Thursday, December 11, 2014

No Torture Please

Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor

NO TORTURE PLEASE

"Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz 
OKs torture in USA" -- New York Times

Torture Dershowitz, not me
I'll tell you all I know
Of freedom-hating terrorists
And poisoned H2O.

Here's what I'll say if tortured
So you can skip the rack
No shock machines: I'll spill the beans
And never answer back.

I'll finger all conspirators
Turn in my mom and fadda
Don't torture me -- here's what you need:
Al Dershowitz is al Qeadda.

Could lawyer's guise conceal a spy?
Is Al the man behind our troubles?
Is Dershowitz the terrorist
That turned our Towers into rubble?

At first he will deny the charges
But the truth is near at hand
For Harvard profs respond to torture
More smartly than the common man.

He'll confess to kissing Satan
While his testicles are fryin'
Al engineered the Holocaust
And wrote the Protocols of Zion.

Torture Dershowitz, not me
Barbarism's not my diet.
Is Dershowitz so fond of torture?
Then let him be the first to try it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Abduction by Aliens

Dr Future Show at http://www.drfutureshow.com/
Allan and Sun Lundell (also known as Doctor and Mrs Future) host a radio show every Tuesday in which they interview folks working (and playing) at the edge of science, technology and consciousness. A few days ago they convened a Conclave of Mad/Glad Scientists at a secret beach house location in Rio Del Mar, CA. Most of the scientists invited to the Conclave had appeared on the Dr Future Show and included people demonstrating Russian hand-held electro-vibratory healing devices, brain stimulating machines, light-pattern projectors; people claiming channeled and otherwise inspired visions of the future and reports from Amazon explorers concerning ayahuasca-mediated connections to the Mind of Nature. Musicians, singers (including the remarkable Caroluna) and splendidly-inventive cooks added spice to the Mad/Glad Conclave.

Nick Herbert attended mainly as a spectator, expecting at most to be goaded into battle against some champion of the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) hypothesis of which he had recently expressed his reasons for skepticism over the airwaves on the Dr Future Show.

But instead, during a break in the stream of speakers, Nick was called to the stage and asked to do whatever he pleased. He obliged by recounting his Abduction by Aliens story which was captured by Dr Future on video and posted on YouTube.


Later, away from the food, the drink and the music, away from the buzzy touch of the Russian healing machine, away from the rushing buzz of the responsive audience and presenters, Nick and Al slipped outside, walked across the sand, took off their shoes and renewed their age-old connection with the sea.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The New Physicality

June Jordan (1936-2002)

Poem Number Two on Bell's Theorem
Or the New Physicality of Long Distance Love

There is no chance that we will fall apart
There is no chance
There are no parts.

----June Jordan

June Jordan's marvelous little poem is one more piece of art inspired by Bell's Theorem. Just in time for the Queen's College exhibit in Belfast, Ireland which closes Nov 30: Action at a Distance: The Life and Legacy of John Stewart Bell.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Salvia Divinorum

