Friday, August 31, 2012

Dark Pool of Light

Beaver (Invisible) Swimming Through Reflection of Moon, Manset, Maine

One afternoon in the late 60s, I walked into Ron Thelin's Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street--planet Earth's very first head shop. The bulletin board was filled with personal messages, ads for goods, services and rooms. Off to one side I spotted a sparse message that concisely expressed the spirit of the 60s. "I am looking for marvels," it said. Plus a phone number.

All my life, I have been looking for marvels too, not satisfied with the surface of things. I compulsively read science fiction and haunt used book stores, constantly searching for fresh ideas. During my graduate studies at Stanford I worked part-time at the EastWest Bookshop in Menlo Park (now in Mountain View) which at that time was the largest occult book store on the West coast. So I tempered my reading of the occult works of Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Paul Dirac with large doses of Manly P. Hall, Arthur Avalon and Aleister Crowley. Somewhere in this potent mix of Eastern and Western wisdom texts I came across a journal called Io, edited by Richard Grossinger. Grossinger was looking for marvels too and was publishing in Io various essays by himself and others on such high-weirdness topics as "Alchemy", "The Doctrine of Signatures", and "Oneirology". I recently learned from Wikipedia that almost 50 different volumes of Io were produced.

Richard Grossinger has written dozens of books--all composed in the same marvel-seeking style reflected in the pages of Io. His numerous books include Planet Medicine, Bardo of Waking Life and the autobiographical New Moon. From New Moon I learned that Richard is a member of the clan that started Grossinger's resort in the Catskills, linchpin of the legendary Borsch Belt where famous performers such as Milton Berle, Danny Kaye, Phil Silvers and Henny Youngman made their debuts. In 1977 Grossinger and his wife, poet Lindy Hough, founded North Atlantic Books to promote their own works and the works of like-minded friends.

Now Richard has turned his marvel-obsessed mind to the most profound unsolved mystery of modern times--the problem of consciousness.

Grossinger's newest book Dark Pool of Light approaches the phenomenon of human consciousness from a dozen different directions, biological, psychological, mystical, prophetic and indeterminate. Dark Pool of Light is a physico-poetic symphony of words informed not only by Richard's reading in science but by his experiences at the Berkeley Psychic Institute and his participation in several other maverick mind-science ventures from Maine to California. Dark Pool of Light is obsessive, excessive, poetic, confessional, exhausting, touching, boring and brilliant--all at the same time. A truly remarkable literary performance.

Then just when you think he's done, he's not. Richard can't seem to get off the stage. The last dozen pages he calls "Deleted Scenes" consisting of snippets that were cut from the main text but considered too good to throw out. I read these gems first. I'm glad they were included.

There's something in this book (which runs to 3 volumes) for everyone--something to complain about and something to adore. Dark Pool of Light is like an astonishing high-wire performance at Grossinger's Catskills resort--you really want to keep watching this crazy-risky guy just to be there when he falls on his face. Well worth the price of admission.

But I'm not entirely unbiased concerning Richard's audacious intellectual high-wire act. The forwards to this book--the opening acts for Spielmeister Richard Grossinger--are short riffs by Nick Herbert and Jeffrey Kripal. Grossinger's Borsch Belt--it is alive and well!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Minding Your Body: Baby Steps Towards Quantum Tantra

Nick's 2012 Chakras: a partial list
For my birthday this year my Muses gave me the best gift in the world--inspiration for a new work, which I've tentative called Minding Your Body: Baby Steps Towards Quantum Tantra.

Quantum Tantra is my long term project to discover a more intimate physics-based way of connecting with nature. I envision it as direct mind-to-mind linkage between my mind and the various currently invisible minds that dwell inside matter. One of the finest speculations about what quantum tantra might feel like is Rudy Rucker's amusing short fiction piece Panpsychism Proved where the necessary mind-mind link is achieved via quantum-entangled carbon atoms. Rudy also coined the term "teeping" for the kind of generalized telepathy that quantum tantrikas might enjoy.

