Friday, February 25, 2011

Future Science

Future scientist Nick Herbert

I wanna wham Mama Nature 
in a warm wet dream
Wanna strum Her pond, palpitate Her stream
Wanna feel Her quiver like a tambourine
Wanna hear Her E equals MC scream!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Black Hole in Nick's Sink

William Unruh
The fastest velocity that any object in the universe can attain is the speed of light. But in certain extreme situations even the speed of light is not fast enough.

For instance, at the event horizon of a black hole, gravity warps spacetime so strongly that nothing can escape, not even a light beam. Also in a universe which is expanding at an ever-increasing rate (which was recently discovered to be the case for our own universe), there will be times and places for which the rate of expansion will be faster than light speed. When space is expanding faster than light, light traveling in such a space will always "fall behind" and there will be places ahead of it that the light can never reach--even in infinite time. Such an cosmic expansion-induced barrier to light travel is called a "future horizon" and resembles in many ways the event horizon of a black hole.

Physics thrives on experiment but we cannot build black holes nor future horizons in the laboratory. However William Wooters and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia are investigating situations in which the speed of sound in a liquid behaves in analogous ways to the speed of light in spacetime. Despite many differences between sound and light propagation there is much to be learned from these sonic analogs of black holes and future horizons.

In a recent paper "Dumb Holes: Analogues for Black Holes" Unruh imagines a fish has just fallen over a waterfall whose rate of fall at some distance is greater than the speed of sound. Once the fish falls past this point, its screams for help can never reach its fellows on top of the falls. The fish has fallen into what Unruh calls a "dumb hole" in the sense of "deaf and dumb". The fish has fallen into the sonic equivalent of a black hole. Just as light cannot escape from a black hole, sound cannot escape from a Unruhian dumb hole.

It is easy in the laboratory to produce streams of water that travel faster than sound. In fact you can do this in your kitchen sink. A stream of water falling into the sink from the faucet and hitting a flat surface will usually be traveling faster than sound and its speed will decrease as it spreads out into a circular shape. At a certain distance from the faucet this speed will have slowed to the point where it is close to the velocity of sound. At this point an unusual phase change called a "hydraulic jump" takes place in which the water abruptly slows by using some of its kinetic energy to raise a bump in the flow.

The hydraulic jump phenomenon is robust and easily reproducible. And the math describing this peculiar sonic transition is similar enough to the situations at future horizons and black hole event horizons that these simple kitchen sink experiments can stimulate and inspire better descriptions of powerful cosmic processes out near the edges of the universe.
"Black Hole" in Nick's kitchen sink

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Light in the Water

Birthday Moon, Whidbey Island: Diana Rico (2005)
The Light on the Water
by Judith Arcana

(always, writers say, the light on the water

shines like diamonds, shines like gold

but the truth is that gold, and that diamonds

want only to shine like the light on the water)

Just now, on the early morning river
every spangle is a bird
flashing tiny wings of light;

the sun has thrown a sheet of hammered gold

over the slow skin of the dawn river;

a raft of light turns on dark water
tethered to the boat dock

moving with the river.

And I, waking here,

dreamed the sun falling down in the ocean

light in the heart of the sea

fire at the heart of the sea

my heart is on fire in the water

light burns in the heart of the sea

sea water skin on the body of sunset

sunset a fire at the watery edge of the world

fire all there at the edge of the world

burning the skin of the water

wet sand a mirror for fire in the water

sunset a tipped bowl of flame
I ask myself, again

Can I be in love with the light on the water? so in love that
I long for that light on the top of a mountain,

and in the prairie need to touch it with my eyes?
In forest the light comes pouring all down, gilding a pool

where sun finds a break in the trees and I, mouth open
lips burning, kneel blinded inside the blaze.
I yearn for the liquid full moon, running silk silver all night
crave lightning on through the wash of the rain

weep at stars that tip waves in the lake
I want to see fireclouds up in the sky
their waterhearts pierced by the sun,
to drown through geometry gleaming in light

on the floor of a sunstruck pond.

Now again sun falls into ocean, moon rises out in far sky
they stream to me, here on the shore

light shivers the water, goldsilver crosses the sky
crosses the world, this whole world coming to me
the shivering glimmering path leads to me

just here to my face, to my feet

moons and suns rising and falling in water
light falling here into love.

Judith Arcana's website
Diana Rico HOLY WATERS a blog about diving into the numinous


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stoned in Dam Town

Statue on bridge crossing Singel Canal
In December of 1999, I was invited to attend the 50th birthday of Luc Sala, Dutch businessman, publisher, TV producer and seeker after the mysteries. See here. I was housed in the tower room of Luc's TV studio, bookstore and mystery salon.

