DS: This DSI
is with Howard Bloom (http://www.howardbloom.net/),
a man whose career defies categorization, for he has been an entrepreneur,
entertainment mogul, social scientist, teacher, writer, and some time
philosopher. His latest book is the soon to be released The
God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Creates. I reviewed it here,
and think it’s the best of the books of his I have read, for reasons I shall
detail, in excerpts from my review, and in questions about it. I usually open
these interviews with a round of biographical questions, but I’ll save those
for later, as well as more wide ranging questions, some queries I ask all my
interviewees, as well as touching upon his earlier works.
But, first, let me welcome him to my forum, and first allow him,
for those readers to whom his books and name are unfamiliar, to give a précis
on who Howard Bloom is: what you do, what your aims in your career are/were,
major achievements, and your general philosophy, etc.
Well I’m the author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into
The Forces Of History, which is a book that has sold between 120-140,000
copies worldwide, and some people call it their Bible—bless them, another book
called Global Brain: The Evolution Of Mass Mind From The Big Bang To The 21st
Century, and that one the office of the Secretary of Defense threw a forum
on, and brought in people from the State and Energy Departments and IBM and MIT,
and flew in a major IBM researcher from California and flew the MIT person from
Boston. The 3rd book was The Genius Of The Beast: A Radical
Re-Vision Of Capitalism and I wrote it to save Western Civilization by
giving Western Civilization a sense of what it had achieved, so it understood
what its obligation was to achieve in the future. It was originally called Reinventing
Capitalism: Putting Soul in the Machine, and showing the soul in the machine
was a vital part of that book. It won a lot of praise but I think it remains an
obscure and undiscovered book. And now I’ve written The God Problem: How A
Godless Cosmos Creates, which is probably the closest to my life quest of
these books, but they are all part of my life quest.
And what the fuck is my life quest?
“Life quest” sounds like a pompous phrase, but when I was 10 years
old, it felt like I was beaten up by everyone in Buffalo, NY, I was rejected in
every conceivable way—it felt like there was nobody who loved me in my
hometown, and that’s an understatement. But
then at 10 I discovered a couple of people who actually accepted me, people who
did not toss me out. They were Galileo and Anton van
Leeuwenhoek and I was given 2 principles by the book in which I discovered these
guys. Principle number one, the first rule of science, was
the truth of any price including the price of your life. And the book
gave the example of Galileo. And luckily, it gave the story all wrong—it told
it as myth, it said that Galileo was one of those guys who was willing to go to
the fires and die in flames if that’s what it took to advance his truth. In
reality, the pope was a friend of Galileo—they had known each other a long
time and they cut a deal and the deal was that Galileo would abjure his truth,
he would say that everything he had written was wrong, in exchange for getting
house arrest for ten years instead of being
burned at the stake, but fortunately, that is not the story I was told. The
story I was told was of a courageous Galileo who would have fought to the death
to defend his truth. Principle #2 –the 2nd rule of science-- is to
look at things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen them before, and
then proceed from there.
Look at the things that you and everyone around you take for granted.
Look at them as if you’ve never seen them before and then proceed from there.
And the book in my hands when I was ten gave the example of Anton
van Leeuwenhoek who was a draper.
In van Leeuwenhoek’s time, in order to sell cloth, you used a hi-tech
tool and that was the lens. The lens had been developed 500 years earlier for
spectacles—reading glasses. But the use of it in the way van Leeuwenhoek was
using it was relatively new. And
van Leeuwenhoek got an idea and his idea led
him to custom-grind a lens that would allow him to look at teeny-weeny
little things, not just the weave of a fabric and he started looking at
teeny-weeny little things all over the place, which led to a story that the book
didn’t tell me, and it’s a story about courage and it’s a story about
looking at things right under your nose. Van Leeuwenhoek looked at a bunch of
fluid and discovered it had little tiny animals in it—highly active little
tiny animals swimming around with whipping tales. Now what was the fluid he
examined? His own sperm. In other words, he had the courage to masturbate, which
is something that you’re just not allowed to talk abouta at all, and he had
the courage to look at his own sperm, examine it scientifically, and he made the
discovery of microorganisms, which led to all of microbiology. So those 2
rules—the truth at any price including the price of your life and look at
things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen them before—those
became my mission in life and I have been in science since I was 10. To me
it’s my religion, and I will do anything I can to deliver you the truth and I
will do anything to deliver you a truth that gets you and me both to look at
things as if we’ve never seen them before, in ways that are surprising and
stunning. And I will do anything I possibly can to tell you a story in such a
vivid manner that it’s easy to understand and that it grips you like a novel.
So that’s my life quest.
DS: As stated,
let’s get this interview started with taking on your upcoming book, The
God Problem. Before tackling what its contents are, and how you
came about its idea, let me first talk about the book’s marketing and
pre-release. Over the last couple of decades you have had a few successful
books- at least in terms of name recognition- I don’t know of sales nor the
like. Yet, despite that cachet, you took to the Kickstarter website, and this
page, to raise $20,000 (successfully) to market the work. First, why did you
feel a need to got this unconventional route? Second, did your publisher,
Prometheus Books, refuse to back its own product? And what does this campaign
allow you to do that, sans it, you would not have been able to do?
DS: Given that
you are a de facto Name Brand author, and still went this route, what does this
say to you of the future of publishing? Are too many huge advances being paid
out to writers and books that have no realistic chance of recouping their costs?
If you could reconfigure the publishing industry- at least for that area you
occupy (nonfiction, science, etc.) what would you do? Do you think that e-books
are the future? I’ve thought that it will take one author to have Harry
Potter or Twilight
or Dan Brown level
sales (albeit hopefully better literary quality) to change the current paradigm,
and then the big publishers will find themselves dinosaurs in a Wild West
environment where technology utterly rents their economic model. I’d say this
occurs no later than 2030. Any thoughts?
E-books have got to be the future—I bought my Kindle 3 and half years ago and
I do all of my reading on my Kindle, it reads stuff out loud to me through
headphones while I do exercises in the morning or walk two miles through
Prospect Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to the Tea Lounge, the cafe where I do my
writing. There are 265 items in my Kindle right now—that’s a library.
That’s 100 lbs of books, or 250 lbs of books and yet I carry them around with
me everywhere. When I was on the train last night coming back from a wedding in
Hudson, NY, to New York City, there were more people carrying Kindles and iPads
than I have ever seen before. When I sat down in the train
station waiting area once I got back here to New York and popped onto the
wifi to run an online meeting for an hour,
again, at first I was struck by the number of people who had iPads and
then I was struck by the number who didn’t, and what looked like a lot of
iPads were 4 in a room of 200 people. That means 196 people don’t have
them, and you know those people are going to have iPads 5 years from now. Or
they will have some form of tablet,
so they will have the option of reading books. Once upon a time, in the record
industry, in 1922, 600 radio stations were licensed.
Record companies had been making tons of money for over seventeen years.
The first record to sell millions of copies sold 5 million copies for The Victor
Company in 1905. It was a record by
Enrico Caruso. So by 1922, there was a flourishing record industry, and that
industry looked at radio and said, ‘Oh my God, this is going to put us out of
Radio might mean that people would not have to pay for records.
They’d get their music for free. The
record industry panicked. It started putting these labels on its records that
said, ‘You are only permitted to play this in your own living room. If you
play it anyplace else, the FBI will be all over your back. They will punish you
severely.’’ And they said that so that there wouldn’t be free airplay
of music. But guess what the record companies discovered in the 1930s and 40s?
If you had a lot of free airplay, it increased the sales of records. And by the
1950s record companies were sending
guys into radio stations to lobby to play records on the air for free, while
offering cocaine and money and anything it took to get free airplay. Something
like that is going to happen in the publishing industry. And both books and
e-books will flourish, and in the end e-books will make paper books flourish all
the more. I’m not quite sure how, but that is what is likely to happen.
DS: That said,
what have been the major criticisms of your book and ideas, online or off, in
essay or fora, and what is your response?
I made a list of 600 people I respect, and whose books I liked, and I believe
there was only one negative response out of 100 and it came from Paul Davies.,
Paul Davies is a physicist and cosmologist and his books have been
chasing the mystery of emergence for a long time, and the mystery of emergence
is an important part in The God Problem.
Paul Davies said he wished I hadn’t attacked the 2nd Law of
Thermodynamics. He said I wish you
hadn’t have said that the concept of entropy is all wrong. And his
justification was a strange one. He said many good minds have put many years
into the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Now think about that—if you
think about the Second Law, it says all things tend towards disorder. All things
tend towards entropy, and the image used to illustrate the point is usually take
a sugar cube and drop it into a glass of water and wait 15 minutes or swirl the
water around. What happens? The sugar cube dissolves. Well, that’s what
happens with everything—the entropy believers say. And then they give you the
concept of heat death, which Lord Kelvin came up with in 1851, and the concept
of heat death says that eventually the universe will do what a sugar cube does
in a glass of water. It will dissolve into a formless muddle.
This is so outside the bounds of the real universe that it defies belief.
The real universe is constantly creating new forms and disgorging new
forms of organization, and whomping together new emergent properties.
The idea that everything is moving toward a muddle is ridiculous.
Frankly, in a universe of entropy, that there would be no you and me. Period. So
to say that I wish you hadn’t taken on the 2nd Law of
Thermodynamics because so many great minds have spent so much time on it is not
good science. It would be one thing
if Davies had said we should not criticize the concept of entropy because so
many great scientists have done so many experiments that have proven it right.
That’s what you’d expect to hear, the proof. But no, if I’m paraphrasing
him correctly from memory, that’s not what Paul said. What he said was simply
that a great many minds have dedicated themselves to the
concept of entropy. Well, you could say that about Buddhism,
Christianity, look at all the people who went into monasteries, who became nuns,
who went through lives of celibacy in order to be priests. You could say I wish
you hadn’t questioned the idea of God, because look at all great minds that
have dedicated their lives to it. That’s not a justification for anything.
Especially in science.
We humans leap passionately to embrace systems of belief that make sense
to us, but the fact that these belief systems make sense to so many doesn’t
mean they fit the real world, or that they’re valid lenses to see the real
world in ways that will allow us more predictive powers. And science is all
about seeing what’s under your nose, looking for the truth, and looking for
the truth that surprises. It’s about looking skeptically at
truths that are accepted by a vast mass of great minds.
It’s about looking with a fresh eye at the things that many bright
minds have taken for granted. That’s
the second law of science. Look at
things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen them before.
Look at things that you and everyone around you take for granted.
Look with a fresh eye at things even great minds have accepted as basic
truths. And in the case of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, looking
with a fresh eye tells me that it’s crap, it’s bullshit. It doesn’t fit
the universe of continuous creativity that we live in.
Hector Zenil of the Institut
d'Histoire et de Philosophic des Sciences et des Technique, who said The God
Problem was “thrilling” and he couldn’t stop reading it until the end,
also said he wished I hadn’t attacked the notion of entropy. So that was the
one criticism that I can remember.
since science is about testing hypotheses and requiring proof, what hypotheses
of yours have met empirical proofs? And, if none have yet, when and how do you
propose to test them? And, if they fail to meet expected results, what happens
to your theory? Do you, ala the Big Bangers, create an ad hoc patchwork, or do
you scrap it all, and start afresh?
DS: Let me now
turn to The God Problem,
and given the book’s heft, and that it has been some months since I read it, I
think the best way to give folks at least a flavor of it is to tackle some of
its larger points by referring to the lengthy review
of it I did, quoting some of the passages, and letting you respond or expound
where needed. First, what is the titular God Problem?
The God Problem is this—if there is no God, then how was the cosmos created?
In Genesis it says that God spoke, that God spoke and there was the heavens and
the earth and God parted the heavens from the seas and said let there be light
and there was light, and there is light. And the fact is that there is a lot
more than just heavens and seas and light, there are protons, neutrons, planets,
stars, octopi, palm trees, and you and me.
So how the fuck did the universe create these things without a God?
That’s the God Problem.
The use of God of in the title in my case was not a marketing ploy
because, to put you back in my shoes again, look at what your mission in life
was—you were given a mission in life at the age of 12.
God knows how missions land on us. That’s another subject for another
time. But your mission was to find the Gods and to figure out what these Gods
are, and that includes a big mystery—how does a cosmos without a god create
space, time, atoms, stars, galaxies, and life. It’s all a huge mystery and
modern science is only giving us the tiniest glimpses of the answers.
DS: When you
asked me to read the book and proffer a blurb for it, I wrote this:
The God Problem is Bloom’s
best, as well the best GOD-titled, book ever. Eschewing obsessive atheistic
evangelism (Dawkins, Dennett, et al.), Bloom focuses detailed Linnaean
naturalism with Boorstinian narrative to argue for a cosmos not Intelligently
Designed, but Emergently Patterned. Bloom does not leave the universe to the
stars, but fractally connects natural design to human creativity, bridging
seemingly disparate fields as cosmology, mathematics, neuroscience, linguistics,
and the arts. The book never mentions Keats’s Negative Capability, but does
better; it enacts it.
There are several points I want to engage with. First, was the
dropping of the word God into the title purely for marketing purposes?
The reason I ask is because I do state this is the best book with that term in
it that I’ve read because so many people whore their science or life
experiences with that term: The God This, The God That….
