TAO OF PHYSICS

Fritjof Capra

 

(An explanation of the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism)

 

Preface quote from Carlos Castaneda's  "The Teachings of Don Juan":

“Any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you.  Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question…Does this path have a heart?  If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”

 

Capra, a researcher into theoretical high energy physics (quantum theory) who has also studied Eastern religions  (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen and Chinese thought) compares the similarities of current thinking as to atomic theory, energy and universe with the teachings of the great Eastern seers and mystics, as revealed in their religions via meditation. As a physicist, he describes:

·        The dual nature of light (or, more generally, electromagnetic radiation) - wave/particle

·        Newton's mechanical model of the universe - 3 dimension space of Euclidean geometry.  "Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself and by its own nature, flows uniformly, without regard for anything external." Gravity held everything in place as per God's plan.

·        Special theory of relativity -  (Einstein - 1905) - 3 dimension time and space are not separate entities but are intimately connected and form a 4 dimensional space-time continuum. From this comes the realization that mass is nothing but a form of energy (an object at rest has energy stored in its mass. E=mc2)

·        General theory of  relativity (Einstein - 1915) - extended the 'special' theory to incl. gravity (the mutual attraction of all large  bodies)  and is  used in astrophysics and cosmology for the description of the universe at large.  In this theory, the force of gravity has the effect of  'curving' space and time. 3 dimensional space is actually curved, as a result of massive body gravity. Time slows for an object approaching the speed of light. Light bends, attracted by gravity.

·        Quantum theory (Max Plank - 1905) - theory of atomic phenomena studies the arrangement of atoms, which turn out to consist of relatively vast regions of space in which extremely small particles, the electrons, move around the nucleus, bound to it by electric forces.  (The # of electrons in the atoms of an element determine its chemical properties.   The periodic table of elements can be built up by adding protons and neutrons (electrons) to the nucleus of the lightest atom - hydrogen).  Quanta are the bursts of energy packets transmitting heat radiation. Light quanta are called photons, and are particles of a special kind, mass-less and always traveling at speed of light  (186,000 m/s). The interaction between negatively charged electrons and positively charged atomic nuclei is the basis for all matter, life and biological processes.

·        S matrix theory (S = scatter) describes the world of subatomic particles as a dynamic network of “events”  (hadrons) and emphasizes change and transformation rather than fundamental structures or entities.   Under the S-matrix theory (which is not accepted by all physicists), being holistic and dynamic, particles are seen as interrelated energy patterns in an ongoing universal process - as correlations, or interconnections between various parts of an inseparable cosmic web. There are no distinct entities and no Newtonian building blocks; there is only a flow of energy showing certain well-defined patterns. (This ties in with Eastern thought (Buddhist) where all things are seen as dynamic, impermanent and illusory).

·        The hadron bootstrap hypothesis - a philosophy of nature and theory of particles deriving from S-matrix concepts  (Geoffrey Chew). This hypothesis rejects Newton's universe constructed from a set of basic entities with certain fundamental properties, which had been created by God and thus were not amenable to further analysis. In Chew's concept, the universe is seen as a dynamic web of interrelated events. None of the web properties are fundamental - they rather flow from the properties of the other parts, and the overall consistency of their mutual interrelations determines the structure of the entire web. It also abandons fundamental laws, equations and principles (derived from the belief in a divine lawgiver).   Physicists are coming to see that all their theories of natural phenomena ("laws") are creations of the human mind; properties of our conceptual map of reality rather than reality itself, and that scientific theories and models are approximations of the true nature of things.  All theories and laws are mutable, destined to be replaced by more accurate laws when the theories are improved.  Step by step, as theories improve and increase in accuracy, we will 'bootstrap' toward (but maybe never reach) the ideal answers.  The hypothesis, in that it does not rest on or within a framework, is considered unscientific  (it leads beyond science).

