The Tao of Physics

The impermanence of all forms is the starting point of Buddhism. The Buddha taught that ‘all compounded things are impermanent’, and that all suffering in the world arises from our trying to cling to fixed forms – objects, people or ideas – instead of accepting the world as it moves and changes.

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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. (Heisenberg, The Tao of Physics, p53)

That every word or concept, clear as it may seem to be, has only a limited range of applicability. (Heisenberg, The Tao of Physics, p35)

The most difficult problem … concerning the use of the language arises in quantum theory. Here we have at first no simple guide for correlating the mathematical symbols with concepts of ordinary language: and the only thing we know from the start is the fact that our common concepts cannot be applied to the structure of the atoms. (Heisenberg, The Tao of Physics, p54)

The opening line of the Tao Te Ching: ‘The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao.’ (Lao Tzu, The Tao of Physics, p37)

Well known Zen phrase: “The instant you speak about a thing you miss the mark.� (Capra, The Tao of Physics, p42)

The Unity of All Things, One

The most important characteristic of the Eastern world view – one could almost say the essence of it- is the awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness. All things are seen as interdependent and inseparable parts of this cosmic whole; as different manifestations of the same ultimate reality. (Capra, The Tao of Physics, 1975)

In ordinary life, we are not aware of the unity of all things, but divide the world into separate objects and events. This division is useful and necessary to cope with our everyday environment, but it is not a fundamental feature of reality. It is an abstraction devised by our discriminating and categorising intellect. To believe that our abstract concepts of separate ‘things’ and ‘events’ are realities of nature is an illusion. (Capra, The Tao of Physics, 1975)

The central aim of Eastern mysticism is to experience all the phenomena in the world as manifestations of the same ultimate reality. This reality is seen as the essence of the universe, underlying and unifying the multitude of things and events we observe. The Hindus call it Brahman, The Buddhists Dharmakaya (The Body of Being) or Tathata (Suchness) and the Taoists Tao; each affirming that it transcends our intellectual concepts and defies further explanation. This ultimate essence, however, cannot be separated from its multiple manifestations. It is central to the very nature to manifest itself in myriad forms which come into being and disintegrate, transforming themselves into one another without end. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p210)

A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the 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. Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated ‘basic building blocks’, but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p78)

The ‘this’ is also ‘that’. The ‘that’ is also ‘this’… That the that and the this cease to be opposites is the very essence of the Tao. Only this essence, an axis as it were, is the center of the circle responding to endless changes. (Quoted in Fung Yu-Ling, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, 1958 p.112) (Capra, The Tao of Physics, 1975)

Problem of the One and the Many

All things come out of the one, and the one out of all things. (Heraclitus, ~500BC)

Though One, Brahman is the cause of the many.
Brahman is the unborn (aja) in whom all existing things abide.
The One manifests as the many, the formless putting on forms. (Rig Veda ~ 1200 B.C.)

The problem of the one and the many in metaphysics and theology is insoluble: We have the universe of individuals which is not self-sufficient and in some sense rests on Brahman, but the exact nature of the relation between them is a mystery. … All ordinary human experience is conceptual in nature, i.e. is organized under the categories in which we ordinarily think. However, Brahman is said to be predicateless ( no concepts apply to it): concepts presuppose division, and Brahman is a unity. How, then, is any form of awareness of Brahman possible for human beings? (Collinson, 2000)

Dynamic Universe

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. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p210)

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. In the words of S. Radhakrishnan, “The word Brahman means growth and is suggestive of life, motion, progress.â€? The Upanishads refer to Brahman as ‘this uniformed, 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; its original meaning in the Rig Veda being ‘the course of all things’, ‘the order of nature’. The order of nature was conceived by the Vedic seers, not as a static divine law, but as a dynamic principle which is inherent in the universe. This idea is not unlike the Chinese conception of the Tao – ‘the Way’- as the way in which the Universe works, i.e. the order of Nature. Like the Vedic seers, the Chinese sages saw the world in terms of flow and change. Both concepts, Rita and Tao, were later brought down from their original cosmic level to the human and interpreted in a moral sense; Rita as the universal law which all gods and humans must obey and Tao as the right way of life. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p210)