Second, despite the use of God, the book has surprisingly
little about religion in it. You seem to assume that folks reading the book will
buy into your non-theism at the get-go. Therefore you don’t seem to bog down
into the relentless warrior mode that Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam
Harris types do. By doing so this allows a clarity that I find missing in their
works, plus an accessibility that their works lack: i.e.- you’re not an
evangelist. What are the pros and cons of this approach?
Well, let’s look at the negatives of Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher
Hitchens. Science is about being open-minded. Everything is a tentative
hypothesis, and you have to know that a hypothesis you hug and cherish might be
disproven later and it may be your job to be the one to disprove it.
Even if you are the one who came up with it. When scientists commit
themselves to a hypothesis as an absolute truth, they don’t realize it but
they often set up a church-like
structure, and Dawkins has set up a church-like structure in which he is the
Pope and in which there are heresies and if you believe in those heresies
you’re out of the church. Well, that’s not tolerance, pluralism or science.
Dawkins is brilliant and an extraordinary communicator, his ideas are extremely
useful, his books are well worth reading, but the fact is he’s become
intolerant. He has been what St. Augustine was—another brilliant mind. And St.
Augustine took off on a heresy hunt and it made him less than human. It made him
cruel, vicious and intolerant. Well, Richard Dawkins and the crew are not
putting people to death, which is something that St. Augustine did, but it is
not science to say that something is absolutely wrong and should be wiped out of
the human vocabulary of concepts.. That is not science—that is dogma. Dogma is
not science, dogma is religion. I think I’m an evangelist, but I am an
evangelist on behalf of an open-minded science and an amazingly creative cosmos.
contrast the ideas of Intelligent Design vs. Emergent Patterns.
The fact is that Intelligent Design people think that because the cosmos exists,
there had to be an intelligent designer who created it. And it’s an
interesting idea to analyze. What do we really mean when we talk about designing
something? We mean that in the designer’s brain, 30 to 40 visual centers began
to visualize something that had never existed before and then the designer took
his vision and figured out how to instantiate it as a reality. And Intelligent
Designers believe we need a God to imagine all this stuff, and then to make sure
that it happens. Well, sorry, if you need a God to do that, who made the God?
Who designed the God? So what does the concept of Emergent Properties say about
how this astonishing cosmos came to be? The paradigm of emergence is something
that George Henry Lewes and John Stuart Mill came up with in roughly 1835 in
London, and the whole extraordinary story of these guys is in the book. In the 1830s, George Henry Lewes and John Stuart
Mill were sitting around thinking about this new thing called chemistry.
They were thinking about the fact that
oxygen and hydrogen, are
both gasses, you can pass your hand through them, you can see through them,
often you don’t even know they’re there.
If you add two bell jars of these gasses, one bell jar of oxygen and one
bell jar of hydrogen, based on the logic and the arithmetic of one plus one
equals two, one hydrogen gas plus one oxygen gas should equal two gasses.
Right? Put hydrogen and oxygen together, they’re both gases and so you
should get a gas. Gas in, gas out. Makes sense? Well, what happens if you put a
match in? All you’re adding is heat,
so you should get nothing but a slightly warmed gas. That’s simple logic.
Except that’s not how it happens. You put the hydrogen and oxygen together,
and it’s a gas. Fine. But you put
in a match, and there’s an explosion. Where in hell did an explosion come
from? That’s a radically different reality than a gas. But even more
astonishing than that, you get something else that’s radically unlike a gas. It’s a something you can feel with your fingers, but unlike
solid stuff, you can put your fingers through it. And it does strange things. It
can make a puddle on the floor. It can soak into your pants and make a stain
that embarrasses the hell out of you. It
can ball up in spheres. It’s
called liquid, it’s called water. Now if you take a really close look at
hydrogen and oxygen and and you’ve never seen this stuff before, there’s no
way in hell you can predict liquid water. If
you do a minute analysis of hydrogen and oxygen and add their qualities
together, you can’t predict an
explosion. And, you can’t predict
liquid—that’s an emergent property. When we talk about the emergence of
water, that’s an emergent property. So is the explosion. When we talk about
emergent properties, are we talking
about things that a God of the cosmos does?
Is there a God in the hydrogen and another God in the oxygen?
Have the two of them copulated? Does
a designer God need to picture an explosion and water in his head before they
can take place for the first time? If
you’re an atheist, the answer is no. Take
hydrogen, oxygen, put in the flame and wham. You get an explosion and water and
all of that happens without a God. So if that can happen without a God,
presumably a cosmos can happen without a God. That is the difference between
Intelligent Design and Emergent Patterns. We know the hydrogen and oxygen reaction is for real and that
it produces water. But we still
don’t know how and why it happens. We can’t explain it—we still can’t
explain water, the example that George Henry Lewes and John Stuart Mill were
using in 1843, nearly 170 years
ago. That was the phenomenon that
prodded George Henry Lewes to come up with this word: emergence. And we still
haven’t solved the puzzle. So Emergent Patterns happen without a God, the same
thing may have happened with the Big Bang, which could have come to be in a way
that doesn’t need a God. And the idea of a God is ridiculous because if you
need an Intelligent Designer to explain anything complex, then God is complex as
hell and we need an Intelligent Designer to design the God. And if we needed a
God to design the God then we need a God to design the God who designed the
God…it keeps going. It’s
called an “infinite regress.”
DS: Finally, I
mention the idea of poet John Keats’ Negative Capability, yet
you never use the term in your book, yet, in correspondence with me, you seemed
to have an Aha! Moment yourself, as if you unwittingly stumbled into something
with deeper implications than you realized. Is this so, and, having now realized
this connection, has this catalyzed any ideas for future works, or an expansion
of your ideas within?
I went and looked Negative Capability up on Wikipedia and I was stunned by the
concept, and in essence it’s another way
of expressing the second rule of science—look at things right under your nose
as if you’ve never seen them
before. I think the concept of Negative Capability, because it keeps escaping my
memory, is the fact of seeing something in what’s under your nose that
you’ve never seen before. Actually doing the seeing, not thinking of the
seeing. Doing the seeing that stuns you. And yes, I tried to achieve that in the
book because that is the 2nd Law of science—I have to look at
things with wonder and awe in order to question them and come up with new ways
of looking at them and I want you to see the wonder and awe in these things
because they are wonderful. They are awe-filled. The universe is filled with
things that go on right under our nose that we never see.
DS: Why did
you put autobiographical elements into your book, and do you think that, because
this necessarily removes it from a work of hard science, it does long term
damage to your larger ideas? What do you see as the tradeoff for this stylistic
Scientists for 250 years have been trained in a certain academic form of writing
in which they make their work objective. And how do they make their work
objective? They take all their autobiographical elements out of their work.
Well, what does that do? It makes reading academic science research articles
very hard. I know, I’ve been reading journal articles and hard science books
since I was 11 years old. And sometimes in mass quantities and they’re
extremely frustrating because you don’t know why the scientists are asking the
questions they’re pursuing, you don’t know what significance of the answer
is. Why? Because the scientist has
been trained not to tell you anything about his or her life. She’s been trained not to tell you why the question and
answer means something to her. She’s
been trained not to tell you about her motivation and her thought process. I was
reading a book by Heinz Pagels in the 1990s,
I think it was
Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity. And Pagels put a biographical element in his book. The result
was amazing—all of a sudden, this bit of his personal history illuminated why
he was pursuing the topic he was pursuing—it made
his ideas meaningful. And I realized, we are being robbed of something
massive when 350 years of scientists won’t tell us the autobiographical
stories that explain why they found the questions they dedicated their lives to
so compelling and why they found the answers so useful. So I put in the
autobiographical element. And I put it in for another reason—in order to get
across an idea, you have to tell a good story. You have to tell a story that’s
gripping and that will open a door to the person reading the book and make him
or her feel not just a part of the story, but in the very center of it. And the
narrative that pulls all the questions in this book together, all the questions
I’ve tried to tackle in this book, is the autobiographical narrative. I’m
trying to give meaning by giving you the context of my life.
The sort of context that made Heinz Pagels’ writing hit home. I’m
putting you in the center of my life so you see the meaning of the questions
that I am asking.
DS: I then
quote from the book regarding the Five Heresies. What are they, why are they
important, and what relevance do they have to the book’s premise?
Heresy #1 if A = B and if B = C
then A = C. That’s the basis of
Aristotle’s logic, the logic that you and I use every day.
It’s at the heart of the logic that science uses without question or a
second glance. That cornerstone of logic is what Aristotle called his basic
syllogism. And Aristotle’s
syllogism is based on the assumption that A = A, but what if A doesn’t = A?
What if the A I just said a second ago is different from the
A I said two seconds earlier. Remember,
each A involves a different movement of molecules of air.
Each A popped out of a slightly different setting of the hundred billion
neurons in my brain. And each was
absorbed a bit differently by the hundred billion neurons of yours. What’s
more, each A was spoken at a slightly different position on an earth that moves
seventeen miles around its axis every minute, an earth that moves 556 miles
around the sun in 60 seconds, and an earth in a solar system that moves 864
miles a minute around the core of our galaxy.
No two A’s are precisely alike. Each involves a different swatch of
matter. Each takes place in a
different time. Each emerges in a
different place. Each has a
different context. And context
Heresy 2 is that 1 + 1 does not = 2. For an example, go back to what
George Henry Lewes and John Stuart Mill were looking at—put two gasses
together and you don’t just get twice as much gas. Second by second, that kind
of thing happens all over the universe and if you don’t understand it, your
math and logic will only take you a certain distance and then will leave you out
in the cold and you won’t understand you’re out in the cold because you’ll
try to make all natural phenomena fit your arithmetic and that’s not the way
it should be, you should make an arithmetic that fits the cosmos. So 1 + 1 does
not always = 2.
Heresy #3 is that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics—that all
things fall apart, that all things tend towards disorder, that all things tend
towards entropy—is dead wrong. It does not fit this cosmos whatsoever.
In this cosmos things do not fall down, they fall up. Things do not fall
apart, they fall together. Yes, they fall apart to a certain extent, but what
falls apart always falls together, and usually in a far more creative way
than in the 1st way it fell together.
Heresy # 4 is that the idea that we live in a random universe—the idea
of the sort of randomness that’s used to explain Darwinian evolution over
and over--is wrong. This is not a
six monkeys at six typewriters
universe. This is a far more ordered and structured universe, The number of
choice points the universe has at any given moment is
fewer than those who use the mathematics of probability theory would guess.
Heresy # 5 is that information theory, which has been crucially important
over the last 50 years, is dead wrong.
In fact, one of information theory’s most basic premises is so far off
the mark it’s ridiculous.
tactic the book deploys is the revivification of historic figures without
falling into tired anecdotes; something practiced by the late, great historian
Daniel J. Boorstin. First, why this tack, and second, which of the anecdotes on
historic figures that the book uses was the most illuminating for you, either
personally or in regards to the God Problem?
One of the most illuminating moments for me was when you used Loren Eiseley and
Daniel Boorstin as yardsticks to measure this book.
You were dead right. Loren Eiseley moved me tremendously in the 1970s,
and I loved his way of doing science with poetry and there is a guy named Giulio
Prisco, a veteran of the European Space Agency, who has written on the website
KurzweilAI, Ray Kurzweil’s tech-news website, that this book is science
poetry. But as you pointed out, I do not reach Loren Eiseley’s heights, and I
wish that I did.
Secondly, Daniel Boorstin was an incredibly important figure in my
intellectual life because I was struggling to learn history from the age 16 on
and it wasn’t until Daniel Boorstin’s The Discoverers came out in
1983, it wasn’t until Boorstin told such vivid, riveting stories that he made
the whole pattern of history knit itself together in my mind for the 1st
time and that was a tremendous gift. When it comes to the scientists whose
stories I tell, there are huge numbers of them that I researched, and every one
of them was a revelation and an illumination because when I dove into their life
stories, I found that their life stories hadn’t been told accurately. And that
there were amazing things that we were not normally told about these people. For
example, we imagine that Kepler came up with the 3 Laws of Planetary Motion. Ok,
I dare you. Go on Google Book search and pull up all the works of Kepler and
look for the 3 Laws of Planetary Motion and you won’t find them. One of the
reasons you won’t find them is because the 3 Laws of Planetary Motion are
mathematical and that, to us, means
the use of equations. And Kepler didn’t have equations. Yes, he had something
he called math, but it’s what we call geometry and he drew triangles inside of
circles. Sometimes as many as 40 triangles intersecting inside a circle in order
to figure out a complex problem. That was his form of mathematics. And we have
to realize that the equations we
take for granted as math, have only been math for the past 300 years, and they
are just as tentative as any other form of math or of human thinking that’s
ever existed—they’re not the be all end all of the world. That discovery was an astonishment.
DS: While I
had high praise for the book, I did not agree with all the book’s points, and
my biggest objection requires me to quote lengthily from my essay and the book:
Now, let me get to metaphor, and how I think Bloom has a problem. While I
agree that metaphor is an apt way for how we humans to approach the cosmos, I
don’t believe meaning derives from it.
Bloom details the history of why metaphoric thinking is deemed
unscientific, then counterattacks:
Light, says current physics, is simultaneously a wave and a
particle. And guess what? Though Aristotle says that “metaphorical reasoning
is unscientific,” a wave is a metaphor. So is a particle.
