The Tao of Physics

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The Tao of Physics
The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra.jpg
3rd edition
Author Fritjof Capra
Country United States
Language English
Subject Physics
Published 1975 (Shambhala Publications)
Media type Print

The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism is a book by physicist Fritjof Capra, published in 1975 by Shambhala Publications of Berkeley, California. It was a bestseller in the United States, and has been published in 43 editions in 23 languages. The fourth edition in English was published in 2000.

Origin[edit]

The following excerpt from The Tao of Physics summarizes Capra's motivation for writing this book.

Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science, but man needs both. – (epilogue)

According to the preface of the first edition, reprinted in subsequent editions, Capra struggled to reconcile theoretical physics and Eastern mysticism and was at first "helped on my way by 'power plants'" or psychedelics, with the first experience "so overwhelming that I burst into tears, at the same time, not unlike Castaneda, pouring out my impressions to a piece of paper". (p. 12, 4th ed.)

Capra later discussed his ideas with Werner Heisenberg in 1972, as he mentioned in the following interview excerpt:

I had several discussions with Heisenberg. I lived in England then [circa 1972], and I visited him several times in Munich and showed him the whole manuscript chapter by chapter. He was very interested and very open, and he told me something that I think is not known publicly because he never published it. He said that he was well aware of these parallels. While he was working on quantum theory he went to India to lecture and was a guest of Tagore. He talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. Heisenberg told me that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy. He realized there was, in fact, a whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas. Heisenberg said that this was a great help for him. Niels Bohr had a similar experience when he went to China. – Fritjof Capra, interviewed by Renee Weber in the book The Holographic Paradigm (page 217–218)

As a result of those influences, Bohr adopted the yin yang symbol as part of his family coat of arms when he was knighted in 1947.

The Tao of Physics was followed by other books of the same genre like The Hidden Connection, The Turning Point and The Web of Life in which Capra extended the argument of how Eastern mysticism and scientific findings of today relate, and how Eastern mysticism might also have answers to some of the biggest scientific challenges of today.

It was preceded by R. G. H. Siu's The Tao of Science: an Essay on Western Knowledge and Eastern Wisdom, first published by MIT Press in 1957 and later in 1964.[1]

Acclaim and criticism[edit]

The book was a best seller in the United States. However it is not without its critics. It received a positive review from New York magazine:

A brilliant best-seller.... Lucidly analyzes the tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism to show their striking parallels with the latest discoveries in cyclotrons.

Victor N. Mansfield, a professor of physics and astronomy at Colgate University who wrote many papers and books of his own connecting physics to Buddhism and also to Jungian psychology,[1] complimented The Tao of Physics in Physics Today:[2][3]

"Fritjof Capra, in The Tao of Physics , seeks ... an integration of the mathematical world view of modern physics and the mystical visions of Buddha and Krishna. Where others have failed miserably in trying to unite these seemingly different world views, Capra, a high-energy theorist, has succeeded admirably. I strongly recommend the book to both layman and scientist."

Jeremy Bernstein, a professor of physics at the Stevens Institute of Technology,[4] chastised The Tao of Physics:[5]

At the heart of the matter is Mr. Capra's methodology – his use of what seem to me to be accidental similarities of language as if these were somehow evidence of deeply rooted connections.

Thus I agree with Capra when he writes, "Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science but man needs both." What no one needs, in my opinion, is this superficial and profoundly misleading book.

Leon M. Lederman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and current Director Emeritus of Fermilab, criticized both The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters in his 1993 book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?[6]

Starting with reasonable descriptions of quantum physics, he constructs elaborate extensions, totally bereft of the understanding of how carefully experiment and theory are woven together and how much blood, sweat, and tears go into each painful advance.

Philosopher of science Eric Scerri criticizes both Capra and Zukav and similar books.[7]

Peter Woit, a mathematical physicist at Columbia University, criticized Capra for continuing to build his case for physics-mysticism parallels on the bootstrap model of strong-force interactions, long after the Standard Model had become thoroughly accepted by physicists as a better model:[8]

The Tao of Physics was completed in December 1974, and the implications of the November Revolution one month earlier that led to the dramatic confirmations of the standard-model quantum field theory clearly had not sunk in for Capra (like many others at that time). What is harder to understand is that the book has now gone through several editions, and in each of them Capra has left intact the now out-of-date physics, including new forewords and afterwords that with a straight face deny what has happened. The foreword to the second edition of 1983 claims, "It has been very gratifying for me that none of these recent developments has invalidated anything I wrote seven years ago. In fact, most of them were anticipated in the original edition," a statement far from any relation to the reality that in 1983 the standard model was nearly universally accepted in the physics community, and the bootstrap theory was a dead idea ... Even now, Capra's book, with its nutty denials of what has happened in particle theory, can be found selling well at every major bookstore. It has been joined by some other books on the same topic, most notably Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. The bootstrap philosophy, despite its complete failure as a physical theory, lives on as part of an embarrassing New Age cult, with its followers refusing to acknowledge what has happened.

Editions[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.templetonpress.org/authors_detail.asp?author_id=84
  2. ^ http://www.shambhala.com/html/catalog/items/isbn/978-1-57062-519-0.cfm
  3. ^ http://www.amazon.com/Tao-Physics-3rd-Updated/dp/0877735948
  4. ^ http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/bernstein.html
  5. ^ Jeremy Bernstein (1982) Science Observed, New York: Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-07340-9, p.333-340
  6. ^ Leon Lederman (1993), The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, New York: Bantam Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-31211-3, p. 189-193
  7. ^ E. R. Scerri (1989). "Eastern Mysticism and the Alleged Parallels with Physics". American Journal of Physics 57 (8): 687–692. 
  8. ^ Peter Woit (2006), Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-09275-8, p. 141-145

References[edit]

  • The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes, edited by Ken Wilber, Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala, 1982, ISBN 0-394-71237-4
  • Woit, Peter (2006). Not Even Wrong – the Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-09275-6. 
  • Siu, R. G. H., The Tao of Science: an Essay on Western Knowledge and Eastern Wisdom, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1957, ISBN 262-69004-7, ISBN 978-0-262-69004-1 / Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 57-13460