 

    (The world-view of the Eastern mystics shares with bootstrap not only an emphasis on the mutual interrelationship and self-consistency of all phenomena, but also the denial of fundamental constituents of matter).

 

EASTERN

 

Hinduism: an interconnected philosophy/religion based in India, with its spiritual source contained in the 4 Vedas, a collection of ancient scriptures written by anonymous sages, the so-called Vedic  'seers', in Sanskrit, between 1500-500 B.C.  Part of the Vedas comprise the Upanishads which contain the essence of Hinduism's spiritual message. The Indians have also passed on epic poems containing spiritual lessons, such as the Mahabharata, containing the poem Bhagavad Gita, relating to the god Krishna's teaching that the multitude of things and events around us are but different manifestations of the same ultimate reality, called Brahman, the soul, or inner essence of all things  (which is infinite and beyond all concepts and unable to be comprehended by the intellect nor adequately described in words).   God becomes the world which, in the end, becomes God again.  Brahman accomplishes this transformation through the spell of Maya, which says that the world is akin to an illusion, but the illusion merely lies in our point of view, if we think that the shapes and structures, things and events around us are realities of nature, instead of realizing that they are concepts of our measuring and categorizing minds, (confusing the map with the territory). The idea of a fluid universe, totally in action reflects the dynamic force of Karma, the force of creation, wherefrom all things have their life.  Psychologically, man's goal is to break the bonds of Karma and be free of the spell of Maya and thereby link directly with Brahman, this experience being called Moksha - a liberating state which is the very essence of Hinduism. (Achieved thru daily meditation and other spiritual exercises or thru yoga (meaning to ‘yoke’ the individual soul to rahman), or thru worshipping the thousands of deities such as Shiva, Vishnu and the Divine Mother.

         Shiva is also called the Cosmic Dancer, the god of creation and destruction who sustains thru his dance the endless rhythm of the universe. Sensuous pleasure has never been suppressed in Hinduism - the body is considered an integral part of the human being and not separated from the spirit.  The Hindu does not try to control his body’s desires by conscious will, but aims at realizing himself with his whole being, body and mind.

 

Buddhism: founded by Siddhartha Guatama, the original Buddha "The Awakened", 600 B.C., the predominant religion in Indo China, Tibet, Korea, China, Japan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.  A psychological, rather than metaphysical religion, geared to providing a way to overcome human frustrations, using the Hindu concepts of maya, Karma and nirvana in a dynamic manner. The intellect is seen merely as a means to clear the way for the direct mystical experience, the essence of which is to pass beyond the world of intellectual distinctions and opposites to reach the world of acintya, the unthinkable, where reality appears as undivided and undifferentiated "suchness".

 

The Four Noble Truths:

1.    The outstanding characteristic of the human situation is dukkha, which is suffering or frustration, arising from our difficulty in facing the basic fact of life; that everything is transitory and impermanent  -  "All things arise and pass away". (Nature's basic flow and change).  Suffering arises whenever we try to resist the life flow and try to cling to fixed forms which are all "maya", whether they are things, events, people or ideas. The idea of ego, or separate self, is also maya.

2.    Suffering is reinforced thru the futile grasping of life based on ignorance (avidya) - we perceive the world as divided into separate things and attempt to confine the fluid forms of reality in fixed categories created by the mind.  We become trapped in cycles of frustration, every action requiring further action, every answer requiring new questions.  This vicious cycle is known in Buddhism as samsara, the round of birth-and-death, and is driven by Karma, the never-ending chain of cause and effect.

3.    It is possible to transcend the vicious cycle of samsara and free oneself from the bondage of Karma and to reach a state of total liberation called nirvana, wherein the false notions of a separate self have forever disappeared and the oneness of life becomes a constant sensation.

4.    To reach nirvana, one takes the Eightfold Path of self development - the first two sections are concerned with right seeing and right knowing (clear insight into the human situation); the next four deal with right action  (the middle way between extremes); the final 2 sections cover right awareness and right meditation and describe nirvana, or the ‘Buddha’ state.

