Sunday, September 18, 2011

"How the Hippies Saved Physics" [Excerpt]

(W.W. Norton & Company)

Loose hippies save stiff science? A new book documents the overlooked contributions of a loose-knit, unconventional bunch of 1970s physicists called the Fundamental Fysiks Group.

Rarely can we date with any precision the ebbs and flows of scientists’ research styles or intellectual approaches. Yet these transitions -- the how’s and why’s behind major shifts in a scientific field’s reigning questions and methods -- have long held a special fascination for me. We see laid bare in these moments a messy alchemy, intermixing the world of institutions with the world of ideas. Brilliant insights and dazzling discoveries take their place alongside political decisions, funding battles, personal rivalries, and cultural cues. These many ingredients combine to make one agenda seem worth pursuing in a particular time and place -- and worth teaching to students -- while quietly eclipsing other questions or approaches that had beckoned with equal urgency only a few years earlier. More