I have supposed that alien races--and perhaps even some mind-forms here on Earth--already practice quantum tantra and use it to teep atoms and molecules, use it to teep plants and animals and to telepathically communicate between themselves and with minds too simple or too complex for humans to imagine.

Our ordinary awareness is a form of quantum tantra--a direct unmediated connection with the insides of the classical machinery of the brain. Most of our mental acts and all of our physical acts are strictly classical but our core experience of pure awareness is a basic quantum process--a direct experience of matter's insides.

One of the most unusual properties of the quantum world is quantum entanglement but this is not the feature of quantum mechanics that has inspired my quest for a more intimate way of connecting with nature. My inspiration for quantum tantra is the so-called "quantum measurement problem". It is a curious fact that altho this world is certainly fully "quantum", our only window into the quantum world is thru classical measuring devices. Despite radical advances in quantum theory--from Schrödinger's wave equation, thru Dirac's relativistic equations to quantum field theory--every quantum experiment is, without exception, still completely classical--as old-fashioned and Victorian as brass tubes, spark gaps and hoop skirts. Quantum tantra seeks to modernize quantum physics by discovering an intrinsically quantum way to court nature, a way that will almost certainly involve physics-based modifications of consciousness.

I want to woo Her not view Her
Pet Reality until She purrs
Yearning to merge with Dame Nature bodily
Longing to mingle my substance with Hers.
And them content with merely observing
are nothing but Nature's voyeurs.

One of the possible uses of quantum tantra might be a new kind of "internal medicine" in which you directly connect with the "minds" of organs of your body, teep "how they are feeling" and thank/criticize them for their work/play. Also one can envision ameliorating certain diseases by direct negotiation with the disease rather than via warfare. Since my mind is already classically connected to my body parts, "quantum internal medicine", rather than mind-to-mind telepathy, might be the site of the first quantum tantric breakthroughs. We each have a mind; we each have a body. What we lack is the means to quantum-connect the two. Or more precisely, we lack a mind-matter tool that extends our natural quantum mind-matter access to other parts of the body besides (some of) the brain. I jokingly call this future quantum mind-matter tool the "octoscope"-- a machine you can only operate stoned.

While waiting for the octoscope to be discovered, there is plenty we can do to prepare the ground for the upcoming era of quantum internal medicine.

An important feature of classical tantra is the system of chakras, a Hindu way of thinking about the body introduced to the West by Sir John Woodroffe and other Orientalists. The traditional chakras serve many functions--psychophysical, mystical and even theological but I will construe these bodily centers as merely a way "to get the mind out of the brain" and into the rest of the body.

One of the prime powers of the mind is the ability to MOVE--the power to "pay attention" to whatever it chooses. My use of the chakras is primarily as a system of symbols to aid the mind to move to (and inhabit) a particular body part. Like a map of places to visit in your imagination before actually going there in person (via the octoscope).

I began with the classical seven chakras and expanded them to eight, imposing a light/dark symmetry. Now there are 4 light and 4 dark classical chakras. All of the others (of Nick's 48 2012 chakras) possess this same symmetry. Every light chakra possesses a dark partner--portrayed by the same symbol with white replaced with black. In place of the elaborate classical tantric symbology, I sought simpler geometric forms constructed of lines, circles and triangles plus a certain intangible aesthetics.

The seven classical chakras are Root, Sex, Belly, Heart, Throat, Brow and Crown. The Crown chakra, for instance, traditionally represents human contact with the Divine--with the Universe's higher powers. I represent this Crown chakra with a simple open white circle. For symmetry's sake I add a corresponding "dark chakra" to the classic seven--the "moon chakra" represented by a simple black disk, that represents human contact with the Universe's lower powers.

I have worked for many years developing this new chakra system and finally (in 2012) have reached a point where I am satisfied with the symbology. Nick's 2012 48-chakra system is now complete.

