- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (June 27, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393076369
- ISBN-13: 978-0393076363
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 54 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #990,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival First Edition Edition
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“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!”
“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.”
“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
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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. In "How the Hippies Saved Physics", David Kaiser wonderfully tells the very engaging story of this "Fundamental Fysiks" group and how it kept alive some of the deep philosophical questions that had haunted the founding fathers. The "Fysicists" came from a variety of backgrounds, but all of them had been dissatisfied, both by the dismal job market for physicists after the Cold War craze and more importantly by the purely practical approach toward physics which they learnt in graduate school. They amusingly combined their deep questions about physics with the emerging hippie counterculture of the 60s and 70s and it's pretty clear from the book that they had great fun doing this. Discussions of physics concepts blended seamlessly with Eastern mysticism, forays into LSD-induced mind experiments, New Age workshops at the Esalen Institute in California and meanderings into telepathy, consciousness and parapsychology. Books like Fritjof Capra's "The Tao of Physics" which compared modern physics to Eastern mysticism only helped the movement. The small group of physicists was also fortunate to get funding from some unlikely sources, including self-help guru Werner Erhard and even the CIA who was interested in possible connections between ESP and physics. Not surprisingly, mainstream physicists often ignored and sometimes actively condemned such activities
However, as Kaiser describes in this fascinating volume, this ragtag group of countercultural philosopher-scientists achieved at least one crucial goal; they kept questions about the philosophical implications of quantum theory alive at a time when most physicists eschewed and disdained such questions. Gradually, they managed to get a handful of mainstream physicists interested in their philosophizing. Much of the connection of this philosophy to real physics centered about a remarkable result called Bell's theorem which essentially reinforced the spooky properties of quantum systems by showing that information in quantum systems can flow instantaneously between particles. Remarkably, this seemingly otherworldly idea of "quantum entanglement" (which gave some of the founding fathers heartburn) now lies at the foundation of some of the most cutting-edge areas of modern physics, including quantum computation and the new discipline of quantum information science. What was considered far-flung by mainstream physicists and kept alive by the Fundamental Fysiks group is now serious physics for many. In fact, at least a few physicists who put Bell's theorem to experimental test are regarded as candidates for a Nobel Prize (these especially include John Clauser, Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger who shared the prestigious Wolf Prize- often a forerunner to the Nobel Prize- in 2010).
In the end Kaiser wants to make the case that by keeping such once-disparaged philosophical concepts alive, the Fundamental Fysicists "saved physics". I am a little skeptical of this claim. They certainly managed to nurture and publicize the concepts, but it was the harnessing of these concepts by "real" physicists who were involved with the nuts and bolts of calculation and experiment that actually saved the concepts and kept them from turning into a purely philosophical mishmash. In addition, a lot of concepts that the New Age physicists bandied about belonged squarely in the realm of pseudoscience so it was difficult to separate the signal from the noise. Unfortunately the line between science and non-science can be thin and one of the most intriguing discussions in Kaiser's book is this so-called "demarcation problem". How does one know if today's philosophy is tomorrow's cutting edge science or just noisy mumbo-jumbo? It's not always easy to say.
Nonetheless, I think Kaiser and the Fysicists make a really great general case for why philosophical questions in science have their own place and should not be rejected. For one thing, they are always fascinating in themselves and demonstrate the endless human quest for meaning and reality; as recent discussions indicate, the philosophical conundrums in physics have been far from answered and continue to be explored through even more bizarre ideas like parallel universes and multiple dimensions. And as this wonderful book shows, at least in some cases these discussions may lead to key advances by influencing mainstream physicists who validate them by subjecting them to the ultimate arbiter of truth in science- hard experiment.
I would very warmly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history and philosophy of science.
For the reader who thinks science 'progresses' (whatever that progress means) in a linear, stepwise manner, the book is definitely full of surprises: expect the unexpected from a turbulent period of intellectual history throughout 60s and 70s, reaching to 90s and well to the 21st century. You will meet heroes such as Feynman (in very interesting settings), as well as the names probably you haven't heard before, and you will learn that inspirations for scientific ideas can come from very unexpected domains.
Another important point of the book is the fact that science, physics in this case, is a very humane activity, and a very institutionalized one at that! The book strikingly shows that even the strong names such as John Stewart Bell (now famous for Bell's theorem) was very careful in aligning himself with the established physics institution and securing a permanent position, therefore being forced to the economic realities of science. Having said that, he is not the only example of scientists struggling for freedom and having a hard time being constrained by the socioeconomic environment they are embedded in.
All in all Kaiser's work is a very solid and lively piece of science writing, weaving a lot of layers seamlessly and resulting in a page turner, which is not an adjective that can be easily attached to a history of science book.
I recommend this book not only to the casual, curious reader of history of science, but very much to the modern 'managers' of science, as well as the potential benefactors: The creative human mind craves for the challenges posed by the fundamental questions of nature, and unless you are ready to support the most crazy ideas (coming from not so run-of-the-mill scientists) and entertain contradictory points of view, aiming at discovery in the long run, then what you will get is the unexciting little progress that is the characteristic of many human institutions, leaving no room for real experimenting and high risk taking. Now go and decide what and whom you'll fund for the next very long 4-year research project, but beware, you've been warned.