Skip to main content

The Tao of Physics – Fritjof Capra ***

Currently enjoying its fourth revised edition (the UK version is the third edition), this book has been around for over 30 years – and indeed enjoys a bit of a cult status. It is not without its critics however! Sadly, physics (in particular quantum theory) has been subverted by new age mystics in order to make ridiculous claims – the atrocious film What The Bleep Do We Know? is a recent example. Capra’s work does not set out to do the same.
Capra draws out the parallels between quantum theory, relativity and Eastern mysticism and belief. Capra’s treatment of this is not as pseudo scientific as you may think, he does a very good job of describing what physics has to say about the nature of the universe and in particular our theories about space and time, and points out the similarities in how Shintoism, Buddhism etc. view the universe by comparison. As with most Westerners I was unaware of what Eastern religions had to say about the nature of the world around us, so this was a doubly enlightening read for me.
Niels Bohr famously adopted the t’ai chi t’u (better know as the yin-yang symbol) as his family coat of arms after a trip to China in the 1930s as he felt it symbolized the concept of wave-particle complementarity. Heisenberg was also another physicist who was well aware of what Eastern religions’ perceptions were about the universe. So Capra’s ideas are not without some precedent.
I would say that you have to take a work like this with a pinch of salt – Capra does do a very even-handed job of describing the parallels between modern day physics and Eastern religions, but there is a danger here that readers may interpret this as Capra claiming that such mysticism somehow has a deeper understanding of our universe than physicists have to offer. This as far as I am aware isn’t this fine book’s intention, as Capra himself says in his epilogue:
“Physicists do not need mysticism, and mystics do not need physics, but humanity needs both.”

Paperback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Scotty_73

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …