How Hippies Saved Physics
… from weapons of war to head-spinning discovery
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
So, you thought all hippies did was smoke pot, drop acid, rock and make out… You’re in for a surprise. Here’s how hippies saved physics from a weapon of war to one of dizzying discovery.
By David Stone
Have you read the mass media’s hippie narrative?
They — I should say we — drifted through the 60s high on drugs, gave up commitments, practiced free love, protested the war. And then went away as the hard reality of the 70s dawned. Right?
Or is there more to the story, maybe a lot more that the mainstream media prefers to ignore?
Free thinking hippies forged bonds to move science forward. That doesn’t sit well with the establishment. They like to pretend the 60s counterculture revolution never happened.
But if we never happened, they wouldn’t erase our footprints or the trails we walked into a better future.
I’m proud of my hippie legacy. But I’m thrilled at how others rescued physics from violet men. Yes, almost all men, in charge.
You’re in for a surprise, and it starts with how hippies saved physics from the military-industrial complex. They rescued research funding from a federal budget consumed by the Vietnam War.
Seeds in the Counterculture
1968: The Year That Rocked the World, by Mark Kurlansky, describes the emergence of the hippie movement. It grew out of the counterculture as the world wobbled with change.
The hippie movement was no fly by night phenomena that vanished with summer. Pillars were built into the cultural bedrock. The influences stuck.
Fundamental Fysiks Group
A scruffy gaggle of young physicists, unable to get steady work or support for theoretical research, banded together in San Francisco in 1975. They brainstormed science that fascinated them.
The Fundamental Fysiks group, young, loosely attached physicists, didn’t actually battle their way out of the limelight.
Times had changed. Theoretical physics had sunk under the American military machine.
(Fysiks is not a misspelling. They were hippies, you know, unable to conform.)
And they just weren’t welcome anymore.
No place remained in university physics departments for freethinking, and there were few funds for other than military research.
One of the groups most striking features was that one co-founder was that rarest of creatures, a female physicist. Elizabeth Rauscher endured discrimination long enough to graduate from UC 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 and were lost in the horrors of World War II and the redirection it forced on physics research.
Digging Up Your Pioneers
Quantum physicists knew that what the pioneers discovered was so deeply strange, answers to its mysteries needed philosophical as well as scientific resolutions.
How do you settle questions brought on by fresh understanding that everything we thought we knew about the world, for centuries, was wrong?
How to save truths undermined by a fiercely energetic and possibly chaotic foundation hidden, until now, below the 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 their hands on knowledge that could blow away civilization’s cultural values.
But then, because greater threats were marching at us fast, the top physicists redirected their primary concentration into devising weapons of war. They may have saved the world by creating some so destructive, no one dared risk major war again.
The philosophical questions wen’t unresolved, and in the case of John Bell’s revolutionary theory — entanglement — the situation got worse.
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 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.
How Hippies Saved Physics: Bell’s Theorem?
Keeping in mind that quantum particles are ultimately the only thing we see, touch or feel, Bell’s Theorem has implications as dramatic as any facts science has ever discovered.
In short, quantum entanglement abolished locality.
In practice, entanglement — or non locality — proves, in terms of quanta, the tiniest particles, 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’re 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 quantum particles instead of kissin’ cousins.
You will always be directly connected with no separation in time or space no matter how great your separation.
Say you and Archie part ways, you going positive and he negative. You travel a hundred light years apart. 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, are made up of such entangled particles, connecting you critically to just about everything, just about everywhere.
If you’re a daydreamer, 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.
More Than “Simple” Entanglement
Forcing establishment science to accept entanglement — proven many times over, by now — although nobody understands or can explain it, anchors hippie physicists to the pioneering science that’s 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 led 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 showing how well the ideas matched up with the teachings of Eastern mystics rapid gaining acceptability in the West on a whole different track.
Zukav, roommate of Fundamental Fysiks member Jack Sarfatti, first brought all this home to me, in his book, explaining scientific ideas I’d never imagined I could grasp, 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 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. They wanted to weaponize it but never got far enough along with the research to do much damage.
Conclusion: How Hippies Saved Physics
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.