How did the highest of the modern sciences—physics--get the notion that
light is both a wave and a particle? From metaphors
After digressing on Leonardo da Vinci, Bloom writes:
What’s more, this battle of the metaphors would go on for
three hundred years. The battle of the metaphor of the wave versus the metaphor
of the “little body.” The battle of the wave versus the metaphor of the
cannonball, the billiard ball, and the bullet. The battle of the wave versus the
particle. Why? Because metaphor is the key to human understanding. And metaphor
is central to something that Aristotle invented: science.
We then get more background, in an attempt to answer this query, and
Bloom returns to another common tack, that of the classic two slit experiment,
wherein light seemingly ‘chooses’ to go through one slit or another. Of
course, the idea of choice is a metaphor, and Bloom is correct on this score,
and then he propounds this:
This is not easy to explain in words, so please hang in with
me. You now have two sheets of paper. One that’s got just one slit. Your light
concentrator. And one that has two slits in it. Your light separator. Now set
the candle and sheets up so that light from the candle goes through the one-slit
sheet and is concentrated, and so the light next goes through the two-slit
sheet. Yes, I know it’s confusing. But let the light from the two slits shine
on the wall. Turn off the lights. What will you get? Logically, you should get a
relatively normal wash of light on the wall. You often have two light sources,
two candles, two light bulbs overhead, or two lamps. And a normal wash of light
is the result. But a wash of light is not what you see on the wall. Not at all.
You see stripes. In fact, you see a lineup of stripes. Why?
Young said that the sideways ladder of stripes was due to the
same thing that made the water’s moiré—the water’s hatched and gridworked
plaid. In other words, Young declared that the stripes of light were made by the
same thing that rippled a liquid into a plaid. Said Young, the stripes of light
on your wall are due to interference. Where two peaks of light meet, they add to
each other. They make lines of brightness. Where two troughs meet, they
other. They make lines of darkness. Hence light is not a particle. It is a wave.
A wave like the waves in water. Like the waves in Leonardo’s pond. Like the
waves in the ducks’ wake. And like the waves in Young’s ripple tank.
Now let’s step back and apply the second law of science for
a minute. Let’s look at things right under our noses—yours and mine—as if
we’ve never seen them before. Two swatches of light overlap and
make…darkness? This is an absurd notion. It makes absolutely no sense. How can
light added to light make light’s opposite, a swatch of black? How can one plus
one equal zero? That’s like saying two patches of night make day. But this
is not the only bit of absurdity at work in Young’s claim. It’s not the only
piece of outrageousness in Leonardo’s—and Young’s—idea that light is
like water. And it’s not the only bit of nonsense in Newton’s crazy idea
that light—the insubstantial stuff that you can run your hand through, the
immaterial flood you walk through every day—Newton’s crazy idea that light
is a rain of miniature bullets, billiard balls, or cannonballs. These ideas are
based on a stark-ravingly ridiculous platform, a lunatic assumption. They are
based on the idea that a pattern translates from one medium to another. And they
are based on the assumption that despite this violent displacement into soups,
goops, vacuums, and solids that seem to bear no relationship to each other, the
pattern will stubbornly maintain its identity. That assumption is the bottom
line of metaphor. And as Aristotle said, metaphor is unscientific. Right?
Why is metaphor so outrageous? So utterly unbelievable? Let
me repeat. In a rational world, light and water are violently different things.
There is no reason whatsoever that water and light should be the same. And in
truth, every laboratory demonstration, every chemical reaction in a test tube,
every act of genetic analysis in a sequencing machine, every experiment on
pigeons, rats, or pygmy chimps, every test of drugs on dogs or rabbits, and
every social science study based on sampling makes no sense. Every one of these
assumes that you can capture a pattern in one small patch of territory, in one
manifestation of nature, and blow it up big. What’s worse, every one of these
assumes that you can grab hold of a pattern in one kind of thing and generalize
it to radically different things. Every one of these assumes that you can take a
basic pattern and translate it the way Young translated the Rosetta Stone. That
you can translate it to something that is grotesquely different. And every one
of these carries another hidden assumption. That the real translator, the real
duplicator of a basic pattern in radically different mediums, is not you. The
hidden assumption is that the real translator is nature.
Several problems occur here: the first should be obvious, and that is
that, even as a laymen, I know that the Classical war over light, known as
wave-particle duality, states that light is not a particle nor wave, but acts
like a particle or wave, depending on how one views or measures it; but it
cannot act like both simultaneously. Now, forget about the lay difficulty in
understanding this materially, and concentrate on the fact that Bloom does not
recognize this in the excerpt, even as he previously acknowledged these were
metaphors. He seems to vacillate between the two, as if they were particles or
waves, not merely acting like they were, which is similar to the earlier
lack of recognition that a meme is merely a metaphor. Hence, he seems to have
gotten swept up in the very power of metaphor he is illustrating- again, a
recapitulative moment, which might seem almost a Postmodern tack, save for the
fact that he is speaking of an oft-repeated and confirmed and controlled
The larger issue is that while it is metaphoric to claim something
behaves in a certain way, the actual reduction of such A is like B claims
does not reduce it to metaphor but to simile, and simile is a more
precise comparison of things than metaphor, often using terms like as and
like. There is often some blurring of the boundaries between the two
things, but, generally, precise comparisons are similes, and metaphors are less
tangible things that use tangible elements to illustrate them. In short, similes
are more directly revealers of patterns, whereas metaphors are reductions,
enlargements, or sometimes projections that attack and stimulate similar modes
of thought re: patterns. Notice, even in describing them, I have used a metaphor
actively, that metaphors attack, to make my point. Metaphors can achieve
the same ends as similes, which rely on direct patterns, but if a simile can be
represented by having two different sized feathers tickling a naked foot’s
sole to try and induce laughter, then metaphor is akin to breaking someone’s
jaw, first by using a baseball bat, then by using brass knuckles. Like simile,
you’ve achieved a similar end, but you’ve used somewhat different means.
Now, you’ll note that this paragraph is a mixture of similes and metaphors, so
let me try again: similes use like means to achieve an end, whereas metaphors
are not so much about evincing patterns as getting similar ends or reactions to
those patterns. Bloom seems to not recognize this subtle, but important,
difference, and because it crops up several times in the book, I can imagine
that someone taking aim at his whole argument, as propounded in the book, might
very well see this mixup of metaphors and similes as the dangling thread from
Bloom’s sweater that unravels it all. As a critic, that is not my aim, but it
is my duty to report this, especially since it recurs.
Bloom sums up his
point this way:
But there is. Thomas Young proved it. Thomas Young proved
that a primal pattern, an ur pattern, repeats in two bizarrely separate mediums.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of metaphor. Finding a pattern in
one medium and applying it to another. Finding a pattern in one context and
shifting it to another. Making an absurdly gargantuan leap.
But metaphor works. It works because it captures nature. It works because
it capture’s nature’s creativity. It works because of deep structures. Hell,
it works because there are deep structures. It works because of Ur
patterns. Is metaphor “unscientific.” Far from it. It is the very core of
I agree with these two paragraphs, almost completely, and have long
thought that most scientists simply do not understand that their pursuits are
immersed in the larger human patterns and behaviors. It is similar to conundra
involving the observed and the observer, wherein the observer needs to recognize
observation is an active agent in a cosmos that includes himself; but, again,
that’s too long a digression for my purposes. However, as I’ve shown, the
wave-particle duality, and, indeed, much of what Bloom claims as metaphor, is
not, but simile. Is this merely semiotics? Should Bloom have stated and posited
his book on the idea that simile, not metaphor, is the core of science? I
don’t know. It’s not my field, and it’s not something that drives me to
pursuit, but, as with most artists who desire order, I loathe dangling threads,
and this seems to be one that is begging to be pulled by a rival or detractor,
and, unlike Bloom’s ideas’ reliance on the Big Bang- another thread that
could unravel portions of his posits, this one is entirely on Bloom.
Please defend your claim or counterattack my dissent.
That’s a good one because basically it’s this, when I 1st ran
across the differentiation between metaphor and simile—it goes back to
Aristotle. Aristotle in his Posterior Analytics, in 2 pages, mapped out the
entire program of science that we’ve been enacting for the past 2300 years,
and I won’t go into the details of what he mapped out, but what he said was
that metaphor is not science. So we inherited that prejudice from Aristotle, and
apparently in order to get around it, we came up with this distinction between
metaphor and simile. Well, I have to admit I don’t have the strongest mind in
the world, and there are some things that are utterly beyond me, and the
difference between metaphor and simile is one of those things that are utterly
beyond me, and to me, it looks like an artificial difference. It looks like
metaphor really is at the core of both of them, they are both different forms of
metaphor, assuming they’re different at all. And metaphor works because there
seem to be underlying patterns that show up at level after level in the cosmos.
For example, the best known underlying pattern is the Fibonacci Spiral and you
can find the Fibonacci Spiral everywhere
from the smallest of the micro-level to the biggest of the macro-level.
For example, in the 1990s, the big thing in technology was to try to get
superconductors to conduct electricity because it was said that superconductors
would be able to conduct electricity with no loss of power whatsoever. But there
was a problem. There was
a loss of power. Why? If you looked
at the microscopic level, the electrons didn’t want to travel in a straight
line—they wanted to do a little loop-de-loop.
In fact, they kept doing these little Fibonacci-like Spirals. So you have
spirals at the microscopic level and you have them at the macro-level whenever
you flush your toilet. What’s
more, you have them in the red spot on Jupiter, which is a giant Fibonacci
Spiral. It’s a tornado or hurricane weather system the size of 3 earths and it
has been there for over 350 years. And you have the spirals in the arms of
galaxies—the spiral arms. So there are certain underlying patterns that repeat
themselves at level after level of emergent property, and metaphor works because
it captures that underlying pattern at one level of emergence and then
generalizes it to many other forms of emergence. and when the metaphor is valid,
that generalization holds up. When it’s not a valid metaphor, and there are
lots that aren’t, it doesn’t hold up. For example, Kepler’s greatest
achievement he felt was figuring out how to use geometry’s five Platonic
solids to figure out the distance between the orbits of the planets. It was the
accomplishment he was the proudest of in his life. But guess what? It
didn’t fit the planets. It was a great metaphor but it didn’t work. So not
all metaphors work, but when they do, they succeed because they tap into what I
call in the book an Ur pattern, a primal pattern in the universe.
DS: In summing
up the book, I wrote:
In a sense, and because the book also functions as a de facto science
memoir, it offers up far more to say on the human mind than many other works in
a similar vein. In fact, despite my spending far more time on the book as a work
on cosmology and cosmogony, it may very well end up having far more to do with
how the human mind, and creativity work, for the very Ur patterns that Bloom
sees as fractal examples of nature gone outward could be interpreted, if one
accounts for Bloom’s belief in meaning, as merely projections of Ur patterns
in the human mind and brain. Of course, are these bits of residue from without,
or generated via instinct? And what is instinct? When does a pattern of thought
or behavior become instinct? What was, as example, the first human instinct? And
how did it form? These are corollaries to the very things this book raises, and
ties in to the books last claim: Sometimes new
questions are more important than new answers.
It’s notable that Bloom does not fall back on the cliché that art (or great
art or science) does not answer questions, it asks them, for great art and
science does answer those queries: one merely knows how to get them.
What do you think of my idea that, long term, The
God Problem may have more staying power as a work about the human
mind than the material cosmos?
Well, it’s an important question—think back to the story of your life.
You’re 10 years old and nobody wants you in your hometown, you discover these
two dead guys—Anton Van Leeuwenhoek and
Galileo. They cannot possibly not toss you out of their social group because
they’re dead, so they become your companions for the rest of your life. Now,
how long ago did they bump off this mortal coil? Roughly 300 years ago, so these
are two guys who reached out across a gap of three centuries to save your life.
So if these guys did that for you, it is your job to reach out over 300 years,
as pretentious as that possibly sounds, it’s your job to reach out over 300
years to that lonely kid 300 years from now who needs validation. And to show
him a path that will illuminate the rest of his life. So you’re stuck, you
have a mission. You have an
obligation. You have to write books that will outlast the centuries somehow. Are
the odds with you? No, the odds are 10 million to 1 against you at least, or
billions to 1 against you. Do you have to do it anyway? You sure as hell have
to, you owe it.
DS: Let me
briefly turn to your three earlier books, for readers unfamiliar with your
works. 1995 saw the release of The
Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into The Forces Of History.
Another ominous title, and one which I first read and became familiar with
you. Please briefly give the readers a sense of the book, its theses, and
The Lucifer Principle—Peter Gabriel walked into my office one day and said
there’s this thing you’d be interested in by Lynn Margulis and James
Lovelock—it’s called the Gaia Hypothesis. So I looked into it, and I read an
article by Dorion Sagan and his mother Lynn Margulis who both became friends and
both became tremendous supporters of my work, and they talked about a mass die
off of bacteria during the oxygen crisis.
The Oxygen crisis is an event a few billion years ago in which a toxic
pollutant in the atmosphere, a pollutant the life forms of the day had been
merrily farting out, oxygen, started killing off all the life on earth. And the
enthusiasm with Sagan and Margulis wrote about this mass die off in nature
turned my stomach. It was great writing. But
the effervescent energy of the style was morally disturbing.
Remember, I grew up in the wake of WW2, in the shadow of the Holocaust,
and I was taught that your job is to stop a Holocaust. When you see a mass
murder of any kind or an injustice, your job is to stop it. So I decided to
write about the dark side of things. The
evil side. Why? To equip us
to stop the evil. So The Lucifer Principle is about the dark side of things and
about where evil comes from, even though we know that evil is relative.
