Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Cat

Onyx when I first acquired him (2007)
About ten years ago I decided that I needed another cat in my life. So I contacted my friend Lois whom I had met bottling wine at Ahlgren Vineyard who operated a cat rescue and adoption center on Two Bar Road, close to my home a few miles north of Boulder Creek. After lunch in her kitchen she showed me through her cat barn which contained about a dozen animals, some in cages and some running free. Most of the cats had been given to Lois to care for and to find homes, but one of them, a scraggy black tom cat, had just walked out of the woods on his own. He was a problem cat, attacking the other cats and of somewhat unpredictable behavior. Lois had named him "Onyx" and said that I would be doing her a favor by taking him off of her hands. I liked him immediately. So Onyx moved into my ashram and we began our little dance of domesticity and wildness.

Onyx at the computer editing videos.
One of the most noticeable things about this cat was the sound he made -- like a squeaking door hinge. "MYRRKK!". Which drew comments like "When is your cat going to learn to meow?". Not too many people got to hear his squawk, because Onyx was mainly a one-man cat and would run into one of his hiding places whenever anyone new would visit. Usually I wouldn't see Onyx first, I'd hear him: "MYRRKK!" was how he'd announce his presence. And I'd turn my head towards that squeaky sound to see him crawling out of the bushes or hidden in my high-up sleeping loft.
Nick and Onyx: it's obvious who's boss here.
Onyx was mainly a nocturnal animal, kept the house mouse-free, and seemed to have a good nightly relationship with the raccoons and skunks that share space with us humans. Four-legged animals, I believe, have more in common with other four-legged animals than they do with the two-leggers. I remember hiking one afternoon in the creek bed of Arana Gulch in Santa Cruz and coming across a large dark four-legged creature "talking" to a smaller black-and-white four-legger in the grass. Upon becoming aware of my presence, the large animal ran across the creek, jumped onto the bank and disappeared into the forest. It was some sort of cougar or mountain lion. The small animal just sat there; I guessed it to be a large skunk. It was unafraid as I drew closer and turned out to be a big long-haired domestic cat, who casually turned her back on me and walked slowly back into the bushes. I had interrupted a tete a tete between two friendly felines gossiping about their very dissimilar lives.
Onyx posing as an LOL cat
Onyx is famous! I made him into an LOL cat and sent his picture to the original I Can Has Cheezeburger funny-cat-meme site which is one of the main purposes of the Internet.
Onyx asleep on the couch
Onyx mostly slept alone but often would sleep with me for a while before finding his own spot or going out hunting and socializing with the wildlife. When it was cold I could sometimes coax him to sleep under the covers. In the summer I like to sleep in my tree house and Onyx would sometimes climb up and share my space, looking at the stars with me and listening to the night noises. Wherever we slept, I knew that, near dawn I would hear hear his "MYRRKK!" and soon 15 pounds of cat would land on my chest, signaling "Time for breakfast!".
Onyx, a recent portrait
In recent weeks, Onyx has quit sleeping in the tree house, has been eating less and less, losing weight, spending more and more time alone in the woods, sometimes off for a day and a night. When he makes his sound and appears on the deck, he seems skinny but strong, affectionate and suffering no pain. He visits with me for a while, then hastens off on his own. Having kept lots of cats, I can recognize when one of them is saying "Good bye." Haven't seen him since.
Love this well ere it perish.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Elemental Alice

Alice and the White Rabbit by Milo Winter
(Revised excerpt from Alice and the Quantum Cat) William B, Shanley, Ed.)

    She was late. The science seminar had already begun. Creeping quietly into the room,  Alice saw a number of people sitting around a large table. She recognized Amit Goswami by his big friendly grin. There was a large motherly woman in green and brown patchwork dress wearing a flowery name tag: Mother Gaia. "How nice to see a woman sitting with the scientists, " Alice thought. "I am rather tired of listening just to men."

    Alice chose a comfortable padded purple armchair covered with grape vines and morning glories, that resembled her chair at home, and, settling herself in its warm embrace, she listened to the panelists discussing the nature of life. Alice heard about the theory of life's spontaneous generation from a random mix of chemicals. And she heard about the Morphogenetic Field--an invisible vital force that guided life's progress like a long streak of good luck. And she heard about Punctuated Equilibrium--a sort of unpredictable quantum jump outside the bounds of Darwinian gradualism. And Goswami spoke too, about how consciousness is always working behind the scenes, first bringing matter into existence and then working within matter to manifest its higher purposes. And then it was Mother Gaia's turn.

Gaia praised the men for their courage in challenging the currently fashionable materialist models. One of life's finest features, she said, is its urge to transcend physical barriers, its urge to move beyond matter into molecules, beyond molecules into cells, from cells into even more complex and unpredictable stages of organization.

You men are part of that initial impulse, she said, that same impulse that raised life out of the primal ooze, that moved fishes onto the land and filled the skies with birds -- that same impulse moves you to devise theories of how life might have begun, and to speculate about what drives life to take on new forms and directions.

As Gaia spoke, Alice begin to fall into reverie, as on that sunny day by the River Isis with her sister and that funny old storyteller. She felt herself drifting aimlessly in a dark warm sea. She passively followed the flow of the current letting it take her where it would. As she relaxed she lost all sense of her body and could not tell where Alice ended and where the current began. Nor could she tell how large she was. For all she knew, lazily drifting, she might be as small as an atom or as large as the Universe.

Far away she seemed to hear the voice of Mother Gaia speaking, or was it Amit Goswami? What was the voice saying? She could barely hear it:

"And the Spirit of God brooded over the waters," it said.

"And the One Mind awoke and looked for another," it said.

"Pull yourself together, Alice,"  said the voice.

And Alice's mind moved in the dark sea and invented quarks, photons and atoms, and connecting the atoms, made molecules. Separating herself from the darkness she made doll-houses from her molecules and inhabited every one. Biologists would call them cells, but she called them "Alice".

