Lunarator: A Second Generation Quantum Intimacy Machine

by Nick Herbert

ABSTRACT: Building on the stellerator concept of entangling minds by optically entangling retinas, I propose a new device which is able to achieve true entanglement, not mere correlation, and resolves the "spillover problem" endemic to devices based on the spatially large coherent modes of starlight.





Nick Herbert
Box 261
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
February 14, 2006


Lunarator: A Second Generation Quantum Intimacy Machine


"Quantum Tantra is not just another way to get high using materials you can find at your local hardware store. Quantum Tantra's a brand new kind of science--a radically different way of relating to the Universe."--Nick Herbert interviewed by Joe Methany in Boing-Boing (print edition)

Quantum theory is the most complete and successful predictive tool in the history of mankind. Quantum theory takes the entire physical world as its provenance and has survived almost 100 years of testing by generations of Nobel-hungry physicists without making a single incorrect prediction. But this unprecedented predictive power comes at a price--the lack of a comprehensible picture of what's really going on in the world. As Einstein put it: "Who would have imagined that we would come to know so much and understand so little?"

One of the strangest facts about the quantum world is that there are parts of it that are persistently not strange. In particular, every observation we make concerning the quantum world is perfectly ordinary. We never see any double-valued Schrödinger cats, for instance, no matter how cleverly we look. Nor any double-valued atoms, photons or electrons either. Even though the reality that underlies quantum observations is far from ordinary, and even though our ability to make measurements has increased immensely in the past 100 years--largely due to insights gained through quantum theory--the kind of measurements that we make are qualitatively no different than the kinds of measurements physicists carried out in the horse-and-buggy Victorian era of "ether" and "caloric". The raw results which quantum theory perfectly explains are not "quantum" at all but stubbornly and old-fashionedly classical.

In the early days of quantum theory Niels Bohr codified this surprising ordinariness of quantum fact thus: "However far quantum effects transcend the scope of classical physical analysis, the account of the experimental arrangement and the record of the observations must always be expressed in common language supplemented with the terminology of classical physics." In other words, even though we cannot explain the facts with a classical model, the facts must always be classical in appearance. Bohr justified his doctrine of the necessary classicality of human experience by appealing to the need for unambiguous communication of these facts to other scientists. Bohr's colleague Werner Heisenberg closed a possible loophole in Bohr's doctrine (how, for instance, might a being of atomic size experience the quantum world?) by stating that it is futile to speculate how other beings might perceive the quantum world because the task of physics is to to explain only how humans perceive that world.

In my book Quantum Reality (Doubleday Anchor Press 1985) I called this odd classicality of quantum facts the "Cinderella Effect": "All quantum experiments consist of commonplace events, a fact I call the Cinderella Effect. The world may really be as strange as some physicists say, but it does not flaunt this strangeness, evidently preferring to hide its magic--like Cinderella--in humble guise. The Cinderella effect itself is a subtle example of quantum weirdness: why does nature employ such extraordinary [quantum] realities to keep up merely ordinary appearances?" (QR p 56)

But what if this necessary classicality of observation is merely a stubborn Newtonian prejudice? What if we are not only able to enjoy non-classical experiences but do so all the time? Certainly a great part of our human experience is Newtonian and computer-like--the part that can balance checkbooks, read recipes and follow orders. But this speakable Newtonian part of our experience coexists with a less speakable kind of experience that includes our moods, vague premonitions and the very basic "feel" of consciousness itself. The fact that the machines that record all of our physics data lack these ineffable sensations may be responsible for the success of the Bohr doctrine. The reason that the quantum facts always appear classical is that we have always been using classical devices to record them.

What kind of physics could we build if we learned how to make non-classical observations--NCOs, for short? What sort of a world could we experience if we could explore the quantum world with our non-Newtonian parts as well as our calculating computer parts? It may turn out to be impossible to dispense with a machine-mediated world simply because our senses seem already to be simple biological machines--the human eye no different in principle from a electron-multiplier photon detector. On the other hand, research into the possibility of NCOs has been sparse and ill-funded so the possibility of such observations seems certainly worth pursuing.


