History You Weren't Told: How Hippies Saved Physics
They — I should say "we" — were high on drugs, gave up on commitment to practice free love, protested the war and then went away as the hard reality of the 1970s dawned.
Or is there more to the story, maybe a lot more that the mainstream media prefers to ignore?
Free thinking hippies, free thinking anything really, making solid contributions to science doesn't sit well with the conservative establishment that's tried to pretend the counterculture revolution never happened.
Excuse me, again. I should say, the establishment prefers to pretend we never happened.
I'm proud of my hippie legacy and thrilled at how others in the movement rescued physics from the blind-eyed men, and yes, it was almost all men, in charge.
You're in for a surprise, and it starts with how hippies saved physics from the suffocating grasp of the military-industrial complex and the loss of research and education funding in a federal budget consumed by the Vietnam War.
Seeds in the Counterculture
Recommended Reading: 1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kulansky
Kurlansky's book draws a picture of the rise of the hippie movement out of the counterculture in the seminal year, 1968, around the world.
Reading this book, you see that the hippie movement was no fly by night phenomena that vanished with summer. There were strong pillars and the influences stuck.
Fundamental Fysiks Group
A scruffy group of young physicists, unable to secure steady work or support for theoretical research, got together in San Francisco in 1975 to brainstorm on the science that fascinated them.
The Fundamental Fysiks group of loosely attached physicists didn’t actually fight their way out of the limelight. They just weren't welcome anywhere else.
There was no longer any space in university physics departments for them and scant funding for theoretical research.
Note: Fysiks is not a misspelling. They were hippies, you know, congenitally unable to conform.
One of the groups most striking features was that, true to the hippie ethic of gender equality, a co-founder was then that rarest of creatures, a female physicist, Elizabeth Rauscher, who'd endured discrimination long enough to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley, the only woman in her class.
Members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group met weekly to resurrect discussions about the philosophical implications of quantum physics, discussions that engaged Albert Einstein and his contemporaries but were lost in the horrors of World War II and the redirection it forced on physics research.
Digging Up Your Pioneers
Pioneering quantum physicists knew that what they’d discovered was so deeply strange, answers to its mysteries needed philosophical as well as scientific resolutions.
How do you settle questions brought on by the new knowledge that everything they thought they knew about the world we live in was wrong? How to save truths undermined by a fiercely energetic and possibly chaotic foundation hidden, until now, below reality's surface?
Where did God fit in? Was it still possible to find meaning in a universe that seemed to have no one at the controls, no ultimate power for good, just randomness disguised as reality?
It mattered to them that they had unleashed knowledge capable of unsettling civilization's cultural values. But then, because greater immediate threats were rapidly pushing international communities into World War II, leading edge physicists redirected their primary concentration into devising weapons of war and may have saved the world by creating something so potentially destructive, no one dared risk a major war again.
The philosophical questions were left unresolved, and in the case of John Bell's theory, known as entanglement, the situation got worse.
Fundamental Fysiks Member Makes a Mystical Connection
More Reading: The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism by Fritjof Capra
Fritjof Capra's is the first full look at how strangely the findings of quantum physics mirrors the ancient teachings of Eastern mystics. To a large extent, this book inspired what is now known as the "New Age."
Making the Impossible Acceptable
Jack Sarfatti, Fred Alan Wolfe (these days known as Dr. Quantum from the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?), Rauscher and Fritjof Capra, bestselling author of The Tao of Physics, remained some of the few theoretical physicists who never gave up wondering about the meanings of quantum physics's strange insights.
Central to all that was their interest in Bell’s Theorem, an idea so fantastic that establishment scientists simply ignored it for as long as they could, that is, for ten years until Fundamental Fysiks member John Clauser experimentally proved it correct.
What is Bell's Theorem?
Keeping in mind that quantum particles are everything we see, touch or feel in our reality, Bell’s Theorem has implications as dramatic as any facts science has ever discovered.
In short, quantum entanglement abolished locality.
Did you just say, "What?"
Put in a more practical way, Bell's Theorem proves that if your cousin Archie sneezes, a million miles away, you have a cold. You have a cold, even if you’re ten million light years away and you haven’t been to a family reunion since God only knows when.
You are connected, and you can’t be disconnected, even if you retire and move to Costa Rica.
Just think about that as if you and good old Archie were related quantum particles instead of cousins. You will always be directly connected with no separation in time no matter how great your separation in space.
Say you and Archie part ways, you going positive and he negative. You travel a hundred light years apart. Then, one day you bump into another particle and are spun negative by the collision. Regardless of anything else, Archie is instantly spun positive, faster it seems than the speed of light, which we all know is, at 186,000 miles per second, the fastest there is.
You can see the problem.
Every bit of you, from synapse to toenail, is made up of such entangled particles, connecting you critically to just about everything, just about everywhere. Instantly.
If you're a daydreamer like me, you can kill a good amount of time pondering that one. If you're a wine drinker like me, you might want to have one right now. Or two.
More recommended reading: Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics by Gary Zukav
Although not a physicist himself or a member of the Fundamental Fysiks Group, Gary Zukav's roommate was. Objectivity gave him an avenue for looking at a broad perspective of the long tradition of Zen and how it resonated with modern physics.
Wu Li, Zukav explains, has five different meanings, and each applies to an aspect of physics, from the practical to the mystical.
More Than "Simple" Entanglement
By forcing the establishment to accept entanglement, which they now do, although nobody understands or can explain it, hippie physicists are anchored to the pioneering strain of science that has always battled the conservative status quo. But there’s even more.
Fundamental Fysiks group member, Nick Herbert, proposed a faster than light signaling device, based on entanglement, that inspired the No Cloning Theorem (Don't ask.) that has led so far to quantum encryption in digital communications and the nascent field of quantum computing.
Closer to home, Fritjof Capra (The Tao of Physics) and Gary Zukav (The Dancing Wu Li Masters) brought the otherwise unapproachable world of quantum physics into our everyday lives by demonstrating how closely the ideas matched up with the age old teachings of Eastern mystics embedded in cultures around the world.
Zukav, roommate of Fundamental Fysiks member Jack Sarfatti, first brought all this home to me, explaining scientific ideas I never imagined I could grasp and making them real in my daily life. Capra’s work has now been used to teach a generation of students the parallels between theoretical physics and enhanced perceptions of how our minds and bodies work.
Other hippie physicists pioneered the New Age before it became an annoying cliche, leading research into parapsychology to explore how quantum discoveries might help explain phenomena like ESP, remote viewing and precognition.
Substantial funding was provided by the CIA and Defense Department with much of the research taking place at Stanford University.
Get the Whole Story
More recommended reading: How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum RevivalHow the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser
From the Fundamental Fysiks group through quantum intelligence and the human potential movement to Bells Theory and Dr. Quantum, Kaiser tells the history.
Establishment physics might have been forced to open its eyes and arms eventually anyway, but it was made to happen sooner and more broadly by the flowering of hippie physicists and their determined inquiries into the elusive nature of truth.
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