Monday, May 21, 2012

It's Wrong But It Feels So Right

Sketch of FLASH device in Scientific American

If you live long enough, some of your old deeds may come back to haunt you.

In this month's Scientific American (June 2012), science historians David Kaiser (How the Hippies Saved Physics) and Angela Creager (The Life of a Virus) describe two scientific proposals that were totally wrong but led to new and unexpected discoveries. In "The Right Way to Get It Wrong", AC describes biologist Max Delbrück's failed attempt to develop techniques for deciphering the genetic mechanism of viruses--techniques that were successfully applied by other biologists to understand the reproduction not of viruses but bacteria. DK describes my own failed attempt to develop a superluminal communication device I called FLASH (First Laser-Amplified Superluminal Hookup).

Irish physicist John Bell had proved a famous theorem in the 60s about reality--that reality must be "non-local."--that is, connected together faster-than-light--in order to explain the results of a simple quantum optical experiment of the EPR (Einstein-Poldolsky-Rosen) type. But despite Bell's discovery that Quantum Reality must be FTL, other theorems existed (e. g. Eberhard's Proof) that Quantum Facts must always be local. In other words, Nature must use FTL connections to accomplish her quantum miracles but these underground FTL channels were off limits to human beings.

But certain physicists with time on their hands could not resist the temptation to attempt to design devices that used Nature's forbidden FTL channels for human superluminal signaling. I and a few others devised such devices but all of them were easily refuted. Except one--the FLASH device.

The key to superluminal signaling rests in the ability to distinguish a beam of random plane-polarized photons (Horizontal and Vertical) from a random beam of circularly-polarized photons (Right- and Left- circular). Simply put, any device that can determine the polarization of a single photon is all you need to signal FTL.

FLASH attempts to measure the polarization of a single photon by sending that photon thru a Laser Gain Tube which (presumably) operates like a xerox machine. Having many copies of the same polarization, it is easy to determine whether a photon is H, V, R or L. If you can xerox photons you can signal FTL--and also build a time machine.

To prevent chronological disaster, the FLASH device had to be wrong. But where was the error? After some debate behind the scenes, a number of theoreticians discovered the flaw which was first revealed in a paper in Nature by Wooters & Zurek entitled "A Single Quantum Cannot Be Cloned". Thus was born the now-famous "quantum no-cloning rule" which guarantees the security of quantum cryptography and makes it impossible in the field of quantum computing to copy a quantum data set--quantum data is intrinsically copy protected by Nature herself.

As a little-known sequel to the FLASH drama, I recently concocted another FTL signaling device whose refutation leads to another brand-new law of Nature "A Pair of Quanta Cannot Be Wed". At present my "quantum no-wedding rule" has found absolutely no practical application anywhere.

There are probably many more examples where a wrong turn led to an unexpected new discovery. Almost certainly the biggest mistake in history must be Christopher Columbus's exploratory voyage to discover a new route to India--and his massively inept misnaming of the inhabitants of that newly discovered land.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Be Not Content

Be Not Content--the eBook
For most people the book that best describes the colorful chaos of the sixties is Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a witty third-person account of Ken Kesey's prankster antics in La Honda and San Francisco. Ironically, Kesey himself, justly celebrated for his fiction, wrote little or nothing about his own drug experiences and the scenes he created around him. Tim Leary, the person most associated with publicizing LSD, wrote dozens of books (my favorite is High Priest) but no matter how high he got, Tim always remained a Harvard professor so that even his most ecstatic books reflect an academic perspective. And then there is Terence McKenna, one of the most thoughtful and inspiring speakers on the psychedelic experience whose talks have been lovingly collected by Lorenzo Hagerty at Psychedelic Salon.

Kesey, Leary, McKenna--plus Ram Das, Stan Grof and the Shulgins--were the literary superstars of chemical mysticism. But what of the little guy, the man in the street--who just happens to drop LSD and see God. Who speaks for him?

William J. Craddock, for one.

Bill Craddock was an outlaw motorcycle rider from San Jose with a talent for words, the discipline to produce several unpublished novels and the good luck to score a contract with Doubleday for a book about dropping LSD and seeing God at a time when such experiences were brand new. Doubleday published Craddock's book Be Not Content (a quote from Jesus) in 1970, winning high praise from a small circle of discerning readers many of whom (myself included) passed out copies to their friends and never got them back. Then Be Not Content vanished from sight--a few copies available today for $100+ on Amazon.

Be Not Content is an under-appreciated little masterpiece. It's a first-person account of what it felt like to be one of the first people (later to include millions) to take LSD and see God. LSD does not merely produce hallucinations. At high doses it can attack the very core of your being, alter what it means to be "you"--placing your very existence at risk--confront you directly with deep philosophical paradoxes and in extreme cases induce the celebrated "ego death". Perhaps the most astonishing fact about LSD--a tribute to the evolutionary robustness of the brain--is that, no matter how many weird organizational variations the drug allows your self to experience, with very few exceptions, you almost always return to "ordinary you."

When, in my youth, I was exploring psychedelics (as a scientist not as an outlaw biker), I asked a doctor friend: "Bob, what does LSD do?" He answered: "You tell me what ordinary consciousness does, Nick, and I'll tell you how LSD changes that." Nobody knows what LSD does--except of course at the level of single synapses. Politicians responded to the emergence of this powerful mind-altering substance by making it illegal--even for scientists. They trusted Nick with Plutonium--so why not LSD?

