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quantum wonderland


How the Hippies Saved Physics by David Kaiser


A book loaned to me by a generous cooper - a great 'behind the scenes' history of the emergence of quantum mechanics. I enjoyed this book because it tells one of the back-story of this blooming scientific theory which radically departed from the traditional physics paradigm of the time. The struggles to gain recognition, the debates and dialogues taking place by mail, the personal politics - the nitty-gritty trials and tribulations that don't come across in the neatly polished package of scientific theory that resulted. Reading this book also raised in me an awareness for the glaring need for basic research in the scientific disciplines not tied to military funding for the evolution of humankind (p.22).


quotes / vocabulary :

"There must be thousands of young persons whose nervous systems were expanded and opened-up in the 1960's and who have now reached positions of competence in the sciences...We expect the new wave of turned-on young mathematicians  physicists, and astronomers are more able to use their energized nervous systems as tools to provide new correlations between psychology and science." - Timothy Leary, 1977

"every quantum system, they reasoned, had an associated "wavefunction", which they labeled with the Greek letter, Ψ (pronounced "psi")." (p.7)

coterie - an intimate and often exclusive group of persons with a unifying common interest or purpose

atavistic - recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity

perspicacious - of acute mental vision or discernment, keen

"The second and third editions of Schiff's acclaimed textbook, for example, contained homework problems - aimed at entry-level graduate students - that would have stumped leading physicists only a decade of two earlier." (p. 19)

disquietude - anxiety, agitation

FAPP = for all practical purposes (p. 25)

"In Newton's physics, the behavior of an apple or planet was completely determined by its initial state - variables like position (where it was) and momentum (where it was going) - and the forces acting upon it; no probabilities in sight" (p. 26)

Sturm und Drang - turmoil (german)

riposte - a retaliatory maneuver or measure

"In the years since Bell formulated his theorem, many physicists (Bell included) have tired to articulate what the violation of his inequality would mean, at a deep level, about the structure of the microworld. Most prosaically, entanglement suggests that on the smallest scale of matter, that whole is more then the sum of its parts. Put another way: one could know everything there is to know about a quantum system (particles A + B), and yet know nothing definite about either piece separately. As one expert in the field has written, entangled quantum systems are not even "divisible by thought": our natural inclination to analyze systems into subsystems, and to build up knowledge of the whole from careful study of its parts, grinds to a halt in the quantum realm." (p. 37)

"With the green light from Townes, Clauser began to scavenge parts from storage closets around the Berkeley lab - "I've gotten pretty good at dumpster diving" as he put it recently - and soon he had duct-taped together a contraption capable of measuring the correlated polarization of pairs of photons." (p. 47)

""Who determines the direction of scientific developments?" and "What is the motivation and purpose behind LBL [Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory] and other national laboratories?"" (p. 51)

"How could the world of atoms be nothing but a puff of probabilities, and yet conglomerations fo those atoms could create something as strong and unbending as the chair on which he sat?" (p. 54)

verboten - forbidden, especially prohibited by dictate

averred - to allege or assert in pleading

inchoate - being only partly in existence or operation, incipient, especially imperfectly formed

fin-de-siècle - of, relating to, or characteristic of the close of the 19th century and especially its literary and artistic climate of sophistication, world-weariness, and fashionable despair

précis - a concise summary of essential points, statements, or facts

interlocutor -one who takes part in dialogue or conversation

"Wheeler argued for a view that he came to call the "participatory universe": observers participate in creating the reality they measure." (p. 75)

"Wheeler dubbed such scenarios "delayed-choice" experiments: a "last-instant free choice on our part," he explained, "give at will a double-slit-interference record or a one-slit-beam count." The lesson? "The past has no existence except as recorded in the present...The universe does not 'exist, out there,' independent of all acts of observation. Instead, it is in some strange sense a participatory universe."" (p. 77)

"Wheeler advanced his views: the participator "gives the world the power to come into being, through the very act of giving meaning to that world; in brief, 'No consciousness; no communicating community to establish meaning? Then no world!'" He continued, "On this view, the universe is to be compared to a circuit self-excited in this sense, that the universe gives birth to consciousness, and consciousness gives meaning to the universe." Or, as he returned to the theme a few years later, "Acts of observer-participancy - via the mechanism of the delayed-choice experiment - in turn give tangible 'reality' to the universe not only now but back to the beginning.""" (p. 79)

"From Wigner and Wheeler, Sarfatti took the point that everyone's consciousness participates in shaping quantum processes, both by deciding which observations to make and by collapsing the multiplying possibilities into definite outcomes." (p. 80)

