Friday, November 27, 2009

Trapped Rainbow

In this picture light from two lasers (red and green) is traveling from left to right while confined in a gradually tapering optical waveguide. As the waveguide narrows, the effective speed of light decreases until it reaches zero and then the light stops. This picture taken by Vera and Igor Smolyaninov and others at Towson University in Maryland shows the green light penetrating further than the red before stopping. If a blue laser had been used its light would have been trapped slightly further down the guide.

The trapped rainbow experiment is part of a larger program to manipulate light in sophisticated ways using "metamaterials" nanofabricated to produce exotic outcomes such as the ability to render an object invisible like the Romulan "cloaking device" in Star Trek. For more information about the Smolyaninovs' cloaking experiments see Those Damn Romulans and the 2Physics blog.

Metamaterials (MMs) are usually constructed by forming periodic structures whose periodicity is slightly smaller than the wavelength of the wave you are trying to control. Since the wavelength of microwaves is on the order of an inch, one can almost construct microwave metamaterials by assembling Lego blocks. Metamaterials that manipulate visible light, however, would have to be constructed of Lego blocks tens of thousands of times smaller.

The Smolyaninovs and their collaborators have cleverly bypassed the difficulty of fabricating metamaterials for visible light by demonstrating that a tapered optical waveguide already possesses some of the desirable qualities of MMs such as the ability to partially cloak small objects and to produce a "trapped rainbow" by slowing and stopping light. It is a big step from hiding tiny gold wires to cloaking whole star ships but a more practical near-term outcome from experiments such as these could be "super lenses" that produce higher resolution images than are possible with glass or, more likely, devices that coax light to perform unnatural acts no one has yet imagined.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Moon Mosaic from Astronomy Picture of the Day

And who has seen the moon, who has not seen
Her rise from out the chamber of the deep,
Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber
Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw
Confession of delight upon the wave,
Littering the waves with her own superscription
Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us
Spread out and known at last, and we are sure
That beauty is a thing beyond the grave,
That perfect, bright experience never falls
To nothingness, and time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.

--D.H. Lawrence

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In The Jungle

"Once this all belonged to them."

I talked to a woman once
who believes she is living
inside the dream
of some higher being.

When she dances
the world vanishes
and its real owners appear to her
as tough but playful ruffians
dark dancing bodies edged in neon colors.

Everything has changed, she said
I am becoming a buddhist saint
sending compassion to every suffering being
you'll certainly get your share, dear nick
and you won't have to wait in line.

I've got plenty of tentacles, plenty of tits
plenty of what you've been looking for
all of your life, she said.

"show me" i said.

And she did.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Bonnie Eskie in Boulder Creek

Bonnie Eskie brightened the Bistroscene with her red hair and luminous words. She lived north of Boulder Creek close by my place and I'd often pass her house on my dog walks. Some poetry can be savored on the page; other poetry is best performed. Bonnie Eskie's Eyes is a true performance piece. Standing in a circle of light, Bonnie doing Eyes for an audience at Conrad's Bistro, was a real show stopper.

Eyes looking into mine
don't stop, don't stop
don't stop looking at me
into me, thru me.

I feel your steady loving gaze
penetrating into the very core of my being
seeing, seeing, seeing
seeing and embracing who I really am
who I am becoming.
I feel safe in your gaze.

I feel your gaze
penetrating into the depths of time
thru centuries
thru millennia
No time, no here, no there
just this moment with you.

A shivering sense of completeness
of being in oneness
in wholeness before we separated
into male, female
into you, me.

So don't stop
please don't stop looking into my eyes
don't stop holding me
with your loving

Thru you I feel free.
Your eyes liberate me from me.
I am bathed by their light, like sweet nectar
I am filled with delight.
Lost for a moment
this sense of separateness

I feel free in wholeness
for just a moment in timelessness
my thirst quenched

I feel content like a cat
with the mystery of not knowing
with the fear of abandonment gone.

