Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quantum Assimilation: Resistance is Futile

Mark & Heinz Pagels circa 1980
In Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature, his best-selling quantum theory book, physicist Heinz Pagels explains how an alien intelligence has entered the human world and is beginning to reprogram our culture according to its own inhuman logic. Here I excerpt from his Cosmic Code a segment in which Professor Pagels foresees our inevitable quantum assimilation.

"I think the universe is a message written in code, a cosmic code, and the scientist's job is to decipher that code.

If we accept the idea that the universe is a book read by scientists, then we ought to examine how reading this book influences civilization. Scientists have unleashed a new force into our social, political and economic development--perhaps the major force. What distinguishes this new knowledge is that its source lies outside of human institutions--it comes from the material universe itself. By contrast, literature, art, the law, politics, and even the methods of science have been invented by us. But we did not invent the universe.

In 1965 I was walking through the Boston Commons with friends and met an elderly woman with bright and lively eyes. She was wearing a homemade dress. A poet, she belonged to a small community which rejected the use of machines. The woman told me that her small group saw the human spirit as corrupted by modern life and by technology. She explained that a demonic spirit had come upon this earth about three hundred years ago, a spirit inimical to humanity, which it set out to destroy. The malevolence began when the best minds were captured. The conquest was all but complete, she said, only a few held firm against the final fall. I thought of William Blake, another poet, lamenting Newton's blindness.

The woman asked me what I did, and when I said I was a physicist I was greeted by a look of horror. I was one of "them", the enemy. I felt a chasm open between us.

Some years later I spoke to a mentally disturbed young man. Very agitatedly, he described to me how alien beings from outer space had invaded the earth. They were formed of mental substance, lived in human minds, and controlled human beings through the creations of science and technology. Eventually this alien being would have an autonomous existence in the form of giant computers and would no longer require humans [as hosts.] Soon he was hospitalized because he was unable to shake off this terrible vision.

The old poet and the young man are correct, in their perception that science and technology come from "outside" the realm of human experience. They were sensitive to this perception in a way that most of us suppress. What is outside of us is the universe as a material revelation, the message that I call the cosmic code and that is now programming human social and economic development. What may be perceived as threatening in this alien contact is that scientists, in reading the cosmic code, have entered into the invisible structures of the universe. By the nature of the phenomena it studies, science has become increasingly abstract. The cosmic code has become invisible. The unseen is influencing the seen."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Transcendent Sex

Jeffrey Kripal & Nick Herbert, Esalen Lodge, July 2010
Jeffrey Kripal is the chairman of the religious studies department of Rice University in Houston, author of many books including a study of sexual mysticism in the world's major religions and an official history of Esalen Institute construed as a center for the development of "Western Tantra". Because so many of our interests coincide I had been corresponding with Jeffrey but we have never met.

For almost 50 years Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA has been at the forefront of new developments in psychology, bodywork, arts and science. Founded in the early 60s by Michael Murphy and Dick Price, Esalen, on account of its many daring and pathbreaking programs, might be considered a Large Hadron Collider of the human spirit. I was first introduced to Esalen by a Stanford classmate, who invited me to visit the grounds before Esalen had begun, to hear a talk by Mike Murphy's teacher Frederic Spiegelberg about his 5 second "psychic X-ray" by the Indian mystic Shri Aurobindo. I immediately fell in love with the place and its people and have returned many times since as student, teacher and guest.

For the month of July, Jeffrey Kripal and his wife have been in residence at Esalen leading a course for work scholars called Sex of the Spirit and generously offered a day at the Institute to me and a female companion. Lots of things are happening at Esalen this year. Michael Murphy is turning 80, Anna Halprin, legendary San Francisco dancer is turning 90 and leading a workshop there this month. And the day I decided to accept Jeffrey's offer, he was also awaiting the arrival of Dr Jenny Wade, the author of Transcendent Sex, When Lovemaking Opens the Veil, a study of 91 people who were swept away into drastically altered states just by "doin' it."

