Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Super Natural: A Book Review

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey J. Kripal
For my 80th Christmas on this planet, I treated myself to a weird hardback book by two experienced explorers of strange phenomena that lie outside of what these days passes for science. Whitley Strieber is the author of Communion in which he describes his personal contact with "non-human beings" -- contact that continues in some form to this day. Jeff Kripal is the author of several scholarly and popular books on comparative religion with an emphasis on the particular experiences which gave rise to various religious beliefs and to alleged insights into the nature of reality.

This book features each of the specialists taking turns writing a chapter, so the book reads as a dialog between an experimenter (Whitney) and a theoretician (Jeff). But this simple distinction is blurred by the fact that Whitney theorizes about the meaning of his experiences and Jeff adds experiences of his own and of his colleagues to his theories of how to deal reasonably with unreasonable experiences. This taking turns works: each man respects the other's expertise but the two do not always agree.

A further feature of this book is the fact that after he published Communion, Whitley received hundreds of thousands (!) of letters from people all over the world that had had similar bizarre experiences many of which could be classified as some sort of non-human contact -- a valuable data base for those scholars of any persuasion interested in the study of unusual human experiences. Judging from the volume of Strieber's correspondence, experiences of this sort do not appear to be rare. But for obvious reasons, people rarely talk out loud about them. Would you?

Whitley attempts to describe his experiences without injecting his own interpretations, but admits that maintaining his objectivity is difficult because these events are characterized by ambiguity and by strong emotions -- primarily fear. Kripal takes the long view, arguing that emotionally powerful, ambiguous experiences of this sort have been happening to people thoughout all of recorded history. And that some of these "non-human contacts" -- Moses with the Burning Bush, Mohammed with the angel Gabriel, for example -- have led directly to the birth of new world religions that attracted billions of followers.

So, Jeff argues, such experiences are not unimportant for human history, but we are not required to see them in the same light as did their original participants. Neither are we required, Jeff adds, to view them thru the fundamentalist goggles of atheistic materialism. Let's be real scientists here, ladies and gentlemen, he urges. Let's try to set aside contemporary prejudices and work open-mindedly to discover what these strange not-so-rare experiences are trying to tell us about the nature of human (and non-human) reality.

As Whitley succinctly puts it: "We don't know what they are because we don't know what we are."

Jeff's tentative model for understanding such experiences is that each of us is part of a Larger Mind -- the "Human as Two" in Kripal's words -- part Human and part Divine. Divine and Human? Two ill-defined words like the words Classical and Quantum, which taken together make four important concepts that humans need to learn to use correctly (we haven't yet) if we hope to better understand the mental and physical reality of which we are made.

Can the notion of being part of a Larger Mind help us to understand such unusual phenomena as mathematical prodigies, lucky hunches, numinous coincidences, voices in the head, crisis telepathy, magical links between lovers, veridical visions, "the fickle finger of Fate", scientific, musical, artistic and poetic inspiration, plus the mysterious Zeitgeist itself -- that inexorable spirit of the times that seems to carry all before it like a flood -- perhaps even making sense of the unexpected election of President Donald Trump?

Strieber's way of acquiring knowledge by direct personal experience, rather than through books or teachers, fits into a religious category called Gnosticism which has a long tradition.

Jeff Kripal & Nick Herbert, Esalen Lodge, July 2010. photo: August O'Connor
Reading Kripal's description of ancient Gnosticism in The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained, I was inspired (by Big Mind?) to add my own two centavos. Jeff's text forms its scholarly core, classical human Nick (and his divine quantum Muse) provide the title and the admonition. Let the following verse express one mindful collaborative response to this challenging and unusual book:

by Jeff Kripal & Nick Herbert

The ancient Gnostics
Did not know what we know:
They did not have 

Modern cosmology
Quantum physics
Evolutionary biology.


In space-time habitation
Quantum mind alive in primate body
Our priestly task is clear:

Listen like a sly physician
To demons, aliens, angels,
Gods, efreets and witches.

By the light of wildest intuition
Expose our wise men's trinity of theories
As hidden Holy Spirit, bitches!

As hidden Holy Spirit.

Image by Todd Stock, aka Dr Paradise

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Gilliam Does Quantum Reality: Part One

Harold Gilliam (1918 - 2016)
Harold Gilliam died this month (Dec 2016) at age 98. He was an eloquent writer on environmental issues and a popular columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Intending perhaps to explore the inner environment of the physical world, Gilliam attended a weekend workshop at Esalen Institute in the summer of 1985 given by myself and my friend and physics colleague Heinz Pagels, To commemorate Gilliam's death and the death of Pagels who died a few years later, I am reprinting a few week apart the two Sunday Chronicle columns that Gilliam wrote about his experience with us in Big Sur. Part Two is here. Fasten your seat belts for "Gilliam Does Quantum Reality: Part One"

Harold Gilliam SF Chronicle Aug 18, 1985

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific -- and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise --
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
 -- John Keats

In the last 10 years physicists have learned
more about the universe than in previous
centuries -- they have seen a new picture of reality
requiring a conversion of our imaginations.
 -- Heinz Pagels

Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory
has not understood it.
  -- Niels Bohr

Driving down the Big Sur coast to Esalen the other day, looking for some clues to the new picture of reality, I saw on roadside buildings, along several miles of Highway 1, big hand-lettered signs: THANK YOU, FIREFIGHTERS.

The reason for the expression of gratitude soon became evident.. The steep hillsides to the left of the road were charred for miles where the Rat Creek fire had raced down the slopes on a hot dry wind from the east, burning nearly everything in its path.

