Awakin Calls » Fritjof Capra » Transcript
Fritjof Capra: From Tao of Physics to Systems View of Life
Preeta: Professor Capra is just an amazing intellectual thinker and author. He's is an Austrian born American physicist who is the author of the one nine hundred seventy five mega best sellers,The Tao of Physics which explored the parallel between modern physics and Eastern mysticism four decades later the Tao of Physics is still in print more than forty editions worldwide. Professor Capra has since applied the kind of broad thinking that he brought in connecting physics with Eastern mysticism to so many other of our modern systems social as well as scientific and biological systems. He regards the paradigm shift in modern physics as a precursor to what's happening in our cultural and social paradigms as well. He has written another kind of blockbuster book that is physicists of his world of his life work called The systems view of life and pieces of that through an online Capra course which he offers and which will be starting up again actually in a week or so which is a consistent twelve online lecture.There's so much I could do to say to introduce Professor Capra but I think the best is to get on with the conversation so welcome professor Capra, it is such an honor and privilege to be in conversation with you.
Fritjof: Good morning thank you very much for having you. I am speaking to you from my home office in Berkeley California on a bright and clear day and I see big crows flying around outside my window so just to give you an idea of the setting here.
Preeta: Well I wanted to start with you know a little bit about your story, you are a accomplished theoretical physicists Who really exploded into popular consciousness through your blockbuster work in the seventy's The Tao of physics which explored the relationship between modern physics, and spirituality. I'd love to hear if you would tell us a little bit about your personal story with regard to each both physics and spirituality. What was the source of your interest in studying physics and then maybe we could after that talk a little bit about your spiritual background.
Fritjof: My interest in physics actually started with mathematics. When I went to high school in Austria I was very interested in mathematics and that was triggered by a very inspiring young teacher who tutored me in math after his class when he saw my passion and some talent. Now what attracted me to mathematics was abstract thinking, the search for patterns, the search for order and that's actually the very essence of mathematics and you know at the age of fourteen I actually discovered a mathematical theorem and then I was heartbroken when I found out that it was well known in trigonometry. It's called cosigned theorem but I discovered it for myself. So I went to university in Innsbruck, Austria with the intent to study mathematics but then I switched to physics almost immediately in the first semester and again because there was a very inspiring physics professor. So in both of these cases the importance of teachers is is really striking in my student life. I should also mention that from the beginning of my studies I was interested in the philosophy of modern physics and there I was influenced mainly by the book Physics and Philosophy by Werner Heisenberg one of the founders of atomic physics of quantum physics and in this book he described very vividly how a handful of physicists were faced with a new kind of reality when they explored atomic and subatomic phenomena that fascinated me already as a young student.
Preeta: Fascinating. Before we weave this together the combination of spirituality I wonder if you could tell a little bit about your spiritual background. How you grew up and if that changed over time?
Fritjof: Yes yes of course it did change over time. I grew up in Austria in a Catholic country. I actually spent my early childhood, my first ten years of my life on a farm in Austria and I think that's also the origin of my ecological awareness that came very early in my childhood. This was my grandmother's farm and my grandmother was a very spiritual person but not in a strict catholic sense. She had a very liberal practice. A kind of birth oriented spirituality. Now I also like the Catholic rituals as a child but I got disenchanted with the church as a teenager because of its attitude towards sexuality and also because of sexual harassment of boys by priests which I experienced myself in a very mild form but still it was there and my brother experienced it and some of my friends. So in the 1960's I got very interested in eastern spirituality and that was of course the trend of the time the Beatles went to India. George Harrison started playing his Sitar. I read the Bhagawat Gita that was the first spiritual eastern text that I read. I began meditation practice and I experimented with psychedelics. I remember also that Indian art played a big role, Indian music, sculpture, paintings. Now I did not go to India until 1980's long after I had written The tao of physics. When I read books about eastern mysticism by Eastern and Western scholars and authors like people like D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts and Nand Kumar swami, I immediately saw parallels to some ideas in quantum physics and the more I read about eastern philosophy the stronger these parallels stood out for me.
Preeta: Can you describe that time when you first start reading and seeing parallel the nature of what was happening in your mind and then connecting the two?
Fritjof: Well Heisenberg in his book Physics and Philosophy had written very vividly about the paradox of quantum physics that for example electrons would sometimes behave like particles and other times like waves and in the beginning those physicists were just totally puzzled by these paradoxes. When I read Susuki and Alan watts, I read about the Zen teachings, the Zen Koans, that are paradoxes used by experienced Zen masters to expand the students sense of reality and awareness. So I immediately made the connection and in “The Tao of Physics” I called the paradoxes in quantum theory, the Quantum Koans that was the first connection I made. But there were several others & they were both intellectual and experiential.
Preeta: You have spoken about how your greatest inspiration and really weaving the two together was a vision of the cosmic dance of subatomic particles that you experienced on a California beach in 1969. Can you describe that and kind of speak to how that became an inflection point in your life’s work.
Fritjof: Yeah that was a very deep experience, a kind of epiphany for me. I had become aware of the parallels between physics and mysticism before in the mid sixties, before coming to California I lived in Paris at the time. When I moved to California in 1968, I encountered the sixties counterculture in full swing and at that time I had this very deep experience. I was sitting on a beach by the ocean one late afternoon. I was watching the waves roll in. I was observing the rhythm of my breathing.
And all of a sudden I became aware of my whole environment as being engagement in a gigantic cosmic dance. Now as a physicist I knew that the sand, the rocks, that water and air around me were made of molecules and atoms that vibrated. I also knew that these consisted of particles that interacted with one another by creating and destroying other particles. I also knew that the earth's atmosphere is continually bombarded by showers of so-called cosmic rays, particles of high energy undergoing multiple collisions as they penetrate the air. So all this was familiar to me from my research in high energy physics. But until that moment I had only experienced it through diagrams, mathematical equations and so on.
As I sat on that beach, my former experiences came to life. I saw as it were cascades of energy coming down from outer space in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses. I saw the atoms of the elements and of those in my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy. And at that moment I knew that this was the dance of Shiva, the Lord of dancers worshiped by the Hindus.
So this was an indelible experience and a view that was in harmony with ancient Eastern wisdom. I wrote several articles about this and the first actually was called "The Dance of Shiva, the Hindu View of Matter in the Light of Modern Physics". Eventually I summarized my findings in "The TAO of Physics" published first in 1975.
Preeta: That's remarkable. When you saw the particles kind of recycling, destroying, recreating and interconnecting with your body, did you at that point (I think you mentioned you already had been meditating) have this kind of an experience before in microcosm or was this really the first?
Fritjof: No, this was really the first time. I've had experiences like this after that but not before.
Preeta: What was the reaction of the physics establishment and of academia to the insight that you had and as you were starting to publish.
Fritjof: First, I didn't tell the physics establishment. Well actually I did, because I wrote some articles. And they didn't take me seriously. It's quite interesting. I think many of my colleagues felt threatened by seeing their cherished theories compared to eastern mysticism and there was a curious misconception. You see the word mystical was associated somehow with misty, with something being vague, opaque and not clear. Whereas in the mystical traditions themselves, the images and metaphors that are used all denote clarity. They are talking about cleansing the mirror, about cutting through ignorance. The very word enlightenment has the word light in it. So it's an illuminating experience but the physicists saw it as sort of vague and and misty and didn't like it or take me seriously. When I published "The Tao of Physics", they realized that the physics in the book was correct and moreover they also realized that I did a good job explaining quantum physics and relativity theory to a lay audience. They all knew from their own experience of teaching that that it's not easy. So I was respected for that but not for the mystical part. Of course the attitude changed quite dramatically in subsequent decades. "The Tao of Physics" really sparked a whole generation and maybe even two generations of similar books written by physicists and on the scientists.
Preeta: Yeah fascinating. Einstein himself when he discussed kind of relativity theory and quantum theory often drew parallels to at least eastern thinking and I know you have a great friend in Robert
Fritjof: Yeah. Einstein was not the only one. I open the Tao of Physics with three quotations of famous physicist comparing modern physics to eastern mysticism and they are Robert Oppenheimer, Neil Bohr and Werner Heisenberg and I could have added Einstein too.
Preeta: But in terms of the current work going on within the academy, it sounds like not many of your colleagues were not interested in connecting the science to spirituality at that.
Fritjof: Actually some did. There were two or three who wrote a little about it and talked about it. But I was really the first one who sat down for two or three years and explored the parallels very thoroughly and I was also the first physicist doing it from the inside in a very systematic way.
Preeta: After that experience on the beach and after publishing "The Tao of Physics", how did that shift, if at all, your academic academic focus and your own personal commitment to spirituality.
Fritjof: What happened was "The Toa of Physics" had a tremendous success. Far beyond what I had ever hoped for. So I had many invitations to talk about my findings in lectures and seminars and this brought me in contact with individuals and organizations from all walks of life. I would speak to artists, business people, doctors, nurses, psychologists, anthropologists and so on. Interestingly very often people told me after the lecture that a paradigm shift similar to the one I had observed in physics was also happening in their field. So I began a systematic exploration of the fundamental change of worldview that was occurring in the other sciences and in society of the unfolding of a new vision of reality and of the social and cultural implications of this transformation.
As I was doing that, to connect the conceptual changes in science with the broader change of worldview and values in society I have to go beyond physics and look for a broader conceptual framework. In doing so I realize that our major social issues - health, education, human rights, social justice, protection of the environment, the economy, management and so on, that all those have to do with living systems, with individual human beings social systems in ecosystems. So my research interests shifted from physics to the life sciences. I began to develop a synthesis of an emerging new conception of life and that has been my theoretical work in the last 30 years. I actually left active research in physics in the mid-80's and moved toward the life sciences.
Preeta: I want to come back to that in a moment. But before we go to that you're so brilliant at explaining how complicated physics theories to lay audiences and before we move into your shift to life scenes, I'm wondering if you can just describe briefly the insight of the Tao of Physics.
Fritjof: Well, the core insight is that when you go to atomic and subatomic phenomena you encounter a different kind of reality--a reality that is different from our everyday experience. It turns out that this reality is very similar to the one encountered by meditators, in spiritual practice or mystical experience. It is a reality where separate objects somehow dissolve into a metric of relationships and into patterns of energy, patterns of relationships. So the fundamental interconnectedness of all reality, including the human observer, is one key aspect that modern physics has in common with those spiritual traditions. The other key aspect is that this reality is fundamentally interconnected and this reality is dynamic. These metrics are patterns of energy, and energy is always a measure of activity. So the world is alive, the world is continually moving and changing and transforming. This is an insight of modern physics and an insight of the mystical traditions. So that is very briefly the two key points.
Preeta: Yes, that's fascinating. So in your shift away from physics towards the life sciences, can you describe that a little more? You mentioned that you that you were moving towards an interest in living systems and ecology.
Fritjof: Well, it was as I said. I explored the paradigm shift in these other fields, beginning with health and health care. In my second book, the Turning Point, I focused on four areas-- biology, medicine, psychology and economics. So to describe those fields, I had to go beyond physics, and I was looking around for a conceptual framework to discuss the paradigm shift in those areas and this is how I encountered systems thinking,systems theory and, later on, complexity theory, and also ecology. Ecology, actually, from the very beginning in the Tao of Physics on the last page of the book, I called the emerging new world view, an ecological world view. Ecology is a science of relationships and of interconnectedness. It took me 20 or 30 years to elaborate this new conceptual framework and of course I was influenced by many scientists, philosophers and other thinkers in that endeavor.
Fritjof:: You mentioned that you started realizing that most of our largest problems in energy, environment, food security, financial security are interconnected and are different facets of a single crisis. I think you called that an error of perception, thinking that it is a single crisis. Can you describe that error?
