"Bucky Fuller thought big, Arthur C. Clarke thinks big, but Cliff Pickover outdoes them both" - WIRED
From the acclaimed author of over 20 popular books, Sex, Drugs, Einstein, and Elves serves up a smorgasbord of subjects designed to bend reality and stretch the reader's mind. Musing over everything from humanity’s place in the universe to movie closing credits, Clifford A. Pickover contemplates such topics as fugu sushi, zombies, French writer Marcel Proust (not to mention cartoon guides to Proust), parallel universes, hallucinogenic worms, religious states, uncommon psychiatric disorders, Albert Einstein, shamanist Terence McKenna, Burning Man, the business of book publishing (including famous rejected books), quantum theory, and the humming toadfish, whose incessant underwater droning at a perfect A-flat was a mystery for years. Complete with illustrations, Pickover's book entertains, informs, and invites his readers—old and new—to test their powers of lateral thinking and to see the world in a fresh way.
Sex, Drugs, Einstein & Elves Preface
In the summer of 2004, I became especially curious about humanity’s age-old quest for transcendence through religion, architecture, art, psychedelics, language, and countless other means of expression. A passion seized me, and I resolved to explore humankind’s greatest examples of creative fervor.
I explored the ruins of Pompeii in Italy and walked the narrow streets of Eze, a medieval mountain city in France. Shivers ran through me as I knelt in Saint Peter’s Basilica and in front of the Black Madonna in the mountain monastery of Montserrat. I rested in the Miracle Field of Pisa and in cafes on the terraced, narrow streets of Villefranche. I stood only inches from the bones of Michelangelo and Galileo in Florence’s Church of Santa Croce.
Fully energized, I wandered through the Roman Coliseum, the ruins of Imperial Rome, the psychedelic Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, and the Notre-Dame de la Garde—a beautiful basilica set high atop the hills above the Old Harbor in Marseille.
One of the major themes of this book jelled as I toured the cliff-side town of Positano on the Amalfi coast near Naples, where buildings grow like barnacles -- from the tops of hills and down the sheer slope to the Gulf of Salerno. It suddenly hit me that behind every society was a hidden, elflike voice that whispered: “Build! Create! Build! Create!” Moreover, some of the intricate structures I had seen during my journey were reminiscent of the sparkling, ornate palaces revealed to people under the influence of the psychoactive compound DMT (dimethyltryptamine). It seems as if DMT frees the mind to see the blueprint—hardwired by the whispering elves—instructing us to create, create, create.
My fascination with people’s DMT visions leads me to discuss DMT “realities” in great detail throughout this book. I also dwell on Marcel Proust and Albert Einstein, perhaps the ultimate expressors of creativity in literature and science. Just as termites are designed to make intricate mounds, Golden Orb Web spiders to weave tremendous webs, and bower birds to construct ornate nests decorated with colorful baubles including feathers, berries, pebbles, and shells—so our species is designed to build magnificent jeweled palaces, seek glitter, and compose symphonies.
Mediterranean travel reinforces the notion that architecture is the quintessence of creativity and practicality. In order for any building to get off the ground—literally—the architect must not only have a sense of art and of creating new spaces, he or she must consider new technologies, materials, engineering constraints, politics, zoning laws, and impact on communities. Architecture—a pinnacle of creative expression tempered by basic human needs and limitations—is emblematic of the entire range of topics covered in the book that require readers to reason and to dream.
I completed this book on my return to the United States, while walking through the rustic streets of my home town, taking notes, resting, and enjoying the country air. These are my personal musings on our quest to understand reality and to transcend our ordinary lives.
“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Flight to Arras
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”
- Albert Einstein, “On Science”
“Somewhere in that great ocean of truth, the answers to questions about life in the universe are hidden ... beyond these questions are others that we cannot even ask, questions about the universe as it may be perceived in the future by minds whose thoughts and feelings are as inaccessible to us as our thoughts and feelings are to earthworms.”