WHERE SHE TAKES ME



it starts suddenly with a circle


circular motion


a sense of movement


going counterclockwise


and it feels 


it feels like it comes


out of my mouth


out of my forehead


the left side of my face


a scatter pattern


a pattern


a scatter


left to right


a pull and circularity


around me above me 

from me


inside a huge room


a cathedral


I am both


the inside and the outside


and I don't know


I don't know how


I don't know how to


move


or swim


through this space


and I keep thinking


its growing


growing out of my face


out of my body


spinning


out of my body


and wondering


where my body


is


I want to relax


just wonder


at the beauty


of it all


and part of me 


is saying


where am I


not as in what is this place


where is this place


but


where is my body


because its 


pure consciousness


without


any physical sense


and I feel like I


should be inside


this space I've created


instead


I


am


the


space


and this time it is pastel green


but another time it was


pink luminescent light


and its made of


me


its made of


my face my body


repeating


over & over & over & over &


like a patchwork 


or finely woven fabric


and it would be peaceful


except for me


wondering 


where my body's gone


and if it will ever come back


or will I ever find my way back




so I let go and swim and


it's huge


it's vast


it's cavernous


and afterwards


there is this 


deep profound


sense of


regret


because I couldn't 


stay 


longer


this place I have always


wanted to be


this place I have always


looked for

-- by Laura Pendell

Salvia Divinorum from Erowid


Friday, November 7, 2014

Bell's Theorem Blues

Irish physicist John Stewart Bell (1928-1990)
 During the month of November the Naughton Museum at Queen's College in Belfast, Ireland, is hosting events and exhibits related to one of their most famous alumni, Belfast-born physicist John Stewart Bell. The festival is entitled Action at a Distance: the Life and Legacy of John Stewart Bell. The director of the museum, Shan McAnena, contacted me for advice and as a possible exhibitor. Her exhibits were to be centered not around physics but on art inspired by John Bell's work. Shan was interested in me not for my books about quantum physics, nor for my published papers on Bell's theorem but for something I wrote long ago as a joke.

In my book Quantum Reality which describes attempts to conceptualize quantum theory in human understandable terms, I write a lot about John Bell and his famous theorem. During this book's progress I exchanged letters with this brilliant physicist and Bell even wrote a blurb for Quantum Reality (along with Heinz Pagels and Isaac Azimov). Finally at the end of the book I included a song that I wrote that summed up Bell's Theorem in a nutshell. This song Bell's Theorem Blues was what Shan McAnena wanted to include in the Queen's College tribute.

A bit about Bell's Theorem and why it is so extraordinary: Most accomplishments in physics are either about theory or experiment -- some new piece of mathematics that explains the facts or some new piece of machinery that permits us to measure those facts. Bell's Theorem however is neither about theory nor about experiment but about Reality Itself. It is very unusual to find a sane person that attempts to speak coherently about Reality Itself. But Bell not only spoke about Deep Reality, he actually MATHEMATICALLY PROVED something important about this invisible nature which lies beneath everyone of our theories and experiments. Bell's accomplishment is unique. I challenge you to find another human being in the history of human thought who has produced anything even close to what this astonishing Irishman has done.

And what was the physics community's response to Bell's remarkable achievement? His physics colleagues either ignored Bell's work (which was initially published exactly 50 years ago in a new and obscure short-lived little journal called Physics). Shortly after it was published, physicists either ignored Bell's Theorem-- or dismissed it entirely as "mere philosophy".

Fifty years later, the importance of Bell's Theorem is generally recognized and has inspired work in quantum computing, quantum cryptography, quantum teleportation and many aspects of physics that employ quantum entanglement. (Part of the story of Bell's Theorem's rise from obscurity to stardom is told in David Kaiser's book How the Hippies Saved Physics.)

So I wrote this song as a joke at the end of my book. In one of his last videoed physics lectures at CERN in 1990, organized by Antoine Suarez, Bell actually shows off the text of Bell's Theorem Blues to an audience of physicists. But Bell quickly adds  "I'm not going to sing it." Bell merely quotes it. In his Irish accent.

Boulder Creek Blues Trio: Galt, Bowers and Rush
The Belfast museum required a song, so I persuaded my favorite local musicians to perform this little bit of musical physics. One Sunday morning in October at pianist Jack Bowers's Santa Cruz, CA, studio, the Boulder Creek Blues Trio consisting of Joy Rush (vocal), Jack Bowers (piano) and George Galt (harmonica) transformed for the first time my words on paper into a musical quantum number. You can hear Bell's Theorem Blues here (full lyrics plus an audio file). Sheet music, an mp3 recording and a video of the recording session were shipped to the Naughton Museum in Belfast to be presented as "art inspired by Bell's Theorem". Here's the first verse of Bell's Theorem Blues:

Doctor Bell say we connected
He call me on the phone
Doctor Bell say united
He call me on the phone
But if we really together, baby,
How come I feel so all alone?

A young John Bell on his Ariel Motorcycle
Here's the BBC report on the Belfast celebration and here's an account of the honoring of John Bell by the Royal Irish Academy. Several researchers whose work was inspired by Bell's Theorem are giving public lectures at various Belfast venues. A motion to name a street in the Titanic quarter after Bell was denied by the city council because of their policy not to name streets after people. As a compromise the city fathers voted to name the street Bell's Theorem Crescent, possibly the only street in the world named after a mathematical theorem. The City of Belfast also designated Nov 4 as "John Bell Day" to commemorate that big day 50 years ago when John Bell published his famous proof which demonstrates that reality is non-local.

