Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Tao of Physics

Capra’s book, which has become virtually a classic, is simultaneously a work on avant-garde science and a work on spirituality. When twentieth century physics pushed into the frontiers of what became known as quantum mechanics, some knowledgeable individuals perceived that there was a connection between the implications of quantum physics and the mystical insights of the Far East. However, articulating these connections in a way that could be agreeable to most scientists and grasped by the layperson was somewhat problematic. Capra is considered to have been highly successful in writing such an articulation. ‘The Tao of Physics’ first appeared in 1975 and has now run through its third edition, with expansions added by the author in each new edition.

In the early stages of modern western science, beginning with Copernicus, running through the time of Galileo and culminating with Newton, science revolted against the religious authority of the medieval Church, which had upheld Aristotle. Science conceived of a universe that could be mechanically objectified, a cosmos of ‘sticks and stones’ that could be measured rationally and predictably. Although Newton and others believed in a transcendent God who had created the cosmos, the paradigm of scientific thought that was established by the late seventeenth century and which still lingers today has lead, in one direction, to a materialistic metaphysical view that denigrates traditional religion and any spiritual view of reality.

In the first half of the twentieth century, when physics reached the stage where it tried to look beyond the atom and reveal the quintessential ‘stuff’ that the universe is made of, it was forced into some astonishing conclusions. Although the universe appears to be solid, measurable, objective and predictable at one level of experience, when physicists tried to study sub-atomic particles and ‘quanta’ they found themselves dealing with a realm that could not be described as material. Instead, the ultimate nature of the universe appeared to be made of complex energy manifestations operating in an unpredictable web of patterns that was inseparable from the subjective perspectives of the individuals doing the studies. Although apparently material and visible at one level, the basic stuff of the universe is immaterial and invisible at the ultimate level.

While this did not prove the theology of western religious doctrines, some physicists realized that they had landed right in the lap of perceptions foundational in the mystical traditions of Hinduism (Vedanta), Buddhism and Taoism. For many centuries, these traditions had spoken of such things as the complementarity of opposing principles and had considered the physical universe to be an illusion created by conditioned human perception, not an absolute reality in itself. In his book, Capra systematically explains the implications of quantum physics and then systematically discusses Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese thought, Taoism and Zen. Then he explains the parallels that quantum physics has with each of these forms of eastern mysticism. Although there has not been a full-scale rush of quantum physicists into ashrams or Zen monasteries, Capra points out that the great Nils Bohr, as one outstanding example, adopted the Taoist symbol of yin and yang in his personal coat of arms.

Capra, although highly influential, is not the only thinker to have elaborated on the subject he set out to explain. Others, such as Gary Zukav and Michael Talbot (to name only two others) have written fascinating books on the topic. Also, not every theoretical physicist has interpreted quantum physics as a form of mysticism. However, the conclusions elaborated by Capra have taken root in our culture and have helped to suggest a closer interrelationship of science and spirituality.


Post a Comment


Book information, download and sell Copyright © to scientific nepal team