES => s { [ (X + 1/2 Y) |S> + (X - 1/2 Y) |D>]  + 1/2 Y [ |S> - |D> ]}
+ 1/2 Y [|S> - |D>]

NO => s^2 { [(X +Y) |S> + (X-Y) |D>] + X [ |S> + |D>]}
+ 1/2 Y [ |S> - |D> ]

EQ 7 & EQ 8

where the square brackets [... ] indicate no external phase -- inside the brackets, amplitudes do coherently combine, but each bracketed quantity as a whole must be added incoherently to each of its bracketed fellows.

EQ 7 & EQ 8 represent the quantum amplitudes at BOB's |S> and |D> phase-sensitive detectors for each of ALICE's choices.

To determine the quantum probabilities at BOB's |S> and |D> phase-sensitive detectors, we calculate the absolute squares of EQ 7 & EQ 8.

YES PROB ==> 1/2 {(X^2 + XY + Y^2) <S|S>
+ (X^2 - XY + Y^2) <D|D> }

NO PROB ==> 1/2 {(X^2 + XY + Y^2) <S|S>
 + (X^2 - XY + Y^2) <D|D> }

EQ 9 & EQ 10

The final result is that both of these probabilities are exactly the same for all values of the Gray Light parameters X and Y. Thus what happens at BOB's |B> channel, even if BOB is able to deploy perfect miracle phase-sensitive detectors from ACME,  is completely independent of ALICE's actions. ALICE can send no signal, superluminal or otherwise, to BOB.  The exact equality of EQ 9 and EQ 10 means that the TKO proposal totally fails. This result was initially obtained using unconventional square bracket notation, but Kalamidas has independently reached the same conclusion using a standard density matrix calculation.

Although, in common with all previous FTL schemes, the TKO proposal ultimately failed, its detailed refutation led me to places I'd never been before. Highly rewarding was the journey. Thanks much, Demetrios, for taking me along on your trip.

Omega Centauri, the sky's brightest globular cluster

Sunday, April 24, 2016

April Showers 2016

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nichola Mallon, Bell's brother and sister plus a few fans dedicate a street in Belfast's Titanic Quarter named after John Bell's quantum entanglement theorem.


I missed April Fools Day this year. It went right by me. But April's not yet over. So here's a few foolish links to brighten your day.

1. Belfast dedicates a street to Bell's theorem. On the fiftieth anniversary of Belfast-born John Stewart Bell's famous quantum-connectedness theorem, the city of Belfast, North Ireland, pulled out the stops to celebrate their favorite son -- the first city in the world, I would guess, to name a street after a theorem in mathematics. Now which theorem do you suppose will be the next to be so honored? I'm pushing to have the dirt road in front of my house renamed "No-cloning Theorem Way."

2. Nice film here on YouTube about the life of Grigori Perelman, the Moscow mathematician who proved the Poincare' Conjecture. No street named after this conjecture yet, so far as I can tell. The film is in Russian with English subtitles and features mainly interviews with Perelman's colleagues. The reclusive genius shuns both fame and fortune and appears mainly in blurry snapshots.

3. Nice article here on a fascinating site called Philosophy of Science Portal about Corning, the American company that invented Gorilla Glass, the superstrong, transparent substance on the front of every iPhone. Corning makes good stuff: I love my little Corning Visions-series all-glass sauce pan in which I cook my breakfast sausages.

4. Can NOTHING have a phase? This is a short pdf by Nick about whether the electromagnetic vacuum state, symbolized by |0> can possess a phase angle. And if so, how to effectively produce Gray Light, which is a coherent superposition of NOTHING (the vacuum state |0>) plus a single-photon Fock state |1>. Nothing to see here, ladies and gentlemen. Please move along.

5. From science impresario John Brockman's site, Korean futurist Jaeweon Cho's Feces Standard Money proposes to give a job to every human being and to develop a new basis for money.

6. Podcast #469 from Lorenzo Hagerty's Psychedelic Salon features Terence McKenna speaking at Esalen Institute on "Philosophy With the Gloves Off".  In this workshop Terence takes questions from his audience including an inquiry concerning the use of psychedelics as aphrodesiacs which Terence handles with remarkable grace and insight.

Double-slit skirt experiment