with Dave Brown & Rebecca Novick
|DJB: What was it that originally
interest in physics?
NICK: I started out in a Catholic prep school. I took religion and Latin there, and the idea was to become a Catholic priest. That was my goal, and somewhere through that I got derailed. I decided that wasn't the ultimate thing. I changed my mind, and decided science was probably the place where all the hot stuff was. The hottest part of science was physics, so I went to Ohio State and majored in physics. I think it's kind of a quest for what's the hottest thing going in this time I thought it was God, but now I think, at least for me, it's science.
DJB: Kind of a quest for the ultimate nature of reality?
NICK: Yes. My patron saint is Saint Christopher. You might know about him as the guy in automobiles, the patron saint of travelers. But actually he's the patron saint of people who are seeking to serve the ultimate power. He was the strongest man in the kingdom, and he went around offering his services to kings and princes. He wanted to give this power that he had to the highest service. He always found that the kings had feet of clay, and they weren't really worth serving. He'd quit one king and serve another, but it would be just the same. So then, after giving up on kings and princes, he decided, well one thing I could do is I could take people across this river. That was what he did with his life. He took people across this river that didn't have a bridge.
Finally this one little kid came along and he said, "Can you take me across?" "No problem," he says, and Christopher starts taking him across. The kid got heavier and heavier and heavier. Finally he could barely hold this guy. He stumbled across to the other side, and said, "Whew, what was that?" The kid says, "You were carrying Christ, who holds the whole world on his shoulders." So he finally found the person to serve. That's why he's called Christopher--the Christ bearer. I like that story, and I'm still trying to find some ultimate master to serve. Right now it's some kind of science. So that's the physics. I'm looking for the ultimate problems, and trying to do my best, whether it be religion, science, or little things on the fringes of science.
RMN: Could you explain to us the essence of Bell's Theorem, and the ideas about the nature of reality which those experiments have inspired in you?
NICK: Okay, that's a good way of putting it, the nature of reality. I make the distinction that philosophers often make, between Appearance, Reality and Theory. Appearance is what you see, and everything around is Appearance. Reality is the hypothetical essence behind things, the secret behind things. Theories are stories that we make up about these events, Appearance and Reality. What Bell's Theorem--a proof derived from physics--says is that the Appearances, certain Appearances in physics, certain experiments cannot be explained unless we assume something about Reality. What we have to assume about Reality is that when two systems come together, then separate, and aren't interacting any more, they're still connected in some way by a voodoo-like connection, that instantly links the two systems. This is faster than light, can't be shielded, and doesn't diminish with distance. It's a very mysterious connection.
However this connection is on the level of Reality, not on the level of Appearance. lt's an underground connection, but it's as certain as two plus two is four that this connection exists. The question is what do you do with it, since it only appears on the level of Reality, not on the level of Appearance? So that's the essence of Bell's theorem: there is an underground connection that we can prove, but not see. I wrote a little song called "Bell's Theorem Blues," and the jist of it is, if we're really connected baby, how come I feel so all alone?
DJB: Do you see Bell's Theorem, and our understanding from astrophysics that all particles in the universe were together at the moment of the Big Bang, as being a possible explanation for mysterious phenomenon such as telepathy and synchronicity?
NICK: Yeah, I do. But I think that it would be too easy to say that because we're all connected we have telepathy. Because, again, why do we feel so all alone?
DJB: Doesn't it have something to do with the recency of the connection?
NICK: Yeah. If you make a connection, separate, and then make any other connections, those later connections will dilute the first connection. It's just as strong, but now you have another connection that's speeding into you. So it's a little bit like what's been called the coefficient of consanguinity, which measures how close people are linked genetically. Your mother is the closest to you, then your grandmother, and so forth on down. You're all linked by connections, but the more recent connections are the strongest. But even then, even when you've just met somebody, and separated, the telepathy between you is not really readily apparent. It would be be something, wouldn't it, if we lived in a society where the last person you met you had a telepathic contact with, until you met somebody else. That doesn't seem to happen, though, at least on the level we're aware of.
So the real question is why is telepathy so dilute? I would expect a proper science to explain that fact. Then, of course once we had that explanation, we could increase it, make it greater, or overcome the diluteness if you didn't want to have telepathic contact with certain people. So that to me is the biggest mystery. Bell's Theorem could explain telepathy, but what explains the lack of telepathy? That's something I don't think anyone has really addressed. There are a few people who have addressed this fact on the level of psychology, but not physics, as to why we don't have telepathy. The most convincing answer that I know about is that it would be just too terrible to look into the hearts of people, because there's so much pain around that it would be excruciating to tap into that.
RMN: Also, it seems that a lot of people don't want to be that open about themselves, maybe they don't want people seeing into them.
NICK: There's that too--I don't want people to look into me. But suppose you want to look into other people? A reason not to do that would be that it would be very painful.