One man’s evil is another man’s good, and basically The God Problem
says that it all boils down to the fact that human groups, whether they are
tribes or nations, are superorganisms in which individuals participate the way
that cells participate in the community of your body.
You think of your body as all one thing.
In fact, your body is 50 trillion cells communicating with each other.
And what pulls human superorganisms together, what pulls social groups together,
is often an idea. And ideas are these self-replicating things. It was Richard
Dawkins who came up with the term “meme” for ideas.
Dawkins also came up with the idea of replicators—things “greedy”
to make copies of themselves. One
replicator is the gene, a molecule selfishly grabbing biomaterials to make
copies of itself. Another is the meme, an idea greedy to grab mind stuff in
which it could multiply. And memes have this very powerful urge.
OK, it’s not an urge ‘cause memes are not conscious. But there’s a
powerful something, an impulse to procreate, to multiply themselves and when
groups go up against each other with different sets of ideas, that’s when one
man’s good becomes another man’s evil and that’s when the greatest evils
are performed. The irony is that
the greatest evils are often the greatest acts of selflessness. In other words a
suicide bomber in Afghanistan today gives up his life for a higher cause.
He sacrifices this earthly life to advance what he sees as the ultimate
truth. The truth of God.
He’s doing the ultimate act of heroism and goodness, isn’t he?
The problem is that he’s blowing himself up in a marketplace on a
holiday and killing large numbers of Afghan citizens—father, mothers, and
children. To your eyes and mine, there’s no way in hell he should be doing
that, but he’s doing it on behalf of an idea and it’s heroism, so one
man’s heroism is another’s murder.
One man’s selfless sacrifice is another’s evil.
Why? Because groups compete
to spread their ideas. And ideas
use groups to compete. That’s
basically The Lucifer Principle.
Then there’s Global Brain. We think it’s the Internet that’s
knitting us together in a Global Mind. But we’ve been a Global Mind since 3.85
billion years ago when life first began. Global
Brain shows you how bacteria live in colonies of 7 trillion and the individuals
in those colonies are all communicating all of the time and they have a
colony-level identity as well as an individual identity, and if they find a turd
that they love at the bottom of the ocean, 7 colonies will go to war over it and
they’ll use weapons of mass destruction—chemical weapons—against each
other. In fact, we’ve stolen bacteria’s chemical weapons., We call them
antibiotics because they kill off large masses of bacteria, but who do we get
them from? Microorganisms. But microorganisms, bacteria, communicate even when
they die, they wrap up their genome in a neat package and they send their
genetic fragments out as a warning not to go where they have gone.
Not to make the mistakes they have made. Healthy bacteria also swap gene
fragments, and these fragments are like how-to books on entirely new genetic
inventions, new gene-based techniques. Bacteria
swap these gene fragments between colonies.
And their gene fragments are
carried worldwide in the currents
of the sea. This worldwide communication system was at work 3.5 billion years
ago, so if we think it’s the Internet that started The Global Brain, we’ve
got to be kidding. That’s the essence of Global Brain.
Then there’s Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vison of Capitalism.—I
started that book after 9/11 and after Enron and Worldcom fell apart, and we saw
all kinds of troubles in the Western Capitalism system. I wanted to focus you on
things we don’t normally realize about the Western system. If you’d been
born in 1850 in the Western system your life expectancy would have been 38.5
years. If you were born in the year 2000 in the Western system, your life
expectancy would have been 78.5 years. That’s
40 years more—more than twice the lifetime.
Two lifetimes for the price of one. That’s an amazement. No other
civilization has ever been able to pull that off, and believe me, the Chinese
wanted to pull it off millennium after millennium after millennium and they put
incredible amounts of resources into trying to achieve it and they never
did—ours did. If you were the lowest paid worker in London in 1850, you would
have earned a pittance, but if you’d been the lowest paid worker in England in
2007, you would have earned the equivalent of what 7 of the lowest paid
workers—they were Irish dock workers—pulled in in 1850. You would have
earned what an entire tenement of Irish doc workers earned 150 years earlier.
Every system of belief in the world has promised the same thing—raising the
poor and oppressed. But the only civilization, the only system, that has ever
done it is the Western system, and if we don’t recognize that, and if we
don’t carry those positives into the future and lengthen our kids and great
grandkids’ lifetime to 150 years and more, we aren’t doing our job. We are
failing in our obligation to the human race and to mother nature. So that’s
what the Genius of the Beast is about, but it’s about also about creativity,
the creativity of humans, surprising aspects of that creativity.
The new book is about the inherent creativity of the cosmos. But The
Genius of the Beast is about how human creativity happens and it’s an amazing
process with an amazing series of stories.
And The God Problem is about how the cosmos creates. And what holds all
these things together? What holds The Lucifer Principle, Global Brain, The Genius of
the Beast, and Global Brain together? An
urge to formfulness—in this universe, there’s an urge to overarching form,
there’s an urge to things coming together in
new big pictures and an urge to explode with new social aggregations that
have stunning new properties. And these 4 books are all about how that urge
works in the cosmos and in you and me.
DS: You also
belong to a group called Lifeboat, and wrote this
essay on their website, called Screw
Sustainability: The Age Of The Tornado Tamers Busting The Bubble Of Spaceship
Earth, wherein you write:
Why screw sustainability? Because the word implies merely hanging in
there, merely surviving, merely sustaining. It implies a penny-pinching earth, a
miserly existence, a nature that punishes change, and a nature that prefers
small tribes to large groups of human beings. This sort of attitude has
traditionally led to ignorance and to self-inflicted poverty. It pitched Europe
into misery from the fall of Rome in 476 AD to the revival of optimism,
technology, and entrepreneurialism in 1100 AD. That 600-year-long slump was the
famous dark ages of the West.
While I agree that some Left Wing extremists want to return to a
Golden Age that never existed, sustainability, in the sense that we do not
pillage the earth’s resources, is vital, and not fundamentally at odds with
growth. This seems to be a conflation that many people make. What is the point
of this essay?
About 6 years ago I was asked to give a speech at Yale University to a
conference on sustainability and I thought about it for a while. I couldn’t
believe they called me to do something on sustainability ‘cause I’m very
skeptical about the use of that word and I called the conference organizer and I
said I wanted to do a speech called Fuck Sustainability.
I thought he’d hang up the phone.
But he fell off his seat laughing—the basic idea is this—organisms,
whether they’re bacteria, mice or human beings-- go through 2 different
phases—when they think they’re at the
beginning of a whole new frontier of possibilities and resources they go into a
new mode, they are exuberant and lusty—they eat, drink and be merry, they
absorb resources like crazy, they come up with all kinds of new ideas on how to
use the resources and new emergent
properties start spinning forth. But there’s another phase that every life
form goes through, when it thinks it’s reached the carrying capacity in its
environment, it goes through a phase of physiologically based self-denial. And
it denies itself food, space, it denies itself sexuality and exuberance. We see
this in social animals like mice, voles, and lemmings. And we saw it in 500 AD
when the Roman Empire fell and we went through 600 bloody years of this form of
self-denial in the Dark Ages, and I don’t want to see it again. And
eco-thinking, which began to popularize itself with tremendous success in the
1960s, had a point—you don’t want to poison the air you breathe, you don’t
want to poison the water or kill all the other creatures and species on the face
of this earth—they hold genetic diversity. You have to have a balance and
maintain nature. But then there are some in Scandinavia, the deep greens, the
deep ecologists, and they say there is room for only 100 million people on this
planet because this is a planet of animals and plants and we don’t really
belong here. Well, screw them, Dan. Absolutely screw them. They’re dead wrong.
They have a genocidal philosophy—they want 6 billion people to die. One of
them, Pentti Linkola, says when those folks are drowning and reach out their
hands from the waters to grab the rim of the lifeboat, it is our job to chop
those hands off with an axe. This is not kindly. This is not the pluralism,
tolerance, freedom of speech and exuberance that you or I believe in. So the
eco-thinking has gone too far and it has convinced us that we have raped and
plundered the planet’s resources—that is bullshit. For every ounce of
biomass on this planet, there are 220 million ounces of resources, 220 million
ounces of other stuff, just waiting to be turned into biomass. Biomass has
barely begun to scratch the surface of the earth. Literally. And if we don’t
know that our obligation is to spread biomass and to spread life and to spread
it beyond this planet to not only other heavenly bodies—moons, planets, solar
systems, but to habitations that we can make that spin in space and create
artificial gravity and just hang in the sun and suck up the sunlight--if we
don’t know that’s our obligation, we are failing the life process.
DS: How did
you get involved with Lifeboat?
What are its pros and cons?
I really have never been able to figure out the group, I became a member of
their Scientific Advisory Board because I respect the people involved. Eric
Klein is a terrific social collector and he’s the one who runs the group and I
was asked by Amara Angelica, who runs Ray Kurzweil’s website, KurzweilAI.
Amara is one of the smartest and best
people that I know on the planet, she is way ahead of the curve on every
existing technology you’ve ever heard of and she’s a former aerospace
scientist and a former publicist who worked with Bill Gates and I think worked
with Steve Jobs at one point, but one way or the other she’s a stunning
person, in terms of her mind, so if she asks me to be on the Scientific Advisory
Board of a group and she believes in it powerfully then I will do it. So I’m
there to give advice if they need it.
DS: As you are
a man in both the arts and sciences, I’ve always felt that art is a greater
human pursuit than science for the great artist is always one of a kind, whereas
the great scientist is merely a discoverer of things that are essentially
inevitable. Remove Darwin and there’s Wallace. Remove Marconi or Edison and
there’s Tesla. But there are no replacements for Whitman, Melville, or Monet.
In other words, remove Whitman and Melville, and two of the most influential
English language books of the 1850s are gone, Leaves
Of Grass and Moby-Dick,
and their two arts, poetry and prose, take different course. But, remove
Darwin and almost all stays the same, On
The Origin Of Species, or not. Agree or not?
There is a mission I wanted to carry out in this book but wasn’t able to
because I had to bring it in at a reasonable length.
It’s already twice as long as what my publisher wanted.
Let’s go back to James Burke, who says it’s the most amazing thriller
that he can remember reading. Well that’s great. So some people love going
through a 600 page book. But I wanted to talk about why science and art are
joined at the hip, ‘cause Dan, I also do visual arts. My way of sneaking into
the pop culture business in 1968 was to found an art studio that became one of
the leading avant-guard commercial arts studios on the East Coast in the late
1960s and early 1970s. I love art and I love poetry—I edited and art-directed
a poetry and experimental graphics magazine that won 2 National Academy of Poets
prizes, for God’s sakes. And my
photography has been shown at Art Basel in Florida, the most highly competitive
art festival in North America, a festival that artists kill and die to get into.
This stuff is important to me. But why? Both these things, art and
science, try to grasp the mysteries of the universe using some form of
metaphoric expression. Some form of symbolic expression. And if you’ve
got a mystery and can only grasp it through poetry or you can only grasp
it through the visual arts, then grasp it for God’s sakes, because the job of
humanity is to step out into the unknown of the darkness and bring a bit of
light, and then once we can see what’s in shadow, we can ponder it with the
sciences. Science and art are joined at the hip. They’re part of the same
process—learning to perceive things in whole new ways and learning to predict
their properties, their emergent properties.
Why? So we can help develop
new emergent properties. Again,
why? Because we are engines of
cosmic creativity. So is everything that has ever been spun in this world. Atoms
were engines of cosmic creativity, stars and galaxies and life forms were
engines of cosmic creativity. Absolutely.
All of us are here to produce more creativity.
But humans have more than stars, galaxies, bacteria, plants, and our
fellow animals have ever been given. We
have a consciousness, imagination, art and sciences. The wonders of what we can
accomplish can go beyond any kind of wonders that the cosmos has produced
before. If we live up to our destiny and our possibilities.
If we live up to what nature demands of us.
DS: Let us now
get into who you are and where you’ve been. Let us start from the beginning,
with some biographical plumbing of your past, your career, your views on science
and religion, etc. When and where were you born?
I was born in Buffalo, NY on June 25, 1943.
DS: What was
your youth like, both at home and in terms of socializing with other children?
Were you drawn to the outdoors, or were you more of a geek with a book at all
My youth was miserable, I was born during WW2, my dad was off in the Navy in San
Francisco, and only came home to visit once.
When he was drafted, my dad had just started a tiny liquor store. So my mom had to work the store. We didn’t have au pairs in
those days, and , for some reason, my mom didn’t hire babysitters, she hired
cleaning ladies, so they thought their job was to hug the vacuum cleaner very
close to their chests and to listen to soap operas on the radio and they locked
me in a dark corridor. and so I grew up in a dark corridor crawling around on a
hard, cold wood floor and kept away from the sunlight and from human company.
So it wasn’t a pleasant childhood, and so then when I became associated
with other kids, if you raise an infant monkey in isolation it doesn’t have
the right instincts to hang out with the gang. It just doesn’t know how to
handle sociality. So when I started meeting other kids at the age of 3 and a
half they didn’t want anything to do with me and that kept up till I was 10
except once upon a time when I was eight, the
group of kids who had tortured me for years took me over to the Jewish
Center and elected me as president of the stamp club—so I became accepted as
head of things, but not accepted as a member of anything and it wasn’t until
Galileo and van Leeuwenhoek that I had a social group in which I could fit, and
a system of belief that I could hug to my heart.