And playing with her little doll-houses, she created villages which took on lives of their own which she also called "Alice". And which biologists would call "tissue", would call "organ", would call "organism".

And Alice stretched and divided herself into a million billion forms, changed her mind and ten million old forms vanished, to be replaced by ten million new forms. There were forms that swam and forms that flew and forms that lived on light and forms that loved the darkness. And Alice saw that it was good. And she cherished every one of the forms that her mind had created, even the ones that were lost forever. For Alice remembered everything.

And then all the Alices began devouring one another. She did so enjoy eating! And the devourers were all devoured in turn. It all tasted so good! And they were so much fun to catch. And being frightened prey fleeing from being eaten was fun too.

And then Alice invented sex for the joy of it, for the strangeness, for the joining and for the play. And for the birthing, for all her litters and for the nursing. Sex for her was as much fun as eating. And she called that "Alice" too.

Then Alice invented insects, and elephants, invented writing and fire and photosynthesis. Alice invented seeing and hearing and a million other senses and enjoyed the world thru each one of them. Then Alice invented pain and music and movable type. And Alice saw that it was very good.

Alice wept for joy when she invented man, just as she had wept when she invented electrons and the genetic code. Then Alice invented mathematics, granite, steam engines and the Chandogya Upanishad. She was always coming up with something new.  Her creativity was inexhaustible. Nothing could stop her. And she called it all "Alice".

When she had invented quantum theory it reminded her of that dark stream where she had first discovered herself, where she had broken herself into pieces for the sake of the world. Alice wondered if she would ever be able to stop her ceaseless creation of lovely new forms; Alice wondered whether she would ever stop eating and stop enjoying sex.

And during all of this time (also one of her inventions) she had amused herself immensely but Alice was getting tired and she longed to rest from her play.

So Alice began to feel sleepy and to forget her creations and, as her mind turned away from them, each by each they disappeared into the darkness. One by one all the creatures of the earth vanished, and all of the ideas too, until there was nothing left but Alice Alone dreaming in that dark pool inside of which a lively and beautiful Universe had once flourished.

Alice Growing by John Tenniel

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Taboos R Us


Our bodies are made of taboo
Full of actions that we oughtn't do.

We have parts never shown
Save to those intimately known
Or to docs with degrees
And the high tech machines
That video our tissues and bone.

But Tantra, that comes from abroad

Says each part is a gateway to God
So why shouldn't your Glee
And your X and your Zee
Be equally free to be pawed?

But to value each part as the same
Would set savage nature to "tame":
So let's hear a loud cheer
For those shynesses dear
That keep our needy bodies in flame.

Hydrogen Eigenfunction  | 3, 2, 0 >

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Nobel Prize for Nick?

Nobel Prize Medal: Heads, Alfred Nobel; Tails, Science unveiling Nature
In the early days of the web, real men (and women) coded directly in HTML code. And that's how I started too. But soon, primitive website-building programs came along that made things easier. I got my start working on a site called Eros Island which under our direction aspired to be a place of sophisticated and humorous sensuality but, after we were dismissed, turned into a cheesy porn site. Al Lundell and I used a program called Netscape Navigator (as I recall) while Sun McNamee coded directly in naked HTML.

We all used Apple Macs then with the pizza box shape and low-number operating systems that weren't named after wild animals. One of my favorite pieces of work from those early days of the internet was called A Nobel Prize for Nick? which I originally published on the few MB of free storage space gave me with my new eMail account and which deserves to be republished today both because of its crude graphics (nostalgia) and for its imaginative proposal for universal peace (Can quantum physics provide us a better way of being human?)

Hence I invite you to examine:

in which all will be revealed.

Nick shows off his Reality Club gang colors.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pity the Nation

Possible US stamp honoring poet, publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (2007)
(After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerors
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away 
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kaleidoscopic Optical Schrödinger Cats

Oktay Pashaev & Aygul Koçak, Izmir Institute of Technology
Most mornings I begin my day by looking at two of my favorite web sites -- NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) where you are sure to find some stunning view of our Universe to lift you out of your daily grind and the Cornell/Los Alamos ArXiv which publishes preprints of fresh new science papers in dozens of different specialties, putting anyone with an iPad in daily touch with some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. All this while sipping a cup of exotic coffee from my friends at Boardwalk Beans in New Jersey.

A few days ago, I discovered a paper on the quantum physics arXiv by two mathematical physicists from Izmar, Turkey (formerly known as "Smyrna") entitled "Kaleidoscope of Quantum Coherent States". These two researchers, Oktay Pashaev and Ayguy Koçak, had devised an infinite set of brand new breeds of Schrödinger Cats.

Schrödinger's Cat in bra-ket notation
In quantum mechanics it is commonplace for a system to be in a SUPERPOSITION of states. An (unmeasured) electron's spin, for instance, can simultaneously exist in a spin-up state |UP> and a spin-down state |DOWN>. When measured, however, the electron is always observed to be in one definite spin state. Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, shortly after he invented his famous quantum wave equation, argued that if unmeasured electrons could exist in two states at once, so could cats, and he devised a famous thought experiment in which an unobserved cat could, according to the laws of quantum physics, exist simultaneous as a live cat |ALIVE> and as a dead cat |DEAD>. Schrödinger's famous alive/dead cat conjecture has generated thousands of physics papers on the possible application of quantum superposition to macroscopic objects and numerous jokes, cartoons and T-shirts ("Schrödinger's Cat is a zombie" reads a T-shirt my neighbor Debi gave me for my birthday.).

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

A brief note on notation. When physicists write down their quantum equations, they commonly use the compact and powerful bra-ket notation devised by British physicist Paul Dirac. In Dirac notation, a quantum initial state A is symbolized by a ket symbol |A> and a quantum final state B by a bra symbol <B|. When multiplied together <B|A> represents the probability amplitude that a quantum system A will be measured to have property B. The probability (different from probability amplitude) that A will be measured to have property B is given by the absolute square of the quantity: <B|A>

As a rough example of this kind of physics talk, let the ket |p,p> represent the initial quantum state of two protons. Let transformation T represent the act of accelerating each of these protons to an energy of 6 Gev in CERN's Large Hadron Collider and nudging them into a head-on collision. And let the bra <H,a| represent the final state that contains a Higgs boson and anything else.