- Freeman Dyson, “Science & Religion: No Ends in Sight,” New York Review of Books
About the Author
Clifford A. Pickover received his Ph.D. from Yale University’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. He graduated first in his class from Franklin and Marshall College, after completing the four-year undergraduate program in three years. His many books have been translated into Italian, French, Greek, German, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish Turkish, and Polish.
One of the most prolific and eclectic authors of our time, Pickover is author of the popular books: A Passion for Mathematics (Wiley, 2004), Calculus and Pizza (Wiley, 2003). The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience (Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press, 2002), The Stars of Heaven (Oxford University Press, 2001), The Zen of Magic Squares, Circles, and Stars (Princeton University Press, 2001), Dreaming the Future (Prometheus, 2001) Wonders of Numbers (Oxford University Press, 2000), The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (Prometheus, 2000), Surfing Through Hyperspace (Oxford University Press, 1999), The Science of Aliens (Basic Books, 1998), Time: A Traveler’s Guide (Oxford University Press, 1998), Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen (Plenum, 1998), The Alien IQ Test (Basic Books, 1997), The Loom of God (Plenum, 1997), Black Holes - A Traveler's Guide (Wiley, 1996), and Keys to Infinity (Wiley, 1995). He is also author of numerous other highly-acclaimed books including Chaos in Wonderland: Visual Adventures in a Fractal World (1994), Mazes for the Mind: Computers and the Unexpected: (1992), Computers and the Imagination (1991) and Computers, Pattern, Chaos, and Beauty (1990), all published by St. Martin’s Press—as well as the author of over 200 articles concerning topics in science, art, and mathematics. He is also coauthor, with Piers Anthony, of Spider Legs, a science-fiction novel once listed as Barnes and Noble’s second best-selling science-fiction title. Pickover is currently an associate editor for the scientific journal Computers and Graphics and is an editorial board member for Odyssey, Leonardo, and YLEM.
The Los Angeles Times recently proclaimed, “Pickover has published nearly a book a year in which he stretches the limits of computers, art and thought.” Pickover received first prize in the Institute of Physics’ “Beauty of Physics Photographic Competition.” His computer graphics have been featured on the cover of many popular magazines, and his research has recently received considerable attention by the press— including CNN’s "Science and Technology Week,” The Discovery Channel, Science News, The Washington Post, Wired, and The Christian Science Monitor—and also in international exhibitions and museums. OMNI magazine described him as “Van Leeuwenhoek’s twentieth century equivalent.” Scientific American several times featured his graphic work, calling it “strange and beautiful, stunningly realistic.” Pickover holds over thirty US patents, mostly concerned with novel features for computers.
"Sex, Drugs, Einstein and Elves is quite a book and fully a close encounter with Clifford Pickover's amazing mind. The book made me wish I could spend a few hours with Dr. Pickover just picking his brain. Yes, the book is a tour de force."
- Science Editor, Harvard University Press
"Cliff Pickover is a believer whose faith in the marvelous nature of the universe is uniquely revealed through his skillful employment of the skeptic's razor. Stripping away the veil that hides the unseen realms of the possible, Sex, Drugs, Einstein & Elves offers glints of the spectacular rewards to be grasped when science and the Socratic method are trained, where they ought to be, on the sublime and the mysterious."
- Charles Hayes, author of Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures
“Clifford Pickover’s ability to connect various fields of understanding is a true display of synthesis to reveal wholes greater than their parts. At the same time he can analyze a subject to extract the one or two things he needs in yet another larger insight. He is a deep sea diver, and a stellar voyager.”
- George Zebrowski, John W. Campbell Prize winner for Brute Orbits
“Dr. Pickover’s book made me want to read Proust, eat sushi, and contemplate parallel universes. Of course, I've done all those things before but Pickover’s joyfully whimsical and lucid writing style reminded me why.”
- Ken Goffman aka RU Sirius, author of Counterculture Through The Ages
"Warning! Proceed with extreme caution! Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves is a dangerously psychoactive and highly addictive book. I simply could not put this book down! Clifford Pickover's hallucinogenic orgy of paradigm-shifting ideas is guaranteed to increase your intelligence and expand your mind, but--trust me--after reading this book, you will never see reality the same again."
- David Jay Brown, author of Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse