How the Hippies Saved Physics

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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.

In recent years, the field of quantum information science-an amalgam of topics ranging from quantum encryption, to quantum computing, quantum teleportation, and more-has catapulted to the cutting edge of physics, sporting a multi-billion-dollar research program, tens of thousands of published research articles, and a variety of device prototypes. This tremendous excitement marks the tail end of a long-simmering Cinderella story.

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.

Long before the big budgets and dedicated teams, the field smoldered on the scientific sidelines. In fact, the field’s recent breakthroughs derive, in part, from the hazy, bong-filled excesses of the 1970s New Age movement. Many of the ideas that now occupy the core of quantum information science once found their home amid an anything-goes counterculture frenzy, a mishmash of spoon-bending psychics, Eastern mysticism, LSD trips, CIA spooks chasing mind-reading dreams, and comparable “Age of Aquarius” enthusiasms.

Sounds like a fun book that tells the story of the time period when Dr. Goswami started his experimentation with these topics that today are shaking the world!

Get it at Amazon

One Comment on ““How the Hippies Saved Physics”

  1. Wes Hopper

    An unforgettable title, to be sure. I just read a pretty good review of it in the June Discover mag, too. Big discoveries tend to come from the outliers, not from the “shut up and calculate” crowd. I’ve put the book on my list. Currently reading Capra’s “Web of Life.”

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