Fritjof: Well, the error is that our established academic disciplines, as well as our economics and politics and health care and all of these fields, model themselves after physics. They model themselves after Newtonian physics, which describes the world essentially as a machine consisting of isolated elements and basic building blocks. A machine that can be taken apart, and when there is something wrong with the machine, you have to find the part that is malfunctioning and fix it or replace it. If you think of it, that is the approach of conventional medicine. To find a part of the body that is not working and then correct it, either through surgery or through chemical drugs and so on. So this mechanistic world view is being replaced by one that I first called a holistic worldview, that I now call a systemic worldview--the two are pretty much synonymous--which sees the world not as a machine but rather as a living network, or perhaps as networks within networks. Now what is a network? Everybody knows a network is a certain pattern of relationships and links between nodes. In order to understand networks, we need to be able to think in terms of relationships and in terms of patterns; that thinking is called systems thinking, or systemic thinking in science and that is why I call this new paradigm the systems view of life.
Preeta: Fabulous! So the mechanistic way of thinking, as the way you've described it,like the way medicine approaches things, it is really treating the parts of the whole--the constituent parts.
Fritjof: Yes, systems thinking began in the 1920s and 30s in Europe in interdisciplinary dialogues between biologists, psychologists and ecologists. In all of these fields, scientists discovered that a living system is an integrated whole whose properties cannot be derived from the smaller parts. For instance, to stay with the health field, my state of health is not the sum of my fingers and toe and my heart, but it derives from the interactions between those parts and patterns of relationships. When those patterns are in harmony, there is a dynamic balance and I feel healthy. Moreover, this includes both the physical aspects of the organism and the psychological aspects. So there is psychosomatic quality to health at all levels. To understand this, you have to think in terms of connectedness and in terms of relationships, and this is systemic thinking.
Preeta: So let's think about this paradigm shift between the mechanistic worldview and the holistic world view in application to our social systems, especially our systems of governance and maybe economics. What would disruptions in the vision we now have of the state and the economy be if we would shift to a more holistic view?
Fritjof: First of all, I think we need to realize that the systems view of life has important applications in almost every field of study and every human endeavor because most phenomena we deal with our personal and professional lives have to do with living systems. This fundamental shift of perception from the mechanistic to the systemic view of life is relevant to all these areas. In fact, in my textbook, the Systems View of Life, which I have co-authored with, Pier Luigi Luisi, a professor of biochemistry in Rome, in this book, over half of the book is concerned with the application of the systems view of life. In terms of governance, and economic organization, there are two main applications,. The first is that the economy needs to be consistent with and needs to honor the basic principles of ecology. That means it needs to be embedded in ecosystems that are cyclical and it needs to be fueled by solar energy just as ecological systems are and it needs to be cooperative, it needs to be diverse, and so on. The second implication is that economic theory and practice, as well as governance need to see the economy as operating within a series of concentric spheres--the largest being nature, then society within nature, then culture within society, then economics as part of culture. That is very different from what we think today where the economy and economics is dominating all of these spheres. Now both of these implications, the consistency with the principles of ecology and the right place in nature implied in the term ecological economics which is an important new discipline.
Preeta: Maybe we can shift back to your journey and the personal and the role of the individual. You've talked about the role of farming in your life and growing up the first ten years of your life in self-sufficient eco-system, of your family providing for itself off the land. And I know you're involved in teaching at Schumacher College (https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/) which of course is named after E.F. Schumacher who wrote 'Small is Beautiful'. And given our complex vast systems that exist in this world, how do we begin to shift those systems back towards this holistic set of self-sufficient communities? I'm just wondering how does system change happened.
Fritjof: In my experience (and that has taken me many years to realize), I believe today that the most effective way of bringing about this shift in consciousness is through community, that is by forming and nurturing communities. Schumacher College is a good example of a learning community. People not only learn together there for a number of weeks but they also live together and they work together to keep up the college, which means they cook and clean and garden. While they're doing it, they are talking to each other all the time. They come from all parts of the world and that's an ongoing conversation. So at the end of even one or two weeks, there's a very strong feeling of community. What I have realized is that, the systems view of life is all about relationships. And community is all about relationships. So when you learn in community this means that you experience relationships, human relationships, while at the same time discussing the nature of relationships and of course when you discuss things all the time you form not only human relationships but also conceptual relationships. So in my experience, true transformative learning takes place most naturally in community. And if is the strongest when you have two things coinciding - intellectual challenge and emotional safety. So in places like Schumacher College there's intense intellectual discussion. And unlike in our academic institutions where there is this vicious competition often, people feel totally safe in the learning community. That really stimulates creativity and transformative learning.
Preeta: Speaking of community and transformative learning I just want to point out that there are couple of hundred people on this call. So we consider these conversations we have as co-created space. So if you'd like to offer a reflection or question at any point in this call, please feel free to get the Q. And we will endeavor to bring as many voices into the conversation as possible.
Fritjof: I'm glad you mentioned this because you know communities are the strongest when you live together. But in these days of the Internet, you can create online communities. And that's what you're doing and that's what I'm doing with my Capra course. I have students from all over the world, usually about 115 each course, and we have a discussion forum in which I participate every day during the course. People network and discuss things and form projects from around the world. So although they don't meet, they meet online and form a very vibrant community.
Preeta: What is your experience with a Capra course. How many sessions have you offered? Tell us about the alumni.
Fritjof: I have taught it for two years. I teach a course in the Spring and a course in the Fall. We have an alumni network of about 500 active members. Who engage in lively discussions. who form discussion groups, form projects. Since there are so many now, we also have alumni meetings, face to face meetings. So we've had meetings in Berkeley, California, also in Paris, in Buenos Aires, in Santiago de Chile and in various other places. There is a growing network of systematic thinkers and actors. To me this is very hopeful and very inspiring and I absolutely love it.
Preeta: So in terms shifting consciousness in order to create these systems changes that you need to happen because of our errors of perception. I'm just wondering if you can kind of tell what gives you hope right now in terms of activists and movements in the world today?