Then, in Dirac's concise notation:


represents a number that expresses the probability amplitude of observing a Higgs boson. Square this quantity to get the probability of observing a Higgs boson.

Dirac's simple notation tells you basically what's going on by concealing a ton of detailed math that you really don't want to know about.

So, using Dirac's bra-ket notation, the quantum state of Schrödinger's cat can be simply represented as:


Or, in a more picturesque description, as:

This is the picture one usual gets about Schrödinger's famous cat -- he's both dead PLUS alive.

Quantum mechanics, however, is more complicated than that, and allows for many more existential possibilities for this hapless quantum cat. Quantum mechanical superposition uses COMPLEX NUMBERS (which possess a direction: North, South, East, West,  for instance) as well as a magnitude. (Numbers that possess only magnitude but not direction -- the kind of numbers we use every day -- are called REAL NUMBERS).

Using the extra degrees of freedom provided by complex numbers, the |ALIVE> and |DEAD> states can be "added together" in an infinite number of ways. If we let the direction "East"  represent "+", then the direction "West" will represent "-". Using "West addition" to combine the two cat states we obtain what might be called a MINUS CAT KET.

Schrödinger's MINUS CAT KET, in pictures, might look like this:

In addition to the PLUS CAT state and the MINUS CAT state, the arithmetical freedom provided by complex numbers allows us to imagine NORTH CAT, SOUTH CAT and NNW CAT states. And, in fact, LIVE and DEAD cats may be added together along any conceivable compass direction.

Whether actual cats can be subjected to quantum superposition is still a matter of some controversy, but there does exist a class of macroscopic states of light that can be placed in a variety of quantum superpositions.

Today's physicists probably know more about light than about any other natural phenomenon. Starting with all the natural forms of electromagnetic radiation, we have created both in theory and in practice a large variety of "unnatural" forms of light, some of which were recently invented in this new paper by Pashaev and Koçak.

Pashaev and Koçak begin their work with a familiar quantum state of light |α> called the "Glauber State" after optical physicist Roy Glauber. The Glauber state is a quantum state (also called "coherent state", hence the title of P&K's paper) that most closely approximates a classical state of light, possessing Heisenberg uncertainty and photons (light quanta) which, however, the corresponding classical state of light does not.  The quantity "α" which labels the Glauber state is a complex number. The square of α represents the average number of photons in the Glauber state. And the direction of α (North, South, East or West) represents the location of the Glauber state in a flat space physicists call the "optical phase plane".

The larger the number α, the more photons in the Glauber state |α>. The special case of α =  0 represents no photons whatsoever, or the vacuum state. Many books could be written about the properties of |0>, the quantum vacuum state. "I've got plenty of nothing. And nothing's plenty for me." might well be the theme song of this particular Glauber state, a state that is completely empty of photons.

Prior to the P&K paper, the Optical Schrödinger Cat (OSC) was well known. It consisted of two states from which all other OSCs could be constructed: the PLUS OPTICAL CAT STATE

|plus optical cat state> = |α> + |-α>


|minus optical cat state> = |α> - |-α>

The heart of the Schrödinger Cat controversy concerns the question of how big a system can get before it becomes impossible to place it in a quantum superposition. Optical Schrödinger Cats are in a particularly fortunate position to investigate this question because the larger the number of photons in an optical S-Cat state, the "bigger" the state -- and the more it resembles a classical "cat". In the other direction, when α is small (close to 1 photon), the resulting optical states are sometimes referred to as "Schrödinger Kittens".

To construct their "Optical Cat Kaleidoscopes", the two Turks take advantage of the fact that both α and the coefficients multiplying the optical quantum states |α> are complex numbers -- that is, they possess direction as well as magnitude.

The well-known plus and minus optical cats may be considered "cats of order two (C2)." The first new cat in P&K's infinite series of kaleidoscopic cats may be labeled "cats of order three (C3)." Cats of order three are constructed by adding particular cats with different kinds of dead/aliveness along directions that are separated by 120 degrees (similar to the Mercedes emblem). A caricature of the P&K "three cat" might look like this:

Quantum optical trinity cats in Dirac ket notation.

Or, in keeping with the kaleidoscopic metaphor, C3 could look like this:

Three-fold kaleidoscopic optical Schrödinger's Cat (artist's conception)
Pashaev and Koçak go on to show how kaleidoscopic optical Schrödinger Cats of any order can be constructed, depending on which angle you tilt your mathematical mirrors. On its own terms, theirs is a simple but beautiful achievement of pure mathematics. But the authors go further and show how their kaleidoscopic optical cats may someday find a practical use in quantum computing -- each order of cat representing a different number of quantum bits. Thus, if I am not mistaken, the eighth-order cat (octopussy?) can encode eight quantum bits, the same byte size as the ancient Altair computer and many of its successors.

As a poetic reprieve from so much gratuitous quantum math, this may be a good place to quote British mystic William Blake from a letter to his friend Thomas Butts:

Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in supreme delight
And three-fold in soft Beulah's night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton's sleep.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Catechism Bath Hadith


Who is God?

God is the Supreme Being
Who made all things
And keeps them in existence.

Why did God make us?

God made us
To know, love and serve Him
In this world
And to be happy with Him
In the next.

To know Him?
Physics, mathematics,
Mysticism, ritual, drugs:
Trying to know God.

To love Him?
Now that's a hard one:
Can you simply decide
To love somebody?

Why did She make us?

Why did She bear us,
Supreme Mother all alone?