RMN: There seems to be an idea among physicists that by persistent analysis, they will eventually discover the fundamental particle, the stuff from which all matter is formed, and yet they continue to discover smaller and smaller versions of this particle. What are your thoughts on this?
NICK: Oh, ultimate particles, huh? I'd be perfectly content if physics came to an end--that quarks and leptons were actually the world's fundamental particles. Some people think this, that physics is coming to an end, as far as the direction of finding fundamental particles goes. It's okay with me. I don't think that's the most interesting way to go, looking for fundamental particles. You know my real notion is that consciousness is the toughest problem, and that physics has basically taken off on the easy problems, and may even solve them. We may find all the forces and all the particles of nature-that's physic's quest--but then what? Then we have to really tackle some of these harder problems--the nature of mind, the nature of God, and bigger problems that we don't even know how to ask yet. So, actually I'm not too interested in the problem of finding fundamental particles, but my guess is, from what we know now, that we're very close to that situation.
DJB: So you really do think that there is a fundamental particle?
NICK: Yeah, I do; it might be a quark or a lepton.
DJB: You don't think that quarks are made up of even smaller, more fundamental things, and that it goes on and on and on?
NICK: Naw, I don't think so. That's just my guess.
RMN: Could you describe what is meant by a "measurement"?
NICK: By a measurement? No, I can't. There's something in quantum physics called the measurement problem, and I could describe that. The main problem in quantum physics is that it describes the world differently when you measure it, than when you don't. When you don't measure it, when you don't look at the world, it's described as waves of vibrating possibilities, buzzing opportunities, promises and potentia. In some ways it's not quite real, and it's all vibrating. It sounds a little bit like drugs doesn't it? All these oscillating possibilities. Then when you look, it's perfectly normal. The possibilities change into actualities, and these actualities are point-like. They're called quanta, quantum jumps, like little dots on the TV screen, or on a color photograph in a magazine. So, to make it brief, the world changes from possibility waves to actual particles, from possibility to actuality, from waves to particles. And the door through which this happens is called a measurement. When you make a measurement, that's what happens, but quantum physics doesn't tell us what a measurement is. What's a measurement? No one knows. It's not in the theory. There are lots of guesses about what a measurement might be. Some extreme guesses are that consciousness has to be involved--only when some entity becomes aware, do the vibratory possibilities change into actualities. That's one guess.
Another guess is that whenever a record is made, whenever something becomes irreversible, not take-backable, as long as you procrastinate your measurement, and refrain from making a real decision, then the world remains in a state of possibility. But as soon as it becomes irrevocable, then it's happened, and it's actual. So you look into nature for irrevocable acts, and that's where measurements happen. But, there are problems with both of these guesses. Physicists don't really have a really good model of what a measurement is. As I say, it's called the measurement problem in quantum physics, and it's the main philosophical problem. But fortunately, or unfortunately, physicists never have to confront this problem directly, because we know how to make measurements. We do it all the time. Even ordinary people know how to make measurements. So no one ever sees this quantum world directly, the vibratory possibilities, because we have ways of making measurements.
DJB: We have ways of making the universe unambiguous.
NICK: Yes, we have ways of making the universe unambiguous: They're called the senses. Now, it's my feeling that when we look inside we actually experience some of this quantum ambiguity. Looking inside is not actually making a measurement all the time. We can actually dwell in this, on the other side, the other side meaning the vibratory possibilities. Some of our mind is there all the time, and part of mental life is taking this vibratory possibility and transforming it into actualities. Not all of mental life, but with some of our mental life, that's what we do. So we're aware of both sides in our mental life, but not in this external life,
DJB: How has your study of quantum physics influenced your understanding of what consciousness is?
NICK: Yeah, we're already getting into that. I feel that quantum physics is one side of consciousness, it's the material manifestation of consciousness. Quantum physicists are basically describing something that's conscious, and the inside of quantum physics is what we experience as awareness. I mean, this notion of potentia becoming actual, doesn't that sound like what goes on in your mind?
DJB: From out of the realm of all things that are possible, we pick out a few things and make them actualities.
NICK: Yes. Exactly. Yeah, doesn't that sound like something mental beings do, making decisions?
DJB: Yeah, it does. So then do you think it's possible for consciousness to exist without a physical container, so to speak?
NICK: Yes, in a sense. But I don't think it's possible for our type of consciousness to exist without matter around. But it needn't be this kind of matter in your brain. Different minds, different highs. The kind of practice we humans know about is taking possibilities and making them actual. You've got to have a universe to make them actual in. So we probably need matter then. It seems that our kind of consciousness and matter are inseparable. So that when I die, probably most of my consciousness dies with me, because it's an interaction between the big mind, the big possibilities, and the small range of possibilities allotted to human bodies. But I may change my mind. I've been reading Ian Stevenson's book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, where little kids, when they begin to talk, say, "You're not my mother and dad. My parents live in this other town about four miles away." Then they begin giving details about who their brothers and sisters are. It's very spooky stuff.
