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

3.39 of 5 stars 3.39  ·  rating details  ·  264 ratings  ·  63 reviews
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 surpris...more
Hardcover, 372 pages
Published June 27th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published June 1st 2011)
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"The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." JBS Haldane's words never ring so true as when the quantum world is discussed. At this subatomic level, all our intuitions about space, time, causality, even what a thing is, go out the window. In their place we have equations, and by dint of difficult calculation we can make predictions about how this miniscule world works. But there's no use trying to understand it, to form a mental picture, to ask what it...more
James Piper
Am I convinced hippies saved physics? Not a chance.

I was surprised by the efforts some put into paranormal research. It seems like bunk to me, but others don't believe so. It all stems from the bizarre ability to transport information in ways that aren't easily explained. Fascinating. Bizarre. Is there an answer?

Quantum mechanics is counter intuitive. Here's a thoughtful analogy. Take twins. Put one in a restaurant in Europe and the other in one in Canada. Twin A is offered a choice of fish or s...more
This book starts out overstated from the title itself, and proceeds to inflate the importance of a particular social movement in the history of modern physics. Kaiser is aware of this, at least, but it doesn't stop him from vastly over-reaching. Add to that the tedium and endless repetition of information (how many times does he think characters need to be introduced?) and what would be an insightful magazine article becomes a poor book. It was also a shame to see the almost unquestioning accept...more
Dean Hamp
It's got hippies. It's got physics. But 'Saved' is nowhere in sight. It should truthfully be entitled, "How Hippie Physicists Tried Everything They Could Think Of To Prove Paranormal Phenomena Exists And Failed Utterly, But Did Prove One Quantum Phenomena From Their Decades Of Failure, With a Side Story About A Deranged Hippie Murderer"
Ps. Oddly, I 'got' the title before reading the book, because I recall "How the Irish Saved Civilization" came out just after I'd written my Honors thesis on a si...more
I gave up and returned this book to the library without finishing it. I did skip through and could see no evidence that this group "saved" physics. The author spent way too much ink on est and Uri Geller. Maybe the book is better if you plow through it without skipping around, but I doubt it.
Ossian Ekman
Since quantum physics challenges our intuition and basic physics laws alike, it's no wonder most of what went on around this group of countercultural freethinkers had to be played out on the fringes. They advocated contemplation and philosophy against an all too goal oriented/rational take on knowledge and Kaiser is very convincing in pointing all this out.
How the Hippies Saved Physics is a great read and a passionate reminder that "pointless" speculation sooner or later can bear fruit. It is a...more
An interesting story making explicit that sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between 'real science' and pseudoscience. And that science is a fascinating process, not only a polished end product.

However, the whole story tries to imply that quantum information wouldn't be there if it hadn't been for some hippies asking questions on the nature of quantum world. However, even a quick glimpse at shows that also in Eastern Europe people started asking...more
Once again, an opportunity to explain how psychedelics actually influenced decision-making and experimental creativity dashed on the rocks of the feel-good aesthetics of Esalen Institute and est. Interesting in many respects, since it deals (a small bit) with the eminence grise of all this, Ira Einhorn (aka, "The Unicorn'), the self-styled and self-promoting feel-good Philadelphia "hippie guru-leader" who murdered his girlfriend, but other than that, reading about some of these people just begs...more
A very interesting chronicle of quantum mechanics in the middle of the 20th century. While the book deals with pseudo-science, it does a good job of presenting the rises and falls of the psi research of its subjects without supporting it. The personalities and minor cults -- not to mention lots of money -- that fed fundamental research physics at this time represent a very strange model when viewed from today's Academia/Industry/Government triad model. Although most of the reasons for public int...more
I enjoyed this book for a couple of what I imagine to be fairly idiosyncratic reasons: (1) the description of the post-Cold War shifts in the politics and economics of science research and education and the implications for the direction of the field of physics in general and the careers of individual scientists, and (2) the description of the evolution of scholarly communication in the face of advances in communication technology and biases of mainstream disciplinary organs regarding certain ty...more
Kaiser takes a line similar to that of his New Age protagonists: he's trying to sell you something. Here it's the idea that a quirky assemblage of Berkeley grad students, the Fundamental Fysiks Group, precipitated the Quantum Information Age by stepping outside the Cold War Funding Machine and taking seriously the interpretation of the equation-laden quantum theory, specifically, Bell's no-go theorem for local hidden variable theories. It is, in principle, a tricky argument to make: what is evi...more
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Kristi Thielen
In the early decades of the 20th century, physicists like Heisenberg, Bohr and Einstein saw their discipline as one that was about big, philosophical questions. Following WWII, the Cold War ushered in a time when most physicists worked for the military complex, and were expected to "shut up and compute" as they made high tech gadgets.