I was a Hidden Treasure
And desired to be known.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Red Fox
     (For Beverly before a breast exam)

To each creature who nurses
and bears its young alive

O bread-baking
lipstick-wearing kin of 
coyote, dolphin, leopard, ox
jaguar, weasel, whale, fox

May you be secure in your fur
In your flesh and its attachments
In the calcium and phosphorus
Of your bones

May you feed, sleep, breed
In season, as you please
Drinking deep of that sweet cup
Peculiar to your species.

O star-gazer
cotton-covered sister of
squirrel, oryx, ring-tailed cat
platypus, aardvark, vampire bat

May prey be abundant
Your teeth and muscles swift
Ears sharp, eyes clear
May your belly be full
Your blood hot and clairvoyant
May your mind be empty of fear

May every gash
                cut be healed
May your wounds make you wise.

And when words finally fail you
All your powers falter
May you flee as Joyful Prey
Before the great Eater of All.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


Doctor Jabir 'abd al-Khaliq

You didn't catch it on TV
K jumped straight out at you and me
Just when the world seemed bleakium.

Half-way between matter and the mind
Far outside the science grind
K connected us all to Unspeakium.

K followed the usual quantum math
But not by the usual quantum path --
Discovered in far Boulder Creekium.

Next morning after K was found
Men laid their lives upon the ground
And joined the new Hide-and-Seekium

To prospect for alchemic gold
In sites invisible to the old.

New glimpses of the Real are rare:
Khaliqium looks on Nature bare.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Nick's Chakras 2017

The seven classical chakras (after Sir John Woodroffe)

When I was in graduate school in the '60s studying for my PhD, I worked in an odd little book shop in Menlo Park called EastWest which eventually turned into the largest occult bookstore on the West Coast. I knew the owners well (the late Virginia and Bill Scharfman) and had unlimited access to books one could never find in a physics library, as well as daily commerce with the kinds of people who read and write such books. It was at EastWest (now under new ownership in Mountain View), along with Aleister Crowley, I Ching, Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Yogananda, Carlos Castañada and Seth; Manly P. Hall, Madame Blavatsky, soma, peyote, vril, od, blarney, ki, crystal balls and Tarot, that I first found out about the human body's alleged "chakra centers".

Sir John Woodroffe was a British High Court Judge in India who became fascinated with native religious culture and, under the romantic pen name of "Arthur Avalon", wrote several scholarly works about Hindu mysticism, chief of which is The Serpent Power which describes seven psychic centers in the human body ("chakras" or "wheels"). The "serpent power" starts its movement at the lowest root chakra located at the base of the spine, winds its way through each chakra in turn, then exits through the crown chakra at the top of the head, resulting in a powerful experience called "kundalini".

Or so I've read in books.

Fifty years later, one still runs across books picturing the same seven chakras exactly as illustrated in Arthur Avalon's classic tome.

Why, I wondered, has this curious field not evolved? There used to be only four elements; now there are more than one hundred. How about a twenty-first century update to Arthur Avalon's Serpent Power?

For several years I have been working on possible new additions to the conventional seven chakras -- one scheme featured as many as 68 chakras -- and have recently completed a new collection of chakras that mostly meets my criteria for a new system of body centers.

First: the new chakras must contain the old chakras as a subset. Second: the symbols must be graphically simple as well as suggestive of the body centers they represent. Third: each chakra should possess an "anti-chakra" (similar to an antiparticle in physics) whose symbol is the inverse (colorwise) of its partner chakra. Four: the number of chakras should be small enough to comprehend yet large enough to encompass the whole body in both its physical and (tentatively) its metaphysical aspects.

Since I know almost nothing about tantra except what I have read in books and gathered from a few private lessons passed on to me (sometimes inadvertently) by lovely tantrikas (Many thanks, sweet teachers of the way.), this project is bound to appear amateurish and crude. A more sophisticated version awaits someone more knowledgeable than me.

Nick's Chakras 2017

Here's the latest version (May 2017) of Nick's Chakras -- consisting of 24 chakras, each with its own anti-chakra or partner chakra arranged in four columns. From left to right, these columns represent: 1, Four Right Limb chakras; 2. Eight Classical chakras; 3. Eight Spinal chakras and 4. Four Left Limb chakras.

To get a sense of how this works, let's ignore the Limb chakras and begin at the bottom of the Classical chakra column that starts: "Moon, Root, Sex ..."

Skip the Moon chakra for the moment; it is a new addition. And start with the Root. This chakra represents what keeps us stable and secure: its symbol "X" could represent a surveyor's mark (or the anal sphincter, the body location most associated with the Root.) The Root's partner is the Brow which represents the power of cognition: its symbol, the plus sign, could represent mathematics.

The Sex chakra is represented by a vertical line, standing for phallus or yoni -- your choice. And Sex's partner is the Throat chakra whose vertical line could stand for vocal cords or lips.

Similarly the Belly chakra is viewed in martial arts as the physical center of gravity; while Belly's partner is the Heart, the center and origin of our emotional stability.

Next we come to the Crown chakra at the top of the head which represents our connection to the divine and to high inspiration. The Crown's partner is the Moon (my innovation) which connects us to the lower sources of life -- to the soil, to the sea and to our ancestors. I'm not sure where in the body to locate the Moon chakra -- whether under the soles of the feet, or at the nape of the neck where the spinal cord enters the bottom of the brain.

Now I hope you are beginning to see how this system works: a few simple symbols each paired with its "opposite" partner.

Let's progress to the top of the Spinal chakra column. And skip for the moment the chakra named Whole Body.

The second Spinal chakra is the Neck, an upward-pointing bar representing the cervical vertebrae. The Neck's partner is the Tail, a downward-pointing bar representing the tail bones (my cat has one of these that he can articulate but my Tail is vestigial and merely reminiscent of my animal origin).

The Thorax is partnered with the Sacrum, each a triangle whose base is connected to powerful limbs, and whose points meet in the small of the back at the Lumbar chakra.

