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

The surprising story of eccentric young scientists who stood up to convention—and changed the face of modern physics.

Today, quantum information science 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 the 1970s, amid severe cutbacks in physics funding, a small group of underemployed physicists in Berkeley decided to throw off the constraints of academia and explore the wilder side of science. Dubbing themselves the “Fundamental Fysiks Group,” they pursued an unconventional, speculative approach to physics. They studied quantum theory alongside Eastern mysticism and psychic mind-reading, discussing the latest developments while lounging in hot tubs. Unlikely as it may seem, their work on Bell’s theorem and quantum entanglement helped pave the way for today’s breakthroughs in quantum information science.

How the Hippies Saved Physics is published by W. W. Norton.

Book of the Year!Physics World.

Winner, Davis Prize from the History of Science Society — best book in the field aimed at a general audience.

Preview the book here. Read excerpts in Scientific American here and here. Read a brief blog post about the book here.

Listen to interviews about the book, courtesy of the BBC’s “Today Programme”; National Geographic Weekend; NPR’s On Point; Illinois Public Radio’s Focus; Wisconsin Public Radio’s Veronica Rueckert Show and To the Best of our Knowledge; Canadian Broadcasting Company Radio’s The Current; WICN; and KNews.

Additional interviews available here: “Physics Central” podcast; Physics World podcast; video interviews at the Institute for Quantum Computing and for the Cambridge Science Festival.

Watch science writers George Johnson and John Horgan discuss the book in their “Bloggingheads.tv” discussion here.

To schedule an interview, please contact Elizabeth Riley at eriley@wwnorton.com or 212-790-9425.