Faster than faster than light
"I think that mind is as fundamental to
nature as light or electricity."
Nick Herbert holds a Ph.D. in experimental physics from Stanford
University. He was senior scientist at Memorex, Santa Clara, and other Bay
Area hardware companies specializing in magnetic, electrostatic, optical,
and thermal methods of information processing and storage. He has taught
science at all levels from graduate school to kindergarten including the
development, with his wife Betsy, of a hands-on home-schooling science
curriculum. Nick was the coordinator (along with Saul-Paul Sirag) of
Esalen Institute's physics and consciousness program and has led many
workshops on the quantum mechanics of everyday life. He is the author of
Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics, Faster Than Light (published in
Japan under the title Time Machine Construction Manual), Elemental Mind:
Human Consciousness and the New Physics, and he devised the shortest proof
of Bell's interconnectedness theorem to date.
He has written on faster-than-light and quantum theory for such
journals as the American Journal of Physics and New Scientist, and is
Fringe Science columnist for Mondo 2000.
We interviewed Nick April 23, 1989, on a hill overlooking
Santa Cruz, California. Nick spoke with us about the implications of
superluminal loopholes in physics, and the secret technologies behind time
travel and contacting the dead, including step-by-step instructions on how
to build your very own time machine. Nick is an ardent disciple of quantum
theory's left-hand path, and his ability to humanize science and his
imaginative speculations on time travel make him both fascinating and fun.
He has a way of making even the most complex concepts of quantum physics
easily understandable. He is very warm, has a contagious sense of humor,
and has an uncanny talent for making the mundane seem mysterious.
DJB: What was it that originally inspired your 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
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
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 tome 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 -r 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 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
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
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
DJB: Why do you think it is that time appears to flow in one direction
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
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
DJB: Isn't it similar to what Eastern philosophies have to say about
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 guess, that 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 biological systems--that it will arise
whenever the biology gets complicated enough. Self-awareness is just an
unsuspected evolutionary possibility of living meat. Elemental Mind
explores the hypothesis that none of that is 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 are 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 ways 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 up with is molecular mind. Molecular mind
versus elemental mind. Molecular mind is where you put stuff together and
make a mind, and elemental mind is where mind is already fundamental. So
you don't have to make it, it's already there. All you have to do is have
systems that will manifest it. So my latest project is to work on that,
and make that make sense.