The Lumbar symbol is saddle-shaped to indicate where a saddle would be placed if you were being ridden. Lumbar's partner is the Perineum which is where the saddle would fit if you were doing the riding. In Chinese esoteric systems of body points, the Perineum plays an inordinately important role.

To finish up the Spinal chakras, let's return to the Whole Body chakra at the top of the column. Whole Body means just what it says: being aware of my whole body, symbolized by a little five-limbed cartoon figure. The Whole Body's partner is Body Hole chakra which means being aware of everything that is NOT my body, that is, the whole Universe. I imagine this chakra as representing the entire Cosmos with a small Nick-shaped chunk taken out of it.

So what is this system good for? First of all, notice the cross shape. This arrangement forms a Tantric Crucifix on which to hang your own body, not for torture as in the classic Christian Crucifix, but for whatever bodies can be used for -- for sport, for science, for pleasure, for religion or for play. Nick's Tantric Crucifix visualizes the body in a new way for whatever ends you might want to imagine.

One of the nice things about the mind is its ability to pay attention to anything we choose. In particular we can pay attention to different parts of the body. Many parts of the body barely get any notice at all -- and then only when they're in pain -- while others get the lion's share of the Mind.

Nick's Chakras offers you a simple way to change all that.

When I'm trying to fall asleep or waiting at the dentist's office, I sometimes silently say a Tantric Rosary.

I usually begin with the Right Limb chakras. Even though there are only four of these chakras, each of them can be unpacked to produce a great deal more.

I begin the Tantric Rosary by paying attention to my Right Thumb, then Index Finger, etc and last of all my whole Right Hand. That's 6 hand chakras in one Hand symbol, to which you can pay successive attention.

Then move to the Arm chakra and do Wrist, Forearm, Elbow, Upper Arm and Shoulder Joint chakras, giving each of these locations some focused attention. That's 5 arm chakras packed in one Arm symbol.

Next move your mind to the Leg chakra, starting with the Hip Joint and give successive attention to each of the 5 chakras packed into this Leg symbol, ending with the Ankle Joint and progressing to the Foot chakra with its 6 sub-chakras, including each of your toes which for most of us have been starving for the slightest taste of your Mind.

After doing my Right Limb (22 chakras to pay attention to, but what else had you planned to do with this time?) I move on to my Left Limb and attend to its needy 22 chakras.

The awareness path you take through the remaining 16 Classical and Spinal chakras is up to you (as is all of this, of course) but a favorite of mine is to take these remaining chakras in pairs, starting with Moon and Crown chakras and divide my attention between them, just to see how it feels. Then I move pair-by-pair through both columns ending on Whole Body-Body Hole, feeling myself at last both as a complete body and as a part of the entire Universe.

The Body of the Universe: nice place to end up after innocently paying attention just to my Right Thumb. And, because consciousness is invisible, nobody even knows I'm doing this!

Much of the time I fall asleep before finishing the Rosary, or I get distracted. Or the dentist calls me in to give some professional attention to a Nick-neglected body part not yet symbolized by a chakra.

Happy May Day, my friends. Mind your body. It's the only one you got.

May Day 2017

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

All is Mind: Matter is an Illusion

Bernardo Kastrup, Dutch Philosopher (Veldhoven, NL)

Esse est percipi. (To be is to be perceived): A thing exists only if it is perceived.
    -- George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland

And God-appointed Berkeley that proved all things a dream,
That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its
farrow that so solid seem,
Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme.
    —William Butler Yeats, Blood and the Moon

For a time I totally believed that the world is made entirely of Mind.
Then the acid wore off.
    -- Nick Herbert

There is only universal consciousness. We, as well as all other living organisms, are but dissociated alters of universal consciousness, surrounded like islands by the ocean of its thoughts. The inanimate universe we see around us is the extrinsic appearance of these thoughts. The living organisms that we share the world with are the extrinsic appearances of other dissociated alters of universal consciousness. 
    -- Bernardo Kastrup

Recently Dutch philosopher Bernardo Kastrup published a book Why Materialism is Baloney criticizing the dominant "theology" of our time, namely that everything (minds included) is made out of matter. The prime doctrine of the First Church of Materialism was first set down by Democritus of Abdera (around 500 BC):

Nothing exists but atoms and empty space: all else is opinion. 

In the following millennia, natural philosophers have immensely expanded Democritus's ontology by getting more specific concerning the nature of "atoms" (we now call them "quarks and "leptons") and the forces that govern their motion and transformation (modern jargon for these forces is "vector bosons"). The immense success of modern physics at every scale from photon to galactic cluster is a powerful argument for the Democritean ontology. The undeniable existence of conscious experience is the only fly in the Democritian ointment. To explain the entire world, does Mind have to be added as an extra ingredient to the list of what exists (mind-matter dualism = Dualism)? Or will physics someday explain Mind as a particularly complex arrangement of atoms (matter monism = Materialism)?

The usual tactic of the antiMaterialist heretic is to argue that Mind can never be explained by mere physical brain processes because consciousness is 1. intrinsically OTHER than matter and 2. can do things (classified broadly as parapsychology) that are impossible for matter to do. Edward and Emily Kelly's book Irreducible Mind is a giant encyclopedia of things supposedly difficult or impossible for matter to accomplish.

AntiMaterialist Bernardo Kastrup takes an radically different, audacious and utterly preposterous approach by 1. denying the existence of Matter entirely and 2. arguing that everything is made of mind.

Kastrup's bold position is called idealism, a philosophy associated with Bishop Berkeley (1685 - 1753) and epitomized by his phrase:

All those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind, that their being is to be perceived.

 Kastrup recently published an 18-page paper describing his idealistic ontology which I was tempted to dismiss out of hand on the grounds that mind-only views such as Berkeley's are utterly preposterous. But as I looked further into Kastrup's paper, I realized that he was playing by the rules, lining up his premises and assumptions and attempting to put forth a coherent and persuasive argument for his preposterous model of reality. This is a show worth watching, I thought! How is this guy going to logically demolish "all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world" and how is he going to replace every single one of them with mere thought?

