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Nick Herbert

your thoughts too, and you don’t have to worry. You can play around. A real playground, that’s it, a giant playground, for a while.

Universities and industrial research labs should ideally provide this. They should provide playgrounds where people can mess around, without suffering the consequences of their messing around. But they don’t do this in general. In general they’re very timid places. People will follow fashion and profits. The industrial labs don’t follow fashion so much as universities, but you gotta publish all the time. You gotta keep something going. So you’re looking around and seeing what’s hot, what the guys next door are doing. So fringe science is people who aren’t bound by university and industrial constraints. They’re just people who are out there, for their own reasons, and these people may really be a key to our next evolutionary jump. The people who are just out there possessed by, for whatever reason, some quirky notions of their own.

To my mind one of the quintessential fringe scientists is a guy named Jim Culbertson in San Luis Obispo. He was a professor at Cal Poly for many years, and he worked at Rand Corporation for a while, so he worked for both the government and the educational establishment. But his real goal has been to work out a theory of consciousness. He wrote a book in the sixties called The Minds of Robots, and he wonders how one could make robots that would have inner experience, just like us. He has this elaborate theory based on special relativity, and he’s obviously been working on this for years and years and years, not listening to anybody, just off on his own little obsession. It’s a beautiful kind of work–just totally out there, not connected with anything. And it may be partially right. We need more of these people, like Culbertson, off on their own trip. I would like to consider myself a fringe scientist, but I think even I’m too much affected by fashion, and by what my colleagues are doing. Although I try, I’m contaminated by the opinions of my peers, by the prevailing fashions of the avant garde.

DJB: Well, there’s something to be said for networking with other people though-cross-fertilizing and sharing ideas.

NICK: Yes, it’s important to have colleagues, but you have to somehow keep your independence, There’s this balance between contact and independence that you have to keep. One of the ways that I currently manage to do this is by living out in the woods, and by not being connected with any institutions, except these private ones that we set up. We’ve had something going called the Consciousness Theory Group, which Saul Paul-Sirag and a few others started in the early seventies to ruthlessly track down the roots of consciousness. We would go anywhere, talk to anybody, or do anything to find out more about this elusive problem.

RMN: Einstein spent his life searching for a unified field theory, and many scientists are working towards the same thing. Do you think it’s just a matter of time before it is discovered, and how do you think that the understanding of the unified field will effect human consciousness?

NICK: As I mentioned before, I think we’re close to that. It wouldn’t surprise me if the unified field were discovered in the next couple of years. Somehow this might just succeed. It would mean that we have a picture of the world that was more compact. It wouldn’t take so much talk to describe what the world was made of. You could simplify it. Right now there are four different kinds of forces, and there are a hundred and some different elementary particles. However, they still come in two classes. The classes themselves are quarks and leptons basically, and the force particles. What we would be able to say then is that there is just one kind of entity, and everything follows from that. So, it would be a definite economy of description. But what else? I don’t know any practical applications of this, but it’d be definitely easy to describe the world. You could just say it’s just made of this one kind of stuff, and that’s all–everything else is just various manifestations of this one kind of stuff.

DJB: Would it make any new technologies possible?

NICK: Probably not right away. This is all very impractical. It would still leave consciousness out in the cold. It’s funny that back in the Medieval days people doing alchemy and ceremonial magic–thought of as the predecessors of science -felt that the mind was connected with what they did. They thought that one had to be in the right state of mind–you had to say prayers and incantations -r the reaction wouldn’t work. It sort of mixed up the notion that chemistry, physics, and mental stuff were all together in their mind. So at some point in the development of science, scientists said, “Let’s do science as though the mind didn’t matter. Let’s see how much science we could do that’s independent of how you think. Let’s forget about the mind, and let’s see what we could do with

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