In Memoriam Hazel Henderson 1933–2022

(To be published in Resurgence, Sept/Oct 2022)

Hazel Henderson 1933–2022

Hazel Henderson, who died in May of this year at the age of eighty-nine, was an influential colleague and close friend of mine for over forty years, during which she decisively shaped my thinking about the intersections of economics, ecology, systems thinking, and feminism.

            An independent futurist, environmentalist, and economic iconoclast, she argued that the conceptual framework underlying the discipline of economics has become so narrow that it has driven economists into an impasse. Most economic concepts and models are no longer adequate to understand economic phenomena in a fundamentally interdependent world, and current economic policies can no longer solve our economic problems.

            In nine books, numerous essays, and countless editorials, Hazel drove home this point for over four decades with an intensity, brilliance, and originality that are still unmatched today. She challenged the world’s foremost economists, politicians, and corporate leaders with her well-founded critique of their fundamental concepts and values. Because of her special talent for presenting her radical ideas in a disarming, nonthreatening manner her voice was heard and respected in government and corporate circles; she held an impressive number of advisory positions and cofounded and directed numerous organizations, in which her new ways of thinking have been elaborated and