Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Detour John

Quantum Physicist or Outlaw Biker?
Several years ago my friend Fred McPherson and I carried out a monthly Dump Run Ritual. We'd get up early, put on our old clothes, load up Fred's pickup truck with trash, brush and garbage from both our homes, then drive to the outdoor dump in Ben Lomond where we would empty the truck and hung out with other dumpers and scavengers. Afterwards we would return to Boulder Creek to eat lunch and drink beer at Adelita's Mexican restaurant -- alas no longer in business -- which served the best chile rellenos in Santa Cruz county.

As we pulled into Adelito's parking lot we noticed a cluster of newly arrived bikers who belonged to one of the local outlaw motorcycle clubs and who seemed to share our taste in Mexican food. (Such clubs were plentiful in Boulder Creek in the old days, but today a guy on a Harley in Boulder Creek is more likely to be a manager at Apple than a Hell's Angel from Oakland.) These guys in the lot were the real thing, not Angels I think but some local gang like Ghost Riders from Lompico.

The bikers watched our truck pull up. And then the biggest, hairiest and most decorated of these Black Knights of the Road slowly walked over to my side of the car. I had no idea what to expect as this Levi-jacketed berserker stared me right in the eye and reached for my door handle.

Suddenly the big biker stopped and laughed. "Excuse me," he said. "I thought you were somebody I knew." Then he turned and sauntered back towards his pack. "Hey, come back here," I shouted to his retreating form, no longer puzzled about his purpose. When he turned in our direction, I asked him what was the name of the guy that I reminded him of?

"Detour John," said the biker and rejoined his crew.

I really like the name.

And it amused me immensely that Nick Herbert could be mistaken in Boulder Creek for an outlaw biker. But most of all, I was pleased that somewhere in this marvelous world there exists an outlaw biker whose name is Detour John and who looks like a quantum physicist from Stanford.

Speaking of quantum physics, Nick just co-authored a physics paper on a special class of faster-than-light signaling schemes. John Cramer (University of Washington, Seattle) came up with an original idea for an FTL signaling scheme that involves polarization-entangled photons interacting with a novel beam-spitting device -- a device which I dubbed the "Cramer wedge". At first, it looked as though this wedge could robustly accomplish its intended job, and that FTL signaling was indeed within our grasp. However soon John and I were able to show to our satisfaction, that when the operation of this wedge is correctly calculated, all signaling effects vanish. Our paper entitled "An Inquiry into the Possibility of Nonlocal Quantum Communication" is scheduled to be published in Foundations of Physics journal. A preprint of this work is available today on the ArXiv.

I was honored to be asked by John Cramer to take time out of my busy life to collaborate with him on this paper. I was glad for the chance to work with a famous physicist on a new FTL scheme that I had never before encountered.

Thanks for the engaging detour, John.

Illustration from the Cramer-Herbert paper on subtle FTL communication schemes


nick herbert said...

From Santa Cruz physicist/poet Len Andersen comes this poignant aphorism: "Life is a detour around non-existence."

NΦN said...

Life is NOT the detour around non-existence; SELF is the detour around non-existence. This is Anatman, the Buddha’s no-self doctrine and it’s as true as truth can get.

The Buddha was the ultimate pragmatist. His goal was not to explain how things truly are, he immediately realized the futility of that; rather, his objective was simply to rid the world of suffering. Through careful analysis he ascertained that suffering is caused by the human tendency to cling to an illusory self. This clinging leads to mental afflictions and these afflictions lead to suffering. He developed a system of antidotes for all of the mental afflictions. You can think of it as a spiritual immune system, the antidotes being antibodies. But this entire system of antidotes is subsumed by the master antidote: deconstruction of the illusory self.

For illustrative purposes, you can think of your TRUE nature as a current in a never-ending flow. Life-times come and life-times go but the current continues to flow. What happens is, the current becomes manifest in a body, animal, human, or divine, and a self is constructed based on that incarnation. The current comes to identify with that limited self and it ceases to flow. It clings to that illusory self and the existence defined in relation to that self. This is the origin of Fear of Death and Desire for Life, the primary obstacles on the path to enlightenment.

You see, everything in existence obtains its existence in relation to this illusory self. In reality there is no birth, no aging, and no death, there is no loss and no gain, there is only the flow; this realization is the Perfection of Wisdom – emptiness. Birth, aging, and death only have meaning in relation to this illusory self. Do you understand this? What I am saying is, TIME only has meaning – existence – in relation to this illusory self; time is an illusion spawned by an illusion. This is what the prophetic Mayan Long Count refers to; the Fifth Wheel is the end of time; it is global enlightenment; global sentience constructs the global self.

And the way to this enlightenment is through the deconstruction of self. Since everything in existence obtains its existence in relation to this self, if you deconstruct the self you deconstruct existence and return to the flow where there is no time, hence, there is no suffering. It’s really quite simple . . .

“[…] Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no feelings, no perceptions, no mental formations, and no consciousness. There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, and no mind. There is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no texture, and no mental objects. There is no eye-element and so on up to no mind-element including up to no element of mental consciousness. There is no ignorance, there is no extinction of ignorance, and so on up to no aging and death and no extinction of aging and death. Likewise, there is no suffering, origin, cessation, or path; there is no wisdom, no attainment, and even no non-attainment.

Therefore, Shariputra, since bodhisattvas have no attainments, they rely on this perfection of wisdom and abide in it. Having no obscurations in their minds, they have no fear, and by going utterly beyond error, they will reach the end of nirvana. […]”

- the noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, the great being as quoted in “The Blessed Mother, the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom,” translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa in H. H. the Dalai Lama’s, “Essence of the Heart Sutra” (