DJB: But there are other explanations besides reincarnation. They could be tapping into some kind of field or genetic memory, for example.
NICK: Oh, yes, definitely. But it certainly stretches your idea of what the mind is capable of, no matter what explanation you have. So I may have to revise my ideas. I would not believe in that ordinarily. I was perfectly willing to say that my individuality dies with my body. There might be a large mind that goes on, but this small mind probably dies with the body--the memories and that sort of thing. That's what I would have said before reading this book. I had always dismissed reincarnation as wrong. But Stevenson's book is very persuasive. He describes just twenty cases, but he has six hundred cases of more or less validity. And, of course, if any one of those cases is true, it would invalidate the notion that consciousness dies with the body.
RMN: You have described quantum theory as a theory of possibilities, and have emphasized that it constrains not just Appearances, but Reality itself. With this in mind, in which ways do you feel that the understanding of the quantum world can affect the barriers and structures in human experience, which act to limit the enjoyment of these possibilities?
NICK: Oh! The Pleasure Dome Project. Yeah, I would sum up my feelings in that area this way. It's to take the metaphor of inner space seriously--that there is an Inner space, and that for some reason, some accident of biology and evolution, each of us is restricted to this tiny little cave in inner space. But there's this vast area that we could explore, including telepathic union with other caves, and even going into other non-human areas of mind. To me, quantum physics suggests this--that there is this potentia out there which we could basically surf. We do play with a little bit of it each day, but we could probably expand the area of possibility further. It's like we're living in a little tiny bay, and we could go out into the ocean. That's the possibility, I think, that quantum physics suggests to me. That someday we'll be able to go outside our own little bays, and go out into the great ocean of mind.
RMN: And voyage the quantum uncertainty, that sounds nice.
NICK: Yes, surfing in the quantum sea. There is something in quantum theory called the Fermi sea, which is the area of possibilities for electrons, all the possible spaces, the momentum and position spaces, that electrons can occupy. A metal's Fermi sea has a free surface. But an insulator has a lid on its surface so its Fermi sea of possibilities is completely full--all the way to the top. Since all possibilities are spoken for, the insulator has no new options. It just sits there, inert, and does not conduct electricity. But metals have lots of live possibilities open to them--all sorts of wave motion can occur on the surface of a metal's Fermi sea. So the reason that copper conducts electricity and polyethylene does not is related to this quantum picture of matter being made up of vibratory possibilities.
Metals conduct because their electrons possess lots of open possibilities. Insulators can be made to conduct by "doping" them--Yes that's what it's called--introducing certain impurities into the insulator which widen the realm of electron possibility. Now, if consciousness is somehow also a consequence of quantum possibility then that's one way I see of going--the literal expansion of consciousness, of getting out of our little caves. And somehow I think that quantum physics ought to help us do that. If we really did find a connection between mind and matter, and this was a quantum connection, then we'd find some way to get out of our caves, and hop into the ocean.
DJB: Nick, you do a column for Mondo 2000 on "Fringe Science." Can you explain why you think this subject is important.
NICK: I worked awhile in Silicon Valley doing research, and we had a lot of talks there about what real research was. How could we build an environment that would encourage research? What they really wanted there was an environment that would encourage short-term, profit-making research. They didn't want a real environment for research. What I think a research environment should do is protect people for a while from practical life, from the day-to-day worries of making a living. It should also allow people to be wrong, so, you see, you're protected from the consequences of your thoughts too, and you don't have to worry. You can play around. A real playground, that's it, a giant playground, for a while.
Universities and industrial research labs should ideally provide this. They should provide playgrounds where people can mess around, without suffering the consequences of their messing around. But they don't do this in general. In general they're very timid places. People will follow fashion and profits. The industrial labs don't follow fashion so much as universities, but you gotta publish all the time. You gotta keep something going. So you're looking around and seeing what's hot, what the guys next door are doing. So fringe science is people who aren't bound by university and industrial constraints. They're just people who are out there, for their own reasons, and these people may really be a key to our next evolutionary jump. The people who are just out there possessed by, for whatever reason, some quirky notions of their own.
To my mind one of the quintessential fringe scientists is a guy named Jim Culbertson in San Luis Obispo. He was a professor at Cal Poly for many years, and he worked at Rand Corporation for a while, so he worked for both the government and the educational establishment. But his real goal has been to work out a theory of consciousness. He wrote a book in the sixties called The Minds of Robots, and he wonders how one could make robots that would have inner experience, just like us. He has this elaborate theory based on special relativity, and he's obviously been working on this for years and years and years, not listening to anybody, just off on his own little obsession. It's a beautiful kind of work--just totally out there, not connected with anything. And it may be partially right. We need more of these people, like Culbertson, off on their own trip. I would like to consider myself a fringe scientist, but I think even I'm too much affected by fashion, and by what my colleagues are doing. Although I try, I'm contaminated by the opinions of my peers, by the prevailing fashions of the avant garde.