Fritjof: Well, two developments give me hope. The first is the recent emergence of a global civil society, an international coalition of NGOs including both scholars and activists. Over the last few decades the research institute and centers of learning of this global civil society have developed and tested hundreds of solutions for major problems all over the world. When I say solutions, what I mean is, systemic solutions. Solutions that do not try to solve a problem in isolation, but always in the context of other problems. Because the problems as we have said before are all interconnected, they are systemic problems, so they need systemic solutions. In our textbook we dedicate about sixty pages to detailed discussions of the most effective of these solutions.
Let me just mention a few. They include proposals to reshape economic globalization and restructure corporations. New forms of ownership that are not extractive but generative. Then a wide variety of systemic solutions to the interlinked problems of energy, food, poverty and climate change. Finally the large number of systemic design solutions known collectively as "eco design". So these systemic solutions provide compelling evidence that the transition to a sustainable future is no longer a technical nor a conceptual problem. It is a problem of Political Will and Leadership. So that would be the first area where I have a lot of hope. The second development that gives me hope is the fact that our youth today lives in social networks, which means that thinking in terms of networks, in other words systems thinking, has become second nature to them. So they have already taken the first important step to think systemically which is essential for solving our global problems and moving toward a sustainable future and that also gives me great hope.
Preeta: You've written about Global Capitalism as well as and some of its problems. You've talked about the need for fundamentally redesigning it. Wondering if you can talk a little bit about that and especially the role of the individual in kind of being part of the redesign of capitalism.
Fritjof: I have struggled with this for a long time and not surprisingly :) I have been very inspired by two recent books by the same author. Her name is Marjorie Kelley. The first book is called "The Divine Right of Capital". In this book she argues that the current wealth discrimination, in which the rich corporations try to maximize the return of their shareholders while minimizing the income of their employees, that this inequality is rooted in the ancient aristocratic ideology that those who own property or wealth are superior (the aristocrats) and that their rights were granted by divine authority. Her second book is called "Owning Our Future" and is also very relevant to our discussion here. In this book, Kelly identifies ownership as the fundamental issue that defines corporations today. She distinguishes between extractive ownership (the conventional corporate ownership model) and what she calls generative ownership.
This ownership generates well being and sustains the flourishing of life. She points out that today we are at the beginning of ownership revolution, a revolution that goes beyond capitalism and socialism, the 2 traditional models, creating the new forms of private ownership for the common good. And she actually traveled around the world to study these new forms of ownership and describes numerous models of this kind, workers owned businesses. Green Guilds created by small investors. Community land trusts. Co-ops and nonprofits forming solidarity economy. Community banks and so on. In fact, your organization, ServiceSpace would be such an example of ownership model. Don't you think? Ownership of different kind. She calls it generative ownership. So, these are positively and tremendously and hopeful of how to redesign capitalism from the grassroots. Everybody has a change to participate in that.
Preeta: Do you have any views with respect to the gift economy and the role of moving beyond money in exchange as basis for relationships?
Fritjof: Yes, I do. Again, there is some very interesting work...a Belgian economist Bernard Lietaer, who for a long time, promoted local currencies and with local currencies comes with barter exchange-the gift economy. Lietaer makes an interesting point that in the ecosystem is very diverse. Diversity assures resilience. Whereas, in our global economy, there is only one kind of money, one kind of banking system. So, he promotes different kinds of exchanges...different kinds of dealing with money and wealth to increase the diversity of economy.
Preeta: I know we have a number of comments coming in and some calls, so I want to leave some time for engagement with the audience, but before we get to that, I'm curious, in terms of your own spiritual journey and practices now, can you talk a little bit about who inspires you and what your practice realms are?
Fritjof: I am close to Buddhism. I try to live my life in the Buddhist spirit. My experience with Buddhism changed quite a bit the first time I went to India and Sri Lanka. I realize in the west, we tend to associate Buddhist practice with meditation. That is correct, but that is only one part of Buddhist practice. If you remember Buddha proposed an 8 fold way, 8 principles to lead your life. The first one comes with right seeing, right speaking, right livelihood, and so on. The last one is right contemplation, which is meditation. So Buddhist practices really encompasses the way you lead your life., whether you have integrity, you are ethical. And that is what I try to do in my practice. In terms of meditation, I am also a practitioner of Tai-Chi, which I've been practicing for 20-30 years. That is a mind-body, mindfulness practice, which I enjoy tremendously.
Preeta: I want to talk a little bit about the role of art in paradigm shift. I know that after you published the Tao of Physics that some of your early audiences sought you out and there are many and some of them are groups of artists. It's interesting because in some ways, modern art and physics preceded other arts and sciences in recognizing the limitations of the mechanistic worldview. At the start of the 20th century, saw the abstraction in art, the shift in perspective. I'm wondering what you think now, a century later? What do you see art as being the forefront of the shift in consciousness?
Fritjof: Well, I've always been attracted to art and artist. My friends and life partners have all been artists. Art is very important in my life. My first audience when I started lecturing about the Tao of Physics long before the book was established were artists in London in art schools. What I see now that art can be a powerful way to shift from the machine to patterns of relationships For 2 reasons, one is that artist works is essentially the search of patterns whether you talk about visual arts, or dance, theater about music, it's always a quest for patterns. Thinking in terms of patterns is essential element to art and artists. The other part is art is not purely intellectual exercise, but it's emotional. It grabs you emotionally. A work of art engages you emotionally. And that is very important today because when we teach ecology, sustainability, systems of life, it has a strong conceptual component, but it also has emotional component because the survival of humanity is literally at stake. And artists bring across the emotional component. So, art that is socially engaged and environmentally engaged is extremely important to me. I should mention one thing, one environmental artist is Andy Goldsworthy in Scotland. I'm very happy 2 of my books have the works of art by him on the cover. The systems of life has a network made of sticks stuck in a lake on the cover. Extremely beautiful image of ecological interconnectedness.
Preeta: Wow, that was fabulous. I want to come back when you were talking about the shift in consciousness and the role of the individual and what gives you hope. You mentioned kind of the will, whether it's the political will in political leaders that can help create the conditions for the part in the shift. I wonder there's a view that one can't dismantle the master's house using the master's tools. And I'm wondering what you think is the role of political leadership in bringing about the shift?