From my tower window I could look across the Singel Canal to the floating flower markets on the other side and just catch sight of a colorful storefront announcing "Magic Mushrooms". On the afternoon of Luc's party I decided to check out one of Amsterdam's most innovative policies--allowing the open sale (and taxation) of psychedelic mushrooms in selected shops. I descended from my tower, crossed the Heiligeweg (Holy Way) bridge and entered the store. There were no mushrooms in sight--only colorful posters for rock concerts at the "Melkweg" (Milky Way) and other Amsterdam music venues. On the counter were a variety of smoking accessories and behind the counter were a young Dutch couple in their 20s.

"Do you sell mushrooms here?" I asked. "Certainly," they replied and handed me a menu which described the varieties which they had on hand. While I read over the menu, they explained that, due to a recent change in the law, only live mushrooms were allowed to be sold. They seemed to be content with the way such decisions were made in the city council, aiming for harm reduction rather than blanket prohibition of all drugs. If the evidence showed that Amsterdamers could safely use some drugs but not others, the laws were crafted accordingly. Lately Amsterdam's famous decades-long experiment in tolerance for "soft drugs" seems to be losing momentum. In 2007, mushrooms (which the natives call "paddos") were made illegal; and the city is moving to reduce the number of "coffee houses" where cannabis products can be purchased and consumed.

I could not resist the name "Philosopher's Stones". "What do these look like?" I asked. The girl reached under the counter and pulled out a small white cardboard box that looked exactly like a container for a prom corsage complete with transparent cellophane top. Thru the top I could see what looked like small round pieces of gravel scattered over a culture base. They looked more like lightly peppered truffles than mushrooms. And indeed, the philosopher's stone is classified as a psychedelic truffle not a mushroom. "How much of this is a good dose?" I asked. "The whole box," they replied.

Back in my tower, I separated the tiny truffle globes from the soil and put them all together in a saucer. There didn't seem to be a lot of mushroom there after all the dirt was cleaned off. I slowly ingested them, washing the pieces down with water. Not a bad taste--would go good in a salad.

Almost immediately I could feel the effects. It was growing dark and my plan was to follow the Singel Canal back and forth so I would not get lost. And to witness the sights of the "Venice of the North" on shrooms.

I decided to exit thru Luc's bookstore but there was some sort of ruckus going on. The two women who worked there were having trouble getting an Arab to leave so they could close up shop. No common language. I went up to him waving my hands and urged him towards the door. He did not act aggressively, merely confused. Perhaps he was on mushrooms too and had been attracted by the cute girls and the flashing gadgets in Luc's shop. I steered him out the door and into the entrance of a large covered mall. Then I re-entered the bookstore, took the elevator down to ground level and began my night tour of the Singel Canal. I moved along the bank occasionally crossing a bridge to the other side. There were lights everywhere--on the streets, in the houses, and in boats docked or moving along the canal. A light rain was falling which made everything sparkle. I felt like I was walking inside some big bright Dutch landscape painting. I practiced catching the eyes of people in the street and wondered what kinds of energy are transmitted by the human gaze.

The overall impression was one of IMMENSE BEAUTY. A beauty that is here all the time and cries out wordlessly for appreciation. I was reminded of the Muslim verse: "I was a Hidden Treasure and desired to be known."

I was completely wallowing in the Beauty Way when I turned onto a bridge and ran into a larger than life bronze statue of Albert Einstein Being Shot From a Cannon. Or perhaps, as he was glistening with rain, it was Einstein Being Born into the World, coated with amnionic fluid. What was going on? I could not find a category in which to place this particular vision. The caption on the marble cube from which "Einstein" was emerging was not much help. It read simply "Multatuli". I pulled a notebook out of my pocket and carefully copied down this cryptic caption. I would save this mystery for another day.

Just as I was about to turn around and retrace my steps a young woman on a bike slipped on the wet tram rails and fell down on the street directly in front of me. I helped her up, asked if she was all right. "I'm fine," she said and pedaled off into the night. Lovely young Dutch girl on a bicycle, I still remember you, your natural beauty magnified by the magic of the philosopher's stones.

I retraced my path back along the Singel Canal--missed the Einstein Explosion this time by crossing some different bridges. When I finally reached the Myster Tower, the guests were beginning to arrive for Luc's birthday. Luc celebrating with his friends--another brand of beauty to be witnessed thru the appreciative lenses of the philosopher's stones.