How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revivalby David Kaiser
“Meticulously researched and unapologetically romantic, How the Hippies Saved Physics makes the history of science fun again.”—ScienceIn the 1970s, an eccentric group of physicists in Berkeley, California, banded together to explore the wilder side of science. Dubbing themselves the “Fundamental Fysiks Group,”/p>/em>/em>
“Meticulously researched and unapologetically romantic, How the Hippies Saved Physics makes the history of science fun again.”—ScienceIn the 1970s, an eccentric group of physicists in Berkeley, California, banded together to explore the wilder side of science. Dubbing themselves the “Fundamental Fysiks Group,” they pursued an audacious, speculative approach to physics, studying quantum entanglement in terms of Eastern mysticism and psychic mind reading. As David Kaiser reveals, these unlikely heroes spun modern physics in a new direction, forcing mainstream physicists to pay attention to the strange but exciting underpinnings of quantum theory.
An enthusiastic account of a coterie of physicists who, during the 1970s, embraced New Age fads and sometimes went on to make dramatic discoveries.
In his first book, Kaiser (Physics/MIT) paints a gloomy portrait of his field during that decade. The golden age of Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli et al was history. The Cold War and increased government support had vastly increased the number of physicists, including many who yearned to explore Einstein-style paradoxes and the nature of reality but were bored by classes which stressed mundane practical applications. In 1975, Berkeley graduate students took matters into their own hands, organizing an informal "Fundamental Fysiks Group." They attracted like-minded hip doctorates, so discussions mixed quantum theory with the latest counterculture delights from LSD to Eastern mysticism to ESP. They received generous media attention, including a Time cover story and produced a flood of publications about the "new physics" including bestsellers such as Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. With financial support from unexpected sources such as the CIA (worried about possible Soviet PSI weapons) and various young millionaires including Werner Erhard, they explored complex, hitherto ignored areas such as Bell's theorem and quantum entanglement while annoying the establishment by exploring their links to the paranormal. The end result was a transformation in cutting-edge physics and major discoveries in quantum information science, now a thriving industry.
Readers will enjoy this entertaining chronicle of colorful young scientists whose sweeping curiosity turned up no hard evidence for psychic phenomena but led to new ways of looking into the equally bizarre quantum world.
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author
David Kaiser is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society and the Department of Physics. He lives near Boston.
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This explains why physics became so much abstract dreamstuff that is only demonstrable if one indugles in very unscientific practices. And it explains why, after graduating from college, I became an engineer.