R.I.P. Carlo Pedretti

Carlo Pedretti, the world’s foremost expert on Leonardo da Vinci, died on January 5, one day before his ninetieth birthday, in his villa in Lamporecchio near Vinci. Pedretti’s specialty was the exact dating of Leonardo’s manuscripts and drawings (see The Science of Leonardo, 2002, p. 160). His pioneering works included the annotated edition of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci at the Royal Library at Windsor in several volumes, as well as annotated and translated facsimile editions of several of Leonardo’s codices. Pedretti published over 60 scholarly books and over 600 articles on Leonardo da Vinci. One of his last tasks was to assemble a committee for the celebration of the 500-year anniversary of Leonardo’s death in 2019. I knew Pedretti quite well. He was always very kind to me, encouraging and supporting my Leonardo research for many years. He will be greatly missed by the community of Leonardo scholars.

Obituary in La Repubblica, January 5, 2018

Heisenberg and Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, ca. 1930.

Werner Heisenberg, 1933.

In 1972, I met Werner Heisenberg, one of the giants of modern physics, whose book Physics and Philosophy had a decisive influence on my thinking and, in fact, determined the trajectory of my entire career as a scientist and writer. I gave a detailed account of my conversations with Heisenberg and of my personal impressions of him in my book Uncommon Wisdom (Simon and Schuster, 1988; pp. 40ff.).

At that time, I had just begun to work on The Tao of Physics, and so I was naturally curious to hear Heisenberg’s thoughts on Eastern philosophy. He told me to my great surprise not only that he had been well aware of the parallels between quantum physics and Eastern thought, but also that his own scientific work had been influenced, at least at the subconscious level, by Indian philosophy.

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Science and Spirituality Revisited

In 1977, two years after the publication of The Tao of Physics, I was invited to speak at a conference in London, “Mystics and Scientists,” organized by the Scientific and Medical Network (UK). This conference turned into an annual event, and last April they celebrated their 40-year anniversary. I was invited again to give the keynote speech at this event, and I did so via Skype.

In my speech (printed in Network Review, the journal of the Scientific and Medical Network), I talked about the origins, the main thesis, and the impact of The Tao of Physics, which is still my best known book, and about the evolution of my view of the relationship between science and spirituality over the past forty years.

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Zen in the Art of Environmental Activism

TompkinsRemembering Doug Tompkins

Douglas Tompkins, former ski racer, world-class kayaker and mountain climber, visionary business leader, environmental philosopher and activist, conservationist and philanthropist, died tragically in a kayaking accident in southern Chile on December 8. I received the sad news while listening to the song “Imagine” and remembering John Lennon, who died on the same day 35 years earlier. It occurred to me that there is a deep connection between the philosophy of Lennon’s iconic song and Doug’s philosophy of life.

I met Doug Tompkins in the late 1980s, when he became a major supporter of the Elmwood Institute, the ecological “think-and-do tank” I had founded in Berkeley with a group of friends and colleagues in 1984. Our first encounters took place at Doug’s home off Lombard Street on San Francisco’s Russian Hill, where he held a series of informal and intimate salons.

When you entered the gate to the house from the busy street, often full of tourists, you found yourself in a large garden with lush green foliage — an oasis of peace and tranquility. To enter Doug’s living room, you took off your shoes and stepped on a pristine white carpet. The room, with its white walls and minimalist furniture, was dominated by several large masterpieces of the Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

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Capra’s life work reviewed in new Indian online magazine

Recently, a beautiful new online magazine from India, Sutra Journal, was brought to my attention. The inaugural issue, dated August 2015, includes a very extensive review of my life’s work as a writer by the Tamil scholar Aravindan Neelakandan, who also works with the ecological NGO Vivekananda Kendra – Natural Resources Development Project. The article, Fritjof Capra and the Dharmic Worldview, spans the entire arc of my work from the Dance of Shiva to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and ends with my textbook, The Systems View of Life, coauthored with Pier Luigi Luisi.

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Laudato Si’

The Ecological Ethics and Systemic Thought of Pope Francis

The title of the Pope’s new encyclical, Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”), dated May 24, 2015, and published in eight languages on June 18, is an Umbrian phrase from the famous religious song “Canticle of the Sun” by Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. The encyclical’s subtitle, “On Care for our Common Home,” refers to the Earth as oikos (“home”), the Greek root of the word “ecology,” while caring is a practice characteristic of the liberation theology of Latin America.

The text of the Papal encyclical, one year in the making and written with the help of a large team of theologians, philosophers, and scientists, reveals not only the great moral authority of Pope Francis, but also his complete familiarity with many concepts and ideas in contemporary science.

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The Unification of Physics

(This essay was originally part of Chapter 4 of my new book, The Systems View of Life, coauthored with Pier Luigi Luisi. It had to be cut due to space restrictions, and I am posting it here because I am often asked about the latest developments in particle physics.)

The two basic theories of twentieth-century physics, quantum theory and relativity theory, transcended the principal aspects of the Cartesian worldview and of Newtonian physics. Quantum theory showed that subatomic particles are not isolated grains of matter but are probability patterns, interconnections in an inseparable cosmic web that includes the human observer and his or her consciousness. Relativity theory revealed the intrinsically dynamic character of this cosmic web by showing that its activity is the very essence of its being.

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Qualitative Growth

coauthored with Hazel Henderson

A conceptual framework for finding solutions to our current crisis that are economically sound, ecologically sustainable, and socially just

The current global recession has been dominating the news since the beginning of the year. Every day we hear about people buying fewer cars, factories that produced sport-utility and recreational vehicles being closed, oil consumption (and thus the price of oil) decreasing dramatically, retailers complaining about consumers spending less money on luxury items, and so on. From an ecological point of view, all of this is good news, since continuing growth of such material consumption on a finite planet can only lead to catastrophe. Yet, it poses a contradictory “paradox of thrift.” For example, President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan, including “cash for clunkers” to increase car sales, is designed to raise consumption levels in both the public and private sectors, while increased savings are also desirable to contain deficits.

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Shiva’s Cosmic Dance at CERN

On June 18, 2004, an unusual new landmark was unveiled at CERN, the European Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva — a 2m tall statue of the Indian deity Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. The statue, symbolizing Shiva’s cosmic dance of creation and destruction, was given to CERN by the Indian government to celebrate the research center’s long association with India.

photo credit: Giovanni Chierico

photo credit: Giovanni Chierico

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