That system of belief was the 1st 2 rules of science and that
social group was the scientific community. And then along came Einstein and
validated my right to exist. I was the most
absent-minded kid on the planet. In my book, I put you in my place. I make you
go to my dining room and to look for the scissors, which is always kept in the
same drawer in exactly the same place and you can’t find it, it isn’t there,
and you go through every single room of your three-story Tudor house and you
can’t find them. Then you go back to the dining room and stare at that damned
drawer, hoping that if you stare hard enough the scissors will reappear where it
usually is. Then you finally
notice where the scissors is. It’s in your left hand and it’s been there all
along and you realize you need someone to validate you for being so ridiculously
absent-minded, and Albert Einstein writes an autobiography and you read it at 11
years old, and Einstein tells you that he is so absent-minded that he walks out
of his house in Princeton every day and gets 2 blocks up towards the Institute
for Advanced Study and his wife comes running up the street behind him with her
arms full saying, Albert you forgot something. And what are her arms full of?
Einstein’s pants, his shirt, and his shoes. Einstein has forgotten to
take off his pajamas and his bedroom slippers and get dressed before going up to
the Institute for Advanced Studies. And that story gives you a right to be. So I’ve spent my life
in science and one of the reasons I felt I had permission to go off into popular
culture for 20 years and work with Michael Jackson, Prince, Billy Joel and Billy
Idol was because I’d spent so much of my life in science at that point that it
was just a part of my bones, a part of my marrow, and it would never leave me,
so I was able to go into a quest into pop culture without ever leaving my
How did you first get into rock and roll? Were you a failed Rock God- a Jeff
Beck or Donovan wannabe, and did the next best thing? How did you segue from
rock management into Public Relations? Some of the bigger name stars you dealt
with were Prince, Michael Jackson, AC/DC, Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joel,
Styx, Run DMC, Kiss, and Bob Marley. From what is available, it seems your task
was usually in how to expand these performers from stars in a specific field
into mainstream acts. What were some of the techniques used, and what was your
greatest success? Your least successful ‘project’?
I got into Rock and Roll because I was sort of kidnapped by the Poet in
Residence at NYU. One day, he made
me stay after class and he said last year I asked you to be on the staff of the
literary magazine and you never showed up.
This year I’m telling you something.
The minute you walk out of this door, you are the editor of the literary
magazine. You are the literary magazine. You have no outs, you don’t
even have a faculty advisor, it’s you. And so I turned the literary magazine
into an experimental graphics magazine and it won three National Academy of
Poets prizes and I started getting requests for meetings from the art directors
of major national magazines. Look
Magazine, which was huge and glossy, Boy’s Life, which is a magazine I grew up
on because I was a member of the Boy Scouts until they threw me out for
incompetence at Morse Code, and Evergreen Review [?], which was the
leading bohemian magazine of the
day. Meanwhile, I had been married
since I was a freshman in college and my wife said she
couldn’t stand having student husbands anymore and I had 4 grad school
fellowships and I realized I was on the track of what Hitler used to rouse mass
attention—that artistry of mass emotions that gives people the feeling of
being exhilarated and part of something bigger than themselves-- and that I was
not going to find that in grad school.
Entering the ivory tower of academia was going to be like Auschwitz for
So I jumped ship and went with the artists I had accumulated to staff the
magazine and started an art studio and regarded it as a periscope position to
find my way into something I didn’t know anything about—pop culture.
What’s more, Einstein had said something in one of his intros to his
books that was very important to me when I was 12. He said, look, schmuck, you
want to be a genius and an original scientific thinker? Then it’s not enough
to be able to come up with a theory that only 3 men in the world can understand.
You have to be able to come up with a theory that only 3 men in the world can
understand and you have to be able to express it so vividly that anyone with a
high school education and a reasonable degree of intelligence can understand it.
So Einstein said if you really want to be a scientist like me, you have to be a
writer. So when I was asked to edit a magazine in 1971, I said yes, I didn’t
ask what it was about and my artists didn’t need me anymore, and when I walked
into the meeting with the publisher, it
turned out it was a magazine about rock and roll, which I knew nothing about,
but at that point I had been writing professionally since 1963, when I was
twenty. I figured I could write about anything, if I cared about the audience
and could dive into research, so I doubled the circulation of the magazine—Circus--and
I was credited with founding a
whole new magazine genre by Chet Flippo, one of the founding editors of Rolling
Stone. Chet wrote a master’s thesis on the history of rock journalism and said
I had founded this new genre called The Heavy Metal Magazine.
Then I was hired to form a public and artist relations department for
Gulf & Western’s 14 record companies. And one day, my mentor in the music
industry, Seymour Stein, the president of Sire Records and the man who
eventually signed Madonna, walked into my office.
Seymour had been remarkably kind to me, and he and his wife would take me
and my wife out to dinner and they’d take us to parts of Brooklyn I’d never
seen before in my life. They’d have us meet them at their apartment overlooking
Central Park in a building where Paul Simon lived and I’d look through the
original paintings by classic Art Nouveau masters like Mucha stacked against the
wall while Seymour had long phone conversations with Elton John in England about what art nouveau masterpiece to buy
next. So Seymour walked into my
office one day and said schmuck, if you’re so smart, why don’t you have your
own company. So eventually I founded my own company in the rock and roll
publicity business. I had no
training in publicity, but I’d been receiving phone calls as a magazine editor
from publicists for two years, and I could see what they were doing that worked
and I could see what they were doing that didn’t. And I founded my own company
and designed it to give a level of service that had never existed in the music
industry before. My greatest
success successes were Prince, Billy Idol, John Mellencamp and Joan Jett. In
Joan Jett’s case, she’d been turned down by 23 record companies—no record
company wanted to have anything to do with her.
I believed in her and I loved her manager, who was a song writer who had
always been extremely warm to me. So
I told Joan’s manager, if you work as hard as I work—17 hour days, 7 days a
week, and you never take a day off, and if you do exactly what I tell you to,
within 2 years we will have a star and he did what I told him to and we both
worked our asses off on Joan.
By then, I’d been analyzing the elements that make a star for four
years. Using correlational
techniques, a summer of anthropological expeditions into the suburbs of
Connecticut, and a lot of gut and instinct.
Touring was at the very core. So
first I got Joan signed by another
client, the booking agent who had established the punk circuit—Ian Copeland,
whose brother was Stewart Copeland, the founder of The Police. Then I kicked Ian in
the tail over and over again to finally get Joan out on the road.
Joan and her manager handled the stage act.
Joan is a natural performer. When you see her on stage, she is in her
medium, that’s where she lives, in front of an audience, she lives for that
audience. And when she’s off stage, it looks likes she’s been unplugged. She
looks like a robot whose battery has been removed because she doesn’t have
what she needs anymore—her audience.
So Joan is a force of nature onstage. And
she had a record made by a Swedish record company—the record all the record
companies in the USA had been turning down.
I told Kenny Laguna, Joan’s manager, to put the record out even if it
meant printing only 350 copies. And
on his own, he went out and hired a promotion man, a man who would take her
record to radio stations and get her airplay, and we all worked our tail off. When you marinate yourself in your subject matter, when
you eat it, breathe it, sleep it, and think it, sometimes you have visions, I
had a vision on how to build Joan and how long it would take. So I told Kenny
Laguna we would have a star in 2 years and, Dan, I was wrong. Wrong, wrong,
wrong. I was off by 6 months—that’s 25%. We had a star in 18 months. In 1.5
years Joan Jett went double platinum so it was a tremendous success, and Joan
and her manager, Kenny, remain part of my emotional family. When I started my
Kickstarter campaign, one of the 1st people to contribute was Joan
and then her manager contributed a few days later. but hey, Prince is part of my
emotional family and always will be, Michael Jackson, even though he’s dead,
will always be part of my emotional family: he’s the most amazing person
I’ve ever met in my life for reasons that have everything to do with the 2nd
Law of Science—look at things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen
them before. Michael had the capacity for awe. He had it nonstop.
He could take anything that you see on a daily basis, anything that you
take for granted, and see the awe and wonder in it.
John Mellencamp was a crusade and a tremendous success and had incredibly
important things to say, he’s taught me more than almost any other human being
on the face of the planet. And Prince was the ultimate victory. The ultimate
failure was Michael Jackson because his brothers didn’t know why they were
hiring me and I didn’t know why they were hiring me, either.
I had said no to them for 4 months because I didn’t feel they needed
me, I felt that anyone could do the Jacksons.
I do crusades. I don’t do automatics.
But when I walked into their hotel suite at the Helmsley Palace on a
Saturday night at midnight to say no to them to their face and be a mensch, the
1st microsecond I saw them it was obvious that something deeply
troubling was going on. These were
5 of the most decent guys I’ve ever seen in my life and they were up against
something no one could explain. There
was a crusade after all, but one no one could define it.
So I said yes instead of no. It took me years to realize that the
brothers had hired me to save their brother’s soul. And I had found their
brother’s soul, as obnoxious as that sounds.
But that was my my job, my job was to be a secular shaman, Music does not
come from your rational centers of mind. It
comes from the deepest part of you. So
my job was to find the soul inside of you.
The part of you that makes the music.
The part of you that writes a melody that seemed to write itself.
The part of you that dances you onstage in front of an audience of 18,000
or 60,000 people. The part of you
that goes ecstatic and transcendent on a really good night. The part of you that William James would have been curious to
find. It doesn’t sound right for
a scientist to use a term like “shamanism”, but if science can’t find the
deepest and most powerful things in us then it is not science. Science’s job
is to look at everything and to find a way of explaining it. So what did I fail
at with Michael? It was me up against a team of people who were trying to
undermine Michael Jackson for reasons too complex to go into, but their goal was
money and power. And I figured out who those people were, and at the same time
they figured out that I was onto them and they worked to isolate me from
Michael. There was a team of
them and only one me, and they succeeded in making sure that Michael and I would
never make contact again, and the fact that I was not able to save Michael had a
hideous bottom line. In 50 years of life, Michael went through 25 years of hell.
And Michael was the one person on this planet who least deserved this
suffering. What he endured was a
sin. And in failing to save him, I
sinned as well.
I grew up reading science books (far more so than fiction), so have seen the
resurgence of science writing, since the late 1970s, as a de facto Golden Age.
Do you agree? And what do you think has spurred this? And, if true, why are so
many, especially Americans, so ignorant of things like evolution, cosmology,
I think you’re right that science is going through a Golden Age, I think
it’s primarily attributable to one man—John Brockman, a person who
doesn’t seem to care for me, and so when I say positive things about him,
it’s not because he’s a buddy or a friend.
But John Brockman is stunningly remarkable—he’s the ultimate
promotion man, the ultimate PR man, and he has taken a bunch of Nobel Prize
winning scientists, people like Murray Gell-Mann, people whose work is really
abstruse, really way out there in outer space, and he’s either taught
scientists how to express their ideas clearly and deliciously, or he has put
them together with his elves, with the little team of writers he doesn’t
confess exists because he wants the scientists to look as if they’re writing
these books on their own, but one way or the other, he has made some of the most
abstract ideas in science not just intelligible but delectable. And then he’s
gone on to create The Edge, Edge.org, for these scientists, so the name value of
each scientist adds to the name value of the others.
And with Edge.org and a series of scrumptious books of compilations from
his clients and a few additional luminaries, he addicts you to his clients’
daily thinking and the back and forth between them.
Brockman is brilliant at working at the New York Times so that thinkers
like Steven Pinker will get 6 feature stories on just one book and will end up
on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. There are other agents who
imitate John Brockman and work with some of the people he doesn’t deign to
work with, but Brockman is at the center of the Renaissance you’re talking
about in the same way that Erasmus was a central figure in the Renaissance and
was using a new technology called the Postal Service to connect the Renaissance
thinkers, the Humanist thinkers, from all over Europe. John Brockman is the
Erasmus of the late 20th and early 21st Century when it
comes to science writing.
Why does the public not respond, not resonate to these things? I don’t
know except my book has been accused of being a new genre, you accused it of
being that, Giulio Prisco accused
it of being that and I am trying to make science accessible by telling you why
it matters so intensely that I end up saying fuck in a scientific context a
dozen times because things are important enough to nail them down with a
powerful, emotional word like that. And maybe it’s the fact that that passion
has not been conveyed, but science deserves that passion as much as anything
else in our lives, despite the fact that when we’re doing science, we have to
remain objective. But the secret is that we have to remain objective and
subjective all at once.
You are a well known sufferer of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When did this hit
you, and what exactly is it? Do most folks think that you are just putting them
on? How have you recovered from this?
It hit me in 1988. there was no diagnosis for it, I had read about Epstein-Barr
virus in a really scary article in Rolling Stone, I guess about 3-4 years
earlier, and I never thought it would happen to me. When I was tested, I had
nothing detectable. But the fact is, there was something weird happening. When
it was 90 degrees out, I was shivering as if it were freezing. When it was
freezing, I was overheated. My thermoregulatory system was way off, I was weak,
I couldn’t pick things up, I couldn’t pick me up and for 3 months.
When it 1st hit I thought it was a virus or the flu.
