Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Plot Twist - The Hippies Didn't Actually Save Physics - Physicists Did.

How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum RevivalHow the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In a word, ug.

Honestly, I was disappointed with the lack of physics. Aside from a solid explanation of the two slit experiment and Bell’s Theorem (which is used to assert quantum nonlocality), and the refutation of the no-cloning theorem there is very little here. This is not a book about physics, but a book about how the nature of philosophical questions about physics was preserved by the Fundamental Fysics Group (FFG), a group of disaffected from the mainstream physicists who tried their damnedest to use Bell’s Theorem as a basis for parapsychology, getting the CIA, DIA, and Erhard to foot the bill.

While I regard philosophical questions about physics to be of fundamental importance, but with all the book’s emphasis on Uri Geller’s “mental spoon bending” (were these people so easily duped?), EST seminars with LSD and naked coeds to attract physicists like Feynmann, and the lurid story of Ira Einhorn, who murdered his girlfriend, kept her body in an apartment for a year, and then - after posting bail - spent 20 years on the lam, blaming the CIA and FBI for framing him (he was later convicted with overwhelming evidence), you have to wonder whether this group was really the *best* philosophical unit for saving physics. Especially when we consider the advances of other physics approaches (such as quantum chromodynamics which led to String Theory) and David Bohm’s quantum mind. Bohm, incidentally, was one of the heroes of the FFG who fled America during Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt, but he did not rely on FFG as much as they relied on him for actual physics. It really looks like the FFG was a bunch of partying nerds with scientific and psi background that didn’t really do much physics, being far more obsessed with ESP and telekinesis. They also come off (to me at any rate in 2015) as naïve, willing to be led by anyone who waives a shiny object in front of them (especially if it is gold).

All of this would be fine, though, if there was nothing destructive about groups like the FFG, but there is an opportunity cost when time, energy, and money are spent on non-serious science. The same resources spent on better elaborated approaches might actually yield a better understanding of consciousness and physics. It is axiomatic that there is a link between the two, but real science has to come into play, and while all data is crucial (psychedelics certainly does show that matter can affect mind), there was more going on in the mainstream than the author attests. I think that was the part of the book that was most erroneous, the idea that we needed the FFG to save physics. Physics cannot be destroyed by the government’s obsession with military weapons nor can it be saved by renegade physicists. It is above both, because important questions about the nature of the world and how it applies to the mind are eternal.

Ok, one more thing that absolutely bugged me was the assumption that inviting a group of people together implies that they all form some type of community. This is a constant theme of the book: A goes to visit B who works with C who studied with D who went to a party with E, so A and E are linked. No. Einstein and Bohr argued with each other and had a long correspondence - that was real. That one of Geller’s handlers meets a physicist in a forum somewhere does not imply that the FFG is a universal mainstream non-fringe group. People can associate with each other and just be polite. I’ve been to parties before with people that are convinced in divine intervention on their behalf. Does that mean I agree? I’ve learned enough not to argue with everyone with whom I disagree, and I afford everyone else the same credit.

I lost patience a lot (especially in the long-winded exposés about Zukav’s “Dancing With the Wu-Li Masters” and Capra’s “Tao of Physics”). These were as long as many book reviews on Goodreads. I’ve read both books and while I recognize that especially “Tao of Physics” encouraged many people to be interested in the philosophical questions of physics, neither book is a good physics book. Zukav’s pun about Wu-Li (where he changes the emphasis on Li to connote different interpretations of Wu-Li) shows a fundamental ignorance that in Mandarin emphasis creates fundamentally different words (that’s the point) and not variations of the same. It really seemed when I read it like typical Western arrogance. Also there is no physics (sorry, I said that).

At the same time, I actually got what I wanted from this book, which was a fundamental understanding of Berkeley’s fringe physics movement. I really feel like I understand their goals (which were not physics but proving parapsychology to be true using physics). It will help me as background information in a story I’m writing, so 2 STARS. I am going to read Penrose’s book about quantum consciousness next and see if it helps get a better actual understanding of the nature of the mind through the lens of physics.


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