BK's first postulate is that the fundamental reality is "That which experiences" (TWE). That is all there is -- and all that there ever was and will be. We might as well call TWE by the name "God", but this primal reality is immensely larger than any God we mere humans could ever conceive.

Next there exist parts of this unitary reality that have separated themselves off from TWE and are somewhat independent of Big Reality. We can designate these Reality Rebels (which include ourselves and all other conscious beings) as "twe" (lower case). We like God are also "that which experiences" but our experiences are rather small.

A part of God that has separated from the Whole.
I'm beginning to like this metaphysics. According to Kastrup, we are all "Shards of God", in the words of Fug/poet Ed Sanders. Shards like us have two modes of perception: inner and outer. We are directly aware of some of our inner thought processes and indirectly aware of the outer world through membrane-mediated external thoughts.

Because we have separated ourselves from the Mind of God, we are mercifully unaware of the Supreme Diety's massively complex thought processes but perceive God dimly and indirectly as "the physical world". In Kastrup's view the physical world appears to us Reality Rebels as "the Body of God". And we perceive our fellow "shards of God" as those parts of the physical world that behave like physical beings with consciousness.

But what does it mean to perceive "the external appearance" of God and the "external appearance" of fellow shards? If we have truly separated ourselves from divinity, why do we perceive anything "external" at all?

And here we come to the most crucial point in Kastrup's philosophy. (We must be constantly aware that this guy is performing a philosophically dangerous high-wire act without a net and try to give him lots of support.) The separated shard is in a desperate position. If he separates completely from Reality, he ends up in a boring prison of solipsism. On the other hand, if he connects fully with Reality, his little personal twe dissolves into the universal sea of Supreme TWE.

Kalstrup's solution: the shard surrounds himself with a protective membrane of Minds That Lie (MTL). The sole function of a Mind That Lies is to take one thought and turn it into another. Once surrounded by this Decepticon Shield, the shard no longer experiences Reality-as-it-is, but merely a particular Representation of Reality. Kastrup calls this necessary shard-protective membrane the "Markov Blanket". And this Blanket's the weakest link in his argument.

How the world might look, information-wise, from inside a human-size Markov Blanket
For just as Kastrup points out that the weakest link in materialism is its failure to deliver a materialist model of Mind, the weakest link in Kastrup's philosophy is his failure to produce an idealist model of matter. Kastrup's magical Markov Blanket must manifest a lot of solid marvels out of purely mental material. It must produce, for instance, the very notion of "a simple material object" -- that exists by itself whether anyone is thinking of it or not. (To be fair, quantum theory possesses a similar weak link in its inability to clearly characterize the notion of "a macroscopic measuring instrument".) 

Materialists can't explain Mind. Idealists can't explain Matter.

A landmark achievement of Kastrupian philosophy would be to demonstrate from purely mental arguments (presumably including specific Markov Blankets made of Minds That Lie) why we seem to live in a physical space consisting of three spatial and one time dimension with a Minkowski metric. 

Kastrup's imaginative philosophy is entertaining and leads one into unconventional ways of thinking about the world. But always the proof is in the pudding. A truly successful model of reality should provide us entirely novel human experiences -- marvelous new experiences that were previously inconceivable. Yes.

Gentleman and ladies, start your engines. May the best reality win.

God wakes up and realizes the whole thing was a really bad dream.
Illustration by Sligo, Ireland artist Annie West, famous for her satirical cartoons of Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire

Nick meets a Luck Wave (design by August O'Connor)

I have spent more than a third of my life speculating (with congenial physicist friends) about what quantum mechanics might actually mean -- and have even written a book about it. The gist of the quantum dilemma is that we have a Quantum Theory that successfully predicts the results of every physical measurement. But with this theory comes an utter inability to tell a plausible story about what's really going on in the world -- both before, during and after a measurement. Physicists today possess an essentially perfect Quantum Theory, know how to experimentally produce subtle and delicate Quantum Facts, but cannot convincingly tell their kids a Quantum Reality story that adequately explains both Quantum Theory and Quantum Facts.

Many words concerning quantum reality were exchanged by quantum theory's founders -- especially Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr -- but not much progress was made until the remarkable discovery of Irish physicist John Stewart Bell who formulated an experimental test that could confidently eliminate an entire class of quantum reality models. Not only is it rare for physicists (or anybody else) to TALK ABOUT REALITY, it is even rarer (such was the importance of Bell's discovery) to come up with EXPERIMENTS ON REALITY. Consequently, Bell's original 1964 paper has become one of the most-cited publications in physics.

Bell's original experiment involved TWO ENTANGLED PHOTONS -- one sent to Alice and one to Bob. About this setup, quantum theory says two seemingly contradictory things: 1. that the quantum state of Bob's photon depends instantly (faster-than-light) on Alice's choice of what to measure; 2. that this apparent instantaneous action can never be used for signaling.

The physics jargon for instantaneous voodoo-like connections is the word "non-local". Non-local effects (either in theory or in practice) are as welcome in physics as a corpse at a wedding feast.

So before Bell came along, the theory of entangled systems was manifestly non-local (BAD!), but the same theory also assured that no experiment would ever be able to directly reveal this non-locality (GOOD!).

So quantum theory of entangled systems is NON-LOCAL: But all quantum facts are LOCAL.

What about quantum reality -- the underlying causal dynamics behind both theory and fact? Do we live in a world that's deep-down linked by abominable (to the physicist) non-local connections? Or is quantum reality nicely local, just like the quantum facts?

Bell's surprising conclusion (a powerful mathematical proof, not a mere conjecture) is that no local reality can underlie this everywhere local world.

Quantum reality must be non-local, according to Bell's proof.

To a physicist, Bell's conclusion is preposterous and must certainly be wrong. My first entry into the Bell's Theorem game was an attempt to disprove John Bell. Which ended in my formulating the world's shortest proof for the non-local nature of quantum reality.