A pair of stellerators

One of the first proposals to observe the world in a new quantum-inspired way involved two people just looking up at the same star together. The stellerator is a fancy name for a plastic (or cardboard) tube that each person looks through to isolate the same star in his/her visual field. A star is a special kind of light source because its light is highly coherent within a certain coherence radius which is surprisingly large--8 feet for the star Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion--and much larger for every other star in the sky. In a sense this radius represents the size of each photon's quantum wavefunction. And these wavefunctions are huge! I conjectured that coherent light falling on two separated retinas would quantum-entangle the retinas and--since retinas are extensions of the brain--the minds of the observers might become correlated in a brand-new way. Using the stellerator can be likened to shrinking oneself down to explore an atom because in both cases the observer is smaller than the wavefunction he/she is exploring. If this works the stellerator might go down in history as the world's first quantum intimacy machine.

One basic problem with the stellerator is "spillover". Since the radius of coherence of stars is always larger than 8 feet and the width of the human pupil is only about 1 centimeter, any entanglement shared between the two observers is also bound to be shared by every light-absorbing object lying within a considerable distance around the would-be entangled couple.

Another problem with the stellerator is that two retinas looking at the same source of light become quantum correlated but not, strictly speaking, quantum entangled. An entangled state is one that cannot be factored into two parts. If we represent the starlight by the quantum state | Star > and the state of the two observers as | Dick > and | Jane > then the combined state | stellerator > of both of them looking at the same star is represented as:


| stellerator > = | Star > | Dick > | Jane >


In English this means that any fluctuations in the starlight are experienced both by Dick and by Jane and so their experiences will certainly be correlated but this is a type of correlation that can be explained without quantum theory and is in essence no different from the type of mutual connection experienced when two spatially separated people are listening to the same radio station. Not much mystery here. The mathematically inclined will notice that the state of the stellerator consists of three quantum states simply multiplied together and so trivially factorizable--the touchstone for lack of quantum entanglement. Entangled states are those that can't be factored and (as shown by Irish physicist John Bell) can't be explained by classical models of reality.

A slightly more sophisticated attempt at two-person quantum entanglement that avoids both the spillover problem while achieving true quantum entanglement is a device I call the "Lunarator" because it involves two people looking at the Moon together in a special way.

The Lunarator consists of an optical beam splitter which divides light into a Transmitted (T) and reflected (R) beam each of which is viewed by one of the partners in the experiment. For reasons to be made clear, the input light comes from the Moon rather than a star--hence the term "Lunarator" for this alleged quantum intimacy machine. Wherever the moonlight incident on the beam splitter is coherent, it is said to be in a "single mode"--a kind of lump of light. For starlight this lump of light is very broad--at least 8 feet wide for the star Betelgeuse and much larger for every other star in the sky. For the moon the physical size of the incident mode (coherence width) is only 0.8 mm--about the diameter of a human hair. The small size of the moon's coherence width eliminates the "spillover problem" encountered in the stellerator. In fact the moon's coherence width (0.8 mm) is considerably smaller than the diameter of the pupil of the human eye (1 cm). See Chart in previous stellerator paper for coherence properties of Moon and starlight.

In the stellerator paper, I described light from the stars as huge "possibility pancakes" hurtling at light speed down from the sky. Light from the moon travels in much smaller packages--more the size of "possibility fly specks". Two people sufficiently close together and looking at the same star are competing in a sense for the same photon--this fact is the basis for the stellerator's operation. On the other hand, because of the Moon's tiny coherence radius, the eyes of two people looking at the Moon are ordinarily exposed to two different photons.

The action of the beamsplitter is to take each flyspeck-sized moonlight mode and divide it into two flyspecks, one that travels to Dick's eye and one that travels to Jane's. Because of the beamsplitter Dick and Jane are--as in the stellerator case--now competing for the same photon but because the size of the wave packet is smaller than the pupil of the eye, all "spillover" is eliminated. Nothing else is competing for that particular photon but the retinas of Dick and of Jane.