Meeting in the Esalen lodge, Jeffrey and I shared our "origin stories" and inspired others at the lunch table to contribute their own experiences revolving around sex, religion and other human passions. Lots of laughter ensued. The Esalen cuisine, always a delight, was crowned by a thick soup made of curry, coconut and sweet yams.

Then I asked Jeffrey to treat us a to tour of the Esalen grounds as seen thru the eyes of its official biographer. We began at Fritz Perls's old house, walked past the newly erected stage for the Esalen International Arts Festival, walked thru the spectacular Esalen gardens where much of the food we had just consumed had been grown, visited the George Leonard Memorial Dance Pavilion. Then we passed thru an iron gate which Jeffrey had never seen before which was made in the shape of a human face and unlatched by moving a lever which removed the figure's tongue from a narrow slot. We toured the children's Gazebo, the Art Barn, the Big House (where I had participated in so many quantum physics seminars in the 70s and 80s) and the Meditation Hut spanning Hot Springs Creek. We were interrupted on the waterfall path by a woman who questioned Jeffrey about a cow-headed goddess she had encountered the night before in a dream. In the middle of the lawn my companion and I leprechaun-blessed the grounds with a medley of Irish tunes accompanied by the squawks of a dozen sea lions from a small offshore island.

After Jeffrey left to welcome the author of Transcendent Sex, my companion and I descended the cliffside path to experience the Esalen hot sulfur baths. After being destroyed by slides in 1998, Esalen's famous old concrete baths are being rebuilt with a strikingly modern aesthetic suggestive both of ancient Roman baths and Art Deco pleasure domes. Disrobing, showering in view of the Pacific, slipping into the hot tub, silent massages going on around us, we wordlessly merged with the light, the air, the water and one another's presence. Home at last!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

JAMES P. HOGAN (1941-2010)

photo by Reno De Caro

James P. Hogan was a successful science fiction writer whose plots feature hard science extrapolated into the past or future. Like Robert Heinlein, Hogan could spin a good yarn. Tho big and burly as a wrestler, Jim was a softie at heart--a true romantic: many of his stories mine the perennial theme of a smart, warm and handsome couple bravely struggling against the power of the evil establishment, in the manner of Bogart and Bacall, Mulder and Scully, Nick and Nora Charles, Romeo and Juliet. Except in Hogan's tales, one or both of his protagonists is likely to have a PhD after her name. Hogan is most famous for his "Giants" series of novels which hypothesize an extraterrestrial origin for mankind.

Jim Hogan lived on a farm in Sligo, the birthplace of another famous Irishman, William Butler Yeats. When not working at his computer, Jim kept himself in shape, he said, by hauling rocks around his farm. He'd heard all the gloom and doom scenarios, but, cheerful and optimistic, Jim was placing his bet on mankind to prevail, as it had done so often in the past, against the Ice Age, against the Viking and Mongol hordes, against the Black Death. Against the gloomers, James P. Hogan laughingly cast his vote for human freedom and for limitless human possibility.

In addition to his science fiction, Hogan was a prolific writer of essays on controversial subjects where he would invariably defend the less popular side. On his website he published articles against global warming, in favor of intelligent design, arguments in favor of an Electrical Universe rather than one purely gravitational. Hell, Jim Hogan even questioned the Big Bang! His essays on controversial topics are always well-reasoned, and free from name-calling. Jim Hogan was tough and passionate in debate but he never resorted to insult. One can read the essays of this intelligent, pugnacious Irishman on his site's Bulletin Board, check out his science fiction works or browse his favorite controversial books in the Heretics Bookshelf.

Jim was a maverick, an independent thinker and a champion of the underdog. He was continually rushing to the ramparts to defend unpopular causes and unpopular people, writing letters to the German Embassy, for instance, protesting Germany's imprisonment of writer Ernst Zündel for expressing "forbidden ideas" in print. Jim's favorite slogan, which he claimed to be a famous Irish rallying cry, was: "Now is the time for the futile gesture!"

It was my good fortune to know and share time with James P. Hogan during the last three years of his life.

Jim Hogan was a bold and courageous man holding high principles such as few possess in these fearful and cowardly times. No more fitting eulogy for the Hogan spirit than Shakespeare's:

This was the noblest Roman of them all:
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world "This was a man!"

