Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tim Quantum Leary Reality

Timothy Leary: an Irishman who saved civilization?
Whenever I find a library book that someone has written in, my feelings are two-fold: first I am irate that some jerk has defaced a library book and second I am elated that a mere book had the power to elicit commentary. I am reminded of the Chinese attitude toward painted scrolls in which viewers sometimes add poems and commentaries of their own directly on the painting. These comments are executed with appropriately elegant calligraphy and signed with the viewer's red stamp. Thus the Chinese painting is not a static thing but grows in content as it passes thru the hands of its many owners.

When Bruce Damer told me that he owned a copy of my Quantum Reality book that had been annotated by psychedelic pioneer Tim Leary, I was immediately reminded of those Chinese scrolls whose owners were impelled to add their own calligraphy to somebody else's art. Bruce Damer, PhD, is the proprietor of a computer museum in Boulder Creek (called the DigiBarn) but as one of the executors of the Leary archives he also came into possession of a room full of materials that the New York Public Library decided not to include in their Tim Leary collection.

A page of Quantum Reality calligraphed by Tim Leary

So a few nights ago, over Ahlgren wine and gourmet food served by Bruce and his wife Galen, we examined the Tim Quantum Leary Reality scroll. Along with the expected underlinings were comments both of agreement and Tim's additions in his own handwriting which were sometimes printed and sometimes in script. One thing I noticed was the full-bodyness of his question marks (see above) -- Tim's questioning is not puny, but executed in big brush strokes.

In my Chapter 7, Describing the Indescribable: The Quantum Interpretation Question, Tim approved of my epigraph quoting him thus: "They are not smooth-surfaced, rectangular or carbon-ringed units which fit together like bricks. Each molecule is a heavenly octopus with a million floating jeweled tentacles hungry to merge." Hungry to merge indeed -- and equipped with a brand-new kind of entanglement that continues to baffle our Newtonian imaginations.

And to my citation of physicist Bryce DeWitt's feelings when first encountering the mind-boggling grandeur of the multi-universe model of reality, Tim adds, in big-block letters: PSYCHEDELIC.

Right at the beginning, Tim challenges my claim that physicists do not possess a single clear picture of the reality that supports the most successful theory of nature that humans have ever devised. Leary scrawls "Fredkin" across the first page and in other places, to suggest that perhaps the universe deep down resembles a cellular automaton (digital physics) as proposed by MIT's Ed Fredkin. This is not the place to argue such issues but this challenge shows that Tim is not passively ingesting this new material but actively engages it.

Bruce pointed out that Leary seemed to have read (and annotated) many books in Bruce's collection but in none of them (besides my own) did he seem to have read so far and to have annotated so profusely. "A high honor, Nick. Tim might have actually read your book from cover to cover. Perhaps even in an altered state."

It is important to realized that in addition to all the drugs he took, Tim was first and foremost a writer with more than 20 books to his credit. Not only did he have the courage (no timid academic he) to repeatedly explore these altered states, but he possessed the discipline and skill to attempt to describe and model them in words. My favorite Leary book is not his celebrated trip guide modeled after the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but his book High Priest describing 16 of his own altered-state explorations, and his Psychedelic Prayers in which Tim tries his hand at interpreting Lao Tzu's classic Tao Te Ching.

By far the best of Tim's annotations to the Quantum Reality scroll relates to his alleged role as a womanizer. Next to the name of a famous European scientist, whom I will not identify, Leary appends this comment (in his highly legible script): "His cute daughter, [redacted] worked for and flirted with me -- the proposal a 'cinq a sept' in 1951.

Yes, I had to look up 'cinq a sept' -- a most elegant inscription for the Tim Quantum Leary Reality scroll and perfectly apt to my quantum tantra quest.

Nick Herbert peruses the Tim Quantum Leary Reality scroll

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Duke Herbert (1943-2014)

Donald "Duke" Herbert (1943 - 2014)

Donald Lee Herbert, 71, died June 22, 2014 in his home in West Glacier, Montana.

