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

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

Current price: $19.95
Publication Date: July 16th, 2012
Publisher:
W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN:
9780393342314
Pages:
416
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Description

"How the Hippies Saved Physics gives us an unconventional view of some unconventional people engaged early in the fundamentals of quantum theory. Great fun to read." —Anton Zeilinger, Nobel laureate in physics

The surprising story of eccentric young scientists—among them Nobel laureates John Clauser and Alain Aspect—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.

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. He lives near Boston.

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

It’s rare to find quantum physics mentioned in the same breath with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll…I heartily enjoyed How the Hippies Saved Physics.

— John Gribbin - Wall Street Journal

It is hard to write a book about quantum mechanics that is at once intellectually serious and a page-turner. But David Kaiser succeeds…Illuminating.
— Hugh Gusterson - Nature

Meticulously researched and unapologetically romantic, How the Hippies Saved Physics makes the history of science fun again.

— Matthew Wisnioski - Science

[Kaiser] does an admirable job of making the very concepts of quantum mechanics palpable.
— Christian Science Monitor

An entertaining tale.
— Philadelphia Inquirer

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 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.
— 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

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