Belfast City Hall illuminated in rainbow colors to honor John Bell.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Aphrodite Award

Nobel Prize Medal: Alfred Nobel & Science Unveiling Nature

THE APHRODITE AWARD

Each year a few win Nobel Prizes
And a few win the grand Golden Gloves
But of all the awards this society affords
How many prizes are given for love?

Why not honor your very first crush?
And the first time you kissed in the dark?
The first time you actually "did it"?
And the first one who shattered your heart?

With whom did you first 

do THIS crazy thing?
And with whom did you actually 

first attempt THAT?
Why not honor your own 

personal best sparring partners?
And give medals to your love's 

own champ diplomats?

As the audience applauds
As the musicians soar
You announce your own picks
For the Grand Prix d'Amour

For the Award of Aphrodite
and of the lesser muses
Who taught us love's delights
And the body's pleasant uses.

Be generous in giving out trophies and prizes
For unforgettable lips and sensual surprises.
Praising much what thou lovest well
You shall be your own Nobel.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Always a Reckoning: a Review

Life on a Killer Submarine by Sarah Elizabeth Chuldenko
Last week at the Live Oak Library on Corcoran Lagoon I discovered a Charles Bukowski book I had not yet read (War All the Time) and right next to it on the shelf I found this remarkable collection of poetry Always a Reckoning. The author was a Navy lieutenant in the US submarine fleet under Hyman Rickover "who goaded us to reach for higher dreams and duties than the mediocre". Of his life inside a nuclear sub, this military poet wrote:

LIFE ON A KILLER SUBMARINE

I had a warm, sequestered feeling
deep beneath the sea,
moving silently, assessing
what we could hear from far away
because we ran so quietly ourselves,
walking always in our stocking feet.
We'd listen to the wild sea sounds,
the scratch of shrimp, the bowhead's moan,
the tantalizing songs of humpback whales.
We strained to hear all other things,
letting ocean lenses bring to us
the steady, throbbing beat of screws,
the murmurs of most distant ships,
or submarines that might be hunting us.
One time we heard, with perfect clarity,
a vessel's pulse four hundred miles away
and remembered that, in spite of everything
we did to keep our sounds suppressed,
the gradient sea could focus too, our muffled noise,
could let the other listeners know
where their torpedoes might be aimed.
We wanted them to understand
that we could always hear them first
and, knowing, be inclined to share
our love of solitude, our fear
that one move, threatening or wrong,
could cost the peace we yearned to keep,
and kill our hopes that they were thrilled, like us,
to hear the same whale's song.

This warrior bard was a poet of place like Carl Sandburg: his place was not Sandburg's Chicago Midwest but America's rural South: many of his poems describe a boy's Huck-Finn-like experiences growing up in a society where racial segregation was the law of the land. Like Sandburg, his poems show him to be an perceptive student of nature, including the nature of human beings. The poet also became a Southern politician and wrote about that too:

My First Try for Votes by Sarah Elizabeth Chuldenko

MY FIRST TRY FOR VOTES

Uneasy in my first campaign,
I feared the likely ridicule,
but got up nerve and neared
some loafers I saw shooting pool.

I caught the eye of an older man
who seemed to know who I might be.
When I went up to him to speak
he cocked a bleary eye at me.

"Now wait, don't tell me who you are,"
he shouted out. I stood in dread.
Bystanders paused. I blabbed my name.
He frowned. "Naw, that ain't it," he said.

Politician poet was a family man. He wrote love poems to his wife, rhymed affections to his father, to his friends and to his dog (some included here). And his grand-daughter Sarah Elizabeth made line drawings to illustrate each of her grandfather's poems.

This family man was also a diplomat, mediating conflicts in every continent except Antarctica: his world-wide arbitrations earning this diplomat poet a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. A philanthropist as well, this poet worked successfully to reduce disease in Africa, to provide affordable housing to the poor and to fight injustice and inhumanity in his own country and elsewhere in the world.

Not only his words but his deeds as well prove this warrior/diplomat/family-man to be one of the most thoughtful, high-minded and moral figures of his day -- all these character traits (and this man's modesty too) clearly shine through his poetry. Reading these simple yet skillful verses, one is left to wonder, in such an amoral and barbaric nation as our own, how such a noble and high-minded man as this warrior poet could ever have been elected president of the United States.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sex

The Consequences of Decision by Jacob Livengood

SEX

(for Henry Stapp
who once conjectured
that consciousness is our reward
for collapsing the wave function.)