Ave atque vale, James P. Hogan. Farewell, my friend.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Going Dutch

Luc Sala 50 Jaaren

Ten years ago, during the waning days of the 20th Century, I traveled to Amsterdam with Al and Sun to celebrate the 50th birthday of Luc Sala, Amsterdam businessman, psychedelic visionary, candidate for the Euro Senate and provocative television producer. I was surprised to see so many canals--this city is rightly celebrated as the Venice of the North--and beautiful old buildings. People had recommended that I visit Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum to see the Rembrandts and Van Goghs but for me experiencing Amsterdam itself, especially at night, was worth a dozen museums. The city is compact and easy to navigate, bounded on the North by the River IJ (pronounced "eye") on which sits Central Station where trains, subways and trams converge. Central Station is near the site of the famous dam on the Amstal River that gave Amsterdam its name.

Centered on Central Station, a series of semi-circular canals of increasing radius cut the city into C-shaped ribbons full of churches, houses, shops, plazas, public buildings, the whole symmetric pattern criss-crossed with numerous bridges. The Dutch are as serious about their pleasures as their work--a nation of rational hedonists. Amsterdam has a boisterous night life and in the early morning hours groups of people can still be seen rushing about in the streets even in parts of the city far from the entertainment district.
Hub of city's transportation web

Coming from America which enforces a different brand of liberty than the Dutch, I was naturally curious about Amsterdam's legendary "coffee shops" where adults supposedly can purchase and consume marijuana and hashish without fear of arrest. A tourist newspaper published by the comedy club Boom Chicago gives the straight dope on Amsterdam's coffee shops here.

I wanted to tour as many coffee shops as possible to get a feeling for how people behaved when they could freely consume as much cannabis as they pleased. Alas, I only had 10 days to spend in Amsterdam and the city held out so many other temptations that I was only able to inspect one shop, The Blue Bird (thank you, Katerina Oetjens), on the edge of the Red Light district, where I bought a big chunk of hashish without being arrested. I was curious about the percentage of people who smoke marijuana in a nation where it's legal compared to the percentage of folks who smoke it in countries that pay cops to arrest you for smoking it. My first observation was that The Blue Bird in the afternoon was not particularly busy--people were not crowding into its doors to get high.

Luc Sala's birthday party was held in his TV studio and because of the delicacy of camera lenses, a strict no-smoking rule was enforced. Anyone who wanted to smoke, whether tobacco or marijuana, had to retreat to the stairwells of the narrow multistory building. To get some idea of the percentage of pot smokers among sophisticated Dutch adults I too went outside and toked up (for the sake of science) "the Dutch way", mixing tobacco and marijuana in the same joint. From this one-time survey I estimated that about 10% of the people at Luc's party smoked pot. The rest merrily chose to alter their consciousnesses with various ethyl alcohol concoctions while a surprisingly large number consumed bottled water and soft drinks.

To me it seemed that the percentage of people that smoke pot in Amsterdam is roughly the same as in the USA. By far the most popular intoxicant in the Venice of the North is ethyl alcohol. I shared my estimate with Luc Sala and he concurred. Most people in Amsterdam don't smoke pot, he surmised, because they consider it lower-class.

Here is a real paradox, it seems to me, for sociologists to ponder. The Dutch legalize pot and through taxation derive from it a considerable revenue. America criminalizes pot and spends billions on law enforcement and prisons. And the result: In both countries about the same percentage of people use marijuana.

Another paradox: I was talking to some young Americans about drugs and asked them what was the first drug they used. Marijuana, of course. Why marijuana? I asked. Why not beer or wine? Because you don't need an ID to buy pot.
Nick and Al wading in the NORTH SEA near THE HAGUE

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Betsy!

