How to summarise the career of Quentin Quark? Futurist, inventor, physicist, astronaut, mystic, martial artist, philosopher – "The Father of Esoteric Physics" has been called a Renaissance² Man, a technopirate, a Dzogchen fanatic, a dangerous false prophet and even a superhero. As I am escorted, pen-and-notebook in hand, through what he calls his Quantum Temple, a massive circular hologram where "hard light" conforms into what I am told are exact (even down to the subatomic level) replicas of famous works of art, my own intellectual vanity begins to doubt the relevance of my intended questions. Will I simply be another bug on the windshield of this towering intellect? Would it not be wiser to simply make an excuse and leave whilst my dignity is still intact?
My anxieties, along with the works of art, vanish, to be replaced with a room that seems the definition of English comfort: A modest bookcase, a quiet, crackling fireplace, two slightly battered but infinitely inviting leather armchairs. I'm not sure about superhero, but my host certainly has the look of an eccentric. The electric ginger hair is completely out of place atop the head of a handsome black man, not to mention the garish double-breasted crimson silk dinner jacket, Terminator sunglasses and walking stick combination. He beckons me to the larger, more comfortable-looking chair, and cracks a joke about them being antiques. He asks what I've already written down about him, and, still a little nervous, I tell him.
QQ: [laughs] I love those slogans that always follow my name. "The Father of Esoteric Physics." Why are we so obsessed with titles? It seems I collect them. Everyone's got a different one for me. I think only Idi Amin had more than me. What does that tell you?
MS: I'm surprised you take umbrage with that one more than, say, being called a "technopirate."
QQ: Well, technopirate is probably more accurate. Newton said we're midgets standing on the shoulders of giants, and that describes me pretty well. I won't deny Quark Labs is a forerunner in investigative and pragmatic science, perhaps the outstanding body, but if it wasn't for men like Newton, Einstein and Bohr our work wouldn't even be close to where it is now. Not to mention near-contemporaries like Kurzweil. I'm leaving a lot of people out but my personal affinity probably lies with them to a great extent. And if anyone's the father of esoteric physics, it's not me.
MS: Why not?
QQ: All I've done is popularise what used to be called science's "lunatic fringe," point out to people that something like quantum indeterminacy is predated by hundreds if not thousands of years of gnostic rituals. The idea of your will acting on the universe. If anyone is the father of esoteric physics it's probably Robert Anton Wilson, if not [Aleister] Crowley himself.
MS: I wonder if you're not giving yourself enough credit. These men certainly weren't as practical as you in their applications.
QQ: Crowley, not practical? Well. I suppose we're going to have to agree to disagree there. Crowley told his pupils not to believe him, after all. But I digress. The point I'm making is we at Quark Labs have our predecessors. We haven't made as giant leaps forward as those in the past. What we have done is contribute to a paradigm shift, which I attribute to good marketing. [Laughs.]
MS: You seem to put a great emphasis on knowing where we come from in order to know where we're going. You yourself were born in what was formerly Somalia, is that right?
QQ: Yes, that's right.
MS: You've called yourself an anarchist before. Is that where that comes from?
QQ: Yes and no. My father, my biological father, was an economist who saw Somalia, which had benefited hugely from its lack of government, as a great opportunity. I suppose you'd call him an anarcho-capitalist, although that seems quite antiquated and Randian now. But whilst Somalia was definitely his microcosm, we'd moved to Britain by the time I was two. At [The University of] Chicago I briefly dabbled in that kind of libertarian idea but found it almost inherently flawed from a humanistic perspective…
MS: How old are you here?
QQ: Well, I got my first degree when I was 15, so around then. I wasn't that interested in politics until later. My early love had been literature. But my anarchy is not my father's anarchy, or the anarchy of Kropotkin or Bakunin. Really it's an acknowledgement that governments are becoming irrelevant. Just to see how far we've come, consider in 1970 most of the world was still illiterate. As people get smarter they don't need people to tell them what to do.
MS: Interesting views for someone who works so closely with the government.
QQ: Not as closely as you'd think. They basically let me get on with it, and help out with the budget. I let them send some of their specialists to make them think they're involved.
