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Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture

by W. Patrick Mccray David Kaiser

In his 1969 book The Making of a Counterculture, Theodore Roszak described the youth of the late 1960s as fleeing science "as if from a place inhabited by plague," and even seeking "subversion of the scientific worldview" itself. Roszak's view has come to be our own: when we think of the youth movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, we think of a movement that was explicitly anti-scientific in its embrace of alternative spiritualities and communal living. Such a view is far too simple, ignoring the diverse ways in which the era's countercultures expressed enthusiasm for and involved themselves in science--of a certain type. Rejecting hulking, militarized technical projects like Cold War missiles and mainframes, Boomers and hippies sought a science that was both small-scale and big-picture, as exemplified by the annual workshops on quantum physics at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, or Timothy Leary's championing of space exploration as the ultimate "high." Groovy Science explores the experimentation and eclecticism that marked countercultural science and technology during one of the most colorful periods of American history.

Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture

by W. Patrick Mccray David Kaiser

In his 1969 book The Making of a Counterculture, Theodore Roszak described the youth of the late 1960s as fleeing science "as if from a place inhabited by plague," and even seeking "subversion of the scientific worldview" itself. Roszak's view has come to be our own: when we think of the youth movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, we think of a movement that was explicitly anti-scientific in its embrace of alternative spiritualities and communal living. Such a view is far too simple, ignoring the diverse ways in which the era's countercultures expressed enthusiasm for and involved themselves in science--of a certain type. Rejecting hulking, militarized technical projects like Cold War missiles and mainframes, Boomers and hippies sought a science that was both small-scale and big-picture, as exemplified by the annual workshops on quantum physics at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, or Timothy Leary's championing of space exploration as the ultimate "high." Groovy Science explores the experimentation and eclecticism that marked countercultural science and technology during one of the most colorful periods of American history.

The Visioneers

by W. Patrick Mccray

In 1969, Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill began looking outward to space colonies as the new frontier for humanity's expansion. A decade later, Eric Drexler, an MIT-trained engineer, turned his attention to the molecular world as the place where society's future needs could be met using self-replicating nanoscale machines. These modern utopians predicted that their technologies could transform society as humans mastered the ability to create new worlds, undertook atomic-scale engineering, and, if truly successful, overcame their own biological limits. The Visioneers tells the story of how these scientists and the communities they fostered imagined, designed, and popularized speculative technologies such as space colonies and nanotechnologies. Patrick McCray traces how these visioneers blended countercultural ideals with hard science, entrepreneurship, libertarianism, and unbridled optimism about the future. He shows how they built networks that communicated their ideas to writers, politicians, and corporate leaders. But the visioneers were not immune to failure--or to the lures of profit, celebrity, and hype. O'Neill and Drexler faced difficulty funding their work and overcoming colleagues' skepticism, and saw their ideas co-opted and transformed by Timothy Leary, the scriptwriters of Star Trek, and many others. Ultimately, both men struggled to overcome stigma and ostracism as they tried to unshackle their visioneering from pejorative labels like "fringe" and "pseudoscience." The Visioneers provides a balanced look at the successes and pitfalls they encountered. The book exposes the dangers of promotion--oversimplification, misuse, and misunderstanding--that can plague exploratory science. But above all, it highlights the importance of radical new ideas that inspire us to support cutting-edge research into tomorrow's technologies.

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