He was married to Jette Andersen, who predeceased him.

He is survived by his only son, Paul Herbert, who lives in Idaho.

Donald was raised in Columbus, Ohio as the fourth of five children. Donald often played the family clown and kept us all amused. He was interested in sports (specializing in pole-vaulting at McKinley High School) and body building. Spoofing Donald's extreme macho deeds, our next-door neighbor Jimmy dubbed him "Duke" (after John Wayne) by which name he was henceforth known to his
Duke graduates from Parris Island
family and old friends. At age 17 Duke got a big eagle tattooed on his bicep and joined the United States Marine Corps where he graduated from Parris Island at the top of his class. His intent was to fly fighter jets but his less-than-perfect eyesight landed him in the ground crew instead -- a post which taught him a lot of electronics that he was able to use in civilian life. Because they would not let him fly a jet, Duke did not re-enlist in the Marines.

While stationed in Santa Ana, California, Don met his wife and soul mate, Jette Andersen. Jette was a lively stewardess from Denmark where Duke often traveled to party with Jette's family but never learned to speak Danish. Duke married Jette and they moved to the small mountain town of Julian, California where Duke serviced microwave relay towers in the desert for Pacific Telephone. He lived in Ramona, California for eight years and then moved to Escondido, California where he and Jette remained until his retirement in 2002. Duke worked as a microwave radio technician for Pacific Bell. He was a pioneer in modern communication technology (at a time when telephony was transiting from analog to digital) and loved doing his job.

Upon retirement, Duke and his wife moved to West Glacier, Montana. Duke had purchased the property in the mid-1960s while cutting trails in Glacier National Park prior to meeting his wife. There they built their dream home where they enjoyed their final years. While in the Marines, Duke and his buddies frequently hunted elk for food and sport in that same area of Montana. After retirement, Duke hunted elk there only with his camera and often photographed whole families of elk and other Montana wildlife right outside his bedroom window. (See The Babies Are Here.)

For a time Duke worked as a bartender in a California beach town. He had a great gift for making friends wherever he went. When I went to Duke and Jette's wedding, what impressed me most was the great variety of men and women who attended, ranging from officers, corporate executives, Marine grunts, hot babes and low-lifes, this odd-ball assortment of human beings having one thing in common, that they were all friends of Duke's. He was humorous, easy-going and cut his own path through life's jungle not giving a damn what other people might think. Despite his doggedly independent life style, he made a lot of friends: Duke's theme song could well have been Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way."

Duke loved life and lived it to its fullest. Adios, little brother. I will miss you.
Tom, Nick and Duke Herbert, Camp Campbell 2002

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nick Meets a MegaMuse

Suzanne Verdal in Boulder Creek 6/28/14
Throughout history the presence of a beautiful woman has inspired great poetry. Dante was inspired by Beatrice, Petrarch by Laura and Maude Gonne inspired William Butler Yeats, to name a few. Because they were largely limited to the print medium, these poets (and their muses) could only reach a small audience compared to the massive number of viewers that today's TV, CD, DVD and LSD media can deliver. For better or worse, we live in the days of "lasers in the jungle", the epoch of blockbusters, megahits, megapoets and megamuses.

Arguably the most famous megamuse of the twentieth century is Suzanne Verdal, a dancer from Montreal who inspired Leonard Cohen's song, first performed by Judy Collins in 1967 and later covered by Cohen himself and many other artists. How many men and women have listened to this song and daydreamed of imaginary romance -- the men dreaming of meeting, the women dreaming of being -- some such gorgeous female mystery as conjured up by Cohen's words? The number of minds and hearts touched by this song (and its muse) must surely lie in the 10s of millions. Far more people, I am sure, have heard "Suzanne" than have read Dante, Petrarch and Yeats combined.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.
A few mornings ago, I had breakfast with Suzanne Verdal on the deck of my house in Boulder Creek. She said she liked my verse: How can any poet resist a line like that? So I invited her over. (For the literary historians, I served Ms Verdal not tea and oranges but expresso coffee, avocado with balsamic vinegar, Combozola cheese on wheat thins. Later, at her place, she fed me ale from Newcastle.)

