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David Kaiser's How the Hippies Saved Physics is a reminder of the unexpected influence a bunch of freewheeling 1970s physicists had on fundamental theories

It's certainly a provocative title, but for the life of me I could not recall an era to which How the Hippies Saved Physicsmight have applied. Things made more sense, though, on reading David Kaiser's mention of two other books, both of which had left a big impression on me: Fritjof Capra 's The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters .

In this pair of bestsellers, published 30-odd years ago, Capra and Zukav presented quantum theory in an engaging and exciting way. But the principal reason the books were so popular was their attempts to link the ideas of modern physics with eastern mysticism.

What I had not realised until I picked up Kaiser's book was that Capra and Zukav were satellites of a small group of freewheeling physicists who, for four years from May 1975, met regularly in an office at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. "The Fundamental Fysiks Group" was open - perhaps too open - to everything from LSD-tripping, to remote viewing via ESP, to contacting the dead. Its core members, which included physicists Jack Sarfatti , Fred Alan Wolf and Elizabeth Rauscher, even persuaded the great Richard Feynman to attend discussion sessions at the Esalen Institute on the spectacular rocky coast of northern California - though, according to Kaiser, Feynman admitted a big attraction was the "naked co-ed hot-spring baths".

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Category: Science