Could sexual cravings explain the equations
Of Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Born and Dirac
Is it sex that bedazzles the great Milky Way?
Is it sex that explains why quarks interact?

Sex that's animalistic
Sex that's deeply dirty and raw
Sex that feeds on Quantum Reality
Sex that fucks with Natural Law.

The hottest mystery in physics is this:
Out of what conceivable gateway
Do fresh new realities spring?
O World, please lead me to quantum temptation
Could "how matter gets real" be a sexual thing?

Sex that's subtle, sex that's delicate
As a single photon of light
Sex that tentatively fingers the Darkness
And, finding it good, impregnates the Night.

Innocent and uninhibited
By the ignorance of today
Sex that's teasing us to discover
How this Universe wants to play.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Neville's Brain

Although Neville's brain was in a state of superposition, he was, when fully probed, a naive realist. Lynden Stone 2014
Lynden Elizabeth Stone is an Australian visual artist who explores the richness and ambiguity of existence using metaphors derived from quantum physics. I first met Lynden in the context of her Metaphase Typewriter Revival project where she reproduced with modern technology a nutty old experiment of mine put together at the dawn of the computer age that explored the conjecture that elemental quantum randomness might be used by spirits, both embodied and immaterial, to communicate in human language if a suitable computer interface were provided.

Lynden recently came to America as an artist in residence at Crane Galleries in Philadelphia where she exhibited the revived metaphase machine and other work concerning the ambiguity of existence. She just now completed her PhD at Griffith University in Queensland for a thesis entitled Doubting Conventional Reality: Visual Art and Quantum Mechanics in which she surveys contemporary visual artists who are using quantum-physics metaphors in the visual arts -- including her own work in this arena.

Part of Lynden's PhD thesis included a public exhibition of her work. She asked me to contribute some program notes for this show and promised me "an original art work" in exchange. A few days ago I received in the mail a pizza-box-sized package that contained Lynden's art work Neville's Brain.

In one simple image Lynden invokes several famous physicists beginning with the image of the Moon in the upper left corner. Lynden renders this moon in lenticular photography which was invented by British physicist David Brewster (who also invented the kaleidoscope). In the present context the moon image also suggests Einstein's famous quantum question to physicist Abraham Pais: "Do you really believe that the Moon does not exist when nobody looks?".

The black-and-white background of Lynden's piece consists of distorted Greek letters "psi" which is the symbol for the wavefunction in quantum theory. Neville's superposed brain is reminiscent of the "Wigner's Friend paradox" in quantum mechanics as well as John von Neumann's conjecture that when humans observe a superposed quantum system, their brain states should also turn into superpositions.

The fact that Neville is a naive realist despite his superposed brain summarizes the basic quantum conundrum of why the world always appears "classical" despite the fact that physicists can prove that the world is entirely "quantum". Today, the real mystery is not quantum mechanics; the real mystery is why the world appears to humans to be stubbornly classical.

JUJITSU UNIVERSE
We house-broke quantum reality
Taught Schrödinger's Cat to purr
Now daily life's as uncanny
As atoms ever were.

At the bottom right is the fuzzy sketch of an animal which might possible represent the famously ambiguous Schrödinger Cat. Except that Lynden's animal looks just like a dog.

Thank you, Lynden Stone, for this rich and original work. I will treasure it like a quantum Picasso.

Erwin's Puss by Lynden Stone, housed at Centre for Quantum Dynamics, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia



Friday, October 10, 2014

The Heart of Aikido

LInda Holiday Sensei, Aikido of Santa Cruz
For a long time I have been curious about the contention that some sort of invisible energy flows between people, an energy my dancer wife Betsy referred to as "just energy, Nick" and that many Oriental thinkers have called "prana", "chi" or "ki". So I decided a long while back to see if I could experience this mysterious psychic fluid first hand and started by signing up for aikido classes at North Bay Aikido in Santa Cruz. I purchased a "gi" (aikido uniform) and three times a week I was practicing throwing and being thrown to the mat by lots of different people of assorted sizes, abilities and genders. I liked aikido a lot, both as a sport, as a novel way of interacting with strangers and as a philosophy of life.