MS: When did your prodigious intelligence begin to manifest?
QQ: There wasn't any specific point. When I was three I was already reading Dickens and Melville. But this is where I have to give my mother credit. She was a journalist, like yourself, and classically trained. Thanks to her, Homer was my Bible, my daily bread.
MS: When did you get into physics?
QQ: Around age seven or eight, I think. My stepfather was an influence obviously, having been working with CERN when my mother met him. But independently I found a spontaneous affinity with quantum physics. The chaos of "existence," the romance of entropy.
MS: And the mysticism came from that?
QQ: No. Again, more from my reading. I try not to draw patterns too elaborately, because that's both our brains' greatest strength and their greatest weakness. I got into martial arts around this time and the mysticism came from here. It wasn't until I was in my mid-teens I became really serious about kung fu, though.
MS: You were kicked off your Harvard course for taking part in a martial arts tournament, is that right?
QQ: [Laughs] No, that's a rumour that seems to have propagated itself, almost to legendary status. No, I actually left Harvard because I just didn't enjoy it. I was never much of a tournament fighter anyway. Tournaments are too full of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which I regard as an abhorrence.
QQ: It ruined martial arts, or at least the spiritual aspect of it. BJJ fighters generally have no interest in martial arts in its true form, they just like fighting. Watch Ultra-Fighting on cable to see what I mean. Pro wrestling entrances, beer bellies, lots of sloppy boxing and grappling. It's caught between a discipline, a sport and, I don't know, a reality TV show or something. That's what people think martial arts is now. Although I suppose they used to think it was like whatever 70s Hong Kong kung fu movie told them it was, which isn't accurate either.
MS: What is martial arts?
QQ: It's a journey. Physical, mental, spiritual.
MS: So you'd kick their asses?
QQ: [Laughs] No, probably not. Most of their guys are too big, too practical. They'd punch my head off whilst I was half way through a bow.
MS: What are you reading at the moment?
QQ: Oh, loads. Thanks to my biblionanos I'm in the process of reading thirty-three books as we speak. That's the beauty of being in charge of your own labs, you get to be the Guinea pig.
MS: Could you read a bit out from one?
QQ: Sure, just give me a second… "Matty was six years old when his father went out for cigarettes. Eight days later, when his father hadn't come back and hadn't called or sent a message through a friend, the boy took all the change he could find in the apartment and started walking…"
MS: How do I know you haven't just memorised that?
QQ: [Laughs] You'll just have to trust me.
MS: What was that from, incidentally?
QQ: Underworld by Don DeLillo. One that has escaped my attention thus far.
MS: Nice to know this interview isn't detaining you too much!
QQ: You don't know the least of it. I have robot duplicates of myself working in eight different fields right now. I thought it might be impolite to bring it up at the start.
MS: You mean you're simultaneously having this interview, reading a few dozen books and smashing the atom as we speak?
QQ: Well, actually I'm concentrating more on genetics at the moment. I'd say more but it's all pretty hush hush.
MS: How is all this possible? That's incredible co-ordination for just one man.
QQ: It's the same principle as rubbing your stomach and patting your head. Or is that the other way around? Anyway. It's just multitasking. I got the robot doubles idea from a comic book.
MS: So when can we expect the first time machine?
QQ: Not for a while. And not from me. I'd tell you about my personal time travelling experiences but I don't think the world's ready for that yet.
MS: How about lightspeed travel?
QQ: Erm… Well, let's just say it's a possibility. It's something we've looked into but I don't think we'll see it in our lifetime. I have said many times before it's our destiny to move beyond this galaxy. We're just not ready yet.
MS: Speaking of lifetimes, your official biography has you at 47 years old, but surely that's not right? You don't look a day over 25.
QQ: Thank you! Just further proof this meditation thing does work. And again, I'm the Guinea pig for a lot of experiments. Don't worry, we're not being greedy. Soon life-extenders will be freely available. I've just finished Underworld, by the way.
MS: Oh, what did you think of it?
QQ: I liked it. I might have to read it again though. I don't catch everything the first time.