Bell's Theorem is so simple that it is difficult to find a flaw. But Bell's greatest weakness can be summed up in the dichotomy: if reality exists, then it must be non-local; but if you DENY REALITY, then you are let off the hook.

But what could "denying reality" possibly mean?

One innocent (but crucial) assumption in Bell's proof is called "contrafactual definiteness" (or CFD, for short).

When you do the Bell experiment on a single pair of entangled photons, both Alice and Bob can set their detectors at only ONE SETTING. But to prove BT, you need to consider the possible results of FOUR SETTINGS. Four settings for the same two-photon event.

CFD assumes that: if we had performed three other measurements -- other than the actual one -- we would have gotten three definite (but unknown) results.

But if the nature of the quantum world is such that CFD is not valid, then you can't prove Bell's theorem. In fact, in a non-CFD world, you cannot even formulate Bell's theorem.

A recent paper by Gerold Gründler from Nürnberg, Germany, (What Does Bell's Inequality Actually Prove?) analyzes a few ways of "denying reality" by postulating (and perhaps even proving -- I am not sure) that we live in a world which does not support CFD. Gründler revisits and revises an earlier work by Israeli physicist, the late Asher Peres, entitled Unperformed Experiments Have No Results (3 page pdf).

Peres's paper suggests that we might live in a world where Unperformed Experiments Have No Results. But what are the details of such a world? How does it actually work?

What would it be like to live in a world where CFD is inconceivable?

Here's one attempt to visualize such a world.

Our thinking about the classical world is dominated by movies. It is easy to imagine rewinding the film, changing only one thing, then doing an (imaginary) retake. Certainly this cinematic model of reality allows us to at least imagine what the results of Unperformed Experiments might look like.

We can even add quantum randomness to the picture by allowing some features of the scene to depend on pure chance. Imagine filming a gambling table -- each reshoot, even of the same game, will give definite but different outcomes -- outcomes that are governed by statistical laws -- analogous to the probabilistic outcomes predicted by quantum mechanics. Bell's Theorem can be proved in a world like this -- a world of definite but statistically determined results.

To move into a non-CFD world, consider the case of a single Uranium atom. Physics considers all Uranium atoms to be EXACTLY THE SAME. Yet this one decayed in one second, while its identical sister is still alive after a million years. The first atom's short life is not due to some defect in its constitution. That's just the way the quantum world works -- identical quantum objects behave differently -- FOR NO REASON AT ALL.

Now consider how the movie analogy might work in a fully quantum world. We rewind the film, KEEP EVERYTHING THE SAME. Then change just one setting and reshoot the experiment.

Keeping everything the same is easy in a quantum world: every photon, electron, quark has always been just the same as every other. But the big problem is that each particle in the universe now behaves differently than in the first take -- giving rise to an entirely different universe -- a universe in which not only does the camera not exist, but the cameraman, the human species, and all life on Earth have vanished. In this second take on our present quantum reality the familiar Earth has no doubt disappeared as well.

As Heraclitus warned, you cannot step twice into the same river, because the river is never the same.

Might an Asher-Peres world in which Unperformed Experiments Have No Results be "hyper-Heraclitean" in the sense that in this kind of quantum reality even the same river is not the same river? In fact this river revisited second time round might not even be a river at all but the insides of a black hole.

Trying to visualize quantum worlds in which CFD is inconceivable might push us to think more deeply not only about fully quantum concepts such as "superposition", "entanglement" and "wave/particle duality" but also to revise our old-fashioned assumptions about everyday classical concepts such as "same", "different", "spontaneity" and even how to correctly use the word "again" when it comes to properly refilming in our imagination the very same event that has already happened once.

We house-broke quantum reality
Trained Schrödinger's Cat to purr
Now daily life's more uncanny
Than atoms ever were.

Asher Peres, who titled his bio "The cat who walks by himself", played a vital part in publicizing the role both he and myself played in the discovery of the quantum "no cloning rule". (How the no-cloning theorem got its name.) which eventually inspired MIT professor David Kaiser to write his popular science history book: How the Hippies Saved Physics. In addition to his pioneering work in quantum information theory, Asher Peres will probably be remembered most as a member of the team of six people who devised the remarkably clever Quantum Teleportation process.

The title of this post was taken from Gerard Manley Hopkins's splendid poem: That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection.

Asher Peres (bottom right) and his five buddies who invented Quantum Teleportation

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Xian Yao (Immortality Elixir)

Nick seeks the Elixir

At winter's end
Residing in Santa Cruz County
In year of Cassini's plunge into Saturn
My physician prescribes
Yang Forest Amber
For melancholy.

One taste:
My pains recede
Like morning mist
Upon Two Bar Creek.

Two taste:
My sluggish brain dissolves
Pops, prances, flies like sparrow.
I grow sly, wise
Observant as a child.

Three taste:
I rise to heaven as music
I sing to my supper, laugh at my woes.
Wellness flooding my being
Overflowing my banks

I cry:
Doctor, Doctor
No more medicine please.
Three taste make me
One with the Immortals.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Natura Naturans

Nick & Onyx (iPad 3 front camera; available light)

The other night on ecstasy
God the Father spoke to me:

Do you covet Natura Naturans?
I really hope you do.
I fell in love with Her myself
When time and space were new.

Out of inexplicable nothingness
I struck the primal spark.
I barely knew what I was doing.
I was working in the dark.

Do you covet Natura Naturans?
I really hope you do.
I fell in love with my own creation
When time and space were new.

So please hear, see, smell and taste Her
Caress Her Highness dusk to dawn
With new quantum senses She will teach you
When you get your mojo on.

Do you covet Natura Naturans?
I really hope you do.
I fell in love with Her myself
When time and space were new.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nick Destroys an iPad

iPad3 on the operating table
I've been enjoying an iPad3 that a friend who works at Apple gave me -- especially the Sky Guide astronomy app for locating stars, planets and deep sky objects. And it's also great for reading eBooks and pdfs in bed. Recently the touch screen has been failing to respond so I traveled to the Apple Church in Los Gatos and found that it would be very expensive to repair compared to simply buying a new one.

