Quantum Physics and the American Counterculture

By Richard Hill.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The American counterculture, often understood as an outgrowth of Romanticism, explores implications of Quantum physics (exemplifying Thomas Kuhn’s model of how new paradigms become routinized). Quantum physics revolutionizes what and how we think about the world. Scientists exist in relationship with the world, no longer dispassionate observers. The world is mysterious, truth dependent on methodology (electrons are not “things” but “probability patterns of relationships”). For some physicists, this perception mirrors Eastern philosophies.
The new physics influences the counterculture literally, metaphysically and epistemologically. Literally, the atom bomb signals potential apocalypse, reinforcing an existential (provisional) philosophy. Metaphysically, the world is magic, dangerous—and alive. Epistemologically, the planet is our home, providing us with place, purpose and meaning (cyberneticist Gregory Bateson overcomes the division between self and world, characteristic of Cartesian thinking).
For the counterculture, this changes everything. Ecological consciousness creates an urgent appreciation for the natural world, leading to the first Earth Day, the Gaia hypothesis, and the environmental movement. The Esalen Institute housed therapies that believe people live in systems—or gestalts. Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog promoted holistic vision, self-sufficiency and community (Brand also organized the first Acid Tests, multi-media events attempting to duplicate the LSD experience that destroyed the barrier between artist and audience). LSD users discovered an awe-ful world coinciding neither with the laws of logic nor common sense. Some LSD users designed the personal computer. Others studied Eastern religions, emphasizing the journey rather than the destination, participation rather than dogma. Ken Kesey’s literature dramatized people’s ability to generate viable communities and futures with possibility, the metaphor of the Demon Box showing that humans can evade entropic breakdown because they live in open rather than closed systems. The “new consciousness”—influenced by Quantum physics—has implications for health care, education, foreign policy, city planning, etc.

Keywords: Quantum Physics, American Counterculture

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 9, pp.13-20. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 518.309KB).

Dr. Richard Hill

Professor of Humanities and Literature, College of Theology, Arts and Science, Concordia University, Portland, Oregon, USA

After earning a Ph.D. in American Studies from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Richard Hill moved to Concordia University in Portland, Oregon where he has been teaching Humanities and Literature for the last thirty years, teaching such courses as The Impacts of Colonialism, American Literature and Culture, Film and Literature, and Peace Studies. He has completed A Future of Possibility: The Sixties and the Encounter with Apocalypse, a book arguing that the period exists within historical, cultural and philosophical contexts and contributes to contemporary cultures, especially concerning meaning and purpose in post-apocalyptic times. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Dr. Hill believes in a future with possibility. He is deeply committed to interdisciplinary studies, the potential for nonviolent methods of social change, and working out the relationship between theoretical ideas and their practical application. He has three grown children and four grandchildren, loves going to the movies, and is perennially trying to get into shape.


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