- Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves: Sushi, Psychedelics, Parallel Universes, and the Quest for Transcendence by Clifford A. Pickover
Reading this book is like taking a ride in a very fast car down a mountainous highway with thousands of hairpin bends, at each of which is a sign that flashes information. Just as you get towards the bottom of the mountain—whoops, spin-out, back upwards toward the summit. Fasten your seat belts, kiddies!
Sushi! God! Lord of the Rings! William S. Burroughs! Marcel Proust! DMT! LSD! Brain Surgery! Stellar Nucleosynthesis! plus hundreds of other dissimilar titles in this book are like signposts to snippets of information that even the most well-read, educated reader will never have heard of. You will not find an in-depth discussion in these pages on anything, but that is not the purpose of the book. I am not actually sure what the purpose of the book is, but it comes with a warning: “Book critics, beware! I ruminate and wander freely through a vast carnival of topics, seizing every opportunity to digress and explore mental tributaries” (p. xxix).
The title of the book is almost a cliché, too obviously a hook with which to ensnare the bookshop browsers as they stroll through hundreds of titles and cover/spine designs vying for their attention. The book has almost nothing to do with sex at all, except for perhaps Annie Sprinkle’s favorite 20 words, which she insisted be displayed in the form of “an approximation to a vulva or labia shape” (p. 49). Pickover, who by his own admission is totally obsessed with words, asked various famous people to list their 20 favorite words, from which he calculates an obscurity index. There is a whole chapter devoted to such word games and Terraqueous Chrysoprases, thank you, Bertrand Russell!
It is worth listing the various chapter titles as they will forewarn the less adventurous reader of what they are getting into. Chapter 1: On Fugu Sushi and Transdimensional Reality Worms; Chapter 2: The Quantum Mechanics of Hopi Indians; Chapter 3: Bertrand Russell’s Twenty Favorite Words; Chapter 4: DMT, Moses, and the Quest for Transcendence; Chapter 5: Brain Syndromes Open Portals to Parallel Universes; Chapter 6: From Holiday Inn to the Head of Christ; Chapter 7: The Business of Book Publishing:
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Unplugged, Up Close, and Personal; Chapter 8: Neoreality and the Quest for Transcendence; Chapter 9: Oh God, Einstein’s Brain and Eyes Are Missing; and Chapter 10: Burning Man and the Conquest of Reality. There is also a preface, introduction, epilogue, notes, further reading, index and an “About the Author.” Phew!
The About the Author section is hardly necessary, as by the time we get to this we know pretty much all about Clifford A. Pickover. My one criticism of this book is the attempt, perhaps unconsciously, to build a monument to Pickover by Pickover. It becomes rather tedious and somewhat onerous digesting page after page of “I have done this,” “I have published ‘x’ number of books,” “I topped my class,” “I got my Ph.D. fast from the best university (Yale),” “I’ve created ‘x’ number of patents” and so on and on. An example: “I even use a related form of divination to create patents” (p. 69). Adopting Pickover’s use of numbers to analyze all sorts of things, I counted the number of times he uses the first person pronoun (or its associates) on one page. The result was a staggering 8% of the page’s total word count.
Even though the chapter concerning book publishing deals largely with Pickover’s personal experiences, it is most revealing and contains important information for all authors, published or unpublished. Two examples of the gems to be found in this chapter, concerning original manuscripts rejected by publishers: “Twenty publishers felt that Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull was for the birds. It went on to sell...