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, [name 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.