Fritjof: Well, first of all, I agree completely with that view. It reminds me of the saying about Einstein where Einstein said more or less that our problems can not be solved with at the level of thinking that created them. So, we need a new way of thinking. I'm sorry I forgot the question...
Preeta: I'm just thinking about just the role of politics and political leadership, not political powers bringing about big tools as opposed to ripples or changes in grassroots level of consciousness.
Fritjof: First of all, when we speak of power, we need to distinguish about 2 kinds of power. One is power as domination of others and that is the conventional sense of power.
When I'm powerful I can tell people what to do and I can threaten them, I can use force, I can use sanctions and so on, that's conventional politics. But there's another kind of power which is power of Empowerment. That's the power more appropriate for network because by linking people to the network, as we do right now in this conversation, we empower them to be active to do things, to learn. So that power of empowerment goes more with the paradigm of networks. In terms of centers of power in our world today, I believe that there are three centers of power today. The two conventional centers would be Government and Business. And there are numerous interactions between the two. The third center, which is relatively new, is Civil Society. Now civil society has existed for a long time as an interface between the individual and government but today we have a global civil society that is composed of a coalition of NGOs around the world. Which is very powerful, powerful in terms of empowerment. I believe to move toward a sustainable world we need the cooperation of these three centers of power - Government, Business and Civil Society. Each of the centers bring something different to the table. Government has the ability of laws and regulations. Business has great know-how in solving problems. Civil society has values and ethics, which are largely absent in Government and Business. So a cooperation of these three, I think, is absolutely essential.
Preeta: So just to close off my portion, I wonder if we can turn back to the Capra Course for a moment. You have shifted a lot of your energy which was focused on academia and workshops and seminars, to focusing on this online Capra Course. I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about why that is currently the focus of your efforts and what you hope can come about through this ecosystem you are creating.
Fritjof: It started actually when I presented our textbook - "The Systems View of Life" to various faculty, at various universities that invited me. I found that university professors had great difficulties in figuring out how they would use this as a textbook and teach it as a course. Because it is inherently multidisciplinary and that's true for systems thinking. It is trans-disciplinary. So a biology professor would say "well how can I talk about cognition" or "how can I talk about economics". So I tried to put together a Model Course. So Capra Course is my model course of how to teach the system's view of life, in an inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary way, in a co-operative way. It is a dream that I've had for many years and I'm very happy with it. It consists, as you mentioned before, of 12 pre-recorded lectures. They were recorded in Brazil, for some historical reasons, in a very beautiful environment, the living room of an architect, with a lot of art. And with a small community of participants, sitting on the floor, sitting on couches and chairs, and participating in the course. Outside the windows you see a beautiful tropical garden. You are in contact with nature. And the lectures are recorded highly professionally with four cameras, a lot of graphics and so on. Then I have a discussion forum, as I mentioned, where I interact with my students every day and that's what I enjoy most. I find that even though there is no face-to-face interaction like in a classroom, the discussions tend to be more substantial. Because in a classroom when somebody asks me a question, well I have to answer, whether I know a good answer or not, I have to answer. Online, that's not true. I can think about it, I can walk away and think about the question for a couple of hours. I can look things up. I can do some internet research. And in my answer usually I not only give an answer but also give references to books or videos to Ted Talks and so on. And the course participants do the same, the questions are formulated in a more succinct form.
Online that is not true. I can think about it. I can walk away and think about the question for a couple of hours. I can look things up. I can do some internet research, and in my answer, usually I not only give an answer, but I also give references to books or to videos to TedTalks, and so on.The course participants do the same. The questions are formulated in a more succinct form.
Pancho: Ola! Hermanito, Pavi, y Preeta. Buenos Dias. Hello, Brother Fritjof, great to hear your voice twice, two days in a row, brother. Just talking about community and emergence. It so happens through the ServiceSpace ecosystem we ended having breakfast yesterday and some people argued that spiritual centers are those which can integrate new ideas and be more dynamic. So here in the Bay Area, Ohlone land seems to be one of those centers.
So I have a couple of questions. So in the face of the recent arrests of the immigrants by La Migra, by ICE here in the Bay Area and the more exciting emergence of these global societies that you are talking about, this planetary movement of citizens and farmers of the world, what do you still think about watershed-based organizing? That is reorganize these political borders, to reorganize this obsolete nation-state into bio-regions, a hyper-local revolution where we have water protectors and land protectors and air protectors at a watershed level. That is the first question.
And the second one, is that yesterday during breakfast, I was so excited to hear about this initiative that you are supporting in the part of the planet we call Puerto Rico--La Guardia Soledad--Solar Neighborhood. Can you share a little bit of what the role of a revolutionary love of women and how Paz de la Mujer is peace for women are making this amazing effort over there. So if you can touch and perhaps with both.
Fritjof: Ok, well it is very amazing to me, let me say that somebody whom I met yesterday in Berkeley is the first caller in this global network. With regard to bio-regions, that of course is an old idea that is several decades old and I fully agree that it would be very helpful to reorganize political regions and make them consistent with bio-regions It would also be helpful in global politics to reorganize political borders to make them consistent with cultural regions and with nations. For instance, the Kurds are a nation that lives in different countries or the Basques are a nation that live in France and Spain and so on. So these political boundaries were created by colonialism and imperialism in the past. And it would be extremely healthy to adapt them both to bioregions and to cultural regions.
You asked about Barrio Solar. Some of the alumni of my Capra Course and I and my wife Elizabeth got together when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and we formed an aid organization which we called Barrio Solar, and what we are doing is buying off the grid solar units and shipping them to Puerto Rico. These are small kits that you can use to have light, to run your laptop, to charge your cell phone and so on. And we have a crowd funding system, the site is barriosolar.org, and we have raised about $19,000 so far and have made three shipments to Puerto Rico and they are distributed there by a network of women who run women's shelters and they are called Paz Para La Mujer--Peace for Women. And we are very proud and happy of this initiative.
