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Radical physics: science, socialism, and the paranormal at Birkbeck College in the 1970s

Publications • • Joanna Bourke

Abstract: The 1970s saw a resurgence of interest in the paranormal. In the mass media, as well as in academic and popular conferences across the world, metal-bending, telepathy, clairvoyance, and remote viewing were avidly debated. In Britain, attention to the paranormal was sparked by visits of Uri Geller. Scientists, and physicists in particular, sought to explain the phenomena. This article explores the social life of paranormal science in Birkbeck College in the 1970s and its links to radical critiques of scientific norms and practices. It traces the scientific and political thinking of physicists as different as John Hasted and David Bohm. It explores the importance of quantum mechanics, as well as leftist politics (membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain). Paraphysics provided a small group of scientists with a way to reflect on the three crises of politics emerging out of capitalism, the Cold War, and Stalinism.

Keywords: Paranormal, paraphysics, physics, Birkbeck College, metal-bending, Uri Geller, David Bohm, John Hasted, quantum mechanics, Communist Party of Great Britain.

Raleigh Lecture on History, read 26 September 2018


Number of pages: 35

Publication date: 9 May 2019

Author: Joanna Bourke

Publisher: Journal of the British Academy, volume 7 (2019)

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