Fritjof Capra


Austrian-born Scientist, Philosopher, Futurist, Physicist, Systems Theorist, and author of five international bestsellers

Author Quotes

A page from a journal of modern experimental physics will be as mysterious to the uninitiated as a Tibetan mandala. Both are records of enquiries into the nature of the universe.

In biology the Cartesian view of living organisms as machines, constructed from separate parts, still provides the dominant conceptual framework. Although Descartes' simple mechanistic biology could not be carried very far and had to be modified considerably during the subsequent three hundred years, the belief that all aspects of living organisms can be understood by reducing them to their smallest constituents, and by studying the mechanisms through which these interact, lies at the very basis of most contemporary biological thinking. This passage from a current textbook on modern biology is a clear expression of the reductionist credo: 'One of the acid tests of understanding an object is the ability to put it together from its component parts. Ultimately, molecular biologists will attempt to subject their understanding of cell structure and function to this sort of test by trying to synthesize a cell.

Rutherford’s experiments had shown that atoms, instead of being hard and indestructible, consisted of vast regions of space in which extremely small particles moved, and now quantum theory made it clear that even these particles were nothing like the solid objects of classical physics. The subatomic units of matter are very abstract entities which have a dual aspect. Depending on how we look at them, they appear sometimes as particles, sometimes as waves; and this dual nature is also exhibited by light which can take the form of electromagnetic waves or of particles. This property of matter and of light is very strange. It seems impossible to accept that something can be, at the same time, a particle- i.e. an entity confined to a very small volume- and a wave, which is spread out over a large region of space.

The new paradigm may be called a holistic world view, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. It may also be called an ecological view, if the term "ecological" is used in a much broader and deeper sense than usual. Deep ecological awareness recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical process of nature.

We do not need to invent sustainable human communities. We can learn from societies that have lived sustainably for centuries. We can also model communities after nature's ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Since the outstanding characteristic of the biosphere is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable human community must be designed in such a manner that its technologies and social institutions honor, support, and cooperate with nature's inherent ability to sustain life.

According to quantum theory, matter is thus never quiescent, but always in a state of motion.

In Hinduism, Shiva the Cosmic Dancer, is perhaps the most perfect personification of the dynamic universe. Through his dance, Shiva sustains the manifold phenomena in the world, unifying all things by immersing them in his rhythm and making them participate in the dance- a magnificent image of the dynamic unity of the Universe.

Scientists, therefore, are responsible for their research, not only intellectually but also morally. This responsibility has become an important issue in many of today's sciences, but especially so in physics, in which the results of quantum mechanics and relativity theory have opened up two very different paths for physicists to pursue. They may lead us — to put it in extreme terms — to the Buddha or to the Bomb, and it is up to each of us to decide which path to take.

The phenomenon of emergence takes place at critical points of instability that arise from fluctuations in the environment, amplified by feedback loops. Emergence results in the creation of novelty, and this novelty is often qualitatively different from the phenomenon out of which it emerged.

What I am trying to do is to present a unified scientific view of life; that is, a view integrating life's biological, cognitive, and social dimensions. I have had many discussions with social scientists, cognitive scientists, physicists and biologist who question that task, who said that this would not be possible. They ask, why do I believe that I can do that? My belief is based largely on our knowledge of evolution. When you study evolution, you see that there was, first of all, evolution before the appearance of life, there was a molecular type of evolution where structures of greater and greater complexity evolved out of simple molecules. Biochemists who study that have made tremendous progress in understanding that process of molecular evolution. Then we had the appearance of the first cell which was a bacterium. Bacteria evolved for about 2 billion years and in doing so invented, if you want to use the term, or created most of the life processes that we know today. Biochemical processes like fermentation, oxygen breathing, photosynthesis, also rapid motion, were developed by bacteria in evolution. And what happened then was that bacteria combined with one another to produce larger cells — the so-called eukaryotic cells, which have a nucleus, chromosomes, organelles, and so on. This symbiosis that led to new forms is called symbio-genesis.

As Eastern thought has begun to interest a significant number of people, and meditation is no longer viewed with ridicule or suspicion, mysticism is being taken seriously even within the scientific community An increasing number of scientists are aware that mystical thought provides a consistent and relevant philosophical back ground to the theories of Contemporary science, a conception of the world in which the scientific discoveries of men and women can be in perfect harmony with their Spiritual aims and religious beliefs.

In Indian philosophy, the main terms used by Hindus and Buddhists have dynamic connotations. The word Brahman is derived from the Sanskrit root brih – to grow- and thus suggests a reality which is dynamic and alive. The Upanishads refer to Brahman as ‘this unformed, immortal, moving’, thus associating it with motion even though it transcends all forms.’ The Rig Veda uses another term to express the dynamic character of the universe, the term Rita. This word comes from the root ri- to move. In its phenomenal aspect, the cosmic One is thus intrinsically dynamic, and the apprehension of its dynamic nature is basic to all schools of Eastern mysticism. They all emphasize that the universe has to be grasped dynamically, as it moves, vibrates and dances.