Esalen, on the ocean side of the highway, barely escaped. The burned hills behind us were screened by Esalen's trees, and we faced the ocean, but occasionally we caught the odor of the scorched earth of the Santa Lucia, and that pungent reminder of another reality became a symbol of the ambiguities in the amazing world of the quanta.

The weekend workshop had a formidable title: "Bell's Theorem and the Nature of Reality." Our leaders were Bay Area physicist Nick Herbert, author of the new book Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics and Heinz Pagels, executive director of the New York Academy of Sciences, author of The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature and Perfect Symmetry: the Search for the Beginning of Time.

With titles like these, we were expecting some tall talk, and we got it, interspersed with good-natured banter between the two physicists who were each convinced that on certain points the other was dead wrong.

In the mellowed-out ambience of Esalen, the 17 workshop participants sprawled on the carpeted living-room floor of the Big House, a former seaside residence, and contemplated the invisible microcosm of the quanta, which seems to turn our common-sense view of the world upside down, or maybe inside out.

The future results of such a revolutionary shift in viewpoint are unpredictable, but the phenomenon has happened before in world history. Nick Herbert reminded us the new view of the universe developed by Isaac Newton overturned the hierarchical medieval world view and pictured a world governed by law -- forming a philosophical basis for a society of laws rather than arbitrary leadership.

The Declaration of Independence: ("We hold these truths to be self-evident ---") cited natural law as the basis for democratic government. In the same way, quantum theory, we were told, seems likely to revolutionize our Newtonian-based views of the world -- and maybe also our technology, our economics, our politics, our entire culture.

Newton had described a clockwork universe ticking along in orderly, predictable fashion -- a gigantic machine governed by such laws as gravitation. "Quantum theory," Herbert told us in the Big House at Esalen, "has smashed Newton's clockwork."

What has replaced Newton's clockwork is a picture of reality that can't be grasped by conventional thinking. Listening to Herbert's description of some very weird interpretations of the quantum world, I began to feel that the theories must have come out of a bottle. Actually they came out of a microscope -- or rather out of certain complicated contraptions such as the cyclotron and the bevatron at the University of California at Berkeley, that serve as supermicroscopes peering into the curious world of the atom.

Quanta are simply particles that are atom-sized or smaller; quantum theory describes these particles and their attributes -- more or less. No one has ever seen an atom, of course, but scientists can detect what the atoms are doing and can smash them together to find out what they're made of. As the supermicroscopes improve, they keep finding smaller and smaller particles, like a series of Chinese boxes.

Physicists examining the workings of atoms were badly shaken up when the particles they found seemed to violate Newton's laws that had been accepted for 300 years as descriptions of how the world works.
Quantum Reality image by Todd Stock aka Dr Paradise
"One of the best kept secrets of science," Herbert told us, "is that physicists have lost their grip on reality." He proceeded to list eight different and partly conflicting versions of how physicists look at quantum reality, most of them utterly preposterous to the non-physicist. Consider these, for example:

# The Copenhagen interpretation was originated by the late Niels Bohr and his colleagues at the Copenhagen Institute. Outlandish as it seems, it is now the view of most mainstream theoretical physicists, Herbert explained. The world we see around us is real, but that world is made up of particles that are not real -- at least not as real as what we see.

As if statements like that were not mystifying enough, Herbert went on to point out that some Copenhagen physicists go further and say that even the world we see around us is not real until we observe it.

Sitting there on the floor of the Esalen living room, trying to adjust the big pillows to be more comfortable, I recalled the old riddle as to whether the tree that falls in the forest makes any sound if there's no one there to hear it. These Copenhagen theorists would say: "No, the tree makes no sound because it isn't really there. Nothing is there until somebody observes it."

In other words, reality is created by the observer. Is the reality of the universe a mirror of one's own mind?

A sobering notion, I reflected. Whatever it means. It could mean that we are not simply cogs in Newton's mechanical universe, but that we somehow participate in ongoing Creation. "Observer-created reality" implies that we have something to say about how the world is put together. Maybe.

"The universe," Sir James Jeans wrote as he contemplated quantum theory, "begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine."

Before I could absorb that one, Herbert was listing a further interpretation.

# Reality is an undivided wholeness. We are all part of the universal being. This viewpoint was expressed by Berkeley physicist Fritjof Capra a few years ago in The Tao of Physics, the book that first aroused popular interest in the interpretation of quantum theory. Capra found certain correlations between this quantum view of reality and the teachings of oriental mystics.

The book created flurries of excitement among mental telepathy enthusiasts, who maintained that physics had now proved the existence of what they had believed all along -- that a transcendental unity behind surface appearances included the interconnectedness of human minds with one another and perhaps with a universal mind.

Actually physics proved no such thing. Capra was simply calling attention to some interesting parallels between quantum theory and the intuitions of the mystics.

# The next quantum reality Herbert described for us was the most outrageous of all. It was the "many worlds" interpretation: In this view reality consists of a steadily increasing number of parallel universes.

Science fiction writers have fun with this one. In one universe you are sailing to Alpha Centauri in a space ship. Simultaneously, in another universe you are having chicken dinner with Henry VIII.

Or you toss a coin and it comes up heads, but in another universe on the same toss the same coin comes up tails. Everything that can happen does happen -- someplace, in some other universe.

I protested silently. It makes no sense, it's not logical. But at that moment Herbert started talking about quantum logic, which is totally different from traditional logic. Under the new logic, apparently, parallel universes make sense.

