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Oct 18

McCabe crossed back over Broadway to North Beach. At Poets Plaza, Socrates Sarfatti, a creatively hyperactive, theoretical physicist and UC Berkeley’s only “outdoor professor”, was conducting his weekly seminar. Sarfatti challenged the universe with the dialectical primacy of the Idea, and was one of the few to fearlessly plunge into the subject of consciousness and the role of physics. He came out of the sixties counter-cultural revolution and “question authority” academia. His  was the most popular seminar offered at Berkeley—required to be held outdoors anywhere in the Bay Area, except in the event of bad weather---really, really bad weather. Students were on the honor system not to travel to Sarfatti’s class in a car, and many of the locations were inaccessible by car anyway. The professor had held classes on Alcatraz in the middle of the Bay, in the Mt. Tamalpais ampitheater north of San Francisco, at the summit of Mount Diablo in the East Bay, and even occasionally down south on the Peninsula at joint seminars in the Quad of rival Stanford University. But of all the spots in the Bay Area, Socrates’ favorite was Poets Plaza where he could spin the universe like a top and offer up his own eloquent model of consciousness. Today, the students sat on the Plaza’s granite wall benches, others in chairs pulled up from Caffe Trieste. It was ok to drink wine during the seminar, and if you brought a particularly good bottle to share with your fellow outdoor enthusiasts and of course, the professor---Socrates was known to activate his Stardrive and power straight through Einstein’s theory of relativity--- particularly if fueled by the likes of Chateau Lafite, Margaux, Latour, Le Pin---to the farthest reaches of his ten dimensional multiuniverse, his speculations like stardust in the solar winds.  McCabe noted a number of empty bottles of fine Bordeaux sharing space-time with the students on the granite benches. And, Socrates Sarfatti, his arms and hands outstreached like a gnarled vine, was taking off on an electromagnetic rip,  “I want us today to consider string theory. Can someone give us a quick definition?” One of the graduate students jumped at the opening,  “All subatomic particles--- protons, neutrons, electrons and the smaller particles they’re made up of---quarks and so on---and all forms of energy---are constructed of strings---infinitely small building blocks that have only a single dimension—length—but not height or width.”

“And what else?” asked Socrates the iconoclast.

Another student, “String theory also posits that the universe is multi-dimensional---we all can observe four dimensions,” he picked up one of the empty wine bottles—“This has height, width and length—three dimensional space---and the time we took to drink from it—gives us four observable dimensions. String theory suggests ten dimensions—so the other six—well look around you—you don’t see them---they can’t be detected—at least not sitting here.”

“And?” questioned the professor impulsively.

The student continued, still gripping the bottle, “Well…the strings kind of vibrate—right?—in multiple dimensions---and depending on the nature of the vibration might be observed as matter—like the wine bottle---or light---like the refraction of the afternoon sun off the bottle--or gravity,” letting the bottle drop from one hand to the other. “Depending on the vibration, it might appear as matter or energy—all forms of matter and energy are the result of the vibration of strings.”

Socrates clapped his hands in delight---a sign that he was pleased with the student's explanation—and the use of the wine bottle was an excellent pedagogical touch. “But were it that simple, no? It never really is, is it? The scientific dialectic is inexorable. From the pre-Socratic philosophers’ cosmology to our very own moment sitting in this Plaza, physics undergoes continual refinement and change. Was it not Heraclitus who said, ‘You can never step in the same river twice?’ ”

McCabe loved seeing Sarfatti perform. His physics was like magic, a continual world of wonder. Sarfatti believed the universe had ordered and understandable  meaning, an unutterable truth, that included our own thoughts and intuition, allowing for the interplay between consciousness and the physical world. This was Sarfatti as his best---covered in stardust —fleshing out his own cosmology, he could describe the cosmos mathematically, yet lived and explored within and without those parameters---the professor was thought to be a bit loopy at times—his talks often non-linear, weaving an interdisciplinary tapestry wrapped within consciousness, matter and energy---sometimes difficult to fathom—sometimes impossible—it was just such a marvelous moment.

“The question is, what is the question? Is string theory a single theory? Anyone care to take up the baton?” asked Socrates, careening his liminal engine straight through his students’ heads. “As the Mad Hatter said to Alice, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.’ ” A woman raised her hand tentatively. Socrates gave her a mildly irritated look—he hated raised hands—it interrupted the  flow of an outdoor seminar—indoors, raised hands was an acceptable protocol—outdoors was meant to be freer and more fluid.