Come into my eyes, my love
and blast me into a million pieces

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nick's Home Page Updated

Sometime in the early nineties, through the generosity of JJ Webb, I acquired my first website--the ultimate in vanity press! First I coded it in bare HTML and then with a primitive WYSIWYG web editor. Amused myself by putting up wierd shit that interested me and that might possibly interest other kindred souls. Surprised me that my make-shift site attracted tens of thousands of viewers.

After I started this blog I rather neglected my old home page which began to suffer seriously from staleness of content and "link rot". So today I went back and began to clean up this old site, removing the failed links and adding new material. It's still pretty raw--Nick Herbert's Home Page--but I invite you to check it out. It contains links to old buddies of mine, biographical details about the checkered career of Doctor Jabir, preposterous papers I could not have published anywhere but on the web and plenty of miscellaneous. Also links to sites I like--both colorful and controversial.

I'm hoping by the end of the week to complete the link Jabir's Secrets--an absolutely essential guide to anyone foolish enough to seek Ultimate Truth in today's New Dark Age of Misdirection.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Age of Entanglement

Louisa Gilder speaking at Telecosm Conference

My physicist friend the late Heinz Pagels believed that the 20th Century would not be remembered for its wars or its Moon walks but as the century in which humans first encountered the "Cosmic Code"--Heinz's pet name for the mysteries of quantum mechanics. The Cosmic Code, according to Pagels, is the unhuman language Nature speaks that brings into existence the material world.

I am currently reading a new popular book (thanks, Earl Crockett) which retells the exciting story of humanity's initial discovery of the Cosmic Code--Louisa Gilder's remarkable The Age of Entanglement now available in paperback. Gilder's book is remarkable in two ways: first for her solid grasp of the quantum concepts and her ease of explanation and second, for her decision to frame these concepts as conversations between the great men who struggled to formulate and understand this almost incomprehensible breakthrough into Nature's storehouse of mysteries. Louisa does not entirely invent these conversations but assembles them from letters and unpublished papers. Her method gives an impressive immediacy to these ideas which mere exposition would lack. Louisa's technique gives one the feeling of eavesdropping on the private lives of the discoverers of the greatest of Nature's secrets.

One delightful example of Louisa's conversations involves two physicists climbing a mountain as they are expressing their frustration at Niels Bohr's new quantum model of the atom which seemed to violate every rule of classical physics they had so painstakingly learned in school. And yet Bohr's model not only worked but it worked splendidly, explaining detailed features of the spectrum of hydrogen that were previously utterly mysterious. On the mountain top the two physicists take a solemn vow--that if this quantum craziness continued, they would both drop out of physics. The craziness did indeed continue; it baffles us to this day. And the two physicists did not drop out but pushed past their confusion to aid in the birth of the new quantum science.

Unusual for a book about physics, Louisa's book is crowded with people. Most of my favorite physics heroes come alive here in sketches, descriptions and witty conversations--Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli, John Clauser and John Stewart Bell and many, many others.

Louisa is a true mistress of metaphor. Many times I found myself thinking, "O, I wish I could have said that so well." Here is how she handles why physicists continued then (and indeed continue today) to work on the quantum theory despite its deep and troublesome foundational questions.

It became more and more obvious that despite some odd details, ignored like the eccentricities of a general who is winning a war, quantum mechanics was the most accurate theory in the history of science.

Erwin Schrödinger was the first to discover quantum entanglement--a voodoo-like connection that persists unchanged between two particles after interaction no matter how distant they are separated. Schrödinger, using the equation that bears his name, had no trouble describing one quantum particle moving in three dimensions of space, but when he extended his equation to describe two particles he got not TWO WAVES moving in three dimensions but ONE WAVE moving in six dimensions -- a description which choreographs their otherwise separate motions (seemingly faster than light) by what Einstein dismissively called "spooky action at a distance". Quantum entanglement, said Schrödinger, is not A NEW FEATURE of quantum theory, it is THE NEW FEATURE that distinguishes it most from the classical physics we all learned in school.