With budget cuts in the 1970's, many physicists found themselves without positions and dissatisfied with what physics had become. This interesting and charming boo...more
Matt Heavner
A very enjoyable listen (I did the audiobook). I've read several books along these lines -- a "history of physics" which is very people driven. This isn't bad, and this book freely admits to being focused primarily around a group of people (those in the fundamental fysiks group). I very much enjoyed this book, and finding out much more details of the history -- a bit of how the hippies got me into physics! I remember reading the Dancing Wu-Li Masters both in High School and again in undergrad, a...more
Tyson Hazard
I finished this book in 2 days which for me is fast, this not being a novel, and containing some technical terms although not too many to be scary.

In the first chapters, I found myself thinking, "no matter how well put together this book might turn out to be, does the subject matter really merit a book's worth of research?" The actual influence of the Fundamental Fysiks Group seemed dubious by the initial descriptions. One the book delved into simple explanations on the work of Einstein, Podols...more
Brian Clegg
I have to be honest here, the approach taken by the author is not one I was totally comfortable with. He expresses regret that physics moved from requiring students to write philosophical essays about the interpretation of quantum theory to concentrating on the physics and maths. I have to say this doesn't strike me as a problem. Similarly he is very enthusiastic, working very hard to find something good scientifically coming out of the counter culture. Again I don't think this should be an end...more
David Kaiser has done a remarkable service by bringing an objective eye to an era that is stilled mired in controversy. Scholars and people in general take pains to distance themselves from anything tainted with associations with drugs or, God forbid, sex, no matter the genuine significance of the music, science or other discipline sincerely investigated. Yes, at times these folks were partying and on occasion were, yes, naked. Let's get over it! This lifestyle is in fact compatible with serious...more
How the Hippies Saved Physics is a fantastically kooky and zany history of the fringes of physics research in the 1960s and 1970s. The premise is certainly intriguing. Kaiser argues that the Second World War and the Cold War had relegated physics in America to number crunching and practical applications of theory (mainly in the defense industry) and that all previous notions of fundamental questions all but dried up. The timing couldn't have been less fortunate, as the war followed close on the...more
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How The Hippies Saved Physics, Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser

David Kaiser is a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This book is a history of science book. It is also a popular science book. The book describes how quantum physics which many considered to be fringe science became accepted science. It is a very strange, eccentric, and interesting story.

