‘… the results of modern physics have opened up two very different paths for scientists to pursue. They may lead us – to put it in extreme terms – to the Buddha or to the Bomb.’
Fritjof Capra’s website
The Tao of Physics and Beyond: An interview with Fritjof Capra
Fritjof Capra on Patterns of Connection
The Tao of Physics (1975)
Fritjof Capra
In Summary

Western physics meets Eastern mysticism, revealing they have far more in common than not.


Would this page exist if you weren’t reading it? The answer might seem obvious, yet contemporary physics challenges even our most basic assumptions, including whether or not something is what it is apart from everything else. Indeed, when scientists realised that light did not exist in any single place until we interacted with it, they assumed it must be a glitch in their equipment, for something was supposed to remain what it was regardless of what was going on outside it. Yet as experiment upon experiment yielded the same results, many began to admit that things could no longer be broken down into separate pieces but existed in continual conversation with everything else, looking more like an interwoven web than a brick wall of atomic parts. Werner Heisenberg, the father of quantum mechanics, even admitted to a confidant that the new physics seemed more like Eastern religion than the world-machine of Western science.

That confidant was Fritjof Capra, who received his doctorate in physics from the University of Vienna in 1966. Armed with the alleged approval of the famed Heisenberg, Capra wrote The Tao of Physics, arguing that contemporary physics was consistent with Eastern religion, which has always emphasised the interconnectedness of all things in the face of Western atomism and individualism. Capra’s book became one of the foundational documents in quantum mysticism, helping lay the groundwork for the hundreds of works that followed.


Western rationalism began with a divorce – with Descartes dividing the world into mind and matter. All unity, freedom and spirituality were relocated into the disembodied mind, while the physical world was reduced to a machine of atomic parts. Furthermore, this mind was defined as primarily a thinking thing (‘I think therefore I am’), disposing of all that cannot be rationally grasped and put into words or numbers. These assumptions became the norm in Western science.

However, relativity and quantum mechanics soon threw a wrench in the mechanistic worldview, pausing the modern production long enough to revaluate the whole enterprise. Experiments that broke down the former distinctions between the human observer and the physical world revealed the extent to which the sheer act of observation could influence the outcome of an event. Revealing, moreover, that rather than being reduced to respective atomic parts, matter pulsated with waves and fields and could be converted by energy, with no more powerful example than how unlocking a small piece of matter led to development of the Atomic bomb. Even the distinction between time and space was broken down by relativity, revealing a higher unity (space–time). The Western picture of a rational cosmos filled with definable parts was rapidly being replaced by a mysterious, relational and interlocking whole.

While Western science only arrived at these conclusions in the 20th century, Eastern mystics have allegedly known about them for millennia. Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism have consistently emphasised the oneness of nature, refusing to dissect reality into constituent parts. While the mind makes sense of things by breaking them down into digestible pieces, Eastern mysticism has consistently recognised that reality goes beyond what is rational or describable – both scientific theory and the dance of Shiva are mere approximations of something that defies conventional explanation.


The relationship between science and spirituality may seem rocky from the outside, yet those on the inside often paint a very different picture. Capra is merely one of several respected scientists who merge spiritual meditation and scientific investigation and whose academic background helps distinguish his work from the many pseudo-scientific pretenders in the field of quantum mysticism. If Capra is correct and physics does point to a holistic and unified cosmos, then the Enlightenment dissection of nature must itself be deconstructed. Readers looking to find a way to merge science and spirituality and who are willing to read a text that is challenging on a spiritual as well as intellectual level might find The Tao of Physics both seminal and exciting.

Further Reading By This Author

While his most famous work is The Tao of Physics, Capra also authored Patterns of Connection, Learning from Leonardo, The Web of Life, The Turning Point, and The Hidden Connections, as well as co-authored Uncommon Wisdom, Belonging to the Universe, Green Politics, and The Systems View of Life.

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