For three months, I just lay there staring at the ceiling and I didn’t have
enough energy to think. Not even enough energy to have thoughts or words going
through my mind. I came back to my
office at the end of the three months, when I did seemingly get better. I walked
7 miles one day because I love walking. I
was sure that proved I was all better. And walking between meetings when you
have an office on 55th and Lexington Ave and CBS is right over on 6th
and 53rd and Atlantic Records is right over across the park on 8th
Ave, walking from meeting to meeting is exhilarating. Plus, you can listen to science and history books on tape on
your Walkman, and take notes on your micro-cassette recorder. And so I walked 7
miles and I thought I was better and I had a night when I had to go to a
Scorpions and Metallica concert out at the Meadowlands and because the entire
audience was standing I had to stand the whole time outdoors and then I had a
John Mellencamp concert at Carnegie Hall, so I had to get back into town and
stand on the sound platform out in the middle of the audience for John’s
concert and then the next night I had to go out to Queens where Cyndi Lauper was
graduating from high school because she’d never graduated before.
And that was it—the chills came back, the strange thermoregulation
thing, the being too weak to do things, I was taking meetings and laying on a
couch and doing a whole meeting laying down and not being able to walk to the
meeting anymore and then I’d finally been forced to sit there in my office and
to tell my staff that I was giving them the business and that I had to disappear in
two weeks because for all I knew and for all my doctors knew, I was dying. So
for the next fifteen years I was a prisoner in my own bedroom and for five years
I was too weak to talk and when my wife tried to keep me company and she lifted
the pages of the newspaper and turned it, the sound tore through me like a
cannon ball, it hurt, physically. And she had to leave the room and I had to be
in a room without any humans and without talking and it was intensely painful.
You hear about political prisoners in China being given solitary confinement
because the Chinese know it will drive them insane and that it turns your entire
body and psyche into a torture chamber and that’s what it did to me.
Meanwhile, around 1996, we found a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome specialist,
Dr. Derek Enlander, who was willing to do something no other doctor would agree
to—to make a house call. There is
no way in hell I could have gotten to a doctor’s office.
And Derek was into something
I was also into—the Internet. I
had gone on the Internet in 1983. Peter Gabriel and Larry Fast—Peter’s
keyboard player--and I were about the only people on the Internet, aside from
professors and scientists. But with the
CFS, I lost my identity and lost my validity as a human being.
Finally, I had two computers set up next to the bed, got a Chinese box
that let me control them both from one keyboard and one monitor, and had a
keyboard fixed up with foam rubber and gaffer’s tape so it stood up at an
angle and I could see the keys while I was lying flat on the bed with my head on
a pillow. And I reconstructed my identity over the course of seven years, using
my keyboard when I was strong enough to type and developing a personality
online. And Derek Enlander
introduced me to a community of other CFS victims online, especially to another
one of his patients, an amazing
woman in Texas named Linda Diane Scalf. Once I built a new identity in
cyberspace, I wrote three books and I founded two international scientific
groups, and Linda Diane Scalf and other CFS activists online helped me find my
way to some of the medications being tried for CFS. And Dr. Enlander gave me the
prescriptions that allowed me to use them.
I suspect that it’s a combination of those medications and a radically
reinvented lifestyle that finally got me out of bed and out of the house in
2003. But I thought that
I’d never escape my bed again. So
being out and talking in Moscow, Amsterdam, Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, and
Chengdu, China, is a material miracle.
What were some of the cultural touchstones in your life, the things, events, or
people who graced your existence with those ‘I
remember exactly where I was’
moments? When did you gain a fascination for things cosmic? What sort of books did you read, as a child? I read science books, by and
large, as well as atlases. The How And Why Wonder Books,
bios of scientists, skyscrapers, airplanes, dinosaur books, books on astronomy.
To this day, one of my favorite reads is a little known University of Chicago
book, from 1988, called Cauldrons In The Cosmos, Nuclear Astrophysics,
by Claus E. Rolfs and William S. Rodney. It’s a book that’s not too techy,
not too dumbed down, but very well written. Name some of your favorite science
books, as well as those you think among the best ever published? Did you read
sci fi? Literary fiction? Mickey
As a child I didn’t read at all because my 1st grade teacher told
my mom that her kid was mentally retarded and I should be taken if for
psychological testing. My mom took
me in for the testing, but she never told me what the results were. I didn’t learn to read until I was in 3rd grade,
and when I was in the summer
between 3rd and fourth grade, the woman next door did a wonderful
thing. Her children were away at
summer camp and I was the only kid left in the neighborhood.
The woman next door was an extraordinarily educated, doctor of radiology
from Vienna who had escaped the Nazis and left Vienna in the 1930s.
She had a special reading room for her kids.
And she said why don’t you come up to my 2nd floor and take
a look at the books I’ve got. She
had all 38 Oz books on a shelf in the kids’ reading room, and most people
don’t know there are 38 Oz books, so I started with the second book and was
hooked and then I started reading a book a day and I read my way through the
entire set of 38 books through the summer. I was probably making my way through
1 book every 2 days and that became
a habit, and so then I started reading other adolescent books, juveniles, The
Hardy Boys, horse books, and I moved up to reading 2 books a day because I would
read a book when I was home and then take another book to class with me to read
under the desk. I didn’t pay any attention in school whatsoever.
I just read. So my teachers loathed me and by the time I was 11 years
old, it was either 2 science books or 2 science fiction books a day. At the same
time that Einstein was telling me you have to write with stunning clarity,
George Gamow had a book called One Two Three Infinity and it covered
everything from cosmology to theoretical physics to set theory and to what
infinity is, and it was an incredible book and Gamow was adding an additional
polish to Einstein’s message. He was saying don’t just write so clearly that
anyone can understand you, write so deliciously that once people start reading
you they just can’t stop. The
real central imprinting moment was at the age of 10 when I was sitting in the
living room with a book in my hands that I’d never seen before and I don’t
know what it was and it never appeared again and it was the book that told me
the 1st 2 rules of science because those and the Einstein connection
became me for the rest of my life.
DS: What of the God
of the Gaps, i.e.- the fact that religion basically uses this philosophy
to explain away things it cannot: if it is inexplicable, then it must be the
domain of God. What are your objections to this? To me, this is antithetical to
the scientific method, which I think is the single greatest human invention-
even if not a material thing.
HB: There is a
scientific value to being an atheist and there’s a scientific value even if
you’re a believer to taking the position of being an atheist. And the value is
this—it leaves you to question everything as something science can understand
if only it tries hard enough, if only it gets its hands on the right tools. And
it’s very important that science looks at everything it could possibly
perceive, be it through poetry, art, or any means, as a challenge for science.
So the idea that the stuff we don’t understand, that’s explained by
God—that’s a copout from a scientific point of view. Yes, you may believe
it, and it’s perfectly fine to have your own set of private beliefs, private
religion, but as a scientist it’s your obligation to look through the gaps and
try to find the scientific explanation.
DS: In my review
of The God Problem, I even refer to this idea of omniscience and
Bloom takes all of this, and then pulls his toes out of the river of
science, and dips them into philosophy, when he writes:
Let’s ignore the fact that there is no such thing as
information without meaning. And let’s focus on meaning alone.
If meaning is anything that a receiver can understand, if
meaning is anything that an entity can interpret, if meaning is in the eye of
the beholder, then how do you know when a thing or a person “understands”
something? Follow the B.F. Skinner rule. Watch his or her behavior. Watch for
the signs of stimulus and response. Watch to see if the receiver does something
in response to the stimulus. Watch to see if the receiver moves. Quarks exchange
meaning with stimulus and response. So do gas wisps competing to swallow each
other. And so do would-be planets using their gravity to snag and cannibalize
comets and space debris. How do we know the receivers get the meaning? All of
them respond to the signals they receive. They move. They move toward each
other. Or away.
And that movement is response to a stimulus. That movement
shows that quarks, protons, electrons, and gravity balls in some primitive and
utterly non-conscious way, interpret each other. They get the message. They
“understand” each other. They translate each other’s signal into action.
In other words, movement inspired by another object is the undeniable mark of
something we think is uniquely human. It is the undeniable mark of meaning.
On this I disagree- and profoundly. First off, this posits that
every act, every thing, has meaning, and this also means that if there is
meaning, then there must be intent. Yes, Bloom tries to mitigate this reality,
but meaning posits intent- mere information does not. It’s akin to stating
that there is an omnipotent God, but he’s not ultimately responsible for evil
in the cosmos since he gave Man free will. But, if God is omnipotent, he knows
all, he knows the future, so it is laid out, and Man only has the appearance
of free will. Similarly, one might argue that some newly discovered dinosaur’s
bones have meaning. Yes, in a loose sense, they can mean that there was a
type of animal that previously existed that was unknown to Man, but this is not
what Bloom means by meaning (is this getting too Abbott and Costello for
you?). What he really means is significant meaning: that those new
dinosaur bones have some profound impact on the cosmos. And this is evident from
his very use of the term meaning in referring to those currently known most
basic of particles, quarks, for he does not couch the term in relative terms,
not does he use it metaphorically. This is where I disagree.
Most of existence lacks meaning. It just is. In speaking with people of
all means on all aspects of their existence, over the years, when I’ve
stripped their experiences to the bone (metaphor alert) for them, they
are forced to conclude there is no meaning, save for what they bring, via
thought or emotion. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the only thing,
re: meaning, that one can safely state of the cosmos is that it has no
meaning, at all. It is void of it. There is no active agency to the cosmos
(excluding sentient life forms) at large. It is utterly zen, in that sense. It
just is. We, as beings endowed of wisdom and intellect, however, imbue
meaning into things, but my imbuement is not Bloom’s. His is not yours, the
reader of this essay. It may be, and there may be 99.99+% consonances in
most things humans encounter. But that is not innate meaning in the
things, but what we collectively or individually imbue into them. Imbuement is
an act of reaching out into the cosmos, whereas meaning, as Bloom means, is the
cosmos reaching in to us. But this would mean the cosmos has agency. This would
mean that the cosmos is alive, and if so, then there’s really no substantive
difference between that cosmos and a cosmos filled with a God or gods of any
As with my earlier quote from the book and essay re: simile and metaphor,
how do you respond, and do you think I’m being too nitpicky, or, in
retrospect, should you have used the term significant meaning over
HB: It’s probably
the only part of the essay I disagreed with, but it was a very useful thing to
bring up because the book says there are these primal patterns that show up at
the very beginning of the cosmos—attraction and repulsion for example. Let’s
do a little bit of the history of the cosmos, so we get an idea of what these
things can be. 13.72 billion years ago you get a pinprick that comes from a
nothing. That’s weird. A pinprick that has time and space within it. Time and
space? How did they come to be? But the social dimension of things, the
communicative dimension of things, the dimension where meaning becomes
important, shows up in the 1st flick of the cosmos.
Why? Because time and
space precipitate like clouds precipitating rain.
Time and space precipitate into
the very 1st things and the very 1st things are quarks.
And quarks come with a social
imperative. That imperative says that you can only exist in teams, you can only
exist in groups. And quarks also come equipped with a built-in etiquette book
and that book tells them who to run away from and who to run towards. That’s
called attraction and repulsion. So a quark is in the midst of a soup of other
quarks, and it quickly gloms onto who it should be running away from and who it
should be running towards and it gets together in groups of 3.
Groups of 3
of one kind are protons, they take on an emergent property. If
you and I were sitting at an
outdoor café table at the
beginning of the universe we’d say no way in hell is a pinprick going to come
from nothing, and then we’d say no way in hell are space and time going to be
in that pinprick. And then we’d say there’s no way space, time and speed, or
space, time and energy are going to precipitate into things, but they do, and
these things are social. So the quarks that get together in one formation of 3
are protons. And the quarks that come together in another formation of 3 are
neutrons. Talk about 1 + 1 does not = 2. Put 3 quarks together and all you
should get is 3 quarks, period. Quarks
in, quarks out, right? You should
get more quarkdom, but you get the violently different emergent properties that
we call the proton and the neutron. Now what does that have to do with meaning
and significant meaning?
The God Problem takes on the challenge of information theory. Claude
Shannon’s information theory. And most people don’t know this, but in
information theory, there is this little caveat, and it says, that the
definition of information does not include meaning.
Claude Shannon and his partner in popularizing his theory, Warren Weaver,
said that what Information Theory deals with is not “information” in the
normal sense of the word. They
said, we mean “information” in a “special engineering sense.”
And they said that the form of information they were referring to does
not include meaning. But in reality, does information ever exist without meaning?
Look, Claude Shannon was hired by
Bell Labs to figure out how to squeeze the greatest number of signals down a
copper cable so that Bell Systems could get the maximum number of customers on
the minimum amount of copper wiring.
And Shannon came up with a
mathematical formula, an equation, to help maximize that number of signals. That
formula just happens to be nearly the same formula for entropy, which is another
thing I attack in the book. And Shannon was told by one of the major
mathematicians of his time, John
von Neumann, to name the factor that his formula identified entropy. But Warren
Weaver had a better idea. He wanted to call what Shannon’s formula was all
about “information.” But that
turns out to be a PR hoax. Information
theory is not about the sort of information that you and I know. It’s about squeezing the maximum number of signals into a
cable. Misnaming it and calling it information theory got it great exposure. But
that leaves a problem. Why do
we squeeze signals into a cable? So that Dan, you can get on the phone and talk
to me, and the meaningful part doesn’t come through till one of us interprets
the other’s message. Well, when 3 quarks are figuring [?] out who they
should avoid and who they should embrace, they are acting out a very primitive form of meaning, they are taking the signals
from each other and responding to them. And how can you tell—because they move
towards the quark they’re feeling the force of attraction for, and they move
away from the quark from which they
feel a force of repulsion. So they instantly interpret each other’s signals as
having some form of meaning. Now it’s not the form of meaning that you and I
have when we write essays or books. Because
we have a consciousness. We’re
aware of all kinds of things that 3.7 billion years of evolution and creativity
have given us. But where did we get the basics of meaning, the basics of sending
out a signal and seeing if another gets the message?