The Vedic concept of Rita anticipates the idea of karma which was developed later to express the dynamic interplay of all things and events. The word karma means ‘action’ and denotes the ‘active’, or dynamic, interrelation of all phenomena. In the words of the Bhagavad Gita, “All actions take place in time by the interweaving of the forces of nature.â€? (Fritjof Capra, 1975)

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. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p211)

The impermanence of all forms is the starting point of Buddhism. The Buddha taught that ‘all compounded things are impermanent’, and that all suffering in the world arises from our trying to cling to fixed forms – objects, people or ideas – instead of accepting the world as it moves and changes. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p211)

The Eastern mystics see the universe as an inseparable web, whose interconnections are dynamic and not static. The cosmic web is alive; it moves and grows and changes continually. Modern physics, too, has come to conceive of the universe as such a web of relations and, like Eastern mysticism, has recognised that this web is intrinsically dynamic. The dynamic aspect of matter arises in quantum theory as a consequence of the wave-nature of subatomic particles, and is even more essential in relativity theory, where the unification of space and time implies that the being of matter cannot be separated from its activity. The properties of subatomic particles can therefore only be understood in a dynamic context; in terms of movement, interaction and transformation. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics)

According to quantum theory, matter is thus never quiescent, but always in a state of motion. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p215)

Modern physics then, pictures matter not at all as passive and inert, but being in a continuous dancing and vibrating motion whose rhythmic patterns are determined by the molecular, atomic and nuclear structures. This is also the way in which the Eastern mystics see the material world. They all emphasise that the universe has to be grasped dynamically, as it moves, vibrates and dances; that nature is not a static but dynamic equilibrium. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, P216)

Physics & Quantum Theory

A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the 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. Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe. The mathematical framework of quantum theory has passed countless successful tests and is now universally accepted as a consistent and accurate description of all atomic phenomena. The verbal interpretation, on the other hand, i.e. the metaphysics of quantum theory, is on far less solid ground. In fact, in more than forty years physicists have not been able to provide a clear metaphysical model. (Capra, 1975)

Both matter and radiation possess a remarkable duality of character, as they sometimes exhibit the properties of waves, at other times those of particles. Now it is obvious that a thing cannot be a form of wave motion and composed of particles at the same time – the two concepts are too different. (Heisenberg, 1930)

The idea that something can be both a wave and a particle defies imagination, but the existence of this wave-particle “dualityâ€? is not in doubt. .. It is impossible to visualize a wave-particle, so don’t try. … The notion of a particle being “everywhere at onceâ€? is impossible to imagine. (Davies, 1985)

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. (Capra, The Tao of Physics, p56)

The New Physics

The violent reaction on the recent development of modern physics can only be understood when one realises that here the foundations of physics have started moving; and that this motion has caused the feeling that the ground would be cut from science. (Heisenberg, The Tao of Physics, p61)

It seems probable to me that God in the beginning formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, movable particles, of such sizes and figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportion to space, as most conduced to the end for which he formed them; and that these primitive particles being solids, are incomparably harder than any porous bodies compounded of them; even so very hard, as never to wear or break in pieces; no ordinary power being able to divide what God himself made one in the first creation. (Newton, The Tao of Physics, p64)

Every time the physicists asked nature a question in an atomic experiment, nature answered with a paradox, and the more they tried to clarify the situation, the sharper the paradoxes became. It took them a long time to accept the fact that these paradoxes belong to the intrinsic structure of atomic physics, and to realise that they arise whenever one attempts to describe atomic events in the traditional terms of physics. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p76)

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. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p77)

The apparent contradiction between the particle and the wave picture was solved in a completely unexpected way which called in question the very foundation of the mechanistic world view – the concept of the reality of matter.
At the sub-atomic 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 formalism of quantum theory, these tendencies are expressed as probabilities and are associated with mathematical quantities which take the form of waves. This is why particles can be waves at the same time. They are not ‘real’ three-dimensional waves like sound or water waves.

They are ‘probability waves’, abstract mathematical quantities with all the characteristic properties of waves which are related to the probabilities of finding the particles at particular points in space and at particular times. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p78)

A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the 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. Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated ‘basic building blocks’, but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole. (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p78)

The Tao of Physics