I practiced aikido for several months until a physical condition (not related to the dojo) forced me to give up the sport and I never returned. Although I failed in my attempt to "see ki", I gained a lot of confidence in the powers of my own body plus I became acutely aware of the bodies of other people -- everyone I met I perceived as a potential aikido partner. Throwing and being thrown hundreds of times by strangers had paradoxically made me more comfortable with people and more eager to engage with them.

AIKIDO = HARMONY KI WAY
The character "ki" is derived from a picture of rice cooking in a pot.

A friend of mine is writing a book for North Atlantic Books and invited me to go with him to visit the NAB offices in Berkeley. While skimming their archives, I discovered that NAB had just published a new book Journey to the Heart of Aikido by my former aikido teacher, Linda Holiday. So I returned to my old dojo (now in a big, brand-new location) and bought a copy from Linda herself.

Journey to the Heart of Aikido
The first thing I realized when studying aikido was that "no amount of reading is going to do you any good here, Nick. Aikido is something that you can't learn from books." But once you have practiced a bit of aikido, Linda's book can help deepen your appreciation of this marvelous sport.

In her book, Linda describes two hearts. One is a physical place and the other is an invisible entity.

The physical "heart of aikido" is the Kumano Juku Dojo in Shingu, Japan, where the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (known simply as O-Sensei = Great Teacher) began sharing this new martial art with his students. The city of Shingu is located in Pacific coastal mountains forested by Japanese sugi trees that resemble American redwoods. So much does the landscape of Shingu resemble Santa Cruz that now, largely through the efforts of aikido students, the two towns have officially become sister cities.

Given that Kumano Juku Dojo is the physical "heart of aikido", Linda describes three separate journeys to this aikido heartland. The first is the story of O-Sensei's life as a teacher of martial arts to an elite military and political class and his decision to teach a new kind of combat based on "harmony" and the notion of "no opponent". O-Sensei journeyed to Shingu to set up the Kumano Juku Dojo in a small rural town noted for its shrines, a obscure location in the Japanese countryside close to where he was born.

The second journey to the heartland is the story of Linda's own pilgrimage to Shingu to study aikido as one of the few Westerners and even fewer women members of the Kumano Dojo. O-Sensei had died a few years before Linda's arrival but she and her Western associates were privileged to practice aikido with many experts who had studied directly with the Master himself. This second story tells how Linda fell in love with aikido, and eventually with the Japanese culture and language out of which it arose.

The third journey to the aikido heartland is that of Motomichi Anno, a worker in a Japanese paper factory, who traveled to Shingu shortly after WW II to study with the mysterious martial artist in the woods and eventually become one of the directors of his dojo. Anno Sensei was one of Linda's favorite teachers. When she returned to America she invited him to come to her own dojo in Santa Cruz to teach and speak about aikido while Linda translated his talks from Japanese into English.

The journey to the "spiritual heart of aikido" consists of Linda's own impressions of her journey and her translations of the exchanges between American students and her venerable Japanese teacher about the language and philosophy that surrounds the practice of this wordless art. In these discourses, Anno Sensei gives his own impression of aikido and attempts to clarify exactly what's meant by such terms as "heart", "spirit" and yes (my old favorite) "ki", as he understands these terms as transmitted to him directly by the founder O-Sensei.

This book (richly illustrated with pictures of O-Sensei, aikido practices and the Kumano countryside) will be of interest to anyone curious about the history of aikido. Linda is a good story teller. But those who will derive the greatest value from this book will be aikido students of any rank. Reading Journey to the Heart of Aikido will deepen in many ways our appreciation of why we are taking and giving all these falls only to keep coming back for more.

Linda's book includes a glossary of Japanese words common in the aikido community and an illustrated warm-up exercise straight from the Kumano Juku Dojo. "This exercise," says Linda, "which combines meditation, breathing, visualization, and movement, is a purification practice that O-Sensei often did at the beginning of class. Its purpose is to develop a state of unity with the spirit of the universe."

The best books are written by those who love their subject. For this scholarly, inspiring and loving glimpse into the many hearts of this fascinating martial art, domo arigato. Thank you very much, Linda Holiday Sensei.

Anno Sensei and Linda Holiday Sensei