DJB: Well, there's something to be said for networking with other people though-cross-fertilizing and sharing ideas.
NICK: Yes, it's important to have colleagues, but you have to somehow keep your independence, There's this balance between contact and independence that you have to keep. One of the ways that I currently manage to do this is by living out in the woods, and by not being connected with any institutions, except these private ones that we set up. We've had something going called the Consciousness Theory Group, which Saul Paul-Sirag and a few others started in the early seventies to ruthlessly track down the roots of consciousness. We would go anywhere, talk to anybody, or do anything to find out more about this elusive problem.
RMN: Einstein spent his life searching for a unified field theory, and many scientists are working towards the same thing. Do you think it's just a matter of time before it is discovered, and how do you think that the understanding of the unified field will effect human consciousness?
NICK: As I mentioned before, I think we're close to that. It wouldn't surprise me if the unified field were discovered in the next couple of years. Somehow this might just succeed. It would mean that we have a picture of the world that was more compact. It wouldn't take so much talk to describe what the world was made of. You could simplify it. Right now there are four different kinds of forces, and there are a hundred and some different elementary particles. However, they still come in two classes. The classes themselves are quarks and leptons basically, and the force particles. What we would be able to say then is that there is just one kind of entity, and everything follows from that. So, it would be a definite economy of description. But what else? I don't know any practical applications of this, but it'd be definitely easy to describe the world. You could just say it's just made of this one kind of stuff, and that's all--everything else is just various manifestations of this one kind of stuff.
DJB: Would it make any new technologies possible?
NICK: Probably not right away. This is all very impractical. It would still leave consciousness out in the cold. It's funny that back in the Medieval days people doing alchemy and ceremonial magic--thought of as the predecessors of science -felt that the mind was connected with what they did. They thought that one had to be in the right state of mind--you had to say prayers and incantations or the reaction wouldn't work. It sort of mixed up the notion that chemistry, physics, and mental stuff were all together in their mind. So at some point in the development of science, scientists said, "Let's do science as though the mind didn't matter. Let's see how much science we could do that's independent of how you think. Let's forget about the mind, and let's see what we could do with this hypothesis." And, amazingly enough, with all physics--from the elementary particles all the way up to the cosmos--it doesn't seem to matter. There seems to be a lot you can do without bringing the mind into it. Seemingly.
Now, my fantasy is that we've missed most of the world. That all the stuff that physicists can explain is just a tiny amount of the real world, because there is a real world that physics is a minute part of. But, because of a certain illusion that we have, it looks as though there's an awful lot of matter around here, and not much mind. Mind is confined to little tiny elements in certain mammalian heads. But there's a lot of matter, there's galaxies and quarks, and everything all around, but not much mind. One of my guesses is that's totally wrong. There's a lot of mind, at least as much as there is matter, and we just aren't aware of it. I suspect that physics is just a very tiny part of that world.
DJB: This really ties in with the next question. Do you see the physical universe as being alive, evolving, and conscious, and if so, does this perspective, in your opinion, have any influence on how physicists approach the natural world?
NICK: It does fit right in. Up to now physics has, I think as a kind of exercise, asked how much can we explain about the world without ever bringing consciousness into it? Surprisingly, the answer is a lot! Suppose there were chemical reactions that needed to be prayed over before they worked, then physics would have to say we can't explain these reactions, because that involves the mind. Anything that involves intention, where intention is important for its outcome, is outside of physics, by definition. So, we have to call that something else. Either that, or expand the notion of what physics is once the mind begins becoming involved with the world. What I'd like to see are hybrid types of experiments.
Experiments where the mind is necessary, and where matter is also necessary, kind of a mixing of physics and psychology. But 1 don't know of any such experiments, except maybe psychokinesis experiments, and those are very unreliable. It's hard to get data.
RMN: The mind is a very unreliable thing. That's probably why physicists have nothing to do with the mind.
NICK: Yeah, unreliable, that's one way of looking at it.
DJB: What possibilities for faster-than-light and time travel do you feel offer the greatest potential for actualization, and how do you feel this will effect human consciousness in the future?
NICK: Well, I think that there are about half a dozen options for faster-than-light travel, but the two I would bet on are the space-warp, and the quantum connection. The former is based upon the ability to warp Einsteinian space-time. You can make short cuts in space-time, and essentially travel faster than light. We don't know how to do this yet, but the equations of general relativity allow it. So. it's not forbidden by physics. We may have to use black holes or something like tongs made out of black holes. It would take that kind of thing. Interestingly, when my book Faster Than Light came out in November of 1988, the same week it came out, there was a paper by three guys from CalTech in the journal Physical Review Letters. The article was about a way to make a time machine, using warped space-time.