Pavi: Thank you for that. We have a question from Gayathri in Chennai. She says, "I have a question for Professor Capra on whether participating in social networks online really trains people for systems thinking or whether you just hunk down into silos carefully curating online personas instead of showing up with their whole self? I think the need to learn spiritual or other respectful slow engagement tools to hold space, tools to deal with community and the many diverse voices and tensions it can engender to truly tap the power of network thinking. What are your thoughts?
Fritjof: Well, I would say that I'm old enough to remember networking long before the internet. I'm part of a global community, a global network of thinkers and activists who started networking in the 1970s, visiting with each other, communicating with one another and in the 1990s when the internet was invented and developed, we added the digital component to our interactions, but we did not leave off the personal interactions. So I think it is very important to keep both.
To mention a few people in my network, Hazel Henderson or Satish Kumar, Vandana Shiba, David Ore, and many, many others. And we don't see each other often, we do see each other once a year or twice a year or once every two years, and we are in contact by email and our websites, but we do have the personal interactions. I think that is very important, as you say. They are slower and they are fuller. They involve and engage the entire person. And I think that is extremely important.
Pavi: How has your work in systems thinking and your research played into your journey as a parent?
Fritjof: Well, it had a huge influence, because I have been involved in education for a very long time at the university level as a teacher, and I had often lectured about education and applying the systems view to education, but when my daughter was born. I have one daughter who is now 32. When she was born in 1986, education took on a very personal dimension. And so at that time, cofounded an organization called Center for Ecoliteracy. Where we teach teachers to teach ecology and systems thinking to children, to school children. And we do so, by taking kids out into nature, into a school garden or into a creek restoration project, onto a beach, into some ecosystem where they can study nature, learn the basic principals of ecology and work with their hands.
And so I have been involved in this kind of education for over 20 years now. And it was really triggered by the birth of my daughter and a more personal involvement in education of small children.
Pavi: That is so beautiful. We have a question from David Fryberg from Connecticut who says, "Thank you for your great work. I agree that reductionism and rigidly controlled experiments have made understanding the system more difficult. Conversely, the concept of entanglement challenges the ability of an experiment to accurately render truth. Does the concept of particle entanglement relate to your concept of systemic connection? And if so, can you describe that more and perhaps offer an example?
Fritjof: Yes, this is a difficult question. Well, the question is not difficult, but the subject is difficult. Entanglement is a quantum phenomenon that says that when you have two particles or two atoms that are created in a single process, they form a unit and even when they are separated by large distances they still form a unit. And so if you change something in one of these particles, the other one will change too without a single going across. This was a huge discussion point in the very beginning of quantum theory, mainly a discussion between Einstein and Bohr. Einstein in relativity theory was focusing on signals that cannot travel faster than the speed of light. And this kind of entanglement in quantum physics seems to contradict that and it has been proven and what is most amazing to me, you asked for applications, what is most amazing to me is that this is such an esoteric concept of quantum physics and it is now applied to communication and encryption in satellites, in very sophisticated technologies. They actually apply the principle of entanglement.
In the broader sense, it is just one of the many examples of interconnectedness. The fundamental interconnectedness of the world has many levels, many dimensions, and that is one of the more mysterious and esoteric ones.
Pavi: I had a question related to something I read in your acknowledgements to your book, The Hidden Connections. You start out by saying that for the past 25 years, your style of research has relied heavily on dialogues and discussions with individuals in small groups, friends and colleagues. And that most of your ideas and insights originated from those conversations. Can you say more about your process of dialoguing and your creative process in conversation?
Fritjof: Well, first of all, you see, my contribution to science essentially has been to interconnect ideas and people. Beginning with the Tao of Physics and all the way up to the systems view of life. I make interconnections. I discover patterns of relationships. And so, in order to make these connections I need to really understand what people are doing in various fields and this is a huge problem when say around 1980 when I began to write my second book, The Turning Point. I wanted to write about economics, about psychology, about medicine, and I couldn't go and study those fields. That would take much too much time. I couldn't even go into a library and consult textbooks, because I wouldn't know which ones were good, which ones were not so good.
So I needed help from people who were experts in their fields. So over the years, I developed the ability to recognize people who are original thinkers and who share the basic worldview with me. And I usually met them at lectures, seminars, conferences, so for instance I remember in Berkeley many years ago, I gave a lecture about the Tao of Physics and there was a surgeon in the audience. And he talked about his experience during performing surgery. And related that to spirituality.
And I thought, "Well, that is an interesting person." So I went out for a beer with him afterwards. The name of this man is Leonard Shlain. He is not alive anymore. But our listeners may know some of his books, Art and Physics, for example, was one of them.
And so this is just one example, when I recognized somebody as an original thinker who was sort of on the same wavelength as me and then engaged in dialogue. And I have continued this process of engaging in dialogue in all these fields. And so, when I wrote my books, I had a rule that I made for myself. I would also read books. Of course, you would have to read and study, but I would read the book only if it was recommended twice by two different people. So that is how I work, mainly with dialogue. And I still do. And over the years, I have become very confident. So you can put me on the stage in front of an audience with an expert in practically any field, even fields I don't know anything about, and I can ask leading questions, and I can probe, and I can very often make people sort of expand their views and go further than they usually go. So I have learned a lot in this technique of dialogue.
Pavi: It is intriguing and inspiring and in some ways, it seems like your work has kind of mirrored the subject. Your work is a reflection of your network.
Fritjof: Yes, absolutely. My technique of research and writing, absolutely mirrors the content.
Pavi: Beautiful. We have a question from Monsur Akili from Irvine, California who asks, "Our universe and our planet's self-organizing, cognitive living system. Is it possible that human being's self-awareness, the development of linear thinking, is a step towards the cognitive process of self-awareness of our planet?"
Fritjof: Yes, well, first, hello Monsur. Monsur is an alumni of my Capra course, and we also met personally. And the question is very intriguing. I would definitely say yes in terms of the planet. There is the famous Gaia theory, which says the planet is a living system. And as a living system, it has a cognitive dimension. That is one of the more revolutionary developments and insights in the systems view of life, that every living system is a cognitive system. So there is planetary awareness.