Louisa Gilder argues that just as the nineteenth Century was the era when the new theory of Thermodynamics and the practical development of steam engines teamed up to produce the Industrial Revolution, so we are now witnessing the birth of a similar mutually reinforcing interaction between the theory of quantum entanglement and the practice of quantum computing. We are at the very beginning, she says, of an era whose technology we cannot yet foresee. Assembling today the rudiments of primitive quantum machines that tap directly into Nature's Cosmic Code, we are on the brink, Louisa Gilder eloquently proclaims, of a bottom-up revolutionary Age of Quantum Entanglement.

Sketch of Erwin Schrödinger by Louisa Gilder

Friday, November 6, 2009


The boisterous BC Bistroscene could not be confined to physical reality. In addition to its lovely meat presence at Conrad's Bistro, our poetry spilled out, courtesy of poetry impresario J. J. Webb, into deep as yet unsettled regions of cyberspace. The very first poetry avatar I ever saw was a primitive representation of JJ himself reciting one of his poems on (then video game designer now temple directress) Alx Utterman's big video screens. To me, JJ's avatar looked like Bluto from the Popeye comic strip. (In real life, JJ looks entirely different.)

In 1993, J.J. Webb set up a poetry site on Cruzio ISP, first calling it The Hawk, then later morphing into Zero City, showcasing exciting new poets from all over the map. Zero City was co-edited by Olympia, WA poet Michael McNeilley, who, among his many feats, hosted a site Earth Sucks (now in disrepair since McNeilley's untimely death) allegedly run by Vogons, the alien race made famous in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Last time I checked, the poetry page on McNeilley's Vogon site seems to have been mercifully put to sleep. For, as The Guide informs us, Vogons are infamous for composing the fourth worst poetry in the Galaxy. Reciting Vogon poetry against a person's will violates the ban against "cruel and unusual punishment" enforced by almost every member of the Galactic Club. McNeilley had the habit of putting up his friends' poetry on the Vogon Verse section of Earth Sucks, a back-handed form of recognition to which I secretly aspired.

Webb/McNeilley published some of Nick Herbert's early work in Hawk/Zero City, culminating in Jailbait, the Broadside, which garnered an outstanding number of hits (probably due not merely to discerning lovers of imaginative erotic verse but also to FBI agents and perverts pursuing their intertwined agendas.) The web design of Jailbait is primitive by today's standards, but, excepting a few promising candidates for McNeilley's Vogon Poetry Page, this collection largely upholds the high standards you have come to expect from the brazenly creative author of Meta-Doctors on Duty and Elements of Tantra.

So check out Jailbait: Sixteen Barely Legal Web-Ready Love Poems and then, when you're ready for something completely different, bop over to Beau Blue's Cruzio Cafe for some innovative twists on presenting poetry performances on the web. Watch poets performing 24/7 inside J. J. Webb's ever-evolving cyber-tent: Great balls o' fire, Mollie, it's fulla poets! And they twitchin', they writhin', they squirmin', they crawlin' on they bellies like reptiles!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is Realism a Dirty Word?

Martin Gardner before a domino portrait by Ken Knowlton

One of the most intelligent and delightful thinkers of our times is Martin Gardner, formerly the long-time editor of Scientific American's popular Mathematical Recreations column and author of an amazing number of books. For anyone studying the concept of mind-created reality, I consider this essential reading: Gardner's guest essay published in the American Journal of Physics: Is Realism a Dirty Word?

Is Realism a Dirty Word?
Every now and then a philosopher is smitten with incredible hubris. "Man is the measure of all things" was how Protagoras vaguely put it. For some metaphysicians, mostly in Germany, hubris mounted to such heights that they imagined the very existence of the universe depended on human minds. Only our shifting perceptions are real. If we cease to exist, presumably the universe would dissolve into structureless fog, perhaps cease to exist altogether, perhaps never to have existed. Laws of science and mathematics, the structure of fields and their particles are not "out there." They are free creations of the human spirit.