Since ecology is based on systems thinking, this helps also with the rest of education. For example, there are a lot of new insights about learning from neuroscience recently that show that the brain is in a constant search for pattern. The children come to school, not with an empty mind but they come with their own context and they relate everything they hear, that's presented to them, to their own context, searching for meaningful patterns. So the search for patterns and meaning is central to the learning process. And again, to understand this you have to think systemically. Just to understand meaning you have to think systemically. Then this affects the instruction because you would want to have a curriculum that is integrated where these same patterns can be recognized. Then, on the other hand, it affects the process of teaching because if you teach in integrated fashion so that what the geography teacher says is related to what the math teacher says and that's related to what the PE teacher does with the kids, obviously those teachers need to talk with each other and collaborate. This translates into community and, in fact, most of our work to date has been in community building, teaching ecology and systems thinking too, but mostly community building. So we teach ecology, the experience of nature, community building, learning theory and integrated curriculum.

The problems of language here are really serious. We wish to speak in some way about the structure of the atoms … But we cannot speak about atoms in ordinary language.

What is Life? Because one of the first insights and still one of the most important insights of the systemic understanding of life is that living systems are networks. Again, I think it is important to point out that we're not talking about network structure, although that's also there. For example, the nervous system is a network structure. It is anatomical. But what we're talking about in an organism is a functional network. So it’s a network of relationships, a network that interconnects the processes. Then you can ask what are these processes? It depends on the level of life you are looking at. If you look at a cell then the process is a chemical process. If you look at an ecosystem the basic network process is feeding relationships. The animals feed on certain plants, the plants feed on sunlight, the plants die, the insects and the fungi feed on them and we have the whole recycling process. When you come to the human realm--human society or community-- the process is communication. You have language and conversation. I think this is why conversations, such as dialogue, is so important now. When we talk about networking in the human realm we don't talk about exchanging chemicals or eating each other, we talk about communication networks.

At the beginning of the last two decades of our century, we find ourselves in a state of profound, world-wide crisis. It is a complex, multi-dimensional crisis whose facets touch every aspect of our lives - our health and livelihood, the quality of our environment and our social relationships, our economy, technology, and politics. It is a crisis of intellectual, moral, and spiritual dimensions; a crisis of a scale and urgency unprecedented in recorded human history. For the first time we have to face the very real threat of extinction of the human race and of all life on this planet.

In its phenomenal aspect, the cosmic One is intrinsically dynamic, and the apprehension of its dynamic nature is basic to all schools of Eastern mysticism.

Subatomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities, but can only be understood as interconnections between the preparation of an experiment and the subsequent measurement.

The purpose of this book (the Tao of Physics) is to explore the relationship between the concepts of modern physics and the basic ideas in the philosophical and religious traditions of the Far East. We shall see how the two foundations of twentieth-century physics - quantum theory and relativity - both force us to see the world very much in the way a Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist sees it.

What we need, then, is a new 'paradigm' - a new vision of reality; a fundamental change in our thoughts, perceptions, and values. The beginnings of this change, of the shift from the mechanistic to the holistic conception of reality, are already visible in all fields and are likely to dominate the present decade. The various manifestations and implications of this 'paradigm shift' are the subject of this book. The sixties and seventies have generated a whole series of social movements that all seem to go in the same direction, emphasizing different aspects of the new vision of reality. So far, most of these movements still operate separately and have not yet recognized how their intentions interrelate. The purpose of this book is to provide a coherent conceptual framework that will help them recognize the communality of their aims. Once this happens, we can expect the various movements to flow together and form a powerful force for social change. The gravity and global extent of our current crisis indicate that this change is likely to result in a transformation of unprecedented dimensions, a turning point for the planet as a whole.

At the subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainty at definite places, but rather shows “tendencies to exist,” and atomic events do not occur with certainty at definite times and in definite ways, but rather show “tendencies to occur.

In the end the aggressors always destroy themselves, making way for others who know how to cooperate and get along. Life is much less a competitive struggle for survival than a triumph of cooperation and creativity.

Tektology was the first attempt in the history of science to arrive at a systematic formulation of the principles of organization operating in living and nonliving systems.

The question which puzzled physicists so much in the early stages of atomic theory was how electromagnetic radiation could simultaneously consist of particles (i.e. of entities confined to a very small volume) and of waves, which are spread out over a large area of space. Neither language nor imagination could deal with this kind of reality very well.

When carbon (C), Oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) atoms bond in a certain way to form sugar, the resulting compound has a sweet taste. The sweetness resides neither in the C, nor in the O, nor in the H; it resides in the pattern that emerges from their interaction. It is an emergent property. Moreover, strictly speaking, is not a property of the chemical bonds. It is a sensory experience that arises when the sugar molecules interact with the chemistry of our taste buds, which in turns causes a set of neurons to fire in a certain way. The experience of sweetness emerges from that neural activity.

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Austrian-born Scientist, Philosopher, Futurist, Physicist, Systems Theorist, and author of five international bestsellers