And of course, we being part of the planet are part of this planetary awareness. And in particular, part of the planetary self-awareness. Now I'm often asked whether you can extend this to the universe as a whole. And there I always have to say, that would go beyond science. But it is not too far fetched for me to imagine this possible, but we don't have any scientific evidence of the universe as a whole being aware.
And here we reach the boundary of science. And this is something I find very beautiful. That no matter how far we go in science and in our thinking. Whatever we find out is surrounded by mystery. And every new discovery raises new questions. So science is always surrounded by the mysterious. And this is also where science and spirituality meet.
Pavi: Can you speak a little bit more about that your relationship as a scientist to awe, to the state of awe?
Fritjof: Well, the state of awe, I think, is common to all people who really are interested in the nature of reality and spend some energy and effort in understanding the nature of reality. You cannot help but being struck by awe and wonder. Some of our great scientists like Einstein and Heisenberg or Louis Pasteur and many others, have expressed that again and again. Let me make it complete.
One example to me which is one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring facts of nature. And that is the following. The origin of life on earth is a relatively new and now, very vibrant, field of study. And at the forefront of current thinking is the idea that the first cells developed first as soapy bubbles in the primeval oceans. There are certain kinds of fatty substances called lipids that have two ends. One is attracted to water and the other one is repelled by water. So when you put them together and shake the mixture or have wind and waves in the ocean, they form tiny bubbles. Just like soap bubbles, if you put soap and water together and shake the mixture, you form these bubbles.
These bubbles then have evolved into proto-cells and, eventually, into living cells. And the environment inside the bubble is very different from the environment outside and so a kind of network chemistry could take place. I don't want to go into too many details, but let me emphasize one point here. The fact that these fatty substances are either attracted or repelled by water means that water has an electricity. Now, the water molecule is electrically neutral, but the electrons spend a little more time around the oxygen than they do around the hydrogen atoms.
So there is an electric polarity in the water. And without this electric polarity, there would be no bubbles, and without these bubbles there would be no life on earth. Now this electric polarity of water is a very fundamental property of the molecules oxygen and hydrogen that were created in the Big Bang ten billion years ago. And they were created in such a way as to make life possible ten billion years later. Now that to me is awe-inspiring.
Pavi: It is. And just your description of it, too, draws on so many different disciplines. There is certainly a poetry in the way you express it.
Fritjof: Actually, in the text book and in the course, I go into much more detail if your listeners are interested.
Pavi: One of listeners, Lisa, asks, "I'd love hear your thoughts on Leonardo Da Vinci who integrated art, science, and technology practice. About what creative life was like in that time frame. And does he see similarities in the movement towards interdisciplinarity in contemporary academic and business models?"
Fritjof: Yes, thank you for this question. I spent 10 years being fascinated by the art and science of Leonardo Da Vinci and by his unique synthesis. I got interested in Leonardo way back in the 1970s when I just started to write the Tao of Physics. And I always thought I would love to study his science, but as it often is in life, I never did anything about it until many, many years later in the 1990s. In 2003, I began to study Leonardo's manuscript systematically and I am fortunate that I am fluent in Italian, so I can read them in the original text. So what I discovered was that Leonardo Da Vinci was really a systemic thinker, thinking his science is a systems science. It is all about patterns, about relationships, so he compares, and he draws the turbulent flow of water and compares it to the growth pattern of plants, to the flow of human hair, to the flow of air, and so on. It is systems thinking throughout.
And at the very core of Leonardo's science and Leonardo's art is his persistent endeavor to understand the mystery of life. So the nature of life was the core challenge for Leonardo Da Vinci. And this is true in his science and his art. I wrote two books about Leonardo's science. One is called The Science of Leonardo and the second one is called Learning from Leonardo. And I was absolutely fascinated. And you are completely right, his science is completely trans-disciplinary. Of course, in the Renaissance they had disciplines, academic disciplines, but not as many as we have today.
But one thing that impressed me about him was his total absence of any fear to go into any area. No area was closed to him. He studied everything he could. He practically invented the scientific method, a hundred years before Galileo, who is credited with that. And he had a thoroughly empirical science which is modern in many aspects, although it also Aristotelian in many aspects because Leonardo just lived at this interface between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of Modernity.
But he is modern in many ways, and it is absolutely fascinating and has great lessons for us today. This is why I called my second book, Learning from Leonardo.
Pavi: There seems to be a deep questing for meaning in your work for what undergirds things. I recalled in one of your interviews, you defined meaning as the experience of context and how when you see how something belongs to a larger context and not only understand it intellectually, but when you experience this, then you experience meaning. And that relates to a question from one of our callers, D. Prasad from New York City who asks, "Can you speak a little bit about the relevance of experience and the divide with scientific and analytical methods which seek to separate our experience?"
Fritjof: Well, I think this is a very interesting question. I think if you feel that science does not recognize experience, I think that is the fault of way science is being taught. It is being taught as a largely rational exercise. You make experiments. You evaluate the data. You build scientific models and you use mathematics, at least in physics you do. And if you are lucky you get some results and you compare them with those of your colleagues, and so on.
But in fact, in the actual doing of science, experience plays a great role. One of my heroes of the early days was a physics teacher was the famous physicist Richard Feynman. And Feynman in his famous Feynman lectures, emphasizes experience a lot. And he approaches almost every problem from an experiential point of view. So he says, let's have a look at that, let's see what we can see about it. It is kind of an experiential approach. I think it should be emphasized more in the teaching of science.
You know one school that emphasizes this is the Waldorf School created by Rudolf Steiner. In the Waldorf teaching system, they teach science very much more from an experiential point of view, but in our academic world this is not so much emphasized, and it should be emphasized more in my view.
Preeta: We have a question from the back end that I want to read out from Minneapolis. Meg Wheatley sees our state of decline as being beyond the point of where we can expect those in positions of global and national leadership to be able to offer sane leadership. So it is necessary to lead at the local level to develop sane relationships. What are you views about leading at the local level?