By this time I had been able to rearrange the pillows in a relatively comfortable position, and as I closed my eyes for a moment to contemplate quantum logic, the voices in the room began to merge with the soporific roar of the surf below, and my mind drifted off.

Instead of a quantum physicist talking to us, it was a fellow in a long robe. He was saying that although we can see the sun rising in the east and setting in the west on its daily trip around the Earth, we are suffering from an illusion. Things don't happen that way at all: the Earth is actually revolving around the sun.

What a preposterous notion, I thought. How could anybody believe in such nonsense? The man, who said his name was Copernicus, was obviously out of his mind.

Before I could tell him so, he was gone, and there was physicist Herbert at a blackboard showing us how Bell's Theorem worked. It turned out to be wilder than anything we had heard so far. And if you want to know what all this has to do with the price of a Big Mac or the national deficit or your latest telephone bill, join us here next Sunday.
The Big House: Esalen Institute

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Los Gatos Apple Store

Apple Store, Los Gatos, California


[Nick's Apple iPad device is misbehaving.

Boulder Creek's nearest Apple shop's
in Los Gatos --- a mere seven miles
from the Apple Vatican in Cupertino.]

Enter our sacred Los Gatos sanctuary
Perform the secret Sign of Steve
Shamelessly admit your helplessness
Before the White Lord's LCDs.

Humbly approach our Apple altars
Resist the urge to bend your knees
Of all mankind's mighty marvels
None were quite so fair as these.

Let awe not blind you to your mission
In our technologic paradise
Be mindful of your many sins
And the sins of Your Device.

Soon an Apple-ordained Genius
Will come and hear your full confession
Will lay hands on your bad Device
And calmly banish all transgression.

Devoutly make a good Act of Contrition
Make the Sign of Steve before you go
Gratefully settle your rightful Penance
Using ApplePayment cyber dough.

Go in peace and sin no more
Bless you as you leave our store
Bless friends and kindred far and near
Bless happy fault that brought you here.

Apple ostiarius instructs two fresh penitents

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Big Question

What does Woman want?
Why everything of course:

To square the circle
To trisect the angle
To unify the Quantum Field
To find love in one magic kiss.

To achieve world peace
To equitably nurse every life form
To insure all sentient beings
Awake into Infinite Bliss.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

No Animal

Doctor Jabir: Thanksgiving 2016

No animal badgers its mate
No animal rats on its friends
No animal sponges on its fellow man.

No animal joins that rat race
Crawling to its job in stinking metal box.

No animal works to outfox life
Worming every possible drop of joy
From the lucky fact of sex.

No animal wolfs down 
Drugs and high technology
To weasel its way out of the contract
Life long ago signed with Mister Death.

Without house insurance
Each animal raises young
In its burrow.
Without car insurance
Each animal takes life
As it comes.
Without health insurance
Each animal faces death
Like a man.

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to Contact Aliens

Simulated Quantum Connection

Dear Mr Herbert--
I read your Quantum Tantra 

which is really V interesting.
I can see its deep implication 

to physics and our world view.

I would be most glad if you can give 

any practical advice of any sort?
Say, how to connect to a PLEIADEAN 

for making love?
Or anything in our daily life we can apply?

See if there's anything 

U would like to share with me.

Many Thx
Omni Fung

Dear Omni Fung--

Without compensation
I can give away no secrets
But this much I can say:

It is a matter of attitude
We each attract the aliens 

we deserve.

Have you made of your heart
A warm open bower
For mind-traveling beings
A thousand times more practiced in love
Than humans are practiced in hatred?
Have you made of your heart
An erotic landing strip?
If you build it they will come.

Practical advice?
Rest up, take a bath
Imbibe a quantum intoxicant
Go out into Nature with a few friends
Pretend that you are children
And let the Universe child-molest you.

Open up your heart, your mind, your senses
Engage Her lovely agents everywhere you look
Befriend the alien beauty 

quivering in your gun sights
Send someone you love a copy of My Book.

Thank you for the questions, Omni Fung.
Good luck in your explorations.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tabloid Democracy

Nov 8, 2016: Choose one to be our new four-year führer

I'd like to vote the issues
But I never get the chance
The mud from my TV set
Is creeping up my pants.

Which one held the pistol?
Which one held the bag?
Which one smoked Merrywanna?
Which one is the fag?

Which one armed the Muslims?
Which one dressed in drag?
Which one peed its trousers?
Which one shoots up skag?

Which of them is antiSemite?
And which is antiGoy?
Which one hates the Constitution?
Which one loves an altar boy?

Which one sleeps with bimbos?
Which one burnt the flag?
Which one's hot for bondage?
Which one's on the rag?

Through the magic of the ballot
The dirt has all dispersed
We may not choose the best one
But we're flushing out the worst.

Friday, October 7, 2016


Raw art: August O'Connor; Enhancements: Dr Jabir

The Monist insists One Reality is true.
But Dualists believe that Reality is Two.

The most famous Dualist was Rene' Descartes
Who thought Matter and Mind are Reality's parts.

Also Muslims and Catholics divide up the Whole
(along with Billie Holiday) into Body and Soul.

Bishop Berkeley for whom

                       Berkeley campus is named
Was a Monist who claimed 

                          only Mind can be blamed
For all we perceive 

                  through the senses that guide us
And the whole starry universe
That only just seems to be living outside us.

That Matter is King is the orthodox creed
Of the Monistic church of the science stampede
Whose catechism states in mathematical patter
That mind is merely some mishmash of matter.

