Fundamental Fysiks Group

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The Fundamental Fysiks Group[dead link], City Magazine, 1975. Left to right: Jack Sarfatti, Saul-Paul Sirag, Nick Herbert, and Fred Alan Wolf (seated)

The Fundamental Fysiks Group was founded in San Francisco in May 1975 by two physicists, Elizabeth Rauscher and George Weissmann, at the time both graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley. The group held informal discussions on Friday afternoons to explore the philosophical implications of quantum theory. Leading members included Fritjof Capra, John Clauser, Philippe Eberhard, Nick Herbert, Jack Sarfatti, Saul-Paul Sirag, Henry Stapp, and Fred Alan Wolf.[1]

David Kaiser argues, in How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival (2011), that the group's meetings and papers helped to nurture the ideas in quantum physics that came to form the basis of quantum information science.[2] Two reviewers wrote that Kaiser may have exaggerated the group's influence on the future of physics research, though one of them, Silvan Schweber, wrote that some of the group's contributions are easy to identify, such as Clauser's experimental evidence for non-locality attracting a share of the Wolf Prize in 2010, and the publication of Capra's The Tao of Physics (1975) and Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters (1979) attracting the interest of a wider audience.[3]

Kaiser writes that the group were "very smart and very playful," discussing quantum mysticism and becoming local celebrities in the Bay Area's counterculture. When Francis Ford Coppola bought City Magazine in 1975, one of its earliest features was on the Fundamental Fysiks Group, including a photo spread of Sirag, Wolf, Herbert, and Sarfatti.[4]


Bell's theorem and no-cloning theorem[edit]

Hugh Gusterson writes that several challenging ideas lie at the heart of quantum physics: that electrons behave like waves and particles; that you can know a particle's location or momentum, but not both; that observing a particle changes its behavior; and that particles appear to communicate with each other across great distances, known as nonlocality and quantum entanglement. It is these concepts that led to the development of quantum information science and quantum encryption, which has been experimentally used, for example, to transfer money and electronic votes.[5] Kaiser argues that the Fundamental Fysiks Group saved physics by exploring these ideas, in three ways:

They self-consciously opened up space again ... for the kind of spirited philosophical engagement with fundamental physics that the Cold War decades had dampened. More than most of their generation, they sought to recapture the big-picture search for meaning that had driven their heroes—Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger—and to smuggle that mode of doing physics back into their daily routine.

Second, members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group latched onto a topic, known as "Bell's theorem," and rescued it from a decade of unrelenting obscurity. The theorem ... stipulated that quantum objects that had once interacted would retain some strange link or connection, even after they had moved arbitrarily far apart from each other. ... Working in various genres and media, the Fundamental Fysiks Group grappled with Bell's theorem and quantum entanglement. ... In the process, they forced a few of their physicist peers to pay attention to the topic ... From these battles, quantum information science was born.

The hippie physicists' concerted push on Bell's theorem and quantum entanglement instigated major breakthroughs ... The most important became known as the "no-cloning theorem," a new insight into quantum theory that emerged from spirited efforts to wrestle with hypothetical machines dreamed up by members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group.[6]

Specifically, in 1981, Nick Herbert, a member of the group, proposed a scheme for sending signals faster than the speed of light using quantum entanglement.[7] Quantum computing pioneer Asher Peres writes that the refutation of Herbert's ideas led to the development of the no-cloning theorem by William Wootters, Wojciech Zurek, and Dennis Dieks.[8]

In a review of Kaiser's book in Physics Today, Silvan Schweber challenges Kaiser's views of the importance of the Fundamental Fysiks Group. He writes that Bell's Theorem was not obscure during the preceding decade, but was worked on by authors such as John Clauser (who was a member of the group) and Eugene Wigner. Schweber also mentioned the work of Alain Aspect, which preceded Nick Herbert's 1981 proposal.[9]

Remote viewing[edit]

Given quantum theory's perceived implications for the study of parapsychology and telepathy, the group cultivated patrons such as the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the human potential movement. In 1972, the CIA and DIA set up a research program, jokingly called ESPionage,[10] which financed experiments into remote viewing at the Stanford Research Institute, where the Fundamental Fysiks Group became what Kaiser calls its house theorists.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kaiser, David. How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival. W W Norton & Co Inc, 2011, p. xi–xvii, xxiii, 43ff, 101.
  2. ^ Kaiser 2011, p. xi–xvii.
  3. ^ Johnson, George. "What Physics Owes the Counterculture", The New York Times, June 17, 2011.
  4. ^ Kaiser lecture April 2010, archived, 21:00 mins, 23:22 mins; Kaiser 2011, p. xviii.
  5. ^ Gusterson, Hugh. "Physics: Quantum outsiders", Nature, 476, 278–279, August 18, 2011.
  6. ^ Kaiser 2011, pp. xiii–xxxv.
  7. ^ Herbert, Nick. "FLASH—A superluminal communicator based upon a new kind of quantum measurement", Foundation of Physics, vol 12, issue 12, 1982, pp. 1171–117.
  8. ^ Peres, Asher. "How the No-Cloning Theorem Got its Name", Fortschritte der Physik, vol 51, issue 4–5, May 2003, pp. 458–461.
  9. ^ Schweber, Silvan. "How the Hippies Saved Physics - Reviewed by Silvan Schweber", Physics Today, September 2011, 59-60.
  10. ^ Kaiser 2011, p. 93
  11. ^ Kaiser, David. "Lecture: How the Hippies Saved Physics", April 28, 2010 Cambridge Science Festival at MIT Museum, around 28:00 mins. posted at WGBH Forum Network, Retrieved from Internet archive, May 18, 2015

Further reading[edit]