How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival

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9780393076363: How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival

Named one of the Top Physics Books of 2012 by Physics World

The surprising story of eccentric young scientists who stood up to convention―and changed the face of modern physics.

Today, quantum information theory is among the most exciting scientific frontiers, attracting billions of dollars in funding and thousands of talented researchers. But as MIT physicist and historian David Kaiser reveals, this cutting-edge field has a surprisingly psychedelic past. How the Hippies Saved Physics introduces us to a band of freewheeling physicists who defied the imperative to “shut up and calculate” and helped to rejuvenate modern physics.

For physicists, the 1970s were a time of stagnation. Jobs became scarce, and conformity was encouraged, sometimes stifling exploration of the mysteries of the physical world. Dissatisfied, underemployed, and eternally curious, an eccentric group of physicists in Berkeley, California, banded together to throw off the constraints of the physics mainstream and explore the wilder side of science. Dubbing themselves the “Fundamental Fysiks Group,” they pursued an audacious, speculative approach to physics. They studied quantum entanglement and Bell’s Theorem through the lens of Eastern mysticism and psychic mind-reading, discussing the latest research while lounging in hot tubs. Some even dabbled with LSD to enhance their creativity. Unlikely as it may seem, these iconoclasts spun modern physics in a new direction, forcing mainstream physicists to pay attention to the strange but exciting underpinnings of quantum theory.

A lively, entertaining story that illuminates the relationship between creativity and scientific progress, How the Hippies Saved Physics takes us to a time when only the unlikeliest heroes could break the science world out of its rut. 46 black-and-white illustrations

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From the Back Cover:

Advance Praise for How the Hippies Saved Physics:

“This book takes us deep into the kaleidoscopic culture of the 1970s―with its pop-metaphysicians, dabblers in Eastern mysticism, and counterculture gurus―some of whom, it turns out, were also physicists seeking to challenge the foundations of their discipline. In David Kaiser’s hands, the story of how they succeeded―albeit in ways they never intended―makes a tremendously fun and eye-opening tale. As the physicist I. I. Rabi once remarked: ‘What [more] do you want, mermaids?’”―Ken Alder, author of The Measure of All Things and The Lie Detectors

“At first it sounds impossible, then like the opening line of a joke: What do the CIA, Werner Erhard’s EST, Bay Area hippie explorations, and the legacy of Einstein, Heisenberg, and Schroedinger have in common? It turns out, as David Kaiser shows, quite a lot. Here is a book that is immensely fun to read, gives insight into deep and increasingly consequential questions of physics, and transports the reader back into the heart of North Beach zaniness in the long 1960s. Put down your calculators and pick up this book!”―Peter Galison, author of Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps

“What happens when you mix the foundations of quantum mechanics with hot tubs, ESP, saffron robes, and psychedelic drugs? How the Hippies Saved Physics chronicles the wild years of the 1970s when a group of largely unemployed physicists teamed up with LSD advocate Timothy Leary, EST founder Werner Erhard, telekinesist Uri Geller, and a host of other countercultural figures to mount a full-scale assault on physics orthodoxy. David Kaiser’s masterly ability to explain the most subtle and counterintuitive quantum effects, together with his ability to spin a ripping good yarn, make him the perfect guide to this far-off and far-out era of scientific wackiness.”―Seth Lloyd, author of Programming the Universe

“David Kaiser shows us the wonder, mystery, and joy of the scientific pursuit that helped define, and inspire, a particular moment within the counterculture. Some have seen and long appreciated these resonances, but no one has stated the case this authoritatively, this fully, and this colorfully, particularly from the science side of things. Clearly, this book signals, like the entangled photons with which it begins and ends, a fantastic new world of possibilities―historical, human, and scientific.”―Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion

About 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. A Fellow of the American Physical Society, he received the History of Science Society's Pfizer Award for his book Drawing Theories Apart, which traces how Richard Feynman's idiosyncratic approach to quantum theory entered the mainstream. He and his family live near Boston.

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