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:  
Review by Scotty_73

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The AI Delusion - Gary Smith *****

This is a very important little book ('little' isn't derogatory - it's just quite short and in a small format) - it gets to the heart of the problem with applying artificial intelligence techniques to large amounts of data and thinking that somehow this will result in wisdom.

Gary Smith as an economics professor who teaches statistics, understands numbers and, despite being a self-confessed computer addict, is well aware of the limitations of computer algorithms and big data. What he makes clear here is that we forget at our peril that computers do not understand the data that they process, and as a result are very susceptible to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Yet we are increasingly dependent on computer-made decisions coming out of black box algorithms which mine vast quantities of data to find correlations and use these to make predictions. What's wrong with this? We don't know how the algorithms are making their predictions - and the algorithms don't kn…

Infinity in the Palm of your Hand - Marcus Chown *****

A new Marcus Chown book is always a treat - and this is like a box of chocolates: a collection of bite-sized delights as Chown presents us with 50 science facts that are strange and wonderful.

The title is a quote from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence: 'To see a World in a Grain of Sand, / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And Eternity in an hour.' It would seem particularly appropriate if this book were read on a mobile phone (so it would be literally in the palm), which could well be true for ebook users, as the short essays make excellent reading for a commute, or at bedtime. I found them distinctly moreish - making it difficult to put the book down as I read just one more. And perhaps another. Oh, and that next one looks really interesting...

Each of the 50 pieces has a title and a short introductory heading, which mostly give a feel for the topic. The very first of these, however, briefly baffled me: 'You are a third mus…

How to Invent Everything - Ryan North ****

Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch.

We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are…