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HOW THE HIPPIES SAVED PHYSICS by David Kaiser Kirkus Star

HOW THE HIPPIES SAVED PHYSICS

Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival

By David Kaiser

Pub Date: June 27th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-393-07636-3
Publisher: Norton

An enthusiastic account of a coterie of physicists who, during the 1970s, embraced New Age fads and sometimes went on to make dramatic discoveries.

In his first book, Kaiser (Physics/MIT) paints a gloomy portrait of his field during that decade. The golden age of Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli et al was history. The Cold War and increased government support had vastly increased the number of physicists, including many who yearned to explore Einstein-style paradoxes and the nature of reality but were bored by classes which stressed mundane practical applications. In 1975, Berkeley graduate students took matters into their own hands, organizing an informal “Fundamental Fysiks Group.” They attracted like-minded hip doctorates, so discussions mixed quantum theory with the latest counterculture delights from LSD to Eastern mysticism to ESP. They received generous media attention, including a Time cover story and produced a flood of publications about the “new physics” including bestsellers such as Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics. With financial support from unexpected sources such as the CIA (worried about possible Soviet PSI weapons) and various young millionaires including Werner Erhard, they explored complex, hitherto ignored areas such as Bell’s theorem and quantum entanglement while annoying the establishment by exploring their links to the paranormal. The end result was a transformation in cutting-edge physics and major discoveries in quantum information science, now a thriving industry.

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.