"Writing during the early decades of the twentieth century, Telihard pursued a notion of teleological evolution: all matter evolved in a goal-directed way toward greater and greater complexity. Telihard posited a realm of shared consciousness, or "noosphere", extending beyond the minds of individual thinkers" (p.89)

the fishy eye - stink eye

monograph - a learned treatise on a small area of learning

"Both are baseless. Both are mysticism. Both are moonshine" - Wheeler

negotiation between freedom and necessity - Heisenberg's uncertainty principal (p. 101)

"Scientific speculation is exciting and a turn on". - Sarfatti (p. 105)

"The only thing there is is instant enlightenment. It happens out of time, so it is really instantaneous." - Werner Erhard (p. 106)

quantum wonderland - psychedelic Mensa - Zen physics seminar

epistemological - the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity

valhala - the great hall in Norse mythology where heroes slain in battle are received; a place of honor, glory, or happiness

labile - readily or continually undergoing chemical, physical, or biological change or breakdown, unstable;  readily open to change

dribs and drabs - small bits at a time, infrequent 

"Packaging ideas as commodities, to be pushed in the same manner that other commodities are, lessens the impact they can make over time - unless that impact depends in part on scale of exposure or on linking specialists who are isolated by conventional disciplinary boundaries  In such cases, the market mode's capacity for promoting symbols as fad items may facilitate the process of new paradigm foundation...A few of the counter culture physicists have attempted a similar breakthrough of communication."

- Max Heirich, 1976 (p. 121)

ignominious -marked with or characterized by disgrace or shame; dishonorable

staid, tweedy routines of academic life (p. 123)

Einhorn - people with common interest should communicate directly and informally (p.124)

peripatetic - movement or journeys hither and thither; pedestrian, itinerant 

planetary enzyme - catalyzing intellectualy reaction across the globe

"If the new physics had led us anywhere, it is back to ourselves, which, of course, is the only place that we could go" -  Gary Zukav (p. 140)

dilettante - an admirer or lover of the arts;  dabbler

woolly - marked by boisterous roughness or lack of order or restraint; marked by mental confusion

alternate modes of encountering the world - dynamic interactions rather then static entities

sea change - a marked change, transformation

"we can never speak about nature without, at the same time, speaking about ourselves" Capra (p. 157)

"More than just the conclusions of physics and mysticism seemed to line up. Capra saw deep similarities in tehir methods - their Tao , or "way" - as well. He insisted that both sides were, at root, empirical. Physicists could formulate no lasting knowledge without careful obseravtions and experiments. So, too, did close and careful observations form the backbone of mystical knowledge, observations or intutiojns gleaned by the mystics during meditation or other altered states of conciousness. Mystics achieve this "direct insight", Capra explained, by "watching rather than thinking." The centrality of experience to all Eastern traditions thus gave them "a stong empirical charachter," closely "parallel to the firm basus of scientitic knwoe3ldge on experient." In both cases, knowledge restson observations that transcend the ordinary world of appearances, pushing beyond our usual senses: to the impossibly small realm of atoms and particles, or the innner space of altered consciousness." (p. 158)

"Where better than in Plato's Timaeus ,with its notion of a "womb of becoming", could one find parallels to modern physicists decription of the vacuum state?" (p.159)

sanguine - relating to blood; confident, optimistic 

pap - soft food for infants; political patronage

'bums in the seats' (p. 165)

conceptual muddle

leading lights

tachyons - hypothetical particles which would be able to travel faster then the speed of light

"Mattuck drew on many of the calculational tricks he had mastered in his many-body work, summing over the combined effects of many tiny, piecemeals quantum processes, to deomnstrate that larger psychokinetic effects would result if consciousness sent out pulses of information, rather than proceeding (as in Walker's original model) via continuous information processing." (p. 172)

apotheosis - elevation to divine status; the perfect example, quintessence 

plenary - complete in every respect, absolute

infelicitous - not appropriate or well-timed, awkward

The Golden Age of Silliness

conscious policy and instinctive sloth - keeping things as unstructured as possible

"After all the chap was giving me and my colleagues considerable money, so why be so impolite as to inquire too deeply? After all physicists are notorious prostitutes anyway." - Jack Sarfatti (p. 184)

shifting boundrary between order and disorder on the atomic scale - ex. ice melting to water (p. 189)

manqué - short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of one's aspirations or talents —used postpositively

jeremiads - a prolonged lamentation or complaint; a cautionary or angry harangue

chicanery - deception by artful subterfuge or sophistry; trickery

step on step in

circular polarization - electric field spinning out a helical shape as the light wave travels


How to determine whether circularly polirized light is right or left handed:

"Hold out both of your hands, stick out your thumbs, and curl your other fingers toward your palm. Your thumbs point in the direction that the light wave travels. The other fingers on your right hand curl in the direction that the electric field varies in right-circularly polarized light; likewise for the fingers on your left hand and left-circularly polarized light." (p. 204)

How polarized sunglasses block out reflections off of water:

"most of the light reflected off the water is horizontally polarized, so the vertically polarized filters cut down on most of the glare." (p. 205)