The book focuses on a group called the Fundamental Fysiks Group which held sessions at the Univers...more
Heather Denkmire
I'm awfully close to choosing 4 stars on this because I did "really like it." But I didn't "really like it" because of the book itself, but because of how it ties into so many other things I've learned and thought about in the last couple years. I felt like I was learning about part II of the quantum mechanics story and it was amazing. After all the time I've spent with the Einstein/Bohr/Heisenberg, etc. up through Bell it just didn't occur to me that things didn't keep going and expanding (gett...more
Who better to plumb the depths of quantum weirdness than a group of weird hippies? Interesting biopic of some of the personalities involved in the revival of fundamental inquiry in serious physics, using science to address philosophical questions. Their lives overlapped and included odd pursuits like self-help seminars, acid trips, and spoon bending. But they relentlessly probed the meaning of the well-tested and highly successful but little understood equations of quantum mechanics. Their thoug...more
Mama Kaye
Jan 25, 2013 Mama Kaye marked it as did-not-finish-audiobooks  ·  review of another edition
I hate to admit it, but I had to give up on this book because I just couldn't follow the physics. I got through the second disk, and I think I basically got the main idea of the book, ie: by the end of WWII, physics had morphed from an imaginative, creative and broad-thinking science into a pragmatic, goal-oriented and problem-solving enterprise(shut up and calculate). In the late 60s and early 70s, a new generation of scientists who were also on the fringes of the new age, mystical, free-wheeli...more
The subtitle of this entertaining book is "Science, counterculture, and the quantum revival". I know nothing about quantum physics, not much about science, but do know something about the counterculture. The book focused on quantum physics and quantum mechanics, but I found it very entertaining. If you know anything at all about physics I'll bet that you'd enjoy the book. Unless, of course, you're of the "shut up and calculate" school...

Kaiser details the founding of the "Fundamental Fysiks Gro...more
John Orman
Some of those counter-culture gurus back in the day were also physicists! So it is not suprising they ere seeking to challenge the foundations of science. So hot tubs, ESP, and psychedelic drugs all are part of the mix in the quantum mechanics revolution.

Interesting to read that the great physicist Richard Feynman had participated in an Esalen workshop on sensory deprivation, out-of-body experiences, and budding research on communications with dolphins.

Seems like the lightest view of these topic...more
The book is about me and my friends. It's accurate about the physics and the main events. It does not touch on the strange adventures in my autobiography Destiny Matrix because the author is constrained by Academia. He is a young professor of physics at MIT. He did a great job.

The only two things I don't like about the book is the title and the cover. I was never a hippie. A beat Bohemian perhaps but not a hipple. I never bought into that lifestyle neither did Fred Alan Wolf.

As David Kaiser writ...more

Even though the physics is a bit over my capability, it is exciting to read the story of how physics has progressed from the exciting time of Einstein and his colleagues through the war and post war years, the space race, military emphasis, and finally to a rebirth of broader perspective of the early years. Through all those changes, a cadre of scientists never lost faith in the need for a philosophy to guide them and help them understand the more complex problems of physics. During the fifties,...more
Sounding like a fascinating subject (as good as the story European science between the First and Second World Wars with which this book starts), the author somehow turns this into an (almost boring) history of academics. I think (non-physicist) readers would be more interested in hearing how these scientists contributed to progress and what crackpot schemes , than hearing about what university degrees and appointments they received ... This book would benefit from more accessible descriptions of...more
A little overwrought towards the end, and not always convincing, Kaiser's tribute to the Fundamental Fysiks Group still entertains. To my surprise, the best sections had to do with the interplay between Werner Erhard, Esalen, and the Fysiks group. Erhard bankrolled some fairly credible conferences, but they never steered too far from controversy. The pace is brisk but Kaiser is not afraid to really discuss quantum linearity and Bell's theorem, so it's a very pleasant mix of science and history....more
I quite enjoyed this read even though I wasn't expecting to. It is the history of a large group of quantum physicists following WWII. I think it is all too easy to dismiss as fringe the efforts of the Fundamental Fysiks Group and their attempts to combine quantum theory with the paranormal, but then Bell's Theorem was completely on the fringe at that time as well. (Nothing like 20/20 hindsight and our 21st century sensibilities!) I have to admire the fact that they were at least asking the quest...more
I learned a lot from this book, although I'm not sure it lives up to it's title, it really did help me understand a lot of things about the culture of physics from the 60's through the 80's. It's mostly a biography, not a physics book, but the point of the author is a good one, and we do owe a lot to people willing to think outside the norm, and sacrifice years of their life to working out these ideas, even though some of them seem kind of wacky. I love the cover, I was totally sucked in by it....more
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David Kaiser is an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society and the Department of Physics. He and his family live in Natick, Massachusetts.
More about David Kaiser...
The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War Politics & War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics

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