Furthermore the lunarator represents a situation of true quantum entanglement (non-factorizable wavefunction) not mere quantum correlation (factorizable wavefunction) as in the case of the stellerator. The lunerator quantum state | lunerator > is a non-factorizable superposition of the transmitted | MoonT > and reflected moonlight | MoonR > acting on the separate retinas of Dick (| Dick >) and of Jane (| Jane >).


| lunerator > = | MoonT > | Dick > + | MoonR > | Jane >


| lunerator > is clearly a non-factorizable wavefunction. It cannot be written as a product of a function that represents Dick's experience and a function that represents Jane's. Whatever it might mean in practice, in principle by exposing their retinas to lunerator light, Dick and Jane are allowing small but sensitive parts of their bodies to become intermingled in true quantum entanglement.

For ease of operation, after the beam-splitting mirror MM an ordinary mirror M is positioned to deflect the transmitted beam in a convenient direction for observation of | MoonT >. A small disc of transparent blue acetate is affixed to the center of the beamsplitter so both observers can focus their eyes on the same spot and hence compete for the same fly-speck-sized wavefunction for lunar photons. In the case of the stellerator we are dealing with a situation in which two people are exploring how they feel when both are inside the same (big, stellar) wavefunction. In the case of the lunarator you are exploring how you both feel when the same (tiny, lunar) wavefunction is inside you.

On a night when the Moon is full, the Lunerator's beam tube is pointed at the Moon so that her light fully illuminates the beamsplitter. After appropriate preparations for an experiment in intimacy (the details of which lie outside the scope of this paper) one member of the couple looks at the reflected beam and the other (with the aid of the auxillary mirror) looks at the transmitted beam. Both parties adjust their positions so that the image of the Moon they see coming from their part of the beamsplitter lies squarely on the blue acetate disk. Both of you are looking for a blue Moon in your respective mirrors. When both of you can see blue Moons in your mirrors that's when the fun begins. In 2006, we are at the kindergarten stage of quantum intimacy research so working/playing with the lunerator and kindred devices is a truly pioneering endeavor.

One possible way of conceptualizing the action of the lunarator is to imagine that each photon wavefunction strikes the beamsplitter, divides in two and (because of its small size) completely enters both of the observer's eyes, entangling in some tiny way the two separated retinas and perhaps also the two separated minds. I imagine this entanglement as one small stitch made with a thread of light much finer than a spider web--each photon one stitch that sews the moon-observing partners together. And how many stitches does this lunar sewing machine make each second? For a first magnitude star about 1 trillion photons strike the retina each second. But the Moon is 100,000 times brighter than a first magnitude star so we might expect that the stitch density of this hypothetical lunar sewing machine is close to a million trillion stitches per second. The physics here is quite straightforward but what is not yet known is this: what does the lunarator experiment really feel like and what does it really do to your mind?

Nobody really knows where attempts like this to fully experience a quantum wavefunction might lead. For reasons outlined above I am proposing the lunerator as a promising situation where non-classical observations might be experienced and verified.

As a scientist I was deeply impressed by the effects of psychedelic drugs. Modern chemists can now synthesize particular molecules that not only alter your perceptions but profoundly change your very sense of selfhood. These drugs (some of them) go very deep. As tools for studying the far reaches of consciousness they are unsurpassed.

As a physicist I was somewhat envious that it happened to be chemists who first discovered a non-mystical, scientific way to "shake the seat of the soul". For is not physics a more fundamental science than chemistry? We physicists should have gotten there first. Physicists possess, after all, in quantum theory the deepest, truest model of the world that has ever existed. My hope for these so-called "quantum intimacy machines" is that they might help us take our first awkward steps toward the opening up of fundamental new (quantum) doorways into our own nature, physics-based doorways that will make the chemist's psychedelic drugs seem like child's play.


For his persuasive dramatizations of physics-based engagements of the whole self I would like to thank James P. Hogan, with particular appreciation for his fine novel Paths To Otherwhere (Baen 1996). In Hogan's tale the human ability to simultaneously experience multiple quantum possibilities (an example of what I call an NCO) is augmented by machines at Los Alamos National Laboratory to permit a kind of "soul transfer" into congenial portions of the Quantum Multiverse.


Nick Herbert
Box 261
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
February 14, 2006