 

The teachings were passed on verbally for 500 yrs. and then in 100 B.C., codified by Ashwaghosha in ‘The Awakening of Faith’ book used by the mainstream Mahayana doctrine.    On the religious side, the 2 pillars of the religion are prajna  (transcendental wisdom or intuitive intelligence), and Karuna (love or compassion). The Avatamsaka sutra is the epitome of Buddhist thought and this sutra stimulated Chinese and Japanese minds more than anything else - its central theme is the unity and interrelationship of all things and events.

 

Chinese Thought:  two distinct philosophical schools developed in 600 B.C.   Confucianism (thru the Analects), dealing with social organization, common sense and practical knowledge formed the ethical basis for the family/society and was taught to children, and co-existed and complimented Taoism, followed by the elders and concerned primarily with the observation of nature and discovery of its Way, or Tao. Taoists believe that human happiness is achieved when one follows the natural order, acting spontaneously and trusting one’s intuitive knowledge.   Cyclic patterns in the motion of the Tao are represented by yin – dark, receptive, female and maternal element represented by Earth, and Yang - bright, strong, male, creative power associated with Heaven.

 

In medicine, Yin and Yang also interact, and a healthy balance between the body parts is maintained by a continuous flow of chi, or vital energy, along a system of meridians, with required remedial stimulation achieved thru acupuncture to restore the flow.  The Chinese went on to study various combinations of yin and yang which they developed into a system of cosmic archetypes, elaborated in the I Ching, or Book of Changes.                      

 

Zen Buddhism:  A distillation of mystic Buddhism from India, thru Taoist China, to Japan, about 1200 A.D.  The object is the attainment of enlightenment, or satori.  This is its only goal, and Zen has no special doctrine or philosophy, no formal creeds or dogmas.  Mystical  “If one asks about the Tao and another answers him, neither of them knows it” satori being beyond words or intellect. Zen believes in the perfection of our original nature, and enlightenment is in becoming what we already are from the beginning.  Sitting meditation is emphasized.  Thru the perfection of the arts, Zen life is expressed by the spontaneity, simplicity and total presence of mind of the master. Real mastery is achieved when technique is transcended and the art becomes an 'artless art' growing out of the unconscious.

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-  quote from  Lama Govinda -  "to the enlightened man, whose consciousness embraces the universe,  to him the universe becomes his 'body',  while his physical  body becomes a  manifestation of the Universal Mind, his inner vision an expression of the highest reality, and his speech an  expression of eternal  truth and mantric power.

 

The mystic and the physicist arrive at the same conclusion:  one starting from the inner realm, the other from the outer world. The harmony between their views confirms the ancient Indian wisdom that Brahmin, the ultimate reality without, is identical to Atman, the reality within. Science and mysticism are two comp1ementary manifestations of the human mind: of its rational and intuitive faculties.  

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According to Capra's 3rd Edition “afterward”, (written in 1988, 15 yrs. After his ‘Tao’), he sees a "paradigm shift" in scientific thinking, not only applicable to physics but to psychology, neuroscience, psychotherapy, ecology and the social sciences.  He describes 6 criteria implicit in this new-paradigm thinking:

1 – 4 are Inter-dependent

1.    Nature is seen as an interconnected dynamic network of relationships that include the human observer as an integral component.

2.    Rather than thinking in terms of structures, one views process as primary and every structure we observe is a manifestation of the underlying process.

3.    Any parts of this network are merely relatively stable patterns.

4.    Correspondingly, natural phenomena are described in terms of a network of concepts, in which no part is more fundamental than any other part.

5.     All scientific concepts are limited and approximate. Louis Pasteur quote: "Science advances through tentative answers to a series of more and more subtle questions which reach deeper and deeper into the essence of natural phenomena."

6.    Advocacy - a shift from an attitude of dominance and control of nature, including human beings, to one of co-operation and non-­violence.

 

 

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