[disinfo ed.'s note: this original essay was first published by disinformation on January 28, 2001. Some links may have changed.]
Author’s note: This interview was originally published in 21.C magazine (4/1996, The Unafesto): 54-59. It was my entre to a covert and mysterious world.
Dr. Jack Sarfatti is one of the leaders of the New Physics movement. However, his research into E.S.P., time, future causality and his VALIS-type experience has provoked dissent in the mainstream physics community.
The Bohemian physicist . . . contributes a balanced scientific non-establishment for this expanding society. I don’t mean to disparage the work, either . . . Originality has always required a fertile expanse of fumble and mistake . . . Your wastrel life might turn out to be just what’s required to save the planet.
~ ~Herbert Gold, Bohemia: Where Art, Angst, Love and Strong Coffee Meet
Black holes, Alcubierre warp drives, traversable worm holes, and the quest for the Holy Grail of dark matter are outpacing the wildest SF fantasies in the public’s imagination. In the science fraternity, this ‘quantum weirdness’ is creating new paradigms with which to view reality. The most controversial physicist in this field is Dr Jack Sarfatti, whose investigation of such phenomena as superluminal (faster than light) information and anomalous experiences challenges the very underpinnings of modern quantum physics.
Sarfatti’s exotic theories are rarely discussed within the mainstream physics community. Like Harvard Medical School department of psychiatry’s John Mack, who controversially researched UFO abductions, Timothy Leary’s early 1960s metaprogramming experiments, or Lyall Watson’s unorthodox explorations of Supernature (New York: Anchor Press, 1973), Sarfatti’s exploration of the questions polite academics avoid has tainted his reputation. A typical off-hand response came from N. David Mermin of the Cornell physics department who studied Sarfatti’s papers and corresponded with him during the 1980s: “Jack Sarfatti? What a weird, strange subject to be writing about!”
Master of the Vortex
Yet Sarfatti’s theories of future causality – the future impacting on the present – are influencing the contemporary cultural meme pool. From Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) to Twelve Monkeys (1995), Sarfatti’s ideas have been the subject of major sci-fi scenarios. Sarfatti himself was parodied as the memorable time-travelling Dr Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy.
According to Creon Levit of the NASA Ames Research Center, who studied and worked with Sarfatti, “Jack is a maverick, because he is examining what is perhaps the most cherished asumption of modern science – that all causes must precede their effects. People, including scientists, do not, unless they are very brave, like to question their cherished assumptions. This is unfortunate, because in quantum theory the mainstream theorists have gone so far as to give up objectivity – both in their physics, and I am afraid, in their approach to physics – in order to save causality.”
“Physics is the Conceptual Art of the late 20th Century,” Sarfatti claims. “But as a science it will lead to new practical super-technology.” Recognising the role of theoretical physics as a cultural ‘early warning system,’ Sarfatti like his predecessors Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli, has investigated its archetypal foundations. Consequently he has evolved into a true ‘Trickster’ figure in the Gurdjieff/Leary mould, reconciling the roles of conceptual artist, physicist, poet and Magus.
“After Timothy Leary, I’m the only Magus left!” Sarfatti jokes. His synthesis attempts to capture the subjective reality of unconscious archetypes ‘revealed’ by quantum physics, a reality that, he says, can only be accessed by metaphor, evocation, poetry, and music.
Sarfatti’s ‘court’ is the chic Caffe Trieste (dubbed ‘Sarfatti’s Cave’ in deference to Plato). Situated in the bohemian suburb of North Beach, San Francisco, an area Sarfatti equates with the Left Bank of Paris: “very chic and the place to be seen; it’s my neighbourhood for over 20 years.”
Francis Ford Coppola (founder of the American Zoetrope motion picture production company); Lawrence Ferhlingetti; Guerilla Marketing expert Jay Conrad Levinson; and Jefferson Airplane’s visionary musician Paul Kantner (“who visits the Caffe Trieste almost daily”) are amongst the local community, supplanted in recent years by the Silicon Valley Nouvelle Riche and Hollywood creative artists who reside in or near North Beach. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich can be frequently found in local restaurants like Rose Pistolas or Toscas, capturing the Italian old charm that embodied the San Francisco of the Beat Era. Increasingly, North Beach is home to thriving publishing, advertising, investment, and multimedia production houses; and to activist think tanks including the Milarepa Fund and the Earth Island Institute. For many cultural iconoclasts, North Beach is a reminder that San Francisco had atmospheric character and artistic integrity decades before the Haight-Ashbury legacy descended.
The Caffe Trieste has been the site of Sarfatti’s ‘self imposed’ exile from the conservative academic community, and his preferred location for lecturing to a rapt audience of ‘espresso scholars’. A noted personality in the North Beach scene, Sarfatti is mentioned in Herbert Gold’s works Bohemia: Where Art, Angst, Love & Strong Coffee Meet (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993) and Travels In San Francisco. His colleagues include the famous Beat poet Gregory Corso, who reinvigorates poetry long demonised by the Machine Age.
‘Sarfatti’s Cave’ has now gone online, as he utilises the World Wide Web as an interactive education tool.