And how do we know that the other gets that message?
If the other interprets it you’ll know, ‘cause she moves. We got the
basics of that form of communication from
the things that make us up—quarks, and the things that quarks become when they
join in trios--we got the basics of communication from
protons and neutrons. Is it
unusual for us to inherit our really basic patterns from our most primal
ancestors, the ancestors from whom we are made? Meaning takes on a lot more meaning with you and me, and for
us there is a difference between significant meaning and less significant
meaning. But for quarks there is also a primitive form of meaning, and that is
the form of communication from which we inherit meaning to begin with.,
In other words this is a gossiping, social cosmos from the git go, and
anyone who tells you it is a cosmos of loners is lying and Richard Dawkins with
the selfish gene, is one of those. He’s not lying, he’s telling us a very
valid aspect of nature. But he is telling it separated from the full context.
The fact is that the universe is social as all hell, even before there is
DS: Do you
believe in an afterlife (or after death)? Could there be a scientific
explanation for an after-existence? I.e.- could the mind be a synergy that can
detach from a single corporeal form? If so, does this mean that there could be
immaterial life, or life simply as energy, floating free through the cosmos?
Could matter-based life evolve eventually into just energy-based consciousness?
HB: I don’t
believe in an afterlife at all, but that’s a personal belief and I can’t
prove it scientifically. But I would never embark on examining the issue
scientifically because that is not my mission in life. If you believe in an
afterlife I cringe a little, but that’s your belief system and I have mine and
we both have a right to our beliefs.
DS: How about
the idea of extraterrestrial life? What of the Drake Equation? Do you think the
Drake Equation is a good approach, and if you believe that there are likely
civilizations out there, then does the Fermi Paradox (Where are those
civilizations, and why haven’t they come here?) become an
anthropocentric tautology? After all, why would they really give a damn about
us? An interstellar spacefaring race would be as far above us as we are a bee
HB: For whatever
reason I don’t believe in extraterrestrial civilizations.
But the fact is that I have written an article for the physics
magazine PhysicaPlus on something I call supersimultaneity. I also
show you in The God Problem that we have the same damn thing happening
all over the place—the thing you talked about as synchrony, Dan. It
just so happens that the same damned thing happens in nature all the time.
Stars for example, gather by the hundreds of billions of billions, all in pretty much the same ball-like form and all
using the same sort of metabolism. And
the God Problem gives an explanation for why.
It’s called “corollary generator theory,” and it’s at the
book’s core. But if galaxies and stars gather all over the place at pretty
much the same time in pretty much the same shape with pretty much the same
internal combustion processes, then macromolecules are likely to gather together
all over the cosmos, too. The
macromolecules of life. The same
thing is very likely to happen to cells and DNA—pretty much simultaneous
emergence from one end of the cosmos to the other.
But that’s theory. Admittedly,
my own theory. But in my personal
belief system, I don’t believe in extraterrestrial beings and the Drake
Equation means nothing to me.
DS: What are
your ideas on FTL (faster than light) travel? In an essay called The
Day, I proposed that within a century of the discovery of possible
earth-like worlds, human resources will coalesce and fund and develop FTL
travel. Theoretically, we are fairly sure it’s possible, it’s just
prohibitive on a cost basis because of technology. But, humans do best with
discernible goals. Ideas?
HB: Well, the
beginning of achieving anything is posing an impossibility and we pose
impossibilities all the time and then we overcome them.
We create new technologies that we never thought were possible, and with
them we achieve every impossibility. So I’m with you, I think we’ll get
faster than life travel—I can’t tell you how, I can’t give you a theory,
all I can tell you is that in 1895 one of the greatest scientific experts of his
century, Lord Kelvin, said flat out that “Heavier than air flying machines are
impossible.” It was only eight years later that the Wright Brothers were
flying their first plane and within another three years or so Santos Dumont and
Bleriot were flying in France., So give us an impossibility, and it’s a
beginning, a start—put a hurdle in our way, it’s the start of our jumping
DS: Any thoughts
on terraforming? Also, if there is life on other worlds, either in our solar
system (such as Titan or Europa) do you think there is some sort of ‘right’
that native flora and or fauna would have to an undespoiled environment?
I think terraforming is incredibly important because if you look at the things
that we do, other creatures are capable of building cities—that’s ants and
termites—they do it all the time. Other creatures are capable of research and
development—that’s bacteria, they do research and development just as fast
as we do and sometimes faster. And birds can fly.
But one of the few things that we can do that no other creature on this
earth can do is to get life out of the gravity well. It is to get life beyond
this atmosphere—you know it’s an 8 and a half minute trip into space,
that’s all it is. A short trip indeed, using our current technologies and
those technologies are going to be antiques in 25 and 50 years but nevertheless,
it’s only 8 minutes to get there and it’s our job to take ecosystems into
space, it’s our job to garden the universe. To garden every single barren
space we can find. Why? On behalf of life and evolution. On behalf of biomass
and cosmic creativity.
DS: Have you
ever read Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle’s classic book, Entretiens
Sur La Pluralité Des Mondes (Conversations On The Plurality Of Worlds)?
I’m probably one of the few laymen who’s read that book, and it’s a good
I didn’t read Fontenelle’s book, but when I was doing research on this book
in the letters of Leibniz and the works of
Spinoza, I ran across a bunch of speculations on many worlds. And
Giordano Bruno, the person who was burned at the stake during Galileo’s
lifetime—the person that I was told Galileo was perfectly willing to
be--Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for believing in many worlds,
for believing there were many inhabited worlds just like ours all over the place
and the church didn’t care for that. Do I believe in that? I don’t believe
in that, but I believe terraforming is a huge obligation because it means giving
life new niches in which to thrive and in which to advance.
What are your political views? Are you registered with any party, or an
I’m a registered Democrat, I wasn’t an Obama supporter in the days when
everyone was wildly passionate about him but once he became President, I turned
my allegiance to him. I have friends who are on the far Right and the far Left,
and my friends on the far Right are developing conspiracy theories they believe
in powerfully, that Obama’s father wasn’t really from Africa and that Obama
is a closet Marxist and a closet Moslem militant, I think these are outrageous
slanders. Unfortunately, America
has been a nation of political slanders for a long time. The slanders that were
thrown around in the days of Jefferson and John Adams were appalling. They would
make you shiver in your socks if you were to read them, but the fantasies about
Obama on the Right are beyond anything we’ve ever seen and when Mitt Romney
complains because there’s an accusation made against him that he didn’t pay
taxes for 10 years, what the fuck right does he have to cry foul when he is
backed by people who are saying that Obama was not born in America, that he’s
a closet Marxist and a closet Muslim, all these crazy things, he doesn’t
object to them and he never has and if he were to object to them, his supporters
would abandon him because these conspiracy theories have been allowed to thrive
in ways beyond belief. But these are my personal beliefs and I will fight for
them but I won’t restrict myself to a coterie of friends who all believe in
the same things I do. I often believe that I am a radical centrist and I am
constantly trying to achieve an insight that goes beyond the clichés of the
Left and beyond the clichés of the Right, and whether I succeed or not, it’s
very hard to tell, I am too close to it to see.
DS: Here are my
reasons I think Big Bang will fail as a theory: 1) it’s so clearly a creation
narrative (and let there be light), 2) it’s so needlessly
complex, and 3) it’s so reliant upon unproved claims and mysterious
energies/quanta like Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Comments?
HB: Well, it’s
part of my belief system because I glommed onto it at the age of 12 when there
were 2 competing theories—Big Bang and Steady State.
I imprinted on it. Like a baby duck imprinting on its mother. My friend
Paul Werbos who is my age, and who was able to master equations at the
age of 6—something I could never do, I didn’t get into science until I was
10, I feel like a latecomer, but when he was a kid Paul Werbos felt that the
founder of Steady State theory, Fred Hoyle was a compelling figure, so he
imprinted on Hoyle, and Paul has been an advocate for Steady State Theory all
these decades and I’ve been an advocate of Big Bang, but we could all be
wrong, and in fact it’s our obligation to encourage the people who would prove
we are wrong because coming up with new ideas is the name of the game in
On to more general queries: what do you think of one of the best examples
of logical thought, Occam’s Razor, which basically states, ‘The
simplest answer that best fits the known facts is likely the correct answer’?
Why do you think this is so? And why does it seem to not be often applied in
science? And, is this a principle you apply in your book and ideas?
HB: Well, I
probably do apply Occam’s Razor because I am trying to simplify things to the
greatest level possible because that’s how you come to understand things, but
remember that every good thing in overdose is a poison and it’s our obligation
in science to look for the things that are right under our nose and then to
overturn them and Occam’s Razor is so profoundly important that it’s become
an unquestioned assumption. And
it’s our job in science to dig out unquestioned assumptions and to give them a
skeptical look. That’s the second
rule of science—look at things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen
them before, then proceed from there. So it’s important to take a good, hard
look at Occam’s Razor and to ask if it valid on all occasions.
I mean, in the history of science, in the 700 years or so since Occam,
Occam’s Razor has never really been tested, it’s been taken for granted as
an assumption and you never take assumptions for granted.
DS: Let me ask
you to get a little speculative. Where do you think humanity will be in 2112, at
least in terms of outer space exploration? Will there be moon and Mars bases?
Will some of the outer planets’ moons be explored? Will we be close to FTL
travel, and launching explorations to the nearest stars?
HB: Yes, we will
have moon and mars bases but it may not be us because we are turning so inward
that we are turning away from the
exploration of new horizons and new frontiers.
There’s a biophenomenon at work here.
There’s a difference
between the conservative phase where you deny everything to yourself, which we
are in right now, and the exuberant phase where you see infinite possibilities,
which is where the Chinese and Indians are right now, and the Chinese beyond
anyone else are for all the things that we are thinking of abandoning. And that
includes our space program—there are powerful forces trying to get us to
abandon from our space program. But one of the things we are missing from this
conversation is the impact of the landing of the two-ton rover Curiosity on
Mars., I’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t had time to monitor that,
but thank God it landed and hopefully it will open people’s eyes to the fact
that we’re not out of resources at all, that there are resources by the
quintillions of tons and they’re 8 minutes above our head. And the Chinese are
going to get there if we don’t, and because I cherish American
values—pluralism, tolerance, freedom of speech, those are crucial
values—pluralism is not a value in China, everything has to be Chinese,
everything has to be Han. It’s a
racist state. Tolerance? No, sorry. There is no tolerance for Tibetans, the
Uzbeks, and the Uighurs., there are 55 ethnic minorities in China and there is officially tolerance
for them, but that’s only the official line.
And when it comes to freedom of speech, the Lucifer Principle, my first
book, is about to be published in China. But the Chinese have removed the entire
1st chapter because it’s about the Chinese Cultural Revolution and
its horrors and in China, anything about the Chinese Cultural Revolution is
censored out—people are not allowed to know about it. Sorry, that’s not the
kind of country I’d like to see on the moon or on mars establishing new
policies and creating new government systems. I want us there.
DS: Now, let me
ask you to get a lot more speculative. How about centuries hence? Is space
ultimately where mankind will end up? Or, are we hermetically sealed to this
solar system, if not planet? And, do you think advances in computing (quantum
computers) and genetic engineering, will solve some of the issues plaguing space
travel. I refer to speculative ideas like those put forth by the geologist and
speculative science writer Dougal Dixon in books like Man
HB: That’s hard
because the impossible always happens, and we always do straight line
predictions from what we know and those never work out, because there are
radical jumps and there are radical new ideas that result in radical new
technologies that could never have been imagined in the previous era. So 900
years from now, what I hope is that America and the West does not go into a new
Dark Ages, and the fact that so few people are into science as you pointed out,
and so few people believe in evolution is the very kind of thing that would
drive us into the New Dark Ages. But Richard Dawkins’ intolerance can drive us
into a new Dark Ages too and he doesn’t know it. I don’t want us to be the
civilization that hides its head in the sand and dies the way that the
civilization of Venice disappeared in the 1500s when it had been the leading the
civilization of Europe for 200 years.
Gerard O’Neill came up with the idea of a new technology, the O’Neill
Colony at Princeton in the 1980s. An
O’Neill Colony is a huge colony like a tin can made of glass and steel that rotates to create artificial gravity. In an O’Neill Colony you could have a house the size of
Bill Gates’ house with grounds all over the place and you could take your dog
for a walk in the park, but the difference between a park in one of these giant
glass and steel cans which can ultimately house millions of people, the
difference between taking a walk in that glass and steel can and taking a walk
on earth is that if you go to the top of the hill in
the park, you and your dog can fly. Why? Because the closer you get to
the center of the tin can, the less rotational energy, the less centripetal
force creating gravity—the lighter you are, and by the time you get to the top
of the hill, you’re 11 pounds and you can fly like a paper airplane. So
that’s what I would like to see and that means taking entire ecosystems into
the cosmos. And the minute you take you or me into the cosmos, you’ve taken an
ecosystem because you are between 50 and 550 trillion cells but only 50 trillion
of those cells are a part of you and the other 50 to 500 trillion cells are
bacterial colonies digesting your food for you, making your vitamins B and K and
doing all kinds of incredible things for you, so we put you in space and you are
a collection of societies because those bacteria are living in a multitude of
societies within you. But I want to put up plants, trees, grass, to see what
happens to plants, trees, grass, corn, wheat, soybeans, rye,
crickets, and frogs when they have an opportunity to experience
artificial gravity and to go gravity-less if that’s what pleases them.
