Fritjof Capra

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Fritjof Capra in 2010

Fritjof Capra (born February 1, 1939) is an Austrian-born American physicist, author and founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California.


  • 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.
    • Fritjof Capra, Gunter A. Pauli (1995) Steering business toward sustainability. p. 3 cited in: Elmer Kennedy-Andrews (2008) Writing Home. p. 13.
  • 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. Biochemist 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 symbiogenesis.

The Tao of Physics (1975)

Fritjof Capra (1975) The Tao of Physics. Shambhala Publications.
  • The influence of modern physics goes beyond technology. It extends to the realm of thought and culture where it has led to a deep revision in man's conception of the universe and his relation to it.
    • Ch. 1, Modern Physics, p. 17.
  • If physics leads us today to a world view which is essentially mystical, it returns, in a way, to its beginning, 2,500 years ago. [...] This time, however, it is not only based on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.
    • Ch. 1, Modern Physics, p. 19.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 2, Knowing and Seeing, p. 36.
  • Both the physicist and the mystic want to communicate their knowledge, and when they do so with words their statements are paradoxical and full of logical contradictions.
    • Ch. 3, Beyond Language, p. 46.
  • Whenever the essential nature of things is analysed by the intellect, it must seem absurd or paradoxical. This has always been recognized by the mystics, but has become a problem in science only very recently.
    • Ch. 3, Beyond Language, p. 50.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 10, The Unity of All Things, p. 132.
  • Modern physics has thus revealed that every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction. The dance of Shiva is the dancing universe, the ceaseless flow of energy going through an infinite variety of patterns that melt into one another. For the modern physicists, then Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomenon. Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our times, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance.
    • p. 244.
  • 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 Brahman, the ultimate reality without, is identical to Atman, the reality within.
    • Epilogue, p. 305.
  • Mystics understand the roots of the Tao but not its branches; scientists understand its branches but not its roots. Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science; but man needs both.
    • Epilogue, p. 306.
  • 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 ..

The Turning Point (1982)

Fritjof Capra (1982) The Turning Point (online).
  • My main professional interest during the 1970s has been in the dramatic change of concepts and ideas that has occurred in physics during the first three decades of the century, and that is still being elaborated in our current theories of matter. The new concepts in physics have brought about a profound change in our world view; from the mechanistic conception of Descartes and Newton to a holistic and ecological view, a view which I have found to be similar to the views of mystics of all ages and traditions.
    • Preface.
  • 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.
    • Preface.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 1. The Turning of the Tide.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 4. The Mechanistic View of Life.
  • 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.
    • p. 78.
  • 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."
    • p. 82.
  • While the new physics was developing in the 20th century, the mechanistic Cartesian world view and the principles of Newtonian physics maintained their strong influence on Western scientific thinking, and even today many scientists still hold to the mechanistic paradigm, although physicists themselves have gone beyond it.
    However, the new conception of the universe that has emerged from modern physics does not mean that Newtonian physics is wrong, or that quantum theory, or relativity theory, is right. Modern science has come to realize that all scientific theories are approximations to the true nature of reality; and that each theory is valid for a certain range of phenomena.
    • p. 93.

Uncommon Wisdom (1988)

  • The term "paradigm," from the Greek paradeigma ("pattern"), was used by Kuhn to denote a conceptual framework shared by a community of scientists and providing them with model problems and solutions
    • p. 22.
  • [Capra for instance, uses the term "Paradigm" to mean] the totality of thoughts, perceptions, and values that form a particular vision of reality, a vision that is the basis of the way a society organizes itself
    • p. 22 as cited in: Patrick Fitzgerald et al. (1995) Managing sustainable development in South Africa. p. 302.
  • In 1929, Heisenberg spent some time in India as the guest of the celebrated Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, with whom he had long conversations about science and Indian philosophy. This introduction to Indian thought brought Heisenberg great comfort, he told me. He began to see that the recognition of relativity, interconnectedness, and impermanence as fundamental aspects of physical reality, which had been so difficult for himself and his fellow physicists, was the very basis of the Indian spiritual traditions. “After these conversations with Tagore,” he said, “some of the ideas that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense. That was a great help for me.”
    • Fritjof Capra, Uncommon Wisdom, 1988, p.43.