My next project (thank you, Muses) is to write this up in a book or long essay. I have already been using my new chakras as a kind of "body rosary" for focusing my attention on various body parts especially while falling asleep. The classical Catholic rosary has 50 beads; my 2012 tantric rosary has 48. This book, Minding Your Body, will employ the new chakras as a kind of guided meditation for exploring the body with the mind--in a simple classical fashion preparatory to the octoscope giving us more intimate quantum connection. This project will also be an opportunity to develop my quantum tantric speculations in more detail.

My Minding Your Body project owes a lot to Bernie Gunther, the author of What to Do Till the Messiah Comes. Bernie was my first instructor, in the 60s at Esalen, in sensory awareness exercises. Thanks, Bernie. Borrowing from my old teacher, my new book project might also be entitled What to Do Till the Octoscope Arrives.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Backstage Pass: Remembering Betsy

Betsy and Norma Leistiko on Ann Halprin's dance deck in Marin
Saturday Aug 18 is the 10th anniversary of my wife Betsy Rose Rasumny's death. My companion for almost 40 years, mother of my son Khola, Betsy was involved in home birth, in home schooling and, for her last act, in home dying. Her central passion was dance and she appreciated every kind of live performance whether on stage or off. She studied and taught dance in New York, Vermont and at Ann Halprin's Dancer's Workshop in San Francisco where I met her in the '60s while studying at Stanford. Ann's studio was located at the East edge of the Haight-Ashbury and Betsy's Stanyan Street home on the West edge. Consequently our courtship took place amidst the Haight's colorful background of hippies, musicians, sects, drugs and rock and roll.

As a dancer, Betsy was into participation and she had lots of friends. So whatever spectacle we watched or listened to in San Francisco, Betsy usually know some of the performers (and often was one). So afterwards we would go backstage and mix with the people who put on the show. For both of us, access to the backstage was a special treat, a deeper connection to the magic than merely being part of the audience. Altho I was never much of a performer in my youth, I was an altar boy for many years at our Catholic church in Ohio and participated both backstage and on the altar in the magic of manifesting God Himself in the guise of bread and wine.

When we made the decision to share our lives, I drove from Boulder Creek to El Rito, New Mexico where Betsy was living in a meadow with a hippie band called Daddy Longlegs. With her gift for making friends she had connected with many cultures including Pueblo Indians, anthropologists, hippie communes, Hispanic-Americans and peyote church people. Consequently she took me into many backstages that I had only read about in books. To repay her in kind, I made a connection with a physics colleague at Los Alamos National Laboratory and his name got Betsy and I past the guard house of the place where the first atomic bomb was made. I was wearing a tie, Betsy put on her finest hippie garb and we spent an afternoon backstage in a lab that was investigating "linear-pinch fusion".

In Boulder Creek, our first friends were music and theater people, so we spent much time backstage. Betsy was always joining or founding dance groups. At the time of her death she was participating in two groups she had helped start, and barely a year before she left this planet, she performed a major role in a full-length dance performance at a jazz club in Santa Cruz.

Betsy died at home from complications surrounding breast cancer. Her neighbors, her home-school friends, her dance and theater friends, her friends who were esoteric healers, her marijuana friends all came backstage to visit, to witness and to be actors in Betsy's last performance. One of Betsy's great talents was the ability to be fully present and to share that gift of enhanced presence with whomever she was with.

I prefer to sleep late but Betsy was an early bird. She liked to get up early, make coffee and sit by the kitchen window with a cat on her lap while putting her thoughts in a notebook. From the notebook of Betsy Rose Rasumny Herbert:


The chambers of my heart:
Kitchen, parlor, boudoir, attic, den
Hallway, basement, study, bathroom.

The chambers of my heart:
Rooms for receiving guests.

Betsy at home on Stanyan St, San Francisco, in the '60s

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Entangling Photons Using Quantum Darwinism

Quantum reality is certainly bizarre, theoretically permitting an animal to be both dead and alive (Schrödinger's Cat), particles that can be in two places at once (double-slit experiment) and distant causations that seem to travel faster-than-light (Bell's theorem). Since quantum reality underlies the world we live in, why does none of this quantum weirdness ever seem to surface into everyday life? 