Instead of seeing our brains as feeble, short-lived ensembles of atoms dancing to universal rules, this curious view sees our brains as actually inventing physical law--in a sense, constructing the universe. J. J. Thomson did not discover the electron. He invented it. Einstein did not discover the laws of relativity, he fabricated them. The fact that such fabrications are successful in explaining past observations and predicting future ones strikes a cultural solipsist as uncanny, inscrutable magic. "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics" was the title of Eugene Wigner's best-known essay.

Now there is nothing unusual about philosophers holding such opinions because no view is so bizarre that some metaphysician hasn't defended it. The amazing thing is that in recent years a few working physicists have abandoned the realism of Newton and Einstein. "The purpose of this article is to refute the fallacy that reality exists outside of us," writes English physicist Paul Davies in his contribution to The Encyclopedia of Delusions. The theme of astrophysicist Bruce Gregory's Inventing Reality: Physics as a Language is accurately described on the book's flap: "Physicists do not discover the physical world, they invent a physical the poet Muriel Rukeyser puts it, 'The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.'"

For decades John Wheeler has been telling us that sentient life exists nowhere in the universe except on little old Earth, that if the universe had not been so structured so as to allow itself to be observed by us, it would have only the palest sort of reality. "Quantum mechanics," he asserts...demolishes the view that the universe exists out there." Frank Wilczek, reviewing a recent book honoring Wheeler (Science, 28 October 1988) diplomatically comments on this remark: "The importance of Wheeler's technical contributions to physics gives his statements a weight that, coming from another source, they would not have."

It is a short step from Wheeler's social solipsism to the notion that science is not a progressively better understanding of eternal laws, but a cultural creation like music and art.

Read the rest of Gardner's essay here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Does Consciousness Create Reality?

Schrödinger's Cat: 1/2 alive and 1/2 dead at the same time?

Does consciousness create reality? Seems like a big topic for a little blog post. But because I will be considering ONLY EXPERIMENTAL ATTEMPTS to answer this big question I can skip almost all the philosophical verbiage and cut to the chase.

When we wake up and open our eyes, there's the world. But was it there before we looked? The notion that consciousness creates reality (called subjective idealism) has a long history but only recently with the advent of quantum physics has there been any opportunity to put this important question to experimental test. Unlike classical Newtonian physics which appears compatible with objectively existing substance, certain features of quantum mechanics (QM) do indeed suggest that consciousness might play an essential role in bringing the world into existence.

QM describes the world in two different ways, depending on whether the world's looked at or not. When it's not looked at, QM represents the world as mere POSSIBILITY WAVES. When it's looked at, some of these possibilities become ACTUAL EVENTS.

Unfortunately physicists do not agree about what it means "to look"--and we call this fraternal disagreement the "quantum measurement problem." The physics majority believes that what is necessary for looking is "a machine that makes a record". But how does one go about building a solid record-making machine using only possibilities as parts?

Some physicists believe that "something extra", something outside of quantum mechanics is needed to resolve the measurement problem. Some have suggested that consciousness might be the magic trick that turns airy-fairy quantum possibilities into hard actuality. An impressive minority of physicists including John von Neumann, Eugene Wigner, Pascual Jordan, Henry Stapp, Robert Mills, E.H. Walker, Euan Squires, Fred Kuttner & Bruce Rosenblum have argued that consciousness plays a fundamental role in the quantum picture of things.

The mascot of the measurement problem is Schrödinger's Cat who is placed in a box with a quantum device that has 50% possibility for killing the cat and 50% possibility for feeding the cat. According to Schrödinger's own quantum equation, the cat is 1/2 dead and 1/2 alive until somebody looks in the box.