The Web of Life (1996)

Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life (1996)
  • The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realise that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent.
  • The ideas set forth by organismic biologists during the first half of the twentieth century helped to give birth to a new way of thinking — "systems thinking" — in terms of connectedness, relationships, context. According to the systems view, the essential properties of an organism, or living system, are properties of the whole, which none of the parts have. They arise from the interactions and relationships among the parts. These properties are destroyed when the system is dissected, either physically or theoretically, into isolated elements. Although we can discern individual parts in any system, these parts are not isolated, and the nature of the whole is always different from the mere sum of its parts. The systems view of life is illustrated beautifully and abundantly in the writings of Paul Weiss, who brought systems concepts to the life sciences from his earlier studies of engineering and spent his whole life exploring and advocating a full organismic conception of biology.
    • p. 29.
  • The realization that systems are integrated wholes that cannot be understood by analysis was even more shocking in physics than in biology. Ever since Newton, physicists had believed that all physical phenomena could be reduced to the properties of hard and solid material particles. In the 1920s, however, quantum theory forced them to accept the fact that the solid material objects of classical physics dissolve at the subatomic level into wavelike patterns of probabilities. These patterns, moreover, do not represent probabilities of things, but rather probabilities of interconnections. The subatomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities but can be understood only as interconnections, or correlations, among various processes of observation and measurement. In other words, subatomic particles are not “things” but interconnections among things, and these, in turn, are interconnections among other things, and so on. In quantum theory we never end up with any “things”; we always deal with interconnections.
    • p. 30.
  • In the Germany of the 1920s, the Weimar Republic, both orga­nismic biology and Gestalt psychology were part of a larger intellectual trend that saw itself as a protest movement against the increasing fragmentation and alienation of human nature. The entire Weimar culture was characterized by an antimechanistic outlook, a "hunger for wholeness". Organismic biology, Gestalt psychology, ecology, and, later on, general systems theory all grew out of this holistic zeitgeist.
    • p. 32.
  • 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.
    • p. 43-44.
  • Before the 1940s the terms "system" and "systems thinking" had been used by several scientists, but it was Bertalanffy's concepts of an open system and a general systems theory that established systems thinking as a major scientific movement
    • p. 46.
  • With the subsequent strong support from cybernetics, the concepts of systems thinking and systems theory became integral parts of the established scientific language, and led to numerous new methodologies and applications - systems engineering, systems analysis, systems dynamics, and so on.
    • p. 46.
  • The Buddhist doctrine of impermanence includes the notion that there is no self... It holds that the idea of a separate, individual self is an illusion, just another form of maya, an intellectual concept that has no reality. To cling to this idea of a separate self leads to the same pain and suffering (duhkha) as the adherence to any other fixed category of thought.
    • Ch.12 Knowing that We Know (p.295)
  • There is no self-awareness in ecosystems, no language, no consciousness, and no culture; and therefore no justice and democracy; but also no greed or dishonesty.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.298)
  • Understanding ecological interdependence means understanding relationships. It requires the shifts of perception that are characteristic of systems thinking—from the parts to the whole, from objects to relationships, from contents to patterns. ...Nourishing the community means nourishing those relationships.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.298)
  • A major clash between economics and ecology derives from the fact that nature is cyclical, whereas our industrial systems are linear. Our businesses take resources, transform them into products plus waste, and sell the products to consumers, who discard more waste...
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.299)
  • The so-called free market does not provide consumers with proper information, because the social and environmental costs of production are not part of the current economic models. ecological tax reform would be strictly revenue neutral, shifting the tax burden from income taxes to "eco-taxes." …the taxes would be added to existing products, forms of energy, services, and materials, so that prices would better reflect true costs.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.300)
  • Partnership—the tendency to associate, establish links, live inside one another, and cooperate—is one of the hallmarks of life.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.300)
  • Economics emphasizes competition, expansion, and domination; ecology emphasizes cooperation, conservation, and partnership.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.301)
  • Lack of flexibility manifests itself as stress. ...stress will occur when one or more variables of the system are pushed to their extreme values, which induces increased rigidity throughout the system.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.302)
  • The principle of flexibility... suggests a corresponding strategy of conflict resolution. ...the community will need stability and change, order and freedom, tradition and innovation. ...these unavoidable conflicts are much better resolved by establishing a dynamic balance.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.303)
  • A diverse community is a resilient community, capable of adapting to changing situations.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.303)
  • These, then, are some of the basic principles of ecology—interdependence, recycling, partnership, flexibiility, diversity, and, as a consequence of all those, sustainability ...the survival of humanity will depend on our ecological literacy, on our ability to understand these principles of ecology and live accordingly.
    • Epilogue: Ecological Literacy (p.304)

The Hidden Connections (2002)

Fritjof Capra (2002) The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living. Anchor. (Excerpt).
  • One of the key insights of the systems approach has been the realization that the network is a pattern that is common to all life. Wherever we see life, we see networks.
    • p. 8.

Quotes about Fritjof Capra

  • Peter Senge (1990), Fritjof Capra (1996), Peter Checkland (1999), and other researchers have transferred systems thinking principles and theories into practice by applying them to real-world organizational-wide issues, thus encouraging the creation and development of learning organizations.
    • Cyndy Jones (2006) "Is your information at risk?" The review of business information systems, Vol 10 (2), p. 7.
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