Friday, June 26, 2009

Happy Birthday, Quantum Tantra Blog!

Father's Day Near Moran Beach
photo by August O'Connor

Today is the first anniversary of this Quantum Tantra blog. Over the last year exactly 100 posts were published (including this one). I'd like to thank Google for providing me this simple blogging app which despite a few frustrating clumsinesses permits the crudest klutz a rather sophisticated presence on the Internet.

Quantum Tantra blog was not begun by Nick Herbert but by an earlier entity calling itself Mudhead who devoted the blog to inquiries into the nature of God, that is, God as defined by Fug-founder Tuli Kupferberg: "God is a spreadshot." From time to time I dipped into Mudhead's graphic simulations of Her Divine Nature until about a year and a half ago when Mudhead unaccountably abandoned the site and it became free for the taking. So I took it. My first posts were about being interviewed for a video about psychedelics at Bruce Damer's ranchero in Boulder Creek and a short poem called Physics for Beginners.

Since that fateful day the blog has featured profiles of notable friends including poets Dale Pendell, Betsy Herbert and Kathleen Flowers, famous authors Rudy Rucker, Robert Anton Wilson, Roald Dahl and David Jay Brown, fringe scientists such as James Culbertson and the musical priest himself, Ryan Duns, S. J., master of the Irish whistle, and many others.

Two cool videos Just Like at Nuremberg and Tantric Jihad. And of course a cute LOL rendition of my black cat Onyx.

The aim of quantum tantra is to utilize the insights gained by modern physics to open up new doorways into nature, seeking direct union with the world unmediated by machinery including the machinery of the senses. Not much of that dream has been realized so far. But, hey, this is only Quantum Tantra blog's First Birthday. This baby's barely learning to talk.

Many of my private musings about physics have appeared for the first time in this public space including (Hooray!) Nick's discovery of a brand new law of nature: A Pair of Quanta Cannot Be Wed plus a popular exposition of the quantum measurement problem called Stephen Hawking Joke. Cherchez la physique. Learn about eigenfunctions, unmeasurements and Nick's three favorite quantum physics text books. And more.

This blog has attracted the attention of other congenial bloggers including Bruce Bratton, the Herb Caen of Santa Cruz; Willy Yaryan, eloquent eyewitness to life in Thailand; sci-fi novelist and Flurbmeister Rudy Rucker; Iona Miller, the Spy in the Pyramid; prolific sci-fi author and proponent of new peace plan (The Great Equalizer), James P. Hogan; Island Group founder Bruce Eisner; a cool dude called Heretic X and the supremely weird and mysterious JOG Entity who is continuing the work of late maverick economist J. Orlin Grabbe.

Many thanks to everyone who has encouraged me in this effort and thanks to all the new friends this blog has introduced me to. I value greatly your companionship on this journey.

Happy Birthday, little blog. May you live long and prosper.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Die Urflöten

Scientists at the University of Tübingen announced the discovery in a German cave of the world's oldest known musical instrument, a bone flute whose maker lived more than 35,000 years ago in the middle of the last Ice Age. The New York Times article gives more detail including a sound sample of a melody played on a replica flute. 

Archaeologists reported Wednesday the discovery last fall of a bone flute and two fragments of ivory flutes that they said represent the earliest known flowering of music-making in Stone Age culture. They said the bone flute with five finger holes, found at Hohle Fels Cave in the hills west of Ulm, was “by far the most complete of the musical instruments so far recovered from the caves” in a region where pieces of other flutes have been turning up in recent years.

A three-hole flute carved from mammoth ivory was uncovered a few years ago at another cave, as well as two flutes made from wing bones of a mute swan. In the same cave, archaeologists also found beautiful carvings of animals.

German scientists were unable to determine whether any of these early Ice Age musicians called themselves "The Stones".

Monday, June 22, 2009

Unmeasuring the World

Nobody knows what quantum mechanics really means. We simply can't say what sort of world we live in if quantum mechanics is a true description. One of the most popular ways of thinking about the quantum world (due to Werner Heisenberg) is that the world unobserved is wholly different in nature from the world observed.

According to Heisenberg the world unobserved exists in a state of POTENTIA, a bundle of mere possibilities, tendencies to exist, a state of existence, in Heisenberg's words, halfway between an idea and a thing.

But when the world is observed, in what physicists call "an irreversible measurement act", one of these unreal quantum potentias turns real and enters the world as a ACTUALITY. All other potentias completely vanish as though they had never been.

POTENTIA before observation; ACTUALITY after observation: that's quantum reality according to Heisenberg.

Recently some researchers have been investigating under what conditions this situation can be reversed. What would you have to do in the world to turn ACTUALITY back into POTENTIA?