A different foundation has been nurtured among
Atmanspacher, Spinoza, Wolfgang Pauli and Jung
Dual-aspect Monism is beating the drum:
Saying Reality's Heart is unspeakably One.

But this One when envisioned 

                            from multiple stances
Can seem to divide into alien romances.
One kind of cutting makes Matter and Mind
Which humans call life of the everyday kind.

But what if a different style 

                                   of carving up the One
Would give us new experiences 

                            that physics cannot plumb?
By slightly twisting our angle of view
Could we find different ways of being two?

To dramatize this Dual-Aspect Monistic view
I've chosen ZAM as acronym 

                                     for One begetting Two.

(ZAM stands for "Zwei-Aspekte Monismus")

I am ZAM.

As pure white light divides itself
into both red and blue
the fundamental Oneness
splits Herself in two

I am ZAM.
I am ZAM.
I am ZAM.

And best of all, honey,
so are you.

Dr Jabir opens the veil

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

You Can't Fool Us

Ad for Scripps-Howard Newspapers: September 1936 Fortune Magazine
You Can't Fool Us!

For my birthday this year, my wonderful friend Gabrielle sent me a copy of FORTUNE magazine that came out the month I was born. It features cover articles on the emerging powerhouse of Japan,  full-page ads for American steel companies (now outsourced outside USA), heavy industry (now mostly outsourced), insurance companies, post-Prohibition whiskies and quaint old cigarette ads (Kool, Camel and Lucky Strike). But my favorite read was a two-page spread by media giant Scripps-Howard, picturing some "teeming refuse" from an unnamed "dictator-ridden" region of Europe.  A male representative of the teeming refuse (TM) speaks first and is then answered by the voice of Scripps-Howard (SH). I reprint the exchange here without comment, inviting the reader to come to his own conclusions concerning the progress of America's "unshackled press" during the 80 years since this ad was published.

You can't fool us! We're the World's
most Fortunate People!

An American reporter interviewed a typical family in a dictator-ridden European country, from which liberty had been banished. Hands gnarled from bitter toil, cheeks sallow from privation, clad in tatters, this family looked at our reporter with genuine pity, "You are an American" How sad!" they said. "We know that hundreds of your people are being shot monthly by capitalist controlled police. We know that thousands of your workers are dying from hunger. We know that no one in your country has the comfort and security we have. We know all these things because we read them in our newspapers, which speak the truth because our government publishes them!"

Fantastic? Not at all. That family can be found in several countries today where leaders -- lustful for power -- have learned the force that lies in ability to control or to fabricate what passes as news.

Dictatorship thrives on studied misrepresentation. It can't exist where the average citizen is given an accurate picture of local and world affairs.

Herein lie the strength and the hope of America. This country is no Utopia; it makes many mistakes and tolerates many temporary injustices. But, thanks to an unshackled press and the right of every man to speak his mind, this nation is never in the dark concerning its shortcomings and maladjustments.

Here, in this country, the people may learn the facts, Knowing them, and once aroused, there is no illness -- political, social or economic -- our people cannot ultimately cure by the orderly and wise action of their own system of government.

Today, with democracy under fire, the Scripps-Howard Newspapers pledge themself anew:

First, to give their readers clear, impartial, accurate news on both sides of every vital question.

And second, in their editorial pages, to outline with tolerance and logic their concept of the nation's wisest course.
Fortune Magazine September 1936

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Little Night Music

Arabic tattoo: what does it say?
(for Nick's Eightieth Birthday)

I'm not really trying to tease you
It's just an old leotard.
Does the sight of my body excite you?
Does my closeness light your cigar?
Did the sound of my voice
Punch your buttons?
Does the thought of me nude
Get you hard?
Will you sing me, dance me and use me?
Did I catch your defenses off guard?
Then how will you make move to play me?

This harp
is awaiting

her bard.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Advanced Studies

Doctor Jabir: astonished and wary
(for Mike Murphy and Jeffrey Kripal)

Every glance is Her glance
Every touch Her touch
Every smell is Her sexual attractant
Every meeting a teaching.

Music is enchanted speech
Every meal a sacrament
That turns bread and wine
Into the body of God.

How many physicists
Go surfing on Saturday?
And Sunday go speaking in tongues
At a Holy Roller Church in Oakland?

Friday, August 26, 2016

I Love You, Nick: A New Proof

Mary & Nick Herbert: Nick Jr. and Tom, Columbus, Ohio 1939

That my mother and father,
each born miles apart
both sired by Slavic-speaking 
Appalachian coal miners
Mom baptized Catholic
in Cambridge, Ohio
Dad christened Russian Orthodox
in Jeannette, Pennsylvania
met among the steel mills of Lorain
were enamored enough to get married
were greathearted enough to bear children 
in the depths of America's Big Depression.

That my mother saved her money
to give me piano lessons.
Nick Herbert & Alexander de Caro

Friday, August 12, 2016

Robin Williams: Two Meetings

Robin Williams as a mime in Central Park 1974
"No matter what people tell you,
words and ideas can change the world."
Robin Williams

I was sitting outside The Plaza hotel in Manhattan one beautiful summer late afternoon in 1975, when I noticed a mime who was shadowing people on Central Park South. He would walk right behind someone, following them within one step of theirs for about 100 feet. Toward the end of miming one person he would pick out another victim walking in the opposite direction, studying them for only a few seconds. Then he would quickly do a 180 and mime them, instantaneously becoming them. He had every mannerism of every person down pat. He literally became each person. It was unreal.