Suzanne's here because she's house-sitting for a friend of hers in Boulder Creek, where she's parked her artistic gypsy van (built on the back of a late-model Chevrolet pickup truck) near one of the little houses within walking distance of Nick's quantum tantric ashram. After breakfast we walked to her place from mine along a dirt road where we laughed at a neighbor's chickens who lived in a coop almost as elaborate as Suzanne's van and where she picked a snatch of flowering jasmine to decorate her hair.

Suzanne's writing her memoirs. She was born in Montreal where she met Cohen. But she's been everywhere. From Montreal, to New Mexico, to a commune in the south of France, to Venice Beach and places she didn't talk about. And lately to Boulder Creek where "her place by the river" is situated not by the St Lawrence River that flows thru Montreal but (coincidentally) by the San Lorenzo River that flows thru Boulder Creek.

Suzanne Verdal. What a woman! In the last days of June, to meet the fabled Suzanne, muse and reality, right outside my door. Bless my stars, how lucky am I?

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alexander Shulgin (1925-2014)

Sasha Shulgin shows August O'Connor a brand new molecule
Guest post by my friend and fellow explorer, Luc Sala of Amsterdam.

On June 2, 2014, Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin left this world, nearly 89 years old. With him, the era of the great psychedelic revelation and revolution comes to an end. With the likes of Hofmann, McKenna and Leary he was one of the flag bearers of that era, struggling to free psychedelics from the criminal connotation, the projected dangers and the guilt trips of the establishment. I have known these people, they were my friends and mentors and they helped me realize that reality is a very personal interpretation of something much wider and deeper, that truth is only my truth and that tolerance for the truth of others is the highest virtue. A new paradigm of accepting that the psyche is more than the mind and brains is emerging lately, new research in the potential of these substances is happening, a new and more positive appreciation of what these substances can do for us is manifesting. We have to honor people like Sasha who went before us and dared to explore and experiment, at great personal risk both to their body and their status in society, with the powers hidden in the amphetamines, tryptamines and other psychoactive molecules.
Sasha was a true alchemist, and although he would defend his work as rational science and his inspiration as being instrumental in human progress, I believe he was really motivated by the high of exploring new territory, the enchanted realm of beyondedness. The lab behind his house was his playground, the use of his concoctions alone or with friends his excuse for showing love. I know he was aware of other-world relationships of the power of intention and causation much more than would come out in his lectures and books. He wore this mask of being rational, a scientist, not a mystic. But then we discussed the prerogative of the inventor, or discoverer as he would see it, as to set the tone, name and shape a new substance-- the inventor as reality-creator, not a very rational approach. He was a believer, maybe not in God but certainly in love.

What a life, being able to chart new territory, open new vistas and expand the human experience, share this with friends the world over and feel the love. I always felt his presence, his loving energy radiating towards me when driving towards his farmhouse in Lafayette, in the shadow of Monte Diablo. He was in a way a sorcerer, a servant of the devil, for it takes devils to help one see the One, to break the spell of hypnotic reality formation and enter the inner worlds. Psychedelic experiences and especially the ones that help us see inside our selves and help us in letting go of masks and ego are seldom easy -- we must face the traumas and defenses and the devil inside us. Sasha would joke about this, his humor was his way to deal with the gravity, the consequences of his work, his responsibility for releasing powers into the world with more potential impact than weapons of war. His defense against the mountain behind his house was building his own mountain of wine bottles in his garden and maybe his love for music. (Sasha played the violin and was often invited to help provide the sound track for the annual gathering of bigshots at Bohemian Grove.)