Betsy Rose Rasumny Herbert (1938-2002)


Today Betsy would have been seventy-two, probably still dancing and mixing it up with children, midwives, teachers, poets, physicists and politicians. All her life Betsy taught and studied dance including a stint in the 60s with Anna Halprin's Dancer's Workshop in San Francisco. (Anna herself will be 90 in a few days and is also still dancing.) For Betsy, dance was more than graceful movement, was the practice of being fully present in the moment. And for monkey-mind Nick, this was one of her greatest teachings. Taking a walk with a fully-present being like my wife was like taking a drug: everything seeming brighter, more alive and engaging. Like the rest of us, Betsy had her ups and downs but her striving was always to experience the world fully and to MOVE!

In the 80s, while I was giving physics workshops and seminars at Esalen Institute, Betsy was connecting with the Big Sur women: cooks, masseuses, dancers, workshop leaders, midwives. Betsy once helped deliver a baby in the "waterfall house" on Hot Springs Creek in the middle of the Esalen grounds. Lately I've been looking over Betsy's journals and discovered this account of our trip to Esalen from Boulder Creek in August of 1983 with Heinz and Elaine Pagels. Because slides had closed the north coast road, we had to take the "back way".


In residence in Mike and Dulce's room for the weekend, Nick and Heinz giving physics workshop together. Elaine glad to be "on vacation" and doing beautifully with Mark. We left Boulder Creek at 7 AM yesterday, traveling thru the farmlands of Watsonville and Salinas, watching pickers in the fields. I thought of Aunt Ida and David, fulfilling dreams of being California migrant workers in the mid-forties. How different this must have looked then. Please, please, Earth spirits, keep Watsonville from being plowed under.

From Salinas south on bumpy travel-worn 101 we go in and out of fog, that thick greyness that makes you think you are on another planet. Khola is struck by the poorness of the towns--Gonzales, Greenfield, Soledad. By 9 o'clock we are hungry and eager to reach King City. I am expecting another dismal collection of buildings and am pleasantly surprised by the liveliness and color of the City of the King, as they call it. We hunt all over for a hometown cafe' and finally find it, tucked away at the far end of Broadway. Locals and a few travelers are breakfasting. We enjoy our meal, a little dazed by being what seems so far from home so early in the day. Full of sausage, eggs, pancakes, we make ready for the 2nd leg of our journey.

Nick gases up the car while Khola and I explore the A-1 Market, run by a Chinese grandma and her Mexican son-in-law, each misunderstanding most of our English. We circle once more around King City, say a fond goodbye, and head back north briefly on 101 for our take-off point, Jolon Road. Khola navigates from the back seat with the Esalen driving instruction sheet.

First 10 miles are thru farm land with rolling hills. Then we start into country which reminds Heinz of Africa, a sparsely planted oak forest, small plains and knobby hills. This goes on into Jolon, which seems to be a ghost town in a stage of renovation. Here we enter the Liggett military reservation, more of the same terrain with strange vibes. Barbed-wire fence and signs: Training Area 11. 12, 13, etc. No sign of the military, tho later Charles sez he saw them and folks said the road was closed for 2 hours due to a maneuver.

We cross over into Los Padres National Forest where the road is joined by a small stream running alongside. We stop to stretch and drink. Soon we are at the summit and then we start our descent to the ocean. The road is endlessly long and curvy. And the views of the Pacific are more breath-taking than along Highway 1...


I want to dance
All over the place.
Move every molecule
Of well-built me.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Cosmic Rape

Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985)

At a conference called "The Whys of Life" in Ben Lomond, I met a precocious 17-year-old boy whose goal in life was to be a "philosopher". When I asked him what he meant by philosophy he replied: "the art of being at home in the world." Today's world, like it or not, is dominated not by religion as in the past but by science and technology. Humans have changed the world thru their thinking but human nature has hardly changed at all. How will human nature make its home in a world altered and expanded by fantastic technologies? One could argue that today's boldest philosophers are science fiction writers not thinkers in universities.

To stretch my mind concerning quantum tantra (direct mind-to-mind contact with Nature) I have been reading science fiction accounts of telepathy, group minds and psychedelic experiences. One of my favorite such "philosophical" studies is Theodore Sturgeon's The Cosmic Rape in which a predatory hive mind (called Medusa) travels thru the galaxy gobbling up other consciousnesses. When she gets to Earth, Medusa encounters a situation she has never met before. As part of their normal development, all truly intelligent species evolve into a group mind and Medusa has absorbed hundreds of typical group minds into her own being.