He would constantly pick totally different people to become. He would transition from a business man, to an old lady, to a flaming gay guy, to a tourist, to a beautiful woman, to a punk rocker and on and on it went. I sat there in utter disbelief for around 30 minutes (until he stopped) and watched the most amazing and funniest performance I have ever witnessed in my life. And I have seen it all, well almost. It was a 30 minute non-stop belly laugh. A few times I had to turn away, just to catch my breath. It was so funny that I was in tears the whole time. This mimes performance was so incredibly wondrous, that it was hard to believe. I asked myself over and over, how could this mime so quickly and perfectly become all of these extremely different people?

I went up to the mime after he was done and asked him his name. He told it was Robin. When I watch the show Mork & Mindy a few years later in the late 1970s I thought to myself, this guy Robin Williams must have been the mime I watched a few years earlier. He was about the right age, he had the correct height, weight, color hair and processed the same facial characteristics that I remembered. But I wasn't 100% sure.

Years later (in the mid 1980s) I was driving my taxi one night in Manhattan when I picked up Warren Zevon and Robin Williams together. I soon thought back to that glorious day watching the greatest performance in front of The Plaza. The mime that was better than anything I ever saw on Broadway (and I saw almost all the great Broadway shows and revivals), television or in film. So, I told Robin and Warren the mime story. Then I asked Robin if it was indeed him. He said yes, it was. I told him that it was the most brilliant and funniest 30 minutes of my life. He was very appreciative of this compliment. I could see on his face how genuinely happy it made him.

Thank you Robin Williams for all of the inestimable joy and laughter you brought to the world. Thank you for being one of the greatest stand up comedians ever. Thank you for your magnificent acting career. And especially, thank you for that special summer afternoon in front of The Plaza hotel where that 17 year old young man witnessed first hand the extraordinarily virtuoso performer that you were.

I will miss the beauty you gave us all. Bless you and may you rest in peace.

Reblogged from Mark R. Elsis at

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Saul-Paul Sirag's New Math Book

Saul-Paul Sirag in Eugene, Oregon plus some Japanese numerals

Back in the 1950s Reader's Digest ran a monthly feature "The Most Unforgettable Character I've Ever Met". In my long life I've met many such characters but Saul-Paul Sirag must be near the top of the list.

Saul-Paul was born in Borneo of Dutch-American parents who were fundamentalist Baptist missionaries to the Dayak headhunters. When Japanese troops occupied Indonesia in 1942, they imprisoned Saul-Paul, his older brother Mark and their mother Sylvia in the Banju Biru concentration camp in Java. His father, William, was interned in a separate camp where he died before the end of the war. Each morning the occupants of the camp had to line up in front of their cell blocks to count off in Japanese. I like to think that this prison-camp countdown was Saul-Paul's first experience of an exotic form of mathematics.

Back in the States, Saul-Paul was educated in various ultra-conservative Baptist schools, most notably Christ's Home in Warminster, PA and Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada. During high school in Canada both he and his younger brother David showed exceptional interest and ability in physics and math. In 1960 Saul-Paul graduated from PBI and soon ended up in Berkeley (Berkeley in the 1960s!) where he continued his science education but also befriended a number of artists and musicians, notably Don Buchla and Charles MacDermed.

Saul-Paul Sirag plus a Hair poster
Energized by 1960s Berkeley, Saul-Paul moved to New York City where he reviewed books, wrote and acted in plays at La MaMa in the East Village, participated in an Andy Warhol Fashion show and, by his own account, inspired a Broadway hit: "Jerry Ragni, who wrote Hair, told me that he got the idea while watching me dance to the Grateful Dead in the East Village." Ah, Saul-Paul Sirag: woolly-headed icon of the Age of Aquarius.

By the early 1970s Saul-Paul was back in Berkeley where he resided at Arthur Young's Institute for the Study of Consciousness (ISC) on Benvenue Street, a kind of boarding house and meeting hall for people interested in the mystery of human awareness. I first met Saul-Paul in 1973 at ISC and was impressed by his uniqueness. Everyone was into Tarot cards at the time but Saul-Paul had created his own private deck, made up of images (including porn) that had significance only to Saul-Paul himself. Saul-Paul was privately schooling himself in math and physics and was writing a popular science column called "The New Alchemy" which was syndicated in college newspapers. ISC was a nexus for people interested in ordinary and altered states. And through Saul-Paul and his friends at ISC I was able to meet many smart people who helped me write my own book on consciousness.

Saul-Paul's room at ISC was stacked floor to ceiling with unusual books. One of my favorite finds in the Sirag scriptorum was a German-language edition of John von Neumann's classic Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics which announces behind the title page: "Copyright Vested in the U.S. Alien Property Custodian 1943, Pursuant to Law." I don't know exactly what this means but it conjures up the image of a famous German physics book seized by the Allies as "spoils of war." ISC was only a few blocks from the UC Berkeley campus. No day spent with S-P was ever complete without a jolly tour of campus bookstores in search of exotic codices. This was before the Internet, when bookstores in Berkeley were as common as pizza shops.

Saul-Paul was a founding member of the Consciousness Theory Group (CTG) which held meetings first at ISC, then later, across the Bay in San Francisco when Saul-Paul moved into Henry Dakin's Washington Research Institute (WRI) where both consciousness and the Soviet Union were central topics of concern. While at WRI, Saul-Paul served as president for a few years of the Parapsychology Research Group (PRG) in which Russell Targ (of SRI Remote Viewing fame) was a prominent participant. While at WRI, Saul-Paul devised an ambitious hyperspace model of consciousness which, unfortunately, only Saul-Paul was able to understand.