"Quantum mechanics is what phsicits call a "linear" theory. That means that when you add together two different solutions to the governing equations, the result is also a solution. Indeed, linearity is what lies behind many of the conceptual sticking points in quantum theory, such as Scrodinger's cat. In one solution, the cat lies dead in the box. In another equally valid solution, the cat purrs merrily, awaiting its release. And in a third solution - made possible thanks to the linearity of quantum theory - the cat is caught in some suspended state, neither dead nor alive. Likewise with the famed double-slit experiment. When both slits are open the inference pattern emerges because the photon's wavefunction is the sum of two possibilities: photon traveling through top slit plus photo traveling through bottom slit." (p.213-4)

"I often wonder how would contemporary physics look if it were done in the rooms overlooking [the] ocean, and not in [a] 'publish or perish'  jungle" - Wojciech Zurek (p. 216)

"As Bartell put it recently, a physical chemist is someone who studies "anything that is interesting"." (p. 217)

attenuated - reduced especially in thickness, density, or force; tapering gradually to a long, slender point

iconoclast - a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration; a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions

scuttled - a shallow open basket for carrying something (as grain or garden produce); a metal pail that usually has a bail and a sloped lip and is used especially for carrying coal

besotted -  infatuate; to make dull or stupid

orthogonal - intersecting or lying at right angles

pedagogical - of, relating to, or befitting a teacher or education

pride of place - the highest or first position

computer programming - the 'bug' had been turned into a 'feature' (p. 225)

protected de jure - protected in law

"their collective wavefunction, still so full of possibilitiy, had yet to collapse" (p. 229)

duel of wits

rendering nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete - Regan

stymied -  to present an obstacle to; stand in the way of

the heady days

"What I conclude about life so far is this: the search for truth is the fundamental driving force behind me and what I do. The telling of truth has gotten me in a lot of trouble. I believe in nonlocality; I believe nonlocatity is real. Quantum mechanics is probably very fuzzy stuff. Most of everything, I think, is spirit, and a little is condensed out of matter. I believe in remote viewing, precognition, psychokinesis - because I did it - remote healing effects at least on bacteria systems, electromagentic effects on biological systems. UFOs are a question mark. Life and death exist. And interestingly enoughm it only takes on experiment to find out that you believe in life, because it only takes the birth of one child. And I have yet to tell you the truth: ghosts are real. I and another person - my buisiness partner, colleague, co-patenter, and husband - also saw the same ghost, and described it the same way. We can have peace, love, and joy on this planet, instead of war, crime, and violence. Instead of warships, we need peaceship." - Elizabeth Rauscher (p. 262)

"If a culture cannot afford an area in itself where pure nonsense happens, and where it is not practical, it has no onbectives, it was for no reason whatsoever...then this culture is dead." - Alan Watts, 1967 (p. 263)

technocracy - government by technicians; management of society by technical experts

authenticity, spontaneity, experience - flower children

chaos cabal - dynamic systems collective at UC Santa Cruz

"Small is beautiful...information wants to be free" (p. 268)

passion at a distance


"Junior scientists remained trapped in a literalist mode, confusing their equations for the stuff of the world; they "confuse the symbol for the experience." Stymied by whether an electron could be both a particle and a wave, they stop trying to find meaning in their equations altogether. But that practical, pragmatic mindset had blinded nearly the entire discipline to major breakthroughs like Bell's theorem." (p. 275)

the quality of a quest

Perimeter Institute near Toronto

Garrett Lisi - - surfer-physicist, "his own vaguely countercultural ideas about setting up scientific hostels or communes in which to incubate the big ideas of tomorrow" (p. 281)

minor kerfluffle

resulting hue and cry


resources of note :

Arthur Young's Institute for the Study of Consciousness in Berkeley; Institute for Noetic Sciences in Palos Alto, CA; Journal for the Study of Consciousness, Time, Space, and Knowledge (book); Franklin house in SF; Physics Consciousness Research Group; Time- Traveler's Handbook, science fiction opera; Esalen Institute in Big Sur; The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn; Free University loosely affiliated with University of Pennsylvania - Intro to Hippiedom; Beyond Telepathy by Andrija Puharich; Space-Time and Eyond: Toward an Explaination of the Unexplainable by Bob Toben; The Tao of Physics by FritjofCapra; Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, shambhala Press in Berkeley, The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist by Lawrence LeShan, The Turning Point by Capra - movie Mindwalk; Elmwood Institute - think tank devoted to ecological issues in Berkeley; Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley; Taking the Quantum Leap: The New Physics for Nonscientists by Fred Alan Wolf; Nick Herbert blog; Institute of Heartmath in CA, Padma 28 Tibetial Herbal Food Supplement - George Weissmann - permanent injunction - Adaptrin


all definitions credit to Merriam-Webster

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