Early work along these lines goes by the name "the quantum eraser effect". Physicist and author Casey Blood sent me a nice web page on quantum erasure. 

In a paper published today in the physics arXiv, Andrew Jordan at the University of Rochester and Alexander Korotkov from UC Riverside have proposed to "uncollapse the wavefunction by undoing quantum measurements" using techniques more drastic than the quantum eraser. After a century of effort the quantum measurement problem still remains one of the great unsolved questions in physics. Drs. J and K propose to shed new light on the problem of measurement by investigating the inverse process of "unmeasurement"--uncovering the conditions under which solid ACTUALITY can be turned back into dreamy POTENTIA.

Obviously if this measurement is in your head some kind of amnesia must happen. You're going to have to forget the value of whatever variable you happened to measure as you very carefully return the system to its original unmeasured state.

The authors discuss the unmeasurement process in theory but also apply their thinking to a variety of actual quantum systems, including quantum dots, superconducting phase qubits, electron spins and polarization states. It appears that for these small systems unmeasurement is a realizable option.

The difficulties of achieving unmeasurement increase with the size of the system so it's highly unlikely that we could weaponize this process to create a Unreality Ray that infects everything in its path with a kind of atomic Alzheimer's thus returning formerly solid matter to the Taoist's original Uncarved Block. Unreality Rays are surely the stuff of science fiction; the future of J & K's "uncollapse process" may lie instead in a sort of friendly competition between physics labs to see just how big a piece of actuality one can really unmeasure. 

Let the games begin.

Gentlemen, deploy your tools of unmeasurement.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

James T Culbertson (1912-2004)

For most of his life James T. Culbertson taught mathematics, computer science and philosophy at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA, but Culbertson's life-long passion was his struggle to discover how to give consciousness to robots and how to test for the presence of consciousness in beings, such as ourselves, who possess it naturally. His first book The Minds of Robots outlines his SRM (spacetime reductive materialism) model of awareness and his later books develop SRM in more detail. All of Culbertson's books are quirky, repetitive, difficult to grasp and have the feel of texts written by an obsessive genius. For many years my friends Saul-Paul Sirag, Jerry White and I corresponded with Culbertson, invited him to seminars and even spent a delightful few days in a trailer in back of Jim's house in SLO listening as the master expounded his eccentric model of mind. Jim once joked that I was the only one who understood his theory and he put the JTC stamp of approval on my bare-bones outline of SRM in Elemental Mind.

In Jim's model of mind, consciousness arises from causal networks in spacetime. And since most of spacetime is criss-crossed with causal networks, consciousness is ubiquitous. Culbertsonian mind is a species of panpsychism. But most of this universal consciousness doesn't go anywhere; it just sits there in spacetime as isolated bits of experience. No memories, no sense of self, no flow of time. But just as material atoms can be used to build complex structures, so can Culbertson's atoms of awareness be linked into more complex experiences somewhat resembling the kinds of consciousness we humans enjoy. Some of the details of how to build more complex minds out of elemental experiences can be found in Culbertson's Sensations, Memories and the Flow of Time (which JTC fans refer to affectionately as SMATFOT).

At present we are entirely ignorant as to how consciousness becomes present in the material world so Jim's elaborate guess is as good as any. Its complexity and quirkiness may argue against it but SRM has one attractive feature that sets it apart. It offers a mechanical method for testing for the presence and the quality of consciousness in other beings. In Culbertson's model it is possible to create a network of "clear loop links" between the networks that constitute separate minds in such a way that each mind will directly share the experiences of the other.

Thus, using what I have elsewhere called "Jim Links", Culbertson's model has solved in principle the philosophical problem of "Other Minds". Does a cat enjoy an inner experience? Does a blade of grass enjoy photosynthesis? With a Jim Link these questions could be answered directly. As Culbertson once put it, the privacy of inner experiences is a mere biological accident and could in principle be overcome by technological means. Whether Culbertson's theory is viable or not, it sets a high standard for any rival model of mind: does it satisfy the Culbertson Criterion? Can it be tested by constructing mind links between allegedly conscious beings?

A world in which Jim Links exist would surely make possible new forms of both eroticism and interrogation but I suspect that the Opening Up of Inner Space to Direct Exploration will be the most profound event in human history, changing the human species beyond recognition.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What Do Women Want?

What Do Women Want?

It's our nature, Nick,
to be taken
anyway you please.

What's the most splendid come on
you can imagine?
My response will match that
and surprise.

Your whole life
is learning
how to ask for it.

What do women want?

What does you got?

To be desired by other creatures
and to feel desire back:
This is the core of our existence.
This is the primal heart attack.