A description of S-P's hyperspace model appears in Jeffrey Mishlove's authoritative tome The Roots of Consciousness. Saul-Paul penned the Afterword for Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger and published at least two papers on obscure physics phenomena in Nature, Earth's most prestigious science journal. Saul-Paul has also produced an irreverent and unpublished manuscript about his school days at Prairie Bible Institute entitled Jumped by Jesus.

Saul-Paul Sirag at Esalen Institute (1980 - 1988)
 During the 1980s, Mike Murphy invited Saul-Paul and me to host invitational seminars on physics and consciousness at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The major focus of these seminars was Bell's theorem which proves that if certain quantum experiments are correct, then reality must be "non-local". Bell's theorem is unique in that it is a statement not about experiment nor theory but about "reality itself". Moreover, BT is no mere conjecture concerning the nature of reality but a rigorous mathematical proof.

Many of the participants in the Esalen Seminars on the Nature of Reality were members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group (FFG) founded in Berkeley by Elizabeth Rauscher and George Weissman as recounted in David Kaiser's recent book How the Hippies Saved Physics.

Saul-Paul was also present at the creation of Sirag Numbers and Siragian Triangles, two small mathematical curiosities with no known real-world application.

Saul-Paul Sirag's New Math Book
Earlier this year (2016) Saul-Paul published a new math book ADEX Theory: How the ADE Coxeter Graphs Unify Mathematics and Physics.

Saul-Paul Sirag and the five Coxeter graphs
ADEX Theory is basically a taxonomy of mathematical objects similar to the classification of life forms on Earth, into fundamental categories such as kingdoms, phylums, classes, genuses and species. All animals, both alive today and in the fossil record, can be organized into only 16 phylums with names such as Protozoa, Anthropoda, Mollusca and Ctenophora. Humans belong to the phylum Chordata along with cats, dogs, lizards, birds, sharks and sting rays. "Possessing a backbone" is the passport to membership in phylum Chordata.

Compared to mathematical objects, life on Earth is easy to classify because life has a common origin and all life forms are members of a single tangled family tree. A mathematical object, on the other hand, consists of any structure whatsoever that the human mind can invent and find interesting. Categorize the human imagination? Impossible.

Saul-Paul describes in ADEX Theory the successful classification of a large variety of seemingly unrelated mathematical objects using only five "mathematical phylums" called Coxeter graphs (after Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter). Here I will confess from the outset that the task of reviewing this book is well above my pay scale. Only a person with considerable mathematical sophistication can truly appreciate ADEX Theory.

What amazes me, as a mathematical pedestrian, is 1. the enormous variety of mathematical objects that can be brought together into a few communal families by this simple classification scheme and 2. the peculiar nature of the five "mathematical phylums" that are able to tame this giant population of unfettered figments of the human imagination.

Get this: the mathematical phylums, called Coxeter graphs, are symbols for something called Reflection Groups which are analogous to a set of mirrors in multidimensional spaces. Each Coxeter graph stands for, if I understand things correctly, a particular KALEIDOSCOPE in hyperspace. So, instead of a backbone, each member of the same mathematical phylum possesses, in some sense, the same brand of kaleidoscope.

And here is a partial list of the variety of mathematical objects which Saul-Paul shows how to classify using just five mathematical phylums (five Coxeter graphs):

1. The Coxeter reflection groups, or Weyl groups
(the objects these diagrams were originally designed to represent)
2. The Thom-Arnold "simple catastrophes" of dynamical systems
(the "butterfly catastrophe" lives in phylum A5)
3. Digital error-correcting codes
(Hamming-8 code lives in phylum E8)
4. Knot and Braid theory
(E6, E7, E8 phylums important for classifying knots)
5. Maximal quantum entanglement of 3 qubits
(related to the E7 phylum)
6. Roger Penrose's "twistor theory"
(twistors live in every ADE phylum)

And that's just some stuff I can almost begin to understand. Saul-Paul goes on to show how ADE phylums can help organize Lie groups, Klein-DuVal singularities, McKay correspondence groups plus Kac-Moody and Heisenberg algebras.

Moving on to more practical topics, the guy that inspired Hair uses ADE to clarify and unite topics in string theory, black hole physics, the holographic principle plus his own rendering of the possible ADE underpinning of our current Standard Model of elementary particle physics.

Oh, and this theory can also help us understand something called "quivers".

This book should appeal to specialists in any of the above-named fields who will appreciate Saul-Paul's passion for these esoteric topics and his fine attention to detail. In a rare literary aside, Saul-Paul shares this: "In his preface to Regular Complex Polytopes, Coxeter wrote: 'Its relationship to my earlier Regular Polytopes resembles that of Through the Looking Glass to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,' This book which Coxeter says he 'constructed ... like a Bruckner symphony' is the most beautiful mathematical book which I possess (among several hundred)."

And you there reading these words now. Which is your most beautiful book?

The author of ADEX Theory lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife Mary-Minn.

Saul-Paul Sirag at the Eugene, Oregon Ken Kesey statue
plus the first nine Sirag Numbers

Friday, July 8, 2016

Virtual Reality

Doctor Jabir 'abd al-Khaliq

Let's pretend to be perfect
Let's pretend to be bad
Let's pretend to be low life
Let's pretend to be mad

Let's rip off our clothing
And pretend to be holy
Let's dress up like cops
And go out patrolling

Let's pretend to be starving
Let's pretend we are fed
Let's pretend we are single
Let's pretend we are wed

Let's pretend to be prostitutes, porn stars
Medieval Russian saints
Let's pretend to be scientists, housewives
People with horrible complaints

Let's pretend we're telepathic
And read each other's minds
Let's pretend we're individuals
And live like porcupines.