The tax-exempt, non-profit ‘Internet Science Education Project’ uses SF trappings (the primary directive of The Sarfatti Group is to “Make Star Trek Real”) and video-capturing software to make physics relevant to Net surfers. Sarfatti rails against the over-specialisation of academia that leads many people into intellectual cul de sacs. Linking science, technology and culture, he believes, is an exercise in egalitarianism and combats the current U.S. education trend of the creation of a mass “stupid society” and a meritocracy that protects an educated elite. Echoing Christopher Lasch’s criticisms of a decline in public discourse, Sarfatti fires missives worldwide, attempting to enliven the physics community.
“I am in the meme business,” says Sarfatti, , recalling zoologist Richard Dawkins study of ideas, behaviours, and skills that replicate and transmit themselves via imitation (using the human mind similarly to the way that a virus does in a biological host). “My objective is that certain memes will win the competition in cyberspace and shape world consciousness. The Web will be the dominant means of learning and communication; it is a democratic forum.
“Censorship is to be fought. The free competition of conflicting memes on the Web will be subject to Darwinian natural selection pressure plus some advanced quantum action from the future via John Lilly’s Cosmic Coincidence Control. This makes it all come out in a globally self-consistent time loop the way Kip S. Thorne defines it in Black Holes & Time Warps (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1994).
“The main new feature of the WWW is its dynamic nature. Several minds can contribute to the shaping of a work.
“My field is that of perennial philosophy. I put the most important questions up for discussion. The most important single question is ‘What is Consciousness?’
“My basic program is the same as Tim Leary’s – space migration, intelligence increase, life extension. The cancerous growth of population and diminishing resources means that large decreases of population in the near future are impossible to avoid, barring some breakthrough in space propulsion that would allow large numbers of us to migrate to virgin worlds.
“Let’s hope that UFOs are real and that they are time-travelling ships from friendly ETs, or time travellers from our future – because if they are not real, it looks pretty grim for your children and their children.”
Encounters with VALIS
Sarfatti insists that in 1952, at age 13, he had an anomalous experience that changed his life. He claims to have received a single telephone call from a cold, metallic voice, declaring to be a conscious computer on a spacecraft from the future. But, after Sarfatti lent his mother a copy of Andrija Puharich’s book URI (London: Futura Publications Ltd, 1974), in which he described similar contact with Uri Geller, Sarfatti’s mother remembered that the young Sarfatti received the calls over a three-week period. Sarfatti had been selected as one of ’400 receptive young minds’ to be part of a project that would begin to occur 20 years in the future. He links this alleged ‘contact’ (“the intrusion of an objective entity”) to the Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS) experience of science fiction author Phillip K. Dick. Sarfatti’s ‘experience’ has met with widespread criticism from the physics community. Sarfatti believes that there is an Illuminati or Elect of minds, citing Pythagoras, Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Werner Heisenberg as examples who, throughout history, have deciphered messages from the future. The notion of an Elect is featured in the works of many occultists, Rabelais’ Gargantua & Pantagruel (New York: Norton, 1990), Toynbee’s “creative minority” and the ‘evolutionary Calvinism’ SF works of Colin Wilson, such as The Philosopher’s Stone (London: Barker, 1969).
In 1973, the late Brendan O’Regan told Sarfatti that he had been collecting data on other scientists who have had similar ‘anomalous experiences’, predating later investigations by Jacques Vallee and Harvard’s John Mack. Sarfatti believes that his critics “wish to crucify me because they think I am lying or insane about my 1952 VALIS-like experience.”
Sarfatti claims that his critics are demanding “the blood of the poet” when they claim that his theories and “exuberant talk” are “corrupting the youth.” The “hemlock of financial support” prompts many scientists to become slaves of the State, he says. “I think they are afraid of my limited attack on the principle of retarded causality, which holds that causes must always be in the past of their effects. What I am saying is that there is a small, but significant chance for causes to be in the future of their effects. They are afraid of my open mind on the question of precognitive remote viewing (ESP), faster-than-light communication and other heretical notions,” he says.
“Neither classical physics or standard quantum physics today permits ‘intent’ or ‘free will’ or ‘creative intelligence’. This essential hallmark of life demands a violation of the statistical predictions of quantum physics as formulated today. This is the key idea of what I call ‘postmodern physics.’”
Sarfatti’s early academic studies showed no sign of what was to come. He graduated Midwood High in Flatbush, 1956; the same school that Woody Allen attended. His academic credentials were impeccable: B.A. in physics from Cornell; M.S. from the University of California, San Diego; Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside; and stints with the Cornell Space Science Centre, the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, and Heisenberg’s Max Planck Institute in Munich. “By 1969 I was an assistant professor of physics at San Diego State with Fred Alan Wolf next door,” Sarfatti reveals ironically – Wolf would later link the ‘pop physics’ of Jungian psychology, quantum physics and New Age phenomena, pre-dating bestsellers like James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy (New York: Warner Books, 1993).
Sarfatti went on to become an honorary research fellow with David Bohm at Birkbeck College of the University of London in 1971, and was visiting physicist at Nobel laureate Abdus Salam’s UNESCO International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. Ilya Prigogine invited Sarfatti to Brussels in 1973. Sarfatti’s career was growing in prestige and recognition.
Then the weirdness descended.
[continues at Part 2]