“Yes?” he said.

“Well…aren’t there now a bunch of different string theories—like a half dozen or so—with different numbers of dimensions and the characteristics of the strings themselves—open loops, closed loops—even intertwined loops—all of them as plausible as the others—but having contradictory sets of equations to describe the same phenomena?”

“That’s a fair enough description of where we’re ar right now—so has anyone proposed how to reconcile these apparent conflicting versions?”

The young woman half raised her hand again, saw she still had the floor,  “Yeah, Edward Witten….”

Socrates interrupted,  “At the Institute for Advanced Study with some colleagues…”
The woman continued, “They thought that the different versions of string theory might simply be describing the same phenomena from different perspectives. Right? So they came up with a unifying theory---the ‘M-Theory” the ‘M’ stands for membrane—and here is where I get lost—but they brought all the string theories together by saying that strings are one-dimensional slices of a two-dimensional membrane vibrating in multi- dimensional space.”

Sarfatti took the virtual baton back, “Good, that’s right—so with the ‘M-Theory’ the underlying structure has been mathematically established—it’s consistent with all string theories--- and consistent as well with….” the professor looked round the group, “With…?”
Silence. “With…?Come on, come on.. anyone?…someone—hint, it’s right in front of your nose…”

McCabe called out, “Our own scientific observations of the universe?”

“Ah hah!” Socrates laughed when he saw McCabe. His eyes twinkled, pleased by the Jungian synchronicity of McCabe’s sudden appearance. He gestured at his students then over at McCabe,  “This people, is McCabe---a columnist who many of you have probably read at one time or another---now a candidate for mayor--- and definitely not a student of physics—but he is an astute observer—and that my friends is why he knew the answer…and why communication can be faster than light.”

McCabe waved good-by, Professor Sarfatti’s wine inflected voice trailing off, “String theory also has met challenges of internal mathematical consistency that other attempts to combine quantum mechanics with gravity have not. But until we find a way to observe higher dimensions, ‘M-Theory’ has some problems making predictions that can actually be tested in a laboratory.…technologically it may never be proven—but many cosmologists, including Stephen Hawking, are intrigued by it because of its mathematical elegance and simplicity. ‘M-Theory’ may present us with a ‘Theory of Everything’ which like E=MC2 is so concise it would fit on a t-shirt…”

McCabe’s head vibrated in a nano-tizzy from the  mystico-illuminati of Socrates’ cosmic ratiocinations. Apart from objective physics, Socrates Sarfatti was famous for his subjective, counterintuitive theory on retrocausality, that events that have not yet occurred can cause action in the present---if events could not only flow from past to future, but as well, from future to past, the apparent intractable challenge of quantum uncertainty could be resolved, and also provide the information necessary for the creation of life. Socrates turned causality and stream of consciousness on its head seeing the one way flow of time as an old and heretofor intractable prejudice—he viewed Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel, Mozart’s symphonies, Einstein’s theory of relativity as having their origins at least partially in the future---thus the universe was created by intelligent design, the Designer lived far in the future attempting to effect the Now, sending quantum signals, like the thunder of Zeus on Mt. Olympus or the prophecies of Cassandra from within the walls of Troy which were true but always disbelieved, that someone with a particular genius would someday learn to decode---images projected back from the future horizon—all the world a Shakespearean hologram.

Sarfatti’s cerebral brilliance had vaporized McCabe’s hangover which had blessedly slipped from his membrain [Note:Spelling intentional]. He continued home, climbing Telegraph Hill, then looping back down the Filbert stairs to his Napier Lane cottage. He wanted to grab a nap, but there was little time. After showering, he went to the kitchen, opened a coconut and drank the milk. He put a small amount in Squad Car’s dish—the milky rich flavor appealed to the cat, but only a couple of tablespoons, more he would leave unfinished.

There was a soft knock on his door. It was Monica. The sight of McCabe opening the door, fresh from the shower, a towel loosely slung round his waist, gave her an erotic jolt, “I love your outfit,” laughed Monica, kissing him and slipping her hand underneath his towel, teasingly stroking him. McCabe’s smile widened at the touch of Monica’s creamy hand. She breathed, “I hope you reciprocate sometime.” He would gladly, given the opportunity---a woman answering her front door unclad---at least topless---was a sight that he never, ever forgot, and promised a fine evening ahead beginning at the very portal itself.