Fritjof: First, let me say that Meg is an old friend who has inspired me very much. We did seminars on self-organization and management in the lat 90s together. And I've been in contact with her ever since. In her last book, which I believe is called Who Do You Want to Be?, she proposes that in this turbulent world, we create local islands of sanity in which we are true to our values, the values of human dignity and ecological sustainability and have ethics and integrity. In a way, that is what I'm trying to do with my Capra Course.
It is not local, but it is an island of sanity. The next course actually we start next week. And I just sent out a message to all the people who we have already enrolled quoting Margret Wheatley and this idea of islands of sanity. And I found that this really struck a chord. People were very moved and inspired by that we are forming a learning community which can be an island of sanity.
Preeta: Wonderful, and in relation to that, somebody from the University of Michigan asks, "You've noted that when you spoke with university professors, they struggled to figure out how they could teach a systems view given that it doesn't fit within a single discipline. Fortunately, there seems to be a move towards interdisciplinary in higher education institutions, but it is still couched within a highly segmented and siloed structure. Where do you see hope for the future of systems thinking in teaching within higher education, and what advice would you give to the higher ed professionals who want to bring that future about?"
Fritjof: Well, I see hope in the smaller colleges and universities. I actually have whole lists if you want to get in touch with me after the program. I'd be happy to give you a list of places where systems thinking is being taught. It is easier in a smaller college where the faculty know each other better, because it often involves team teaching. And another place would be pockets in larger universities that also exist where this is being practiced.
But the obstacles are tremendous because the academic world is organized in such a way that you get tenure in a certain field. You get published by a certain journal of a specific discipline. It is very difficult multi-disciplinary articles, but as the caller said, things are changing. It is a struggle, but things are changing.
I want to come back to what I said before, when Preeta asked me what gives me hope. It is the thinking of young people who are used to thinking in terms of networks. As this youth grows up and fills academic positions, they will not change their thinking, hopefully. They will continue to think in terms of networks and promote this kind of interdisciplinary collaborative teaching.
Preeta: From British Columbia, someone asks about or mentioned, you have made an enormous contribution to the evolving relationship between science, spiritual world views, and respect for the earth. This person is curious on your perspective on indigenous world views in this context. Indigenous cultures seem to be well ahead of non-indigenous views of the world in deeply acknowledging the interconnectedness of life and supporting an emotional or spiritual relationship or responsibility to a living earth. How are important are indigenous world views in bringing about the shift?
Fritjof: I absolutely agree. They are extremely important. Just thinking in terms of relationships is very natural to indigenous cultures. I often say in my lectures that systems thinking is not limited to science. Many of these indigenous cultures have a profound ecological awareness and think of nature in terms of relationships. There is this famous native american saying "All my relations" when they talk about the living world, the community of life.
When we started the center for eco-literacy to teach ecology and systems thinking in schools, we collaborated with an indigenous person. A Canadian teacher called Janette Armstrong who is part of the Okanagan Tribe in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The questioner was from British Columbia, is that correct?
Fritjof: So right up your way, there is the Okanagan Valley and Janette Armstrong worked with us at the Center for Ecoliteracy for many years to develop a pedagogy that is inspired by indigenous teachings.
Preeta: Great resources. A wonderful question from New York City about your beach experience. Besides from what you saw there, did it manifest in any way in your body? Any physical manifestations as it was taking place? And what do you think causes this type of experience to manifest physically?
Fritjof: I would say, it is a little difficult for me to talk about this because this was more than 40 years ago. So the experience is no longer very vivid. I have talked about it often. I have written about it. So I have to make some effort to remember what it was like. Since I have had similar experiences since then, I can do that. When I said, I saw these particles, I do not mean I saw them with my eyes. "I saw them."
I felt them with my mind and my body as a unity with my entire organism. I think that is characteristic of meditative experience. You have an interaction with the environment, a perception of the environment, which involves the integrated senses--the skin, the taste, the hearing, the seeing, everything. So it is difficult to describe, but that is what meditative experience is in my view.
Preeta: That is fascinating. And the fact that it happened 40 years ago, I'm sure some of the physical manifestations are not in the front of your mind. We have quite a few questions. A wonderful question came in from New York asking about your thoughts about randomized control trials being the gold standard of knowledge, production, and the establishment of truth for social programs. Are there limitations to our currently used scientific method for understanding our world?
Fritjof: Well, I'm sorry to say that this is an area that I'm not familiar with. And I don't have a answer to that. I should say that at the same time that I'm quite pleased about this because I don't want to give the impression that I have all the answers. So this is a question that I'm sorry I cannot answer.
Preeta: We've had a lot of engagement from our audience, lots of comments and questions, a lot of over all statements that it seems like much of our world needs. How do we wake them up? How do we get more people like you speaking about this? So I guess I would encourage everyone writing in that vain to consider taking the Capra course. And find ways of spreading the word.
Fritjof: Thank you. I would love to come back and have a conversation again.
Pavi: I have one quick question and then our final question. I was really interested that your mother was a poet. I'm sure that had an influence on you. I was wondering if there was any specific poem or verse or poet that really resonates for you that you would like to share?
Fritjof: Well, this is a little difficult, because I don't know her poems by heart and they were all written in German. Like me, she was Austrian. I have myself translated three of her poems.
Pavi: Even if they are not hers, any poem.
Fritjof: Oh, I see, any poem. I would say Pablo Neruda would be a major influence. I love his poetry. And then the Beat Poets--Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others. But I can't recite anything.
Pavi: Those are great names for people to follow up on. And our final question that we ask all our guest is how can we at Awakin Calls and the greater network of ServiceSpace, how can we support your work in the world?
Fritjof: Well, I think, I'm very grateful to you for doing what you do. For giving me this platform of a very extensive conversation. Usually, when I do interviews, it is 10 minutes or 15 minutes. On television, it tends to be 3 minutes. So to have this big space to engage in conversation, not only with you two, but with the audience is extremely valuable for me. You were kind enough to mention my Capra Course several times. And I look forward to continuing the conversation in that context with several listeners. So I'm extremely grateful to you for what you are doing.
Pavi; Thank you for you generosity with your life-journey and your insights and your unique understanding that you have of our world.
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