Fritjof Capra’s philosophy of science

In this guest edition of The Interview, Vikram Zutshi speaks with physicist, activist and author Fritjof Capra.

Fritjof Capra is an Austrian-born American physicist, systems theorist and profound ecologist. He has written many popular books which link conceptual changes in science with broader changes in worldview and values ​​in society, including The Tao of Physics: An exploration of the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism. The book demonstrates striking parallels between Eastern mystical traditions and the discoveries of 20th century physics. It has been published in 43 editions in 23 languages ​​and refers to the statue of Shiva in the courtyard of one of the largest and most respected scientific research centers in the world: CERN, the Center for Research in Physics of particles in Geneva.

The parallel between the dance of Shiva and the dance of the subatomic particles was first discussed by Capra in an article entitled “The Dance of Shiva: The Hindu View of Matter in the Light of Modern Physics”, published in Main currents of modern thought in 1972. Shiva’s cosmic dance then became a central metaphor in Capra’s international bestseller, The Tao of physics.

Over the past 30 years, Capra has engaged in a systematic exploration of how other sciences and societies are ushering in a similar shift in world views, or paradigms, leading to a new view of reality and a new understanding of the social implications of this culture. transformation. His most recent book, The systemic view of life, presents a great new synthesis of this work, integrating the biological, cognitive, social and ecological dimensions of life in a unified vision.

In this guest edition of The Interview, Vikram Zutshi talks to Capra about connecting the dots between life and science.

Vikram Zutshi: In The turning point: science, society and rising culture, you retrace the history of science and economics, highlighting the flaws in the Cartesian, Newtonian and reductionist paradigms. You explain how such views have become inadequate for the needs of modern technology and ecology, and assert that science needs to develop the concepts and knowledge of holism and systems theory to solve the complex problems facing it. we face as a species. Could you expand on this theme for readers who may not be familiar with your work?

Fritjof Capra: When i wrote The Tao of Physics, I believed that the “new physics” could be a model for other sciences and for society in general, just as old Newtonian physics had been, for many centuries, a model for other sciences and for organization. social. What I had to realize is that most of what we encounter in our environment is alive. When we relate to our fellow human beings, to the living nature around us, to human organizations and to the economy, we are always dealing with living systems. There is not much physics can say about these living systems. It can provide knowledge about material structures, but the very nature of life is something that escapes physics.

With this achievement my research interests shifted from physics to life sciences, and over the past 30 years I have explored and synthesized a new scientific conception of life that is emerging at the forefront of science. My synthesis is a conceptual framework that integrates four dimensions of life: the biological, cognitive, social and ecological dimension. I have presented summaries of this framework, as it has evolved, in several books, starting with Turning in 1982. By “the turning point” I meant the fundamental change in worldview that is taking place in science and in society, a paradigm shift of seeing the world as a machine to understand it as a network.

Vikram Zutshi: In Belonging to the Universe: Explorations at the Frontiers of Science and Spirituality, you explore the parallels between ways of thinking in science and Christian theology. What are the main findings and conclusions of the book?

Fritjof Capra: I would say that the main conclusion was that the sense of oneness, which is the key characteristic of spiritual experience, is fully confirmed by the understanding of reality in contemporary science. Therefore, there are many similarities between the worldviews of mystics and spiritual teachers – both Eastern and Western – and the systemic conception of nature that is now developing in several scientific disciplines.

When we look at the world around us, we find that we are not immersed in chaos and chance, but part of a great order, a great symphony of life. Every molecule in our body was once part of previous bodies – living or non-living – and will be part of future bodies. In this sense, our body will not die but will live, again and again, because life goes on. In addition, we not only share the molecules of life, but also its basic organizational principles with the rest of the living world. Indeed, we belong to the universe, and this experience of belonging can give our lives a deep meaning.

Vikram Zutshi: How would you distinguish between spirituality and religion?

Fritjof Capra: In one of my last books, The systemic view of life, co-written with Pier Luigi Luisi, we have an entire chapter on “Science and Spirituality”. We underline the importance of distinguishing between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is a way of anchoring oneself in a certain experience of reality which is independent of cultural and historical contexts.

Religion is the organized attempt to understand spiritual experience, to interpret it with words and concepts, and to use that interpretation as a source of moral guidelines for the religious community. Religious interpretations of spiritual experience always depend on historical and cultural contexts, and unfortunately they often risk becoming dogmatic, requiring devotees to accept their statements, moral codes, and hierarchical structures as literal truths. When this happens, a comparison between science and religion is no longer fruitful.

Vikram Zutshi: In The systemic view of life you and your co-author propose radical solutions to 21stof the century by focusing on the connected world and examining life through its inextricably linked systems. What are some of these radical solutions?

Fritjof Capra: For me, The systemic view of life is my final synthesis of the new conception of life that has emerged at the forefront of science. I call it “the systems view of life” because it requires a new kind of thinking – thinking in terms of relationships, models and context. In science, this is known as systems thinking, or “systems thinking”.

The new systemic conception of life is not only intellectually fascinating, but has very concrete applications. In the final part of our book, we discuss the critical importance of the systems view of life in addressing the issues of our multifaceted global crisis. Today, it is becoming increasingly evident that the major issues of our time – energy, environment, climate change, economic inequalities, violence and war, etc. – cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are all interconnected and interdependent, and they require corresponding systemic solutions – solutions that do not solve any problem in isolation but address it in the context of other related problems.

Unfortunately, this awareness has yet to emerge from most of our political and business leaders who are unable to “connect the dots”, to use a popular phrase. Instead of taking into account the interdependence of our major problems, their so-called “solutions” tend to focus on a single problem, thus simply shifting the problem to another part of the system – for example, by producing more. energy at the expense of biodiversity, public health or climate stability.

Systemic solutions usually solve multiple problems at the same time. Let me give you just one example of agriculture. If we were to move from our large-scale chemical industrial agriculture to organic, community-oriented and sustainable agriculture, it would significantly help solve three of our biggest problems. This would significantly reduce our energy dependency, as we now (at least in the United States) use a fifth of our fossil fuels to grow and process food. Healthy and organically grown foods are said to have a huge positive effect on public health, as many chronic diseases – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc. – are linked to our diet. And finally, organic farming would significantly contribute to the fight against climate change by attracting CO2 of the atmosphere and encloses it in organic matter.

This is just one example. In our manual, we devote approximately 60 pages to detailed discussions of the most effective system solutions. They include proposals to reshape economic globalization and restructure businesses; new forms of property that are not extractive but generative; a wide variety of systemic solutions to the interrelated problems of energy, food, poverty and climate change; and, finally, the large number of systemic design solutions known collectively as ecodesign, which embody the basic principles of ecology.

In conclusion, I would like to say that a full discussion of the systems view of life and its applications would require a multi-day seminar or, better yet, a multi-week course. In fact, I now teach such an online course. It’s called Capra Course and consists of 12 pre-recorded lectures and an online discussion forum that I participate in for the duration of the course. So far, participants from over 50 countries around the world have taken the course, many of them from India.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

Photo credit: Ezume Images / Shutterstock.com


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