A review that I wrote of David Kaiser’s How the Hippies Saved Physics is now available at American Scientist. A quick summary is that I think it’s a marvelous book, telling in well-researched and entertaining fashion a story I’ve always wanted to know more about. I’m not convinced though by the main argument of the title, that this group of people “saved physics”, rescuing it from an oppressive “shut up and calculate” ideology by showing the way towards the importance of Bell’s theorem and helping start the field of quantum information theory. Perhaps the author though is just emulating his subjects, known for their playful outlandishness.
There are quite a few interesting things I learned from the book that didn’t make it into the review. One example is the story of Werner (of EST fame) Erhard’s theoretical physics conferences of the late 70s and early 80s, organized in collaboration with Sydney Coleman and Roman Jackiw. Among the factors that brought these events to an end was the advent of string theory: it was felt that no string theory conference without Witten attending would be taken seriously, and by then Witten wanted nothing to do with EST and its founder (although he had attended, with the likes of Feynman and Weinberg, the earliest conference in the series back in 1977).
If you find this subject at all interesting, I highly recommend the book.
For another take on the same subject, from one of its main participants, Jack Sarfatti’s memoir Star Gate is available for free these days in a pre-publication version here.
I’m afraid that my own description of where the physicists described in Kaiser’s book ended up would not be the field of quantum information theory, but the much larger swamp of dubious claims about quantum physics that is still very influential. For example, this week at the AAAS meeting in San Diego there’s a session on Quantum Retrocausation, see this listing from the World of Parapsychology.
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