In the case of the cat, the measurement problem reduces to the question: "Does a conscious being need to look in the box, to make the cat alive or dead? Or is that question already decided inside the box itself by an irreversible process (record-making device) such as the breaking with a hammer of a jar of poison?

In the past few years at least three experiments have been proposed to test whether or not consciousness is necessary to collapse the wavefunction. The first is a thought experiment due to Bedford and Wang from University of Natal in South Africa. Instead of a cat, B & W imagine a situation in which a quantum system either opens slit A or slit B in an optical interference experiment. In the case where the quantum odds are 50/50 both slits are open at the same time in the same manner as the cat is 50/50 alive and dead. Because both slits are open, an interference pattern should be observed. However if someone looks at the slits, the wave function collapses, only one slit is open at a time and no interference is observed. If B & W are correct, this setup unlooked at produces optical interference but when a mind intervenes the interference vanishes.

A bunch of us including Amit Goswami, Saul-Paul Sirag, Casey Blood and Ludvik Bass (Schrödinger's last graduate student) considered this problem for many months. We called our quest the AMY Project. After much discussion and calculation, the AMY team concluded that Bedford & Wang were wrong. No matter what happened in their experiment--looking or not--no interference would ever be observed. The B & W experiment, we decided, fails as a crucial test for mind-created reality.

A second approach to catching the mind in the act is due to Abner Shimony and his students at Boston University (see "the Boston Experiment" in Elemental Mind) and Dick Bierman at the University of Amsterdam. Shimony and Bierman propose the existence of a perceptual difference between you personally collapsing the wavefunction and you merely witnessing a wavefunction that some other mind has previously collapsed. To test this conjecture, they set up an experiment (see diagram below) in which two observers are looking at identical detectors and a hidden switch decides which observer gets to see (and presumably collapse) the quantum event first. This imaginative test of the mind-created reality hypothesis has so far yielded inconclusive results. If minds create reality, these minds apparently do not find it easy to perceive what this creation process feels like.

A third approach to testing the mind-created reality hypothesis is due to Roger Carpenter & Andrew Anderson at Cambridge University (pdf). In the C & A test, two observers both look at the same quantum system but Observer A gets a random output and Observer B gets an output that tells whether Observer A's result is true or false. Thus the putative mind-created reality does not come into existence UNTIL BOTH OBSERVERS SHARE THEIR DATA. So C & A have two separate channels by which consciousness can create reality: 1. break the code by sharing data or 2, directly observe the quantum system. In a wholly quantum world, there is no reason why these two separate methods of looking should lead to the same reality. But they always did--which led C & A to conclude in favor of an objective collapse model of reality.

To this trio of mind-matter experiments I should probably add my own work with the metaphase typewriter which was a quantum system (Geiger counter and radioactive source) coupled thru speech statistics to an electric typewriter. Inspired by Jane Roberts' Seth Speaks, I had hoped that the MT might operate as a quantum spirit medium and function as a clear communication channel for a discarnate entity as talkative as Seth. But no spirits ever took over my metaphase device during the year or so that it was in operation.

Does consciousness create reality? So far there is NO EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE from quantum physics that supports this bold conjecture.

On the other hand, so far there is NO EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE for the Higgs boson or for even one of the many, many new particles predicted by the Supersymmetry conjecture. Yet physicists continue to look for these things.

I hope this brief review of experiments designed to test the quantum mind hypothesis will inspire others to improve on them. Coincidentally the primary quantum system in every one of these tests was a radioactive source and a Geiger counter, a 100-year-old technology which seems as primitive as a flint ax when compared with the sophisticated quantum systems now routinely available in today's physics labs. Seems to me it's time for the mind-created reality hypothesis to be probed by light-sensitive CCDs, electron-tunneling flash drives, Bose-Einstein condensates, phase-entangled photons and the Heisenberg-uncertain qubits in quantum computers. Physicists, put on your hi-IQ thinking caps. Ladies and gentlemen, start your quantum engines.

Diagram of the Shimony-Bierman Experiment