But humans on Earth have not yet reached the group mind stage. For a mind-eater like Medusa, the human race looks like scattered snack food--billions of individual popcorn grains. No problem. Medusa decides to unite the human race with a few simple (probably quantum-based) mind-meld machines assembled in large cities by human mind slaves. Then she'll activate the machines and eat the resultant United State for breakfast.

A wonderful story for anyone interested in the nature of consciousness and its possible extensions.

To pique your appetite I reprint here a review of Theodore Sturgeon's The Cosmic Rape by M. Christian at

"Good science fiction is fun to read. Great science fiction says something. Fantastic science fiction changes the way you think.

The Cosmic Rape by Theodore Sturgeon is good, great, and – most of all – fantastic. Sturgeon’s writing is (as always) fun and engaging, the story addresses identity and individuality, and – best of all -- Sturgeon changes the way you’ll think about one of the most common science fiction bug-a-boos: the idea of collective consciousness, a human hive mind.

Originally published in Galaxy Magazine as a novella called To Marry Medusa, The Cosmic Rape is initially told through a series of characters, each one separated from everyone around them and the rest of the world by shame, miscommunication, guilt, fear, and inexperience. Paul Sanders is a empathy-less sexual opportunist, Guido is a teenage musical genius trapped by an abusive history into a life of violence against the music he subconsciously craves, Dimity Carmichael is a self-satisfied abstinent getting off on the sexual sufferings of others, Mbala is a tribesman fighting his own fears along with the demon stealing yams from his family’s sacred patch, Henry is a boy living a life of unrelenting fear, and Sharon Brevix is a little girl lost in the middle of the desert.

Flowing, separately at first, between these characters is the skid-row loser Gurlick who just happened to have bitten into a discarded hamburger – a hamburger containing a scout seed from a galaxy-spanning hive mind called Medusa.

But Medusa has a problem: every other lifeform it’s absorbed into itself has been in some way a shade of its own collective consciousness. Humanity, though, is different: here everyone is separated and alone, disconnected and unique.

So, thinking that humanity must have been together at one time but then broke apart, Medusa sends the alcoholic out to find a way to "put people’s brains back together again" by promising the smashed-up and broken Gurlick whatever he wants.

Like everything of Sturgeon’s, The Cosmic Rape is brilliantly written: the characters are rich and full and alive, the language is equal parts lyrical, poetic, and carefully structured and classical. Also like everything else of Sturgeon’s, the story is bright and clear, a sneaky trick that takes you completely by surprise without ever resorting to cheap devices.

Here too are Sturgeon’s favorite subjects: the exploration of what is sex and sexuality (as in Venus Plus X), the careful and perceptive look at humanity (as in Godbody) and especially the reinvention of what consciousness is and could be (as in More Than Human).

There is a part of The Cosmic Rape that lays it all out: the fun reading, the perfect ‘something’ that great science fiction has, and especially the way Sturgeon changes how we think but I won’t just excerpt it here because that would be … well, wrong. Like – maybe, just maybe overdoing it a bit -- pasting in Michelangelo’s God Creates Adam without the whole of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. You have to read it yourself, but to give you an idea of what happens in that chapter, as well as the whole conclusion of the book, just think about the idea of a hive mind, a united human consciousness.

It’s an old science fiction cliché, from Star Trek’s borg to the Flood of Halo: "resistance was futile" and all that. Lots of folks lay awake at night and shudder at the thought of being merged, combined with something else, of losing their identity to some monstrous and hungry collective. But what Sturgeon did with The Cosmic Rape is to take that idea and twist it, turn it upside down and make it not hideous and frightening but warm, welcoming and wonderful: a humanity without judgment or fear, loneliness or shame, a united mankind of acceptance and understanding.

I can’t recommend The Cosmic Rape enough. It's fun to read like all good science fiction; it says something important like all great science fiction; but best of all it’s fantastic because Sturgeon manages to change the clichéd terror of a collective humanity into something that, like the book itself, is brilliant and wonderful."