His achievements in chemistry are well known, he is called the grandfather of psychedelics and MDMA,  his (and Anne’s) books are classics, but his legacy goes well beyond the ‘dirty pictures’ of chemical formulas. He was a focal point in the movement, always willing to speak and travel, to share his insights in his own personal way of juggling words, concepts and wisdom.

I have met him many times, in various parts of the world, but the Easter parties at his home were where one could meet the inner circle of the psychedelic illuminati, where psychedelic history was alive, where his central role in that community was evident and natural -- he was the arch-bishop rather than the grandfather of psychedelics. He was an outspoken critic of including psychedelics in the war against drugs, which really was and is the war against liberty and freedom.

With Sasha’s death I feel lost. I am a mere foot soldier in the battle for freedom, for the liberty to think for myself, to learn about myself and to escape the deterministic profiling of DNA, cyberspace superpowers and materialistic society. Where to look now for guidance, for support, for the role-models I need, for the overview and mature authority people like Shulgin provided? I will miss him, and wish for strength and courage for Anne and the worldwide circle of family, tribe and friends who will have to do without Sasha.

Luc Sala, June 3, 2014

For more details see erowid.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mayday Play 2014

The first day of spring in the Celtic calendar is Beltane (May 1) when pagan rituals used to be performed to increase the fertility of the fields, the family and the livestock. In many cultures the maypole is erected and ribbons wound around it by dancing men and women to honor Nature's generative force. In keeping with this fertility theme May also hosts Mother's Day and the Catholic Church dedicates this whole month to the Mother of God, adorning Mary's statues with flowered wreaths and garlands.

Doing our part to celebrate Beltane, Mary-month and Mother's Day, August O' Connor and I took our instruments to "trapezoid park" in Capitola and played a few Irish tunes to the coyote bushes, the California poppies, the hummingbirds, crows, ravens and the occasional passing human being.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Celebrating the Irises

I don't have much of a green thumb but lots of stuff comes up in my yard anyway including lots of purple irises. The day irises first bloom in Boulder Creek is to me like the cherry blossom festival in Japan -- a movable feast starting in the South. A few days ago I noticed irises in Santa Cruz which meant that soon the bloom zone would move up here. Sure enough, the irises popped out on April 24, the same day as last year. A friend of mine recently gave me a whole case of fine beer--thank you, Dave--so I decided to celebrate both events by playing the irises some Irish tunes.

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Friend Billy

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Warning: Viewer discretion advised. This post discusses adult themes and content. Oh, not the usual adult themes we get on TV, like D: Suggestive Dialogue or V: Violence. Instead, it is a discussion of the following well-known wanted criminal:

The one with many names … the Pale Rider. The Grim Reaper. The Angel Of Death. Thanatos. Azrael. Cronus.
 I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. The gorgeous ex-fiancee is a Family Nurse Practitioner, and she and I have been taking care of her 86-year-old father in his final illness. “Billy”, that’s what the rest of the guys in the band always called him, so that’s what I called him when I came to be friends and play music with him over the past four years. He was a jazz drummer his whole life, and a very good one. Having had the honor of playing music with him myself, I can testify that he was a very skillful, fun, and inventive percussionist.  But when he came out of the hospital back in February, he hung up his sticks and said that was it. His time with music was over. I knew then that his days were short. So we’ve been giving him all the love and support possible in the face of his approaching death.

Here in the developed world, we tend to distance ourselves from death. But in the third world, it is ever-present. The first dead man I ever saw who wasn’t rouged, perfumed, and embalmed was on a side street in Trench Town, a dirt-poor, less than fragrant, and more than turbulent suburb of Kingston, Jamaica. It was a strange scene.

Trench Town is not a good place to be at night. Even in the middle of a hot afternoon, it’s a place where you feel a need to take an occasional look over your shoulder. I was walking down the street, the only melanin-deficient guy in sight. (I hear that the new PC term is “melanin-challenged”, by the way, to avoid hurting people’s feelings by making them feel deficient … but then I’ve never been politically correct.)

