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The Tao of Physics

An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism

By Fritjof Capra
15-minute read
Audio available
The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism by Fritjof Capra

The Tao of Physics (1975) explores the relationship between the hard science of modern physics and the spiritual enlightenment of Eastern mysticism. These blinks lay out striking parallels between relativity theory and quantum theory on the one hand and Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism on the other.

  • Those with an inclination toward rational thought
  • Practitioners of Eastern mysticism and anyone with a spiritual side
  • Students of philosophy, science and religion

Fritjof Capra holds a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Vienna. He is a prolific author and lecturer on the philosophical aspects of modern science. Capra’s other books include The Turning Point, Uncommon Wisdom and The Web of Life.

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The Tao of Physics

An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism

By Fritjof Capra
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism by Fritjof Capra
Synopsis

The Tao of Physics (1975) explores the relationship between the hard science of modern physics and the spiritual enlightenment of Eastern mysticism. These blinks lay out striking parallels between relativity theory and quantum theory on the one hand and Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism on the other.

Key idea 1 of 9

Western science and Eastern mysticism may have clear differences, but they also share striking similarities.

What do modern physics and Eastern mysticism have in common? At first glance, it may seem like nothing at all. Physics is a science expressed through the highly precise and rational language of mathematics, while Eastern mysticism, encompassing the religious philosophies of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, is a spiritual discipline based primarily on meditation.

That being said, the two domains have compelling parallels, all of which begin with the human notion of “knowledge.” Generally speaking, knowledge can be broken into two forms, the rational and the intuitive.

While they’re clearly distinct, both forms can be seen in Western science and Eastern mysticism alike. For instance, science is widely considered the realm of rational knowledge. It’s a practice of measuring and quantifying to classify and analyze material reality.

By contrast, Eastern mystics are more interested in intuitive knowledge that goes beyond intellectual positions or sensory perceptions. They seek a nonintellectual experience of reality that can be obtained through meditative states of consciousness.

Nonetheless, the rational side of physics also enjoys an intuitive component; scientists would never get anywhere without the creativity needed to develop theories and gain new insights. Similarly, there’s a rational element to Eastern mysticism.

Much like physicists, Eastern mystics learn through observation. The only difference is that, while a physicist observes through scientific experimentation, mystics observe through introspection.

Yet despite this overlap, there’s also a fundamental difference between the fields, specifically that Western philosophy is based on a separation between the body and the mind. After all, Western philosophy, and therefore science, stems from ancient Greek learning, which was premised upon precisely this difference.

Just take the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus, whose atomist school made a clear delineation between matter and spirit. Such an idea became core to Western thought, leading to a dualism between mind and matter.

By contrast, Eastern thought has at its core a basic assumption of the oneness of all things.

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