In my opinion, LSD, despite its profound effects on subjective reality, is a relatively safe window into the mysteries of human consciousness--a kind of Large Hadron Collider of the mind--and to pass laws that make outlaws of scientists for using this instrument is an ignorant and short-sighted rejection of a lucky gift from Nature and the laboratory. The so-called scientists--better-named "servants of ignorance"--who advised the US government to criminalize research on LSD and other mind-altering drugs should be publicly flogged and stripped of their PhDs.

Craddock describes his first LSD experience--plus many more--and his joyful discovery that he was not alone--that there were others who were daring to warp the very structures of their beings with the same magic substance. He had found his tribe--the others who shared the same secret. I can testify to a similar joy in discovering a small band of others with whom I could speak about the unspeakable and compare notes about Ultimate Reality.

Be Not Content is full of sillyness, stupidity and clumsy communication, including one of the most joyless one-night stands in print. One of the virtues of this book is that Craddock does not whitewash his experiences and those of his friends. He attempts to be a fair witness both to LSD insights and to LSD follies--and there were a lot of follies. Which is only to be expected. Most people in our culture are less ready for an LSD experience than people in a bow-and-arrow culture are ready for the iPhone.

Be Not Content gained a small but enthusiastic following which includes science-fiction writer Rudy Rucker (The Ware Tetralogy). Rudy has recently emerged as a sort of cyberspace Lawrence Ferlinghetti, promoting and publishing not only his own but other "beatnik science-fiction writers" most notably in his wacky webzine Flurb. As a professional writer, Rucker is learning to surf the new electronic media waves and has published a small eBooklet on how to write eBooks. One of his first eBook projects was to bring Be Not Content out of oblivion via Rudy's own Transreal Books imprint, publishing it first as an eBook and expecting to publish later as a paperback.

Rudy prefaces his eEdition of BNC with a long Craddock bio and book review which is available in its entirety on his blog. For those interested in altered states, this preface will stand as the definitive tribute to a serious psychedelic pioneer whose work deserves to be better known.

On the day that Rudy published BNC, I was invited to a music rehearsal in Soquel and stopped by Craddock's grave (which I had discovered by accident a few years back) to play him a tune and inform his ghost that his words had now been set adrift upon the internet.

On other literary fronts, my flagship book Quantum Reality has recently been transcribed to eBook and can now be read on Kindles and other hand-held devices. Also, thru the magic of print-on-demand publishing, in a few days I will release a second collection of quantum-tantra-inspired verse called Harlot Nature. A check for 15 dollars to Nick Herbert at Box 261 Boulder Creek, CA 95006 will reserve your place at the head of the stampede for this unusual work, which contains text in three languages: English, German and Dirac notation.

Jig (Out on the Ocean) for W. J. Craddock (1946-2004)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Greatest Pleasure

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

The ancient Greeks saw Nature sexualized
saw naked nereids in the streams
saw goat-foot satyr in the laurel grove
saw sexy dryads hiding in the trees.

Spinoza says our greatest pleasure's

the union of the mind with nature.
Can quantum theory cease to bore us—
bring back the Greeks' enchanted forest?

Can we concoct new physics lures
to call out spirits from the trees?
Can we seductively exploit
our Heisenberg uncertainties?

If we dressed up in Nature-wooing wet suits
weaved of coherent quantum oscillators
could we dally with dryads, flirt with nymphs 

and quantum-copulate with satyrs?

When will physicists expand their craft
by daring to suppose a
more creative kind of measurement—
the "greatest pleasure" of Spinoza?

A couple mind-linking in Philadelphia with Lynden Stone's Metaphase Typewriter

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Encounters With Quantum

Poster for Crane Arts Exhibit: May 10, 2012
I used to joke with my buddies in the Stanford physics department about the dangers of researching quantum reality. Look what a mess E = mc2 unleashed (atomic weapons, dangerous nuclear reactors, growing stores of radioactive waste) and that equation is essentially still classical and superficial--it doesn't really penetrate into deep reality. There are deeper mysteries than E = mc2--for instance, the quantum transition from possibility into actuality (P-to-A), which underlies everyday existence and which no physicist really understands. Messing with this process--the P-to-A transition--could lead to a "reality bomb" in which things that have already happened are simply erased as if they had never happened. Responsible governments have passed laws to keep Uranium, Plutonium (and marijuana) out of the hands of ordinary people because of the obvious dangers to civilization if these substances became widely available, but devices in which the quantum P-to-A transition is accessible are still not outlawed. At present anyone is free to mess with the fundamental process that brings this world into existence.

The Metaphase Typewriter is such a device. MT takes a fundamental P-to-A transition (radioactive decay) and turns the patterns of these decays into text and speech. MT explores the dangerous assumption that consciousness enters the phenomenal world by controlling P-to-A transitions. According to some thinkers, your brain may be such a P-to-A transition machine thru which "You" perceive and control (a part of) the world via this fundamental reality-creating process.

The Metaphase Typewriter is a P-to-A device which at present lacks a "soul" to animate it.

The Metaphase Typewriter is an open invitation for rogue consciousnesses, discarnate human spirits, alien minds billions of years superior to us in evolutionary fitness to insert themselves into our immature, childlike culture. Or human unimaginable forms of intelligence that will change our fragile culture in humanly unimaginable ways.

Construing MT as an "art project", Australian artist Lynden Stone has built and installed a Metaphase Typewriter at Crane Galleries in Philadelphia. She turned it on today. At the reception, crowds of sophisticated Americans will be sipping wine and socializing while the fundamental process that creates reality itself will be opening itself to occupation by any raw consciousness that decides to seize the day.

Congratulations, dear Lynden Stone, for accomplishing this feat before it becomes illegal.