It was actual instructions on how to do it. We can't do it yet--but here's, in principle, how to do it. There are these quantum worm holes coming out of the quantum vacuum. They're little connections between distant places in space-time. They're not so distant actually, as the distances involved are smaller than atomic dimensions. So you have to find out how to expand these worm holes, to make them connect larger more distant parts of space and time. But that's a detail. These worm holes are continually coming out of the quantum vacuum, popping back in again, and they're unstable. Even if you could go into one of these, it would close up before you could transverse it, unless you could go faster than light.
So, the argument was about how to stabilize quantum worm holes. The way you do that is you have to have some energy that's less than nothing, some negative energy, which is less than the vacuum. In classical physics that would be impossible--energy that's less than nothing. Every time you do something you always have positive energy. But there's something called the Casimer force in quantum physics, which is an example of negative energy. So you thread these worm holes with this negative energy, and it props them open. So then you can use these things as time tunnels.
This article was prompted by Carl Sagan's book Contact. Sagan got in touch with these physicists, who were experts on gravity, and asked if there was anything that he needed to know, because in his book Contact there were tunnels that go to the star Vega, I believe. You sit in this chair, you go through this time tunnel, and a few seconds later you're in Vega. That's definitely faster than light, as Vega is some tens of light years away. So these aliens have mastered this time tunnel technology. Carl Sagan asked these guys if this was possible, and they said "Well, we'll think about it." So they came up with this actual scientific paper on how one might really build a time tunnel, like Carl Sagan's. So here's a situation where science fiction inspired science.
DJB: Isn't that the case a lot, actually?
NICK: Ah, not really. I guess there are some things. Of course Jules Verne wrote about trips to the moon long before we went.
RMN: Maybe a lot of people become scientists, after reading science fiction.
DJB: I would just imagine that many scientists had read science fiction when they were young.
NICK: I certainly did. I read a lot of science fiction when I was young. I loved it. Still do. But I don't know about specific inventions coming from science fiction--where someone reads a science fiction book, and then goes out and works on that particular idea. I think the influence is more general. But this is one example where a specific science fiction story--Carl Sagan's Contact--influenced, at least in principal, a time machine. The other possibility for faster than light-travel, aside from using space warps, would be to somehow use this Bell connection. I don't think we can send anything concrete this way, but maybe information or mental influences could go between minds faster- than-light. But, unlike these three CalTech people, there's no demonstration of how one could do that. I spent about three or four years trying to use Bell's connection to send signals faster than light, using thought experiments and such, and every one of them has failed. It looks as though this Bell connection is something that nature uses to further her nefarious ends, but people can't use the Bell connection.
RMN: How would you test the results of a time travel experiment?
NICK: Wouldn't that be easy? If you wanted to send something back in time... Ah... I guess, you're right, it would have already happened, wouldn't it? Well, a lot of these time travel experiments depend on what your opinion of the past is. Is the past always the same, or is it changeable? Are there alternate universes? It's a good question. That really depends on your model of the past. If the past is not changeable, then you can't go back in time, or you already have, and you're the results of it. One of my best guesses is that the past is partially changeable--there are things there that are frozen, that you can't change, and there are other things that are up for grabs, that are still in the quantum potentia, and those things you could change. So, when you went back there you could have some funny restrictions on your activities, and basically you could only make changes that were consistent with what we already know to have happened here. We have this present. There's a lot that we know has happened. There's lots of things we didn't care about, and nobody knows whether they happened or not. Those things you could change. But you couldn't change something that some human being knew had happened already.
DJB: As long as it's an ambiguity, and hasn't become a actuality.
NICK: Yes, as long as it hasn't become an actuality you could change it.
DJB: Why do you think it is that time appears to flow in one direction only?
NICK: God, who knows? That's a good question. It's a psychological reason I think. Einstein said something about how the past and the future are illusions. Physics makes no distinction between past and future. The present doesn't have any special status in physics. In four-dimensional space-time, it's all just a huge block universe that's eternal. So, the fact that time seems to flow is a kind of illusion that our kind of existence gives rise to. It's an illusion of consciousness rather than anything in physics. It's funny that if we didn't know any better, if we just took the equations of physics as truth, we wouldn't even know about this flow of time, this illusion. The universe would seem to be a kind of eternal, ever-present process.
RMN: You have asked, "Why does nature need to deploy a faster than light subatomic reality to keep up merely light speed macroscopic appearances." Could you venture an answer to your own question?
NICK: That's the idea that, although Bell's theorem says of Reality that once some things are together they are always connected faster than light, Appearance is not. You don't ever see anything like this. Why does nature bother to go to so much trouble? Underground connecting everything, and yet above ground it's not connected. Why bother? Sounds a little bit like God, doesn't it? This omniscient entity lying behind the phenomena that keeps its kind of divine providence, so that nothing gets lost. I don't know. That's still a puzzle to me, why that is. I would not like to believe in an omniscient divine providence, because it seems such an easy solution.
