NICK HERBERT in conversation with ABU BEN NOOMA

Abu: I'll get straight to the point, Nick. What do quantum tantriks want?

Nick: We want to fuck atoms.

Abu: With or without their permission?

Nick: With permission of course. We are not savages.

Abu: How does one ask an atom for a fuck? And what would you do if one said "yes"?

Nick: We'll use machines to ask them; if they say yes we'll use the same machines to begin the foreplay.

Abu: You'll use machines to fuck atoms? What kinds of machines do you have in mind, Nick?

Nick: These are machines that join one mind to another, Abu. If such a machine were connecting you and I, we would each be aware of what the other was thinking. Between two humans this machine would operate like a telepathic link. What it might feel like to join this way with an atom one could only guess. One thing is certain, whoever experiences the first link with atoms will be taking a bigger step for mankind than Christopher Columbus or the first man on the Moon.

Abu: What do you call this machine?

Nick: I'm fond of the word "Convivium" because this machine will be a conduit for vivacity, channelling the very essence of what it feels like to be alive. I've also called it a "Jim Link" in honor of JAMES CULBERTSON who first described such a link and how to build it in his pathbreaking book "The Minds of Robots".

Abu: So the Jim Link is like the Vulcan Mind Meld on Star Trek?

Nick: Yes, except that the Mind Meld is science fiction--but the Convivium will be a real device that you can hold in your two hands.

Abu: How would your mind link work?

Nick: Well, Culbertson's "Jim Link" works by establishing certain patterns of causal connection called "clear loops" between two centers of awareness. Culbertson's model of mind is entirely classical. You could probably build a "Jim Link" with computer parts from Radio Shack.

However as ingenious as it may be, Culbertson's consciusness model is probably wrong. To build the first Convivium I think we'll need resources that only quantum theory can provide . We'll succeed in bridging minds by setting up an unbroken pattern of quantum phase connections using techniques that today we can barely imagine but which in a few years will become commonplace.

Abu: What's the biggest hurdle that you face, Nick, in your work to develop the Convivium?

Nick: Human stupidity, Abu. We don't yet know as much as we would like to know about quantum theory and we are completely ignorant about the nature of mind.

Abu: You make it sound pretty hopeless, Nick. Why then are you so optimistic?

Nick: No, it's not as hopeless as it looks, Abu. There's a certain sense in which we "fuck atoms' every day. So we don't really have to invent the Convivium from scratch, we only need to develop something that amplifies abilities which we already possess.

Abu: What do you mean: we fuck atoms every day?

Nick: We have two ways of knowing matter: one way is thru the senses where we perceive what matter looks and smells like from the outside. And the second way is knowing matter from the inside. We're made of matter too, so we know in a very direct and indisputable way what a certain type of matter feels like from inside.

Schopenhauer called this second way of knowing a "secret door" into the nature of reality. And Schopenhauer was right. We know with certainty something about the true nature of this bodily existence that no external observation of that body can reveal.

Since we already possess a method of knowing matter from the inside, all the Convivium will have to do is merely extend the range of this inside knowledge to the insides of other entities.

Abu: A kind of telescope for the soul.

Nick: Yes, a tool that can extend my innerness into the innerness of Abu, or into the innerness of an atom, or into the innerness of a squirrel, a salt marsh or a galaxy.

Abu: Swapping feelings with the Milky Way? What is quantum tantra?--is it science or mysticism?

Nick: It's scientific mysticism, Abu. We want to explore the same territory that mystics get to (and more) but we want to travel to these places first class.

Abu: Your business about expanding awareness sounds a lot like what people were saying in the sixties about psychedelic drugs.

Nick: Yes, our privileged view of matter from inside can be profoundly changed by certain mind-altering molecules. Used in the right way, these drugs have a lot to teach us about how the world actually works--the're an important first step in learning how to fuck atoms. But compared to the Convivium, compared to the ways that physicists will open new doors into the inner life of things, these crude chemical concoctions will seem like stone axes in the hands of cavemen.

Abu: So quantum tantra is a kind of physics-based LSD experience?

Nick: Drugs are mere training wheels, Abu. Quantum tantra is a starship to other worlds.

Abu: Why do you call what you want to do "fucking atoms"? Why not " enjoying telepathy with atoms"?

Nick: If you think that union with another being is like talking on the telephone you will be very surprised by your first Convivium experience. Linking minds on the symbolic level will be just a small part of this physics-assisted Opening to Otherness. Thru the Convivial link we will feel our bodies blending as well as our minds plus other kinds of connectedness that we don't yet have names for. So I don't think it's misleading to compare Convivial Union to sex but you must imagine it to be a type of sex that's deeper than anything most of us have ever experienced.

Abu: Deeper than sex? Deeper than drugs? Sounds great, Nick, but what's the catch?

Nick: The catch is that when you merge insides with other beings, you do not come back unchanged. The person that comes out of the Convivial Embrace is not be the same person that went in. Ordinary science is tame science--measuring the mass of a quark doesn't change you much. But because it's inherently participatory, quantum tantra is profoundly dangerous--and the risks increase the deeper you go. The more you want to learn about the world the more you risk losing not only your personal identity but even your membership in the human species.

On top of that the Convivial experience itself may not appeal to many scientists. Quantum tantra requires a high tolerance for ambiguity, a willingness to dissolve one's personal boundaries and surrender to alien embraces plus a high capacity for empathy. Most scientists--but not all--have very rigid character structures and very little empathy even for their own species let alone empathy for grotesque sex-starved jelly mammals from the Pleiades. I'm not all that brave and well-equipped for quantum tantra myself but I am practicing fearlessness and opening my body and my mind to new ideas and experiences.

Abu: Thank you, Nick, for taking time to answer my questions. Is there anything you would like to say to sum up this new way of encountering and understandingthe world?

Nick: Yes, Science has succeeded (perhaps too well) in taming Nature; now it's time to learn how to woo Her, seeing Her not as a collection of dead parts but approaching Nature as the very Body of the Beloved. And this neither as metaphor nor mysticism but as a suitably extended physics. Few conventional scientists will have much interest or ability for this sort of research. To carry out this new work (and this new play) quantum tantra will call forth new kinds of geniuses, male and female Scientist/Lovers of the Cosmos, daring atheletes of the heart and mind.

We are living in a time when all our knowledge is being built anew. Modern physics is fully erect science; quantum tantra is science on all fours.