The Tao of Physics - Acclaim and Criticism

Acclaim and Criticism

The book was the best seller in United States. However it is not without its critics. It received a positive review from New York Magazine :

"A brilliant best-seller. . . . Lucidly analyzes the tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism to show their striking parallels with the latest discoveries in cyclotrons."

Victor N. Mansfield, a professor of physics and astronomy at Colgate University who wrote many papers and books of his own connecting physics to Buddhism and also to Jungian psychology, complimented The Tao of Physics in Physics Today:

"Fritjof Capra, in The Tao of Physics, seeks . . . an integration of the mathematical world view of modern physics and the mystical visions of Buddha and Krishna. Where others have failed miserably in trying to unite these seemingly different world views, Capra, a high-energy theorist, has succeeded admirably. I strongly recommend the book to both layman and scientist."

Jeremy Bernstein, a professor of physics at the Stevens Institute of Technology, chastised The Tao of Physics:

At the heart of the matter is Mr. Capra's methodology — his use of what seem to me to be accidental similarities of language as if these were somehow evidence of deeply rooted connections.

Thus I agree with Capra when he writes, "Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science but man needs both." What no one needs, in my opinion, is this superficial and profoundly misleading book.

Leon M. Lederman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and current Director Emeritus of Fermilab, criticized both The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters in his 1993 book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?

Starting with reasonable descriptions of quantum physics, he constructs elaborate extensions, totally bereft of the understanding of how carefully experiment and theory are woven together and how much blood, sweat, and tears go into each painful advance.

Philosopher of science Eric Scerri criticizes both Capra and Zukav and similar books, E.R. Scerri, Eastern Mysticism and the Alleged Parallels with Physics, American Journal of Physics, 57, no. 8, 687-692, 1989.

Peter Woit, a mathematical physicist at Columbia University, criticized Capra for continuing to build his case for physics-mysticism parallels on the bootstrap model of strong-force interactions, long after the Standard Model had become thoroughly accepted by physicists as a better model:

The Tao of Physics was completed in December 1974, and the implications of the November Revolution one month earlier that led to the dramatic confirmations of the standard-model quantum field theory clearly had not sunk in for Capra (like many others at that time). What is harder to understand is that the book has now gone through several editions, and in each of them Capra has left intact the now out-of-date physics, including new forewords and afterwords that with a straight face deny what has happened. The foreword to the second edition of 1983 claims, "It has been very gratifying for me that none of these recent developments has invalidated anything I wrote seven years ago. In fact, most of them were anticipated in the original edition," a statement far from any relation to the reality that in 1983 the standard model was nearly universally accepted in the physics community, and the bootstrap theory was a dead idea ... Even now, Capra's book, with its nutty denials of what has happened in particle theory, can be found selling well at every major bookstore. It has been joined by some other books on the same topic, most notably Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. The bootstrap philosophy, despite its complete failure as a physical theory, lives on as part of an embarrassing New Age cult, with its followers refusing to acknowledge what has happened.

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