In any case, halfway down the block, a man was lying in the gutter. At first I thought he was just drunk and sleeping it off, until I got nearer, and I saw he was lying in the proverbial pool of blood. I remember particularly the sound of the flies. I was reminded of when I used to kill and butcher cows and sheep and other animals out in the farmers’ fields for a living, and how fast the flies would appear. Seeing that man lying dead in a cloud of flies, in the middle of just another average city afternoon, was a shock to me. The cities I was accustomed to back then didn’t feature much in the way of dead bodies in the gutter. I was beyond surprise.

But the bigger shock was the reaction of the people in the street. By and large it was ho, hum, another day in the life, step over his corpse and keep going, Many people looked once and didn’t give him a second glance. The public level of concern seemed to be on the order of “It’s the tropics, mon, cover him up ‘fore he stinks”.

I realized then that in such places down at the bottom of the economic ladder, the death of a stranger is no big deal. Oh, I don’t mean that people don’t mourn or grieve their loved ones the way it happens in the industrialized countries. That’s the same everywhere. But in countries where death is more common, countries where most families have lost a child, countries where malaria or some other tropical fever takes away the young and otherwise healthy, everyone lives in much closer proximity and familiarity with death and the dead.

 Continue Reading "My Friend Billy" by Willis Eschenbach

Sunday, April 6, 2014

On Scapegoating



Please pardon me
I was mistaken.
I am a loyal
Slice of bacon.
Rip out her eyes
Now we sees
thru her disguise.
We took a poll
and all agree
She is the
worstest enemy
of all that's true and fine and good.
Do you want her in your neighborhood?
I knew you would concur with us
We're proud to have you on the bus.

Posterity will praise what was needful to do
Against monsters as loathsomely evil as YOU!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Open Position


I hear you have an open role
I'm sure that I can play
Making love with Nature
In a purely quantum way.

Yes, I've had plenty of lovers
But I'm still unsullied as dew.
Good sex is a matter of context
And I've never entangled with you.

Yes, I've raised a couple of children:
From my body new creatures emerged.
I've tried all the main psychedelics
And a few that are still on the verge.

I'm known to be a quick learner
In the field or out of a book.
My body moves like a weasel
And I can sew, clean and cook.

I don't know a lot of mathematics
But I've experienced a number of blisses.
I appreciate new ways to wallow and squirm--
Am fond of drug-enhanced kisses.

We could make history together
You and I could win a Nobel Prize.
You with your big cerebral cortex
And me with my ... big brown eyes.

Take me, teach me, train me
To be Earth's first quantum acrobat.
Please use me
For your science, Nick.
Use me
As your new lab rat.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ellen Bass, Poet Laureate

Ellen Bass: poet laureate, Santa Cruz (2014-2015)
Ellen Bass was recently named the new Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate. Her poetry includes “Like a Beggar” (Copper Canyon, 2014), “The Human Line” (Copper Canyon, 2007), and “Mules of Love” (BOA, 2002), and she coedited “No More Masks!” (Doubleday, 1973), the first major anthology of poetry by women. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, Ploughshares, and The Kenyon Review. She teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University. (From Santa Cruz Good Times) Visit Ellen's website.

When my wife Betsy and I first moved to Boulder Creek, Ellen Bass was one of our neighbors. She lived right across Highway 9 from us in a cottage along the San Lorenzo River. In those days (early '70s) we visited Ellen often for tea and talk. And Betsy for some time took writing lessons from Ellen.

Now Ellen is (locally) famous.

Congratulations, Ellen Bass. Since we first met I have visualized you wearing the poet's laurels. Now you wear that poet's wreath for all to see. May you not "rest on your laurels", and continue to be blessed with fresh insights into this odd homo sapiens incarnation.