Let's pretend we are artists
Ann Rice or Jimmy Joyce
Let's pretend to be what YOU want
Live in the daydream of YOUR choice

Pretend you're someone special
And I am special too
Prima donnas in a drama
Or fairy tale for two

With supporting cast of thousands
Playing enemies and friends
Who pretend to love and hate us
In ways we don't intend

Let's pretend we're evil devils
With stinky old cracks
Let's pretend we're good angels
With wings on our backs

Let's pretend we are gods
That run this whole show
And whatever we please
Is the way it will go

Let's play we are separate
Let's play we are One
Let's play we are dying
Pretending is fun

Let's pretend we are suffering
From a wound that won't heal
Let's forget we're pretending
Let's pretend it's all real.

Large Hadron Collider: Atlas Experiment

Friday, July 1, 2016

Vidyakara's Proof


How could He have made you so beautiful
And not kept you for Himself?

Therefore the Buddhists are right:
There is no God.

(from Vidyakara's Treasury (ca 1100AD)
translated by Octavio Paz.
Compare with Schrödinger's Proof)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Esalen SuperNature 2016

Bridge over Hot Springs Creek, Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA
For more than 50 years, Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA has been exploring the furtherest reaches of human nature inspired by its co-founder Michael Murphy's words: "We live only part of the life we are given."

Early this month (June 2016) I was invited by Michael Murphy and Jeffrey Kripal to participate in a conference on human superpowers which featured philosophers, historians, psychologists and physicists. Michael Murphy and former participants in earlier versions of this conference had produced a number of books on extraordinary human experiences in sports, in sex, in parapsychology labs, in religious ecstasy and in ordinary life.

Books by Jeffrey Kripal and Jenny Wade
Books by Ed Kelly and Michael Grosso
Books by Kelly et al and Michael Murphy
If this conference were a college class, these books would be part of the required reading. Each book (and several others) points in its own way beyond ordinary experience into the realm of powers and experiences utterly inexplicable by the currently fashionable materialist Weltanschauung (If you hang with philosophers, you've got to speak their language; with this group of specialists Nick felt almost entirely out of his depth.)
Esalen SuperNature 2016, opening circle
The conference was divided almost equally between theory and experience. The overarching tentative theoretical model for our explorations was a view of the universe in which an invisible Spirit immanent everywhere behind material form was progressively emerging in and through matter in increasingly sophisticated visible forms. This vision of a world spirit struggling to be born everywhere in Nature and particularly in human beings is a central theme in the philosophy of Shri Aurobindo, in Plotinus and the Neoplatonists and in Hegel's picture of an Absolute Zeitgeist emerging from infinite potential into finite actuality. Each of these three spirit-driven evolutionary philosophies had a representative at Esalen in the persons of Michael Murphy, Gary Shaw and Glenn Magee.

Coincidentally, when I arrived home, I discovered that Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, had recently written a novel God's Debris espousing this very same evolutionary philosophy.

From my point of view, the notion of our world being brought into being moment-by-moment by a hidden potentia changing mysteriously into visible actuality seems entirely consistent with quantum physics. Physics however omits the God bit and regards these world-producing potentia/actuality transitions as perfectly random.

This might be a good place to mention Erwin Schrödinger's Proof for the Existence of God -- which might also be called "Schrödinger's I-am-That".

Another theoretical perspective was offered by Adam Crabtree, a psychotherapist from Toronto, who has researched the history of Mesmerism and uses trance states in his practice. Adam presented the case that trance states (extreme focus, exclusion of irrelevant perceptions and the marshalling of subliminal resources) could be a royal road to the understanding both of ordinary life and its supernormal extensions.

Jenny Wade describing Berzerkergang
On the experimental side, psychologist Jenny Wade presented material from her book Transcendent Sex, where she describes a wide variety of supernormal states experienced by normal, undrugged people "just having sex". Jenny then transited abruptly from love to war to describe techniques used historically and by modern warriors to attain an altered mental and physical state optimally conducive to destroying the foe.

The central experimental focus of the Esalen conference was Michael Grosso's presentation of material from his recent book, The Man Who Could Fly, St Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation.

Joseph of Copertino (1603-1663) was an Italian monk who was unexceptional in every way except for the fact that he was continually transported into ecstatic religious states during which he would rise from the Earth and levitate, sometimes for several minutes. Joseph had been ordained a priest and his levitations would so frequently accompany the Consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, that his superiors eventually forbid him from saying Mass in public because his levitations inevitably distracted the faithful from their prayers. The Catholic Church did everything they could to keep Joseph out of the public eye and even subjected him to several Inquisitions to determine whether his powers (which they could not deny) were from God or from the devil.

The case of St Joseph of Copertino is one of the most thoroughly documented facts of human levitation during religious ecstasy. More than 150 people put forth written testimony under oath (which was a lot more serious in the the 17th Century when oath-breakers might fear punishment in Hell). Hundreds and no doubt thousands witnessed this monk's marvelous flights over an extended period of 35 years. Father Joseph's flights were no one-shot miracle but a highly replicable set of phenomena occurring throughout his lifetime until the moment of his death.

OK, scientific materialists, explain this!

Ummph, ahh, gee-whiz, mass hallucination?

It is a curious fact that St Joseph's miraculous ascensions took place in Italy precisely at the time when his countryman Galileo (1564-1642) was laying the foundations of the mechanical science that would today confidently prove that Joseph's feats are impossible. Another curious coincidence is that the city of Cupertino, CA, the headquarters of Apple Computer, happens to be named after the levitating saint.