I've been spoiled by learning about quantum physics. One of the things that philosophers try and do, is they guess what all the possibilities are for human thought. Try and second guess all thinkable things. Philosophers worry about different categories of mind, monism and dualism, and varieties of that, all the possible ways something could be. People have been doing that for a long time, but they never came up with something as weird as quantum theory. Physicists didn't like quantum theory at first either. We were forced into this strange way of thinking about the universe by the facts, into a way that had not been anticipated by the philosophers. Quantum theory is a strange mixture of waveness and particleness that no one had ever anticipated, and that we still do not completely comprehend.
DJB: Isn't it similar to what Eastern philosophies have to say about the world?
NICK: Oh, in some sense, but not in particulars. There's a vague similarity to Eastern philosophy, more than to Western philosophy, that's true. But this notion of probabilistic waves changing into actual particles has never been present in any Eastern philosophy. Eastern philosophy talks about connectedness, everything being connected. It talks about the Tao, that's unspeakable, wholeness that envelops everything, and the flavor of that is like quantum theory. There's no doubt about that. More so than a mechanistic clock-work universe. But the details-no one ever anticipated that kind of universe. So, my guess is that, when we get a fuller picture of the world, it will be equally unguessable. It would not have been anticipated, and quantum mechanics was just a kindergarten lesson for how we're going to have to change our minds to make the next step.
DJB: It wouldn't be fun without surprises.
NICK: Well, yeah, not only surprises, but that all our guesses have got to be, and are always going to be, too timid. Nature is going to overwhelm us, and surprise us with the next step. Nothing we could imagine will be as amazing as what's actually there. So whenever someone comes up with a simple solution like there's a divine providence underneath it all, it's too simple. Try and imagine something more complex and marvelous than that, please.
DJB: Nick, one of my favorite ideas in your book Faster Than Light was the notion that time travel may only be possible into the future and back into the past, only so far as to the development of the first time machine. If we were to take a leap of faith, and imagine this scenario to actualize itself, how do you envision that monumental day to occur, when the first time machine is invented, and everyone from the far future comes back to visit the historic day?
NICK: Big party. Sure, that's what it would be like. It would be very crowded that particular day. From that point on, life would be very confusing, when all of space-time is open to our view.
DJB: What would that do to human consciousness? How would the progression of events occur? How could people keep track of things?
NICK: I don't know. I think it would be very confusing. Much more confusing than it is now. We'd ]earn to live with it, though. What it would be like, partly, is that time would just be another kind of space, if you can imagine that. We don't think that traveling back and forth in space is so strange. We have this prejudice that we shouldn't be able to do that in time. So if time becomes another kind of space, what are the consequences of that? I don't know. It's really hard to think about. I have to pass on that one. Another problem related to that is when you go faster than light, time and space, in the equations, they reverse. The roles of time and space reverse when you go faster than light. I don't know what that means. This reversal happens in the math but what would happen in the world? This same time/space reversal happens, by the way, in the vicinity of black holes.
RMN: What about time travel paradoxes? Like the case of being able to travel backwards through time to kill your grandmother. The parallel universe theory seems to resolve this, but what are your views on this?
NICK: Yes, the easiest way to resolve that would be to have a parallel universe, where you kill your grandmother, but she's not your grandmother, she's the grandmother of somebody else, who would have looked very much like you, who doesn't get born in that parallel universe. Another way of resolving that paradox, is this notion I mentioned before about there being fixed things and soft things in the past, and you can only change the soft things. So that things that are fixed like your grandmother's existence, you'd find that you couldn't change. My guess is that when you went back in time, it would be like in a dream, where there were certain things you could do. If you tried to do something that would change the past, you couldn't move that way. You could only make certain moves. It would be like being in molasses. In certain ways you'd find it very easy to move, and others you just couldn't do, because it would be that that had already been definitively done.
RMN: It had been filled up.
NICK: Yes, it would be filled up. That had already been done. So there are islands of reality in the past, but they float in a sea of possibility. As far as I know, that's original with me, that solution to time travel paradoxes. The place to look is in science fiction, for solutions to time travel paradoxes. There are a number of very original solutions to that.
DJB: What are some of the best ones?
NICK: Well, the most popular is with alternative universes. Science fiction's full of them. Another is that you can visit the past, but can't change it. You can only change the future through your time machine. You just become a disembodied viewpoint in the past, and you can't act at all. There's nothing you can do to change all that, it's like watching a movie. But if you go to the future, you can change the future. That's a pretty good one I think, but I wouldn't bet on it.
DJB: What do you think lies in the center of a black hole?