And when they have the opportunity to discover the evolutionary
possibilities of multiplying and thriving in niches life has never reveled in
DS: Let me
toss out that old question: if you could sit down and break bread for an evening
with folks from the past- scientists or not, which folk would you most like to
engage with, and why?
HB: Well, Einstein
of course, because he gave me permission to be me but it’s hard to pick
others. Pythagoras—if he saw what was going on in modern times, it would
utterly blow his mind and I don’t know if he’d be able to handle it, so he
might not make a good dinner guest, he might just sit there with his jaw
hanging. I would love to get together with Richard Dawkins as well—one of the
most powerful minds on the planet, Albert Einstein, who also had one of the most
powerful minds on the planet, Robin Williams, because he is an incredible
synthesizer of information but of course none of these people would give anyone
else the room to talk. We’re all soliloquizers, we’d all be giving
soliloquies all night long, so it would be a difficult to have a real
conversation but it would certainly be fascinating.
scientific theories are disbelieved at first, then grudgingly accepted, then
become dogma, then are tossed out, is basically the posit Thomas Kuhn makes in The
Structure Of Scientific Revolutions. Do you agree? If so, what are some
of the other theories, like the Big Bang, that might, by this century’s end,
seem laughably silly?
HB: No, I haven’t
read Kuhn’s book, but I certainly know the principles and I think that Kuhn is
on target, his concept of the paradigm shift is basic.
So is his insight that we go through these big changes of our big
picture. And my work is all about big pictures. I didn’t have that phrase in
my vocabulary until roughly 2001, when Rob Lightner, the science editor
for Amazon.com, reviewed Global Brain on Amazon and said that I’m a big
picture thinker. And, yes, he was right. These 40 layers of visual centers in
the brain that I talked about are incredibly important in shaping the way we
understand things, and there is a great deal in The God Problem
about how math was once riddled with pictures, for example, with Galileo
and Kepler it was all pictures. Remember all those pictures Kepler was drawing
of all those triangles inside of circles. It
was also all pictures, all geometry, for Galileo.
(One of Kepler’s
illustrations of his solution for a mathematical problem.
Kepler and Galileo did not use equations.
They used geometry. And
geometry is based on pictures.)
The two of them didn’t know what an equation was, they’d never seen
one in their lives. And math has to get back to pictures again in order to allow
us to really understand the universe we are living in, and I’m trying to give
you new big pictures with which to see the whole thing in a new light.
I once wrote a poem based on the famed Pale
Blue Dot photo, and also a sonnet on the Hubble
Deep Field photo. The former was taken as Voyager 1 left the solar system,
and shows the whole planet Earth afloat in a thin shaft of sunlight. The latter
is a time lapsed photo that shows all of the galaxies that occupy a tiny speck
of the night sky. Both seem to me to be amongst the most important and powerful
photos ever taken, for their images really slap some reality into those filled
with human hubris. Do you agree? And, how have these photos resonated as
they’ve made their way into the public consciousness? Also, do you see them,
and other grander things that science can offer, as stimulants for young people
to ‘enter the fray’?
Absolutely, but here’s the trick. There’s this concept in this giant system
I’ve been working on since I was a kid—in the Grand Unified Theory of
Everything In the Universe Including the Human Soul--called the Caption Factor,
and he who controls the caption controls the perception. So that picture of
earth seen from the moon could have clued us in to the immense possibilities for
what we can do when we get out into space, when we begin to go to foreign bodies
like the moon. But instead, the caption was captured by the environmentalist and
instead of saying that this picture demonstrates the opening of whole new
frontiers, they said the opposite—this picture demonstrates spaceship
earth and just how enclosed it is and just how few our resources are. Well, he
who captures the caption captures the picture. And unfortunately that picture
has been used against science by the eco community. Remember, the eco community
is one of those good things that in
excess can be a poison, and we need the eco-community, we absolutely need it,
but if it goes overboard, it gets damaging. And that’s why I wrote the Fuck
Sustainability speech that we tamed down to Screw Sustainability. We have to
take more of those pictures and there is an entire Heritage Collection that the
Hubble Space Telescope has taken. The
Heritage pictures are awesome and we need someone to capture the caption of
those pictures and tell us what they mean, and to tell us a meaning that’s
exalting, a meaning that uplifts us the way Hitler uplifted the Germans, but
without Hitler’s false messages. For us, that exaltation can be genuine.
It can be based on truths and realities.
We need meanings, we need to be a part of something that are bigger than
ourselves, and what could possibly be bigger than ourselves than
gardening the cosmos, turning the whole thing into parks, woodlands and
whatever nature wants to be when
it’s exposed to a new environment.
DS: Let me now
quote from an essay I did on Harold
Bloom: ‘….the human mind has 3 types of intellect. #1 is the
Functionary- all of us have it- it is the basic intelligence that IQ tests
purport to measure, & it operates on a fairly simple add & subtract
basis. #2 is the Creationary- only about 1% of the population has it in any
measurable quantity- artists, discoverers, leaders & scientists have this.
It is the ability to see beyond the Functionary, & also to see more deeply-
especially where pattern recognition is concerned. And also to be able to lead
observers with their art. Think of it as Functionary2 . #3 is the
Visionary- perhaps only 1% of the Creationary have this in measurable amounts-
or 1 in 10,000 people. These are the GREAT artists, etc. It is the ability to
see farther than the Creationary, not only see patterns but to make good
predictive & productive use of them, to help with creative leaps of illogic
(Keats’ Negative Capability), & also not just lead an observer, but impose
will on an observer with their art. Think of it as Creationary2 , or
Functionary3 .’ What are your thoughts on
this? Where would you place yourself on such a scale?
HB: Well I think
your ideas are valid, I think the self is a multi-faceted thing, I think there
is a parliament of selves inside of us, and the different selves are always
fighting for control—you have the self that wants to eat the chocolate cupcake
and then the self that says, ‘no, no, you shouldn’t.’ And they do battle,
but you also have a conscious self and a self beneath the floorboards of the
self that does things like make the right calculations so when you take your
next step you don’t break your foot and fall over, and it calculates all kinds
of things for you—breathing, all kinds of astonishing functions and you have
to tap all of those selves to the best of your ability and take advantage of the
best that each self has to give you and listen—don’t just allow your
conscious, don’t just allow the person that you think you are, to control the
whole stage because if it controls the whole stage, you’re going to have a
minimized mind, and you want a maximized mind.
You want to achieve a secular version of something close to enlightenment
where all selves speak at once. That
is the ultimate goal, having all selves sing together in whatever harmony is,
and to make music together in whatever that is, that’s the ultimate
goal—having them all sing together, make harmony and make harmony that makes a
new big picture—wow. That’s what Einstein did—he coupled the ugly
ducklings and found ways to put them all together and he tapped his
physiological self, his muscular self, his capacity for muscular metaphor.,
Remember, he imagined at the age of 15 what it must be like to run after
a photon of light. So you have to use all those things—the Visionary
self, the practical self, the muscular self, the visual self, the visceral self,
and sometimes they come together the way they do
for Joan Jett when she’s onstage in front of an audience.
But in thinkers those selves singing together can envision things that
never were but that are aching to be. And
this kind of material mysticism, this kind of secular exaltation, can be
stunning and astonishing for an atheist.
Einstein called it “the intuitive mind” and said, "The intuitive
mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the
DS: On the
subject of human thoughts, let me turn to a related topic, human discourse. One
of the reasons I started this interview series is because of the utter dearth of
really in depth interviews, in print or online. With the exception of the Playboy
interviews, such venues are nonexistent. Furthermore, many people actively
denigrate in depth and intelligent discourse, such as this, preferring to read
vapid interviews with 10 or 12 questions designed to be mere advertisements for
a work, sans only the page numbers the canned answers are taken from. Why do you
think this is? What has happened to real discussion? Old tv show hosts like Phil
Donahue, David Susskind, Dick Cavett, Tom Snyder, even Bill Buckley- love him or
hate him. Only Charlie Rose is left on PBS, but his show airs near midnight. Is
conversation, which an interview is merely a rigorous form of, dying?
Well, discussions are competitions, we love struggle and Fox tv has gotten the
hang of that and they have their shouters and ranters. [?] C-Span Book TV is
what I watch and I watch Book TV because it gives an author a chance to go on
stage for 40 minutes and give me the essence of what his book is about and how
it relates to his life and then there are 20 minutes or more of questions from
the audience. Every author has a different kind of point of view, and exposure
to as many new kinds of minds as possible is a stunning, incredible experience
for me. I find it absolutely fascinating. I used to come home at one am on
Saturday nights and think tonight I’ll watch a movie while I eat dinner
‘cause I work 7 days a week without a break and I love movies.
But I turn on the TV and C-Span Book TV will be on and within seconds
I’m hooked, so discussion of that kind on my book would be terrific. Sometimes
personal presentation, the ability to get a whole thought and its context
across—is really important. You
really do need to see a 35 or 45
minute speech, or like Julianne Malveaux on C-SPAN Book TV, she was given 3
hours and she had a questioner and it was a very interesting trip through the
mind of a black woman in the early 21st Century, a very intelligent
black woman in the early 21st Century.
what is in store, in the next year or two, for you?
HB: The book is it
for the next year—that is what I will be focusing on. This book has roots that
go back 60 years with me. These are ideas I have lived with and developed and
cherished and every year they change, every year they grow, every year they
become more potent and more interesting. And so I owe this book the obligation
of promoting it like hell for a year. Meanwhile, there are 2 other books that
are in my mind and I haven’t decided which one to go with, and that may depend
on which editor wants what book. And one book is based on this.
Remember when I had that revelation when my parents tried to drag me to
High Holiday Services, and I realized that my obligation was to understand the
gods within us, the gods behind our nose. And
remember that in The Varieties Of The Religious Experience, William James told
me you must come to understand the mystic. You must come to understand the
transcendent. You must come to understand it using the science of your times.
The fact is that I had my 1st out of body experience when I
was 16 and remember, I am an atheist. And I had a genuine out of body experience
when I was 16 years old dancing in front of an audience that carried me out of
the auditorium on its shoulders. What the hell is that all about? What is an out
of body experience about? What is
transcendence all about? What is the muscular self that expresses itself in
dance and can do amazing things to the human soul all about? That’s the
obligation of one book, I need to track that down. And the other book is to tell
something that emerged from my work on anthropology and evolutionary biology in
the 1980 and 1990s, then gained a whole new meaning after I wrote The Genius of
the Beast from 2002 to 2009. The
next book may be that we do not live in a pinched and restricted cosmos. We
don’t live under the reign of a nature that is parsimonious, that necessarily
follows Occam’s Razor. We live in a cosmos that does the most flamboyant,
seemingly wasteful, astonishing, stunning things. Things just for show.
Look, qualities like attention are vital all through the cosmos right
down to the point that if quarks don’t pay attention to each other, we don’t
have a universe. And I want to show you that this is an abundant universe, that
this is a rich universe, that what we’ve been told about consumerism being
bad, is bad only to the extent that any good thing in excess is a poison. Yeah,
consumerism can be bad, but consumerism in moderation is astonishing and goes
along with the flow of nature. That’s what nature has done with
stars—outrageous consumerism. Stars are these incredibly flamboyant things,
wasting incredible amounts of energy in putting out light, doing an incredible
amount of destruction, destroying atoms in their hearts and then crushing
together the nuclei of those atoms, but guess what happens in that extravagant
crushing together of things? Guess
what happens in that process of waste, trash compaction, and garbage creation,
that act of destruction? The universe has taken what were initially at the
beginning of the universe only 3 different kinds of atoms—hydrogen, helium,
and lithium--and she’s crunched these atoms together in the hearts of these
flamboyant show vehicles—stars, to make 89 other forms of atoms without which
you and I couldn’t exist. That’s the way nature operates—she doesn’t
operate out of pinch-penny miserliness. She operates out of flamboyant, showy,
creative, ornateness. And we have to get the hang of how that works or again we
are going to drive ourselves into a new Dark Ages.
DS: Thanks for
this discourse, and let me allow you a closing statement, on whatever you like.
HB: Well, I
would love it if everybody in sight would read my book and I would love it if
they would email me and tell me what they think of it and I would take the
criticism seriously along with the positives, even though criticisms make you
shudder. I hope every book I write
changes people’s lives, because that’s what I write every single book
for—to grab hold of you at the very roots level in addition to your mind, your
brain and your intellect and to shake you up in a positive way so that you see
the world in a whole new way. That’s my hope, but I’m only mortal like
everybody else, like you are too, and we do our best, but we don’t always
succeed. I’ve done my best with this book, I’ve stretched myself to the
limit and beyond, and I hope it grabs your soul mightily.
Return to Cosmoetica