Miraculous Medal
 Two physicists, besides myself were invited to deal with Michael Grosso's exposition. But Hal Puthoff and Henry Stapp had conflicting schedules, so I was left by myself, by default "the house physicist", to confront these persuasively presented miracles with the vast explanatory structures of quantum mechanics, modern cosmology and general relativity.

I was frankly baffled.

Instead of getting into physics, I slyly chose another path. In Ohio, I had been educated in both a Catholic grade school (St Augustine's) and a pre-seminary Catholic boy's school (St Charles Borromeo) so I volunteered to explain what it felt like to dwell in the Catholic Weltanschauung, some taste perhaps of how people might have experienced the world in the days of Father Giuseppe of Copertino.

In the first place Catholics are everywhere surrounded by MAGIC. There's the holy water in every church (and in little bottles at home), there's medals, scapulars and holy cards (baseball-card-like pictures of the saints) topped off with the most magical medal of them all, the holy Miraculous Medal which confers a cornucopia of blessings on its wearers. There's the Marian rosary and the colorful liturgical calendar which hangs in every home plus the Seven Sacraments -- seven "outward signs" which represent direct channels to the Grace of God.

And all that just for starts. The primary magic, which as a Catholic you could experience every day if you wanted to, is the Mass, which in my day was performed in an ancient language that nobody understood. (Nick was an altar boy and participated on stage in hundreds of these magical demonstrations.) 

The Holy Mass. Of all the Catholic practices, none was so magical as this. The central fact of every Mass is that the words of the priest would cause the very God that created our Universe to reside in some mysterious way in the substance of Bread and Wine. And that Catholics could partake of the very Substance of the Divine simply by swallowing a small white wafer.

Heap big juju.

And this holy Catholic miracle -- the Mass and Transubstantiation -- happened every day.

I also related to the philosophers and psychologists how I subsequently lost my Catholic faith and met an angel in Berkeley.

Now back in Boulder Creek, doing my homework (reading some of the books on the list), I was eating breakfast (which for a Ukrainian like Nick inevitably involves a quart of beer) and suddenly came up with a way to explain the levitation of St Joseph.

It is of course not an adequate explanation, but an indication of a possible path to an explanation, a path that involves neither quantum mechanics nor relativity but a far more fundamental result in physics called Noether's Theorem after German mathematician Emmy Noether (1882 - 1935) who first derived it. Here is what Matthew Francis writing in Symmetry Magazine has to say about Noether's Theorem:
We are able to understand the world because it is predictable. If we drop a rubber ball, it falls down rather than flying up. But more specifically: if we drop the same ball from the same height over and over again, we know it will hit the ground with the same speed every time (within vagaries of air currents). That repeatability is a huge part of what makes physics effective.
The repeatability of the ball experiment is an example of what physicists call “the law of conservation of energy.” An equivalent way to put it is to say the force of gravity doesn’t change in strength from moment to moment.
The connection between those ways of thinking is a simple example of a deep principle called Noether’s theorem: Wherever a symmetry of nature exists, there is a conservation law attached to it, and vice versa. The theorem is named for arguably the greatest 20th century mathematician: Emmy Noether.
The falling-body reliability that Galileo first measured and that modern science abundantly confirms is a consequence of the Conservation Laws of Energy and of Momentum.

But Noether's Theorem proves that these two conservation laws derive from two basic SYMMETRIES in Nature -- the symmetries of TIME and of PLACE.

Conservation of Energy derives from the symmetry that as far as physics is concerned, ALL MOMENTS OF TIME have the same nature -- in physics there are no magic moments.

Conservation of Momentum derives from the symmetry that as far as physics is concerned, ALL LOCATIONS IN SPACE have the same nature -- in physics there are no privileged places.

However, our conscious experience does assign a special time and a special place to the world. We experience the world in the HERE and NOW. Conscious experience seems to break the universal time/space symmetry of physics and hence (via Noether's Theorem) opens the way for Mind to violate the laws of conservation of Energy and Momentum.

But perhaps human minds in their normal state exercise only a insignificant influence on Nature's basic time/space symmetries but in Mesmeric trances, sexual transports or religious ecstasies, the powerfully experienced here/nowness of consciousness might induce extraordinary acts that violate the cherished laws of physics over and over and over again.

Thus Emmy Noether can explain St. Joseph of Cupertino.

The details are left to the student.

Esalen SuperNature 2016 participants (photo by Daniel Bianchetta)

Friday, June 10, 2016

32 Irish County Jig

Several months ago Blarney, the Irish band I'm pleased to be part of, played a concert at a theater in Santa Cruz. The concert was captured on video by Virtual World Studios run by Al and Sun Lundell, also known as Doctor and Mrs Future, whose Doctor Future Show emanates every Tuesday afternoon from our local radio station KSCO (1080 AM). This morning Mrs Future sent me a clip from that wonderful concert that be featurin' me self performin' me own composition.

32 Irish County Jig

There's Wicklow and Wexford, Westmeath and Kilkenny
Waterford, Sligo, Roscommon, Kildare
Meath, Down, Armagh and Derry
Donegal, Monaghan, Leitrim and Clare.

There's Carlow and Cavan, Cork, Tipperary
Fermanagh, Antrim, Longford and Tyrone
Laois, Louth, Galway and Kerry
Limerick, Offaly, Dublin, Mayo.

Matt Johnson, August O'Connor, Kim Fulton-Bennett, Nick Herbert