NICK: Well, there's supposed to be the dreaded singularity there, where space and time are infinitely warped. Talk about warped--everything is infinitely warped there, and nothing, not even light, escapes. All physics stops. Matter as we know it would be crushed to a mathematical point. It's bad news. The center of a black hole is a bad trip. Some physicists claim that quantum mechanics would intervene before that happens, but they haven't proved that. It looks as though everything is just crushed to this infinite density, including time itself. Time and space itself are just crushed out of existence. Physics ends at the center of a black hole. No one knows what goes on.
RMN: You say that quantum tantra could revolutionize human relations. What do you mean by this?
NICK: Well, it's related to us getting out of our little caves, and into the open ocean. I envision it as a way of exploiting and enjoying Bell's Theorem, of actually bringing the Bell connection into being. Bell's Theorem talks about this voodoo-like connection, and one of the preoccupation’s of voodoo is love charms--to make other people love you, and to break up a couple where you'd like to love one of the members of the pair. So, these making and breaking spells are what I envision quantum tantra to be--love charms that work because of physics. Some kind of thing you could do, object you could exchange, or medium you could plunge into, that would either connect you, correlate you, unconnect you, or anti-correlate you. There are Bell connections where you have opposite correlations. They make you unlike, rather than alike. There are these Bell correlations and Bell anti-correlations flickering in the world of particle physics. They eternally hold the world together, which is the basis of all chemical bonds. So one could imagine these occurring at the level of human beings. So, that's what I imagine quantum tantra to be, a way of exploiting the Bell connection on the human level, But I don't have the slightest idea how one would go about doing that. Just guesses.
DJB: Could you tell us about your plans for a "Pleasure Dome" project, and how do you see the future science of pleasure advancing? What new forms of pleasure do you foresee for our future?
NICK: Well, of course, some would find quantum tantra pleasurable--the union with another human being, at the quantum-mental level of existence--although others would find it horrible. So it would be both. The Pleasure Dome Project is an idea to use fundamental physics to increase pleasure for the pursuit of happiness--to put the pursuit of pleasure on a firm scientific basis, rather than in the amateur ways we've pursued it so far as individuals. Amplification and enhancement of the senses is probably the easiest way to do it. Find out how our senses work, and just increase that process.
I was talking with Greg Keith about the pleasure dome project as we were walking down here along the San Lorenzo River, and noticed that there's a pleasure research facility here on the beach--the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Places like that offer clues to the nature of pleasure. What happens here at the Beach Boardwalk? People get scared out of their life in safe environments. So, this must partly be what pleasure is. To be scared, but to really be safe. To be frightened, but secure. So we have to look about for new ways of doing that-scaring the hell out of people, but making them secure at the same time. So there'll be some scary rides at The Pleasure Dome, I think, but ultimately safe.
RMN: Could you tell us a little bit about telesensation?
NICK: Oh, that's one of my favorites. Telesensation is the idea of achieving a new body image by building robots of various kinds, and linking with them-through radio or optics--and taking on their body image. Taking on the body image of a human robot, or a robot that's shaped like a fish, an eagle, or a bat, and just being that entity for awhile--taking on their trip, and sensing with their senses, with an ant or an eagle's sense.
RMN: It'd be great for ecology.
NICK: Great for ecology yes!
DJB: Are you familiar with Jaron Lanier's work, building Virtual Reality simulators at VPL Research up in Pale Alto?
NICK: Oh, no, I don't know about this. I've heard rumors of this kind of research, but I don't know anyone who's actually doing it. There have been some science fiction stories about telesensation, where it's used to develop or do work on the surface of planets like Jupiter. In one story I recall the man is actually in orbit around Jupiter, but he feels as though he's on the surface of Jupiter, in a gravity of 30 Gs, or something like that, and doing mining work.
DJB: The Japanese have actually already developed something like that.
NICK: Is that right?
DJB: Yeah, it's written up in Grant Fjermedal's The Tomorrow Makers. Grant talks about the out-of-body experience he had using one of these machines, while looking at his body from a convincing three-dimensional perspective outside of it.
NICK: Well, one of the things I wonder about is this--if consciousness really is separate from the body, how come there are cases of multiple personalities-where many personalities inhabit one body--but there's never the case of one personality inhabiting two bodies--where you look out of somebody else's eyes, or out of two people's eyes at the same time? If consciousness were really distinct from the body, you might think that would be at least a possibility.
DJB: Some people claim that, though.
NICK: They've looked out of other people's eyes?
DJB: Some people claim that they've formed a unification between their consciousness and that of another person.
RMN: Usually a couple.
NICK: Well, if I couldn't see something, but because I was in this state, then I could. If that actually happened, then I'd be impressed. I would think that quantum tantra would allow us to do this. That would be one of the tests of quantum tantra, the ability to watch TV facing away from it. Not a very impressive ability, is it? There might be other, more interesting things to do with this, than watching TV with your back to the television. You can do that with a mirror I guess, without the threat to your integrity.
