Mon, 25.09.2023 15:00

The Role of Error and Imagination in the Making of Science: The Case of the Non-Cloning Theorem

As chronicled by MIT historian of physics, David Kaiser, in his 2011 book, How the Hippies Saved Physics, Nick Herbert, a Stanford physicist, had his FLASH paper submitted to Foundations of Physics in 1981.

FLASH is an acronym made up by Herbert that stands for “First Laser-Amplified Superluminal Hookup”. Asher Peres, editor of Foundations of Physics, wrote that “Nick Herbert’s erroneous paper was a spark that generated immense progress”. Indeed, Peres sent out the paper to over than 10 referees hoping that, although it seemed to be wrong from start, as it contradicted special relativity, most referees couldn’t find the mistake. Peres decided then to publish the paper anyway, the end result being, according to Kaiser (2011), the discovery by Wojciech Zurek and Bill Wootters of the so-called non-cloning theorem of quantum computation. I will present in my talk this story and what we can learn about science from it. This lecture will be based on original not yet published primary sources, secondary sources and on an interview I carried out with Nick Herbert as part of my Ph.D. research in 2013.


D'ESPAGNAT, Bernard. Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. (1976). Perseus Books Publishing. USA.

HERBERT, Nick. (1975). "Cryptographic Approach to Hidden Variables". In: American Journal of Physics, Vol. 43, No 4, April.

HERBERT, Nick. (1982). "FLASH: A Superluminal Communicator Based Upon a New Kind of Quantum Measurement". In: Foundations of Physics, Vol. 12, No. 12.

HERBERT, Nick. (1985). Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics. Anchor Books, New York, USA.

HERBERT, Nick. (1986a). "Can Single Quantum Events Carry Superluminal Signals?". In: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 480, p. 578.

HERBERT, Nick. (1986b). "How to Be in Two Places at One Time". In: New Scientist, Vol. 111(1522), pp. 41-44.

JAMMER, Max. (1966). The Conceptual Development of Quantum Mechanics. McGraw-Hill, USA.

JAMMER, Max. (1974). The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics: The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics in Historical Perspective. Wiley Publication, USA.

KAISER, David. (2011). How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, USA.

ROCHA, G. R. (2015). “A Cultural History of the Re-enchantment of the World through Quantum Theory”. Doctoral Dissertation. Federal University of Bahia.



Speaker: Gustavo Rodrigues Rocha (Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana (UEFS) / Department of Physics)


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