One persuasive solution to the everyday absence of quantum weirdness is "quantum Darwinism"--a concept pioneered by Polish-American physicist Wojciech Zurek, now working at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Quantum Darwinism is the notion that quantum systems are never isolated but are always interacting with an external "environment". It is the nature of normal environments that they randomize the phases of certain observables (decoherence) thus destroying monstrosities like Schrödinger's Cat while leaving other special observables intact (einselection). Thus quantum weirdness, absolutely normal in the wild, is effectively suppressed when quantum systems are moved "to civilization", that is, to a complex environment governed by lots of ordinary interactions.

But suppose we could construct "special environments" (jungles), designed to "einselect" non-ordinary realities? Could we then elevate some of the queer features of quantum reality into ordinary perception.

Recently Zu and his colleagues at the Center for Quantum Information in Beijing, China did just that.

Zu and his pals took a pair of independent photons A and B and sent them thru a special environment that "killed non-entangled photons".

Since the A and B photons are unentangled, an entanglement-hostile environment should kill them all. But Zu and company have prepared a very special environment. Using the rules of quantum theory, an unentangled pair of photons can be expressed as a sum of 1. an entangled pair plus 2. an anti-entangled pair. And the environment in the Shanghai lab is constructed so that it kills only anti-entangled photon pairs. Thus by selectively removing one kind of entanglement, this experiment can create entanglement where none had before existed. 

(1 - 1 = 0. Take away the -1 and you seemingly create "1" out of nothing. Such is the logic of quantum reality.) 

A similar logic is at work in Edwin Land's invention of the sheet polarizing filter that plays an essential role in every flat-screen LCD display. Ordinary light is unpolarized--an equal mixture of every polarization. Quantum-mechanically we can represent this situation as a random mixture of completely Horizontally-polarized photons |H> and completely Vertically-polarized photons |V>. Land invented a plastic sheet (special environment) that would preferentially absorb |V> photons. Pass random light thru a Land sheet and Horizontally-polarized photons emerge. Pass a random pair of photons thru a Zu et al environment and entangled pairs emerge (from the jungle).

To quote from Zu et al abstract: "We report an experiment that uses the environmental selection, a key concept in the recent theory of quantum Darwinism, as a mechanism to realize the entanglement filter, a useful quantum information device that filters out certain entangled states. In the experiment the environment of two qubits is controlled to favor an entangled state and to kill all competing components in the input state. The initial state has vanishing entanglement, but the state surviving after interaction is close to a maximally entangled state with an entanglement fidelity of 94.7 ± 1.9 % measured through the quantum state tomography. We experimentally demonstrate that the generated entanglement is robust under change of the initial state configurations and the environmental parameters."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pericles on Planet Mongo

Shakespeare in space: Princess Thaisa and Prince Pericles
This Sunday the celebrated Santa Cruz KSCO radio hosts Doctor and Mrs Future and I attended the wedding of the daughter of our Boulder Creek friend, J. J. Webb--Silicon Valley space engineer, poet, impresario and father of the bride. The wedding was held in Sanborn Park, a few miles west of the city of Saratoga. Sanborn Park, as we subsequently learned, has been for 13 years the location of Shady Shakespeare, a remarkably innovative theater company. As it happened, the wedding was situated next to the Shakespeare site so, after the ceremony, Dr and Mrs Future and I wandered down to check out the Bardic activities.

The site is marvelous--a tiny wooded glen reached by a short wooden bridge lined with banners. Traversing that little bridge was like going thru a time machine, instantly transporting us to another reality. After a short discussion we decided to dwell in that reality and bought tickets to Pericles, Prince of Tyre, a Shakespeare play that none of us had ever heard of.