RMN: The penultimate question. I hear you've been working with technology with which to contact the dead. Can you tell us about your ideas and experiences concerning this?
NICK: This is a notion that quantum processes are somehow connected with consciousness, that some quantum processes are unspoken for, and can be taken over by discarnate spirits. So what we do is, we get these quantum processes, and link them to communicating devices. Then we encourage spirits to inhabit the processes and speak to us through quantum mechanical mediums. If the dead can occupy brains, why can't they occupy these machines? So in the seventies we tried to make machines that discarnate spirits could inhabit. These involved radioactive sources connected with computers, and they were connected with typewriters or with speech synthesizers. So, when we turned the machine on, it would rapidly type pseudo-English, or make sounds which one observer said sounded like a Hungarian reading Finnigan 's Wake. I don't think our devices were complicated enough to be occupied by spirits.
RMN: Complicated enough?
NICK: Complicated. Like they were maybe the brain of an ant, something like that, or maybe even smaller.
RMN: It was just too basic.
NICK: Yes, it was just too basic a system. What we would want is a more complicated quantum system.
RMN: But you were getting something.
NICK: Oh, we got some funny prankish things that occurred. The most exciting thing happened at a Houdini seance, when we spent all day trying to get Houdini to come back from the dead through our typewriter. This was on the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and it was in San Francisco. We had Houdini posters up on the walls. We held seances in the dark, joined hands, and lit candles, the typewriter chatting away all the time--a metaphase typewriter this was called. A couple of people dropped acid for the event. We went through the text and couldn't find any real printing, any real message, but the one thing that we did find that happened for sure, was right at the beginning--the typewriter jammed. it didn't print straight, so there were these lines of type going all over the place, and they made a little frame, a little oval, that wasn't typed in. There was one line in the oval, and it said, "In an infinite time." All with no spaces-"inaninfinitetime"-something like that. Now that message could be taken many ways. A million monkeys typing on a typewriter could type anything in an infinite time. An infinite time could be meaning to talk to us, a busy signal, that kind of thing. The ultimate busy signal.
In any case, it convinced me that the universe has a sense of humor. It's really about the funniest thing that could have been said in a few words. But nothing else seemed to occur that particular day. We had pounds of stuff to go through. Actually, this page was lost. Afterwards, we'd all saw it, but people had taken some of the pages for souvenirs, and I guess somebody got that one, and we never found out where that page ended up. So it's another one of those experiments that doesn't have any data. We don't have that sheet anymore. So it depends on the memory of all of us. Thomas Edison apparently worked on experiments to contact the dead, and there is a videotape about some of his exploits. I guess someone had a movie camera around, and had caught this for posterity. There's a videotape, it's something about collected weirdness, and it's just full of like Mondo Cane, or something like that. One of the scenes in this videotape, which I read about, was Edison, and his early model of something to talk to the dead with. But it never worked, he never got it to the point where it actually worked.
DJB: Edison would be a good person to try to contact probably, because he had an interest in it.
NICK: Well, there actually were some people who tried that. Yeah, Gilbert Wright, the inventor of Silly Putty, and some friends of his tried to build a machine to contact Edison. They claimed to get Edison through mediums, and Edison actually, through these trance mediums, gave them instructions for building a machine, through which he would try and talk. It involved batteries and radio-like devices, but Edison wasn't able to use that machine. It didn't work.
DJB: Could you tell us about any projects that you're presently working on?
NICK: Well, my next project is going to be a book on the mind called Elemental Mind. It's a book on a long-shot model of mind. All the smart money these days, for a model of consciousness, seems to be put on either of two models--a computer or a biological model. The computer model assumes that the mind is some kind of software in the hardware of the brain, some kind of exquisite software that involves a self-image--it's a self-image program, a little "I." I was talking to a friend of mine--his slogan is "We're the guys that put the I in IBM." You could have conscious computers that would have these little software programs, with self-awareness built into them.
RMN: Little egos.
NICK: Little egos, yes. That's one
the mind is the software in the hardware of the brain. The other guess
is that mind is somehow an emergent feature of certain complex
systems--that it will arise whenever the biology gets complicated
Self-awareness is just an unsuspected evolutionary possibility of
meat. Elemental Mind explores the hypothesis that none of that
true. It's a long-shot--that mind is as fundamental to nature as light
or electricity. It's all around in one form or another, and our minds
just specific examples of it, specific ways that the Universal Mind has
manifested. So I'm looking for evidence for this sort of thing, and
of making Elemental Mind more plausible. By the way, I tried to
think of a word for the other kind of mind, and the best I could come
with is molecular mind. Molecular mind versus elemental mind. Molecular
mind is where you put stuff together and make a mind, and elemental
is where mind is already fundamental. So you don't have to make it,
already there. All you have to do is have systems that will manifest
So my latest project is to work on that, and make that make sense.