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David Kaiser

How the hippies saved physics

In the middle of the 20th Century, thinking about the meaning of quantum theory was strongly discouraged - physicists were supposed to work on practical applications (like bombs). But eventually people started to question this stance and delve into what quantum theory meant and how it was linked to other aspects of life. In How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival David Kaiser tells the story.

Bell's theorem is thought of as a vital part of physics today, but it was pretty much ignored for several years after is was published. A number of physicists, calling themselves the Fundamental Fysiks Group, began to discuss this, and othernon-mainstream issues Some of them were very far from the mainstream, such as faster than light communication and extra-sensory perception. Members of the group sometimes found it hard to get employment, but there was often sponsorship from rich patrons, and quite a bit of military funding.

I tend to prefer books which follow chronological order, but this one certainly doesn't. That wasn't too bad to begin with as there was plenty of interesting material, but towards the end I began to find the lack of structure irritating and I think someone who didn't already know something of the history of quantum theory might find it a problem. For instance there is no mention of Hugh Everett and Many-Worlds. I do think that the book was helpful though, in giving a background of many of the authors of todays popular books on quantum theory.

Product Description

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