Wow, definitely a must-read for anyone who likes physics, history of science, and understanding why trends and fads in science come and go. (Read an excerpt at Scientific American.) Kaiser, a physicist and historian of science at MIT tells the story of a group of physicists who, finishing their PhDs in the late 60’s/early 70’s, emerged from graduate school into a job market whose bottom had just dropped out as the Defense Department funding for physics was sharply reduced from its earlier Cold War peak. Jobless and bored with the traditional questions of physics, these hippie physicists became obsessed with some non-traditional questions, and through a convoluted series of causal links, influenced the resurgence of interest in quantum entanglement and the emergence of the now billion-dollar business of quantum computing.
The post-WWII physics boom had been characterized by a ‘shut up and calculate’ attitude, as physicists focused on research questions that fell within or built upon the existing mainstream framework laid down in the 30’s and 40’s. Ignored were questions about the ultimate foundations of quantum mechanics that had long troubled Einstein. Students who showed an interest in such questions were quickly redirected. Continue reading “Go read How the Hippies Saved Physics”