So I decided to try to fix it myself. The Apple Father Confessor said I needed a new "digitizer" which is a fancy word for the touch-sensitive front screen.

It's not easy to take apart an iPad. No screws. The two halves of the clam-shell case are held together with a heat-sensitive glue.

Fortunately a company called iFixit sells a kit for opening an iPad and doing simple repairs. The key item in the kit is a black sausage-shaped plastic sack of liquid which iFixit cutely calls an "iOpener". You put this sack in a microwave oven for 30 seconds, then use it to soften the glue around the edges of the iPad. Then you slowly pry open the case with the help of a half-dozen green guitar picks and a few more specialized plastic prying tools.

I bought a new digitizer and watched a repair movie on YouTube several times until I thought I knew what I was doing.

Looked pretty simple. After backing up my iPad''s memory to iTunes,  I only needed to 1: Open the case. 2: Unplug and remove the LCD (liquid crystal display). 3: Unplug and remove the damaged digitizer.

4: Plug in the new digitizer. 5: Plug in the LCD. 6: Reseal the case and enjoy my new iPad. How could anything go wrong?

Opened iPad. LCD on left; new digitizer on right
Opening the iPad was a lot easier than I expected (that iOpener really works). An important feature of the repair kit is a well-crafted set of screw drivers that you won't find at your local hardware store; and that are absolutely essential once the case is opened. The drivers include three very small Phillips bits, size 0, 00 and 000. The smallest 000 size was perfect for removing the LCD (which covers up all the connectors). The drivers also include a magnet for retrieving tiny screws as well as the fabled pentalobe driver used by Apple to make its products difficult to repair. For the iPad there was no need to deploy the magic pentalobe driver, but if I ever get my hands on an old iPhone, that driver will come in handy.

Everything came apart easily. Inside the iPad it's mostly batteries -- three big black flat rectangles that take up most of the space.  

Now to put everything back together again.

The digitizer cable has two parts which plug into two adjacent FFC (Flat Flexible Connector) sockets which I have labeled D1 and D2. These sockets are a type of connector called ZIF (for Zero Insertion Force). To remove the cable, you lift a latch which frees it; after inserting the cable (presumably with zero force) you lower the latch to lock the cable in place. The latches can be snapped open or closed with a flat plastic spatula included in the repair kit. 

The LCD cable also plugs into a FFC socket which I have labeled L1. This socket is also a Zero Insertion Force connector with a latch/unlatch mechanism identical to that of the two digitizer sockets.

Open iPad showing three flat cable sockets D1, D2 and L1
Now my trouble began. The digitizer cable plugged easily into socket D1 but would not go into socket D2. The D2 latch was snapped open but the cable only went in partway, as though the latch was actually closed. I pushed all sorts of small plastic slivers, including part of a credit card, into socket D2, trying unsuccessfully to pry it open.

As a last resort, I decided to push the cable into D2 as far as it would go and anchor it with a bit of duct tape. Since half of the flat digitizer cable was already latched in socket D1, perhaps this desperate measure might work. I also figured that maybe I never needed a new digitizer in the first place but my problem might have been due to a bad D2 socket.

With the digitizer cable fastened as securely as I could manage, I moved on to the task of plugging in the LCD screen.

Closeup of the digitizer sockets (D1 and D2) and the LCD socket (L1)
Unlatching socket L1, I pushed the LCD cable in as far as it would go. Definitely not zero force, but with a bit of effort I was able to get the cable into its socket almost as far as the white "water line" printed on the cable that indicates full insertion.

Then the socket broke.

And scattered lots of tiny gold-plated pins across the circuit board. If you look closely at the L1 connector, you can see that it is missing 6 or 7 of its little golden pins.

Whoops! Now I had converted my sophisticated iPad tablet computer into an inert lump of eJunk. The fault was in the so-called Zero-Insertion-Force connectors. Neither socket D2 nor socket L1 had behaved as I had been led to expect. Was this due to my own incompetence? Or were those sockets on the edge of failure from the start? One friend speculated that these sockets are cheaply designed for easy assembly only -- and are not expected to be reused. My guess is that quality control is very bad on these connectors and I had simply drawn two deuces in the iPad repair lottery. In any case, I had learned a lot about what's inside an Apple tablet computer and consoled myself with physicist Niels Bohr's famous saying that an expert in a field is someone who's made every possible mistake. Towards becoming an expert on iPads, I had taken the first few steps.

However three other things that happened this week more than made up for my fixit failure.

Number One: My friend KSCO radio host Dr Future gave his wife Mrs Future a new iPad for her birthday. Then dear Mrs Future kindly passed her old iPad on to me. Thank you Allan and Sun Lundell for this timely and generous gift.

Number Two: Artist, author, philosopher Michael Grosso posted on his Consciousness Unbound blog an over-the-top review of Harlot Nature, my latest book of quantum tantric verse. Thanks, Michael, for your very appreciative review of my work.

Number Three: I just found out that this year's  Kanamara Matsuri Festival of the Iron Penis will take place on Sunday, April 2, 2017. If you are traveling in Japan next week, you may want to include this unusual event in your schedule.

In the city of Kanayama, the male phallus is honored on this day in many shapes and sizes. How did this festival come about?

One story tells of a demon who fell in love with a woman and hid inside her vagina, biting off her newlywed husband’s penis, twice. She then sought help from a blacksmith, who made her a metal phallus. It broke the demon’s teeth and sent him off for good. They later enshrined it in Kanayama Shrine as a sort of commemoration.

I won't be traveling to Japan next week, but here's my humble contribution to the iron penis festivities:

Kanayama wife, instead of a locket,
Kept a demon inside her soft pocket
When inside her you slip
He will bite off your tip --
Not a Zero-Insertion-Force socket!

Festival of the Iron Penis, Kanayama, Japan