For good reason.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is an ancient world travelogue, crammed with obscure Gods and Goddess mumbo-jumbo, jumping from Tyre to Tarsus to Pentapolis in eccentric itinerary probably as confusing to Shakespeare's audience as it is today to residents of San Jose. To repurpose this antique walkabout for a modern audience, director Doll Picotto (her real name) decided to mount Pericles as a campy science-fiction drama, employing every science-fiction cliche of the last 50 years to frame the emotional turmoils of Tyre's noble prince. From Flash Gordon to Firefly, from Star Wars, Close Encounters to Doctor Who, Ms Picotto leaves no sci-fi stone unturned.

It works.

Part of the fun of this play is seeing how many sci-fi references you can recognize in Picotto's imaginative futuristic rendition of a creaky Elizabethan pot-boiler. Even informed by the media-savvy resources of Dr and Mrs Future, I'm sure there were more than a few sci-fi cliches that I missed.

Given the wacky premise, this play could have degenerated into mere caricature and slapstick. And while there is plenty of laugh-provoking action, such is the dignity of the language and the skill of the actors that credible renditions of love, loyalty, and grief emerge in the midst of the comedic activities of the supporting cast. Indeed in this production the force is strong. Amongst all the fun, Shakespeare's words still shine bright.

My favorite scene takes place in a sleazy brothel, where Pericles's lost daughter Marina has just been sold into slavery by pirates, who have rescued her from an assassin's blade by kidnapping her instead. Since the plot of Pericles ranks high in preposterousness, Shakepeare's use of this Pirates ex machina device to save Marina's life does not seem so out of place and the company carries out their last-minute rescue/kidnap in classic Monty Python "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" style. But once having purchased their prize from the pirates, the brothel owners discover to their frustration that beautiful Marina possesses considerable ability to defend her virginity, a power the equally exasperated pirates had neglected to mention. To find out how Marina (on a leash in the brothel) successfully preserves her maidenhead from the randy advances of virile Lysimachus (a credible Han Solo from Star Wars) read the play. Or better still, come see this marvelous production for yourselves. It runs from August 3 till September 4.

And for admirers of all things Wookie, Chewbacka appears in a small non-speaking role.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Oral Copulation With Nature

Beautiful Vespula close up
Often when I breakfast on my deck I am joined be a few yellow jackets looking for meat. Science calls the California version Vespula sulphurea (Sulphur wasp)--("vespa" = "wasp" in Italian). What Vespulae call us is unknown, no doubt expressed in some deep non-symbolic insect code. If there are just a few of them I happily let them share my meal--they are especially fond of meat--and I usually leave a few scraps for them to take home. They are beautiful little animals--it is impossible to imagine what sorts of consciousness they possess, but like me, they like to eat. Usually in the early morning, only one comes to visit. More than three I consider bothersome and move my meal inside.

Today I was having sausage and eggs with one of the Vespula clan, when a comrade showed up and then a third. I watched them tearing away at the sausages and bearing pieces away. (They live underground in big hives.) I was eating the sausages too, cutting them into pieces and pushing them into my mouth when suddenly my tongue burned like a piercing. Then the rest of my mouth filled with pain. I spit the sausage onto the plate along with the little wasp I had almost swallowed. Surrounded by meat and teeth he had bit me three times--on the tongue, on my inner gum and on my inner lip. The wasp seemed to be unharmed by this adventure and went creeping off along the tablecloth soon returning to the plate. I was careful afterwards to inspect each morsel before putting it in my mouth.

Within a few minutes the pain subsided but half of my tongue quickly swelled up making it difficult to eat, and the right side of my lower lip looked like I had been hit by a boxer. (Besides the brief pain, there were no noticeable alterations of consciousness.) For some few people, wasp venom is toxic and can cause death, but for most us the symptoms quickly disappear. Within an hour or two, the size of my tongue and lip was back to normal. This oral connection with Vespula taught me to pay more attention to how I eat when wasps are around.

I was especially glad that I had not swallowed.

"I coulda been a contendah."