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How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival Hardcover – June 27, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0393076363 ISBN-10: 0340782005 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 372 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (June 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340782005
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393076363
  • ASIN: 0393076369
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,810 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Starred Review. An enthusiastic account of a coterie of physicists who, during the 1970s, embraced New Age fads and sometimes went on to make dramatic discoveries…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.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Starred Review. Science has never been more unpredictable—or more entertaining!” (Booklist)

“It is hard to write a book about quantum mechanics that is at once intellectually serious and a page-turner. But David Kaiser succeeds in his account of a neglected but important group of physicists who brought together quantum mechanics, Eastern religion, parapsychology and the hallucinogen LSD. … Illuminating.” (Hugh Gusterson - Nature)

“Exhaustively and carefully researched. [Kaiser] has uncovered a wealth of revealing detail about the physicists involved, making for a very lively tale. … Fascinating.” (American Scientist)

“This entertaining, worthwhile read is as much about the nature of society at the dawn of the New Age as it is about quantum physics.” (Choice)

“Kaiser’s style is engaging, which makes this history of the time when physics left the short-sleeved white shirts, skinny ties and plastic pocket protectors behind one of the best science books of the year.” (Sacramento News & Review)

“Meticulously researched and unapologetically romantic, How the Hippies Saved Physics makes the history of science fun again.” (Matthew Wisnioski - Science)

How the Hippies Saved Physics takes readers on a mind-bending trip to the far horizons of science—a place where the counterculture’s search for a New Age of consciousness opened the door to a new era in physics. Who knew that the discipline that brought us the atom bomb had also glimpsed Utopia? Amazing.” (Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture)

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

More 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.

Customer Reviews

A fun read that contains decent science explanations along the way.
Stephen S. Muratore
Science if fun and this mind-bending book will make you realize how important physics is to our daily lives.
Dr. Wilson Trivino
When I was a teenager I read a few of the books mentioned in this book.
s100bus

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

119 of 125 people found the following review helpful By A. Jogalekar VINE VOICE on June 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Does philosophy have a place in serious science? Many of the founders of modern physics certainly thought so. Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrodinger were not just great scientists but they were equally enthusiastic and adept at pondering the philosophical implications of quantum theory. To some extent they were forced to confront such philosophical questions because the world that they were discovering was just so bizarre and otherworldly; particles could be waves and vice versa, cats (at least in principle) could be alive and dead, particles that were separated even by light years appeared to be able to communicate instantaneously with each other, and our knowledge of the subatomic world turned out to be fundamentally probabilistic.

However, as quantum theory matured into a powerful tool for calculation and concrete application, the new generation of physicists in general and American physicists in particular started worrying less about "what it means" and much more about "how to use it". American physicists had always been more pragmatic than their European counterparts and after World War 2, as the center of physics moved from Europe to the United States and as the Cold War necessitated a great application of science to defense, physicists turned completely from the philosophizing type to what was called the "shut up and calculate" kind; as long as quantum mechanics agrees spectacularly with experiment, why worry about what it means? Just learn how to use it. Yet this only swept epistemological questions under the rug.

Curiously, there emerged in the 1970s a quirky and small group of physicists in the Bay Area who tried to resurrect the age of philosopher-scientists.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen S. Muratore on June 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
So--basically man--these stoners got heigh on Heissenberg, and heard John Bell ringing the universe with superluminal messages. Sure, we all did that back in the early 70s, but these freaks could speak fysiks out of one side of their mouths and the tao out the other. And, the way Kaiser lays it down, these weedwhackers weren't just blowing smoke in the Esalen hot tubs and talking to Leary--and friggin' dead Houdini too--they were also talking to some serious Physics profs embedded in the Ivy League. And one freak came tickling-close to having his experiment that tested Bell's entanglement theorem against psychokinesis published in a super-high Science journal worshiped by Physicist Straignts, and signed off on by Straights. The Straights were already teetering on the brink of Everything-We-Know-is wrong; and they were listening. So was the CIA, which feared the Ruskies were lightyears ahead of us on psychic research. The espionage agencies wanted to transmit messages to spooks in the field telepathically. What were they smokin'? Anyway, the phys-hippies didn't bring us faster-than-light communications, but they stimulated the thinking that brought us other weird technologies, such as quantum effects in computer chips, and quantum encryption of bank transactions. Thus spake Kaiser. A fun read that contains decent science explanations along the way.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Darryl J. Howard on August 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As with any endeavor, to understand where you are headed you have to understand where you have been. David Kaiser gives us insights as to how physics has come to where it is today.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand the backstory of physics over the last several decades. It may inspire many young physicists of today.

It is a story of the possible. How a group of people with so little, in a time where the odds were against them, have made such great contributions to society and their fellow human beings.

This was a great read. I highly recommend reading it.
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Format: Hardcover
How the Hippies Saved Physics is a fantastically kooky and zany history of the fringes of physics research in the 1960s and 1970s. The premise is certainly intriguing. Kaiser argues that the Second World War and the Cold War had relegated physics in America to number crunching and practical applications of theory (mainly in the defense industry) and that all previous notions of fundamental questions all but dried up. The timing couldn't have been less fortunate, as the war followed close on the heels of the heady days of the major physical discoveries that led to the formulation of quantum mechanics as a whole by luminaries such as Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrodinger in the 1920s and 1930s. This was a time when great philosophical questions concerning the nature of reality should have been asked, but the academic institutions of American were mainly concerned with churning out PhDs to compete with the Soviets. In short, if you weren't doing something practical in physics like producing better nuclear weapons or radar invisible materials, you weren't doing real physics. According to Kaiser, a select group of Hippy physicists centered in Berkeley called the Fundamental Fysiks Group provided a venue for physicists interested in fundamental questions to keep the burning questions at the heart of physics alive for a future, post-Cold War era.

it's an interesting argument, and Kaiser is quite even-handed in the weight he assigns to fringe physicists in important discoveries in spite of the grandiose title. Mainly, these physicists in their study of things like ESP and other elements of parapsychology and the connections between quantum mechanics (particularly the issue of nonlocality) were wrong more often than they were right.
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