Eccentric's Corner: Grand Inquisitor
He's a passionate polymath and synthesizer of science who wants mankind to understand its place and potential in the universe.
By January 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016published
Profession: Omnivorous intellectual
Claim to Eccentricity: Attempts to explain and reconcile the universe, called his autobiography How I Accidentally Started the Sixties.
PR-guru-turned-guru to-the-scientifically-curious, Howard Bloom is as comfortable discussing microbes as he is space exploration. New York City-based Bloom was a public relations honcho in the music biz in the 1970s and 1980s but retired to spread the word about group-selection theory—the idea that populations, as well as genes or individuals, are an important unit that gets selected and evolves—and "omnology,"a field dedicated to the most zoomed-out cross-disciplinary search for knowledge. He expounds on these ideas, both grand and simple, in The Lucifer Principle and Global Brain, among other books.
Do you consider yourself a philosopher or a scientist or both?
When I was 16, I worked in a cancer-research lab. My mentor was a bio chemist who spent years synthesizing one molecule. That was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At lunch I ran a discussion group, and we soared over the face of the cosmos. It was so exhilarating that we continued it nights. That summer I put together the Bloom big bagel [toroidal] theory of the universe. I tossed it aside as a childhood plaything, as comic-book science. And then one of its predictions, that at a certain point the universe would begin accelerating away from itself, came true in 1998. The point is, I wanted to put the big picture together. I didn't want to be stuck like a little mole in the ground like my biochemist mentor.
Why do you think young people flock to you and your lectures?
I'm trying to get them to put emotion, passion, and reason all together. I'm trying to get them to use art as one antenna, science as another antenna, to feel out the darkness. There's darkness outside of us, but there's even more darkness inside of us. We're only at the very beginning of this little thing called consciousness. It's like trying to live in Carlsbad Cavern and having discovered only the first 100 yards of the cave, not knowing that there are another 15 miles of caves down below.
Why haven't you entered academia?
Academia is regimented, because people are so timid. My first rule of science is "the truth at any price, including the price of your life." And rule number two is "look at things right under your nose as if you've never seen them before."
What did your PR work with Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and other stars teach you
It's like Einstein's physics—when you get to a certain speed, the rules change—and when you get to Michael Jackson level, all the rules change. Your hormonal system does something you've never experienced unless you've had amphetamines. If you've got 300 phone calls when you wake up in the morning and you know you're in demand... it's astonishing, the way your body performs and the things that your mind does.
In the 1990s you contracted chronic fatigue syndrome—how did that change you?
It isolated me and forced me to become one of the first cyber-personalities, in 1989, before the World Wide Web.
For the first five years I was too weak to talk. Today I'm doing extremely well. I sit down with my laptop at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn and work until one in the morning, when they throw me out.
What are you working on now?
I've got this Grand Unified Theory of Everything in the Universe Including the Human Soul.
That's modest. Can you give it to me in a sentence or two?
The universe keeps repeating itself, it keeps upgrading. The universe takes advantage of every catastrophe and turns it into an opportunity. She takes atoms and crunches them, and crunching them makes light, and that makes something new—a star. Then a million years later she kills it off. She makes 89 new forms of atomic nuclei.
Well, that sucks—she should stop killing things off, especially now that she's made creatures that can feel pain. Humans are the first manifestations of evolution to be able to dream of peace, to be able to dream of justice, to be able to dream of warmth. Mother Nature is a f***ing g*ddamn bloody b***h.
So we should make love and warmth?
Yes. And continue to innovate, to make breakthroughs. If you don't, you're not going to make it past the next mass extinction.
Do your friends find you exhausting?
It's hard to tell. No one will tell you negatives about yourself. But I have a lot of friends who, thank goodness, seem addicted to me.
What else would you like people to know about you?
I have two ridiculous goals. One is to save Western Civilization. Another is to leave a body of work that will do for others what Galileo did for me when I was 10 years old. The odds against this happening are a billion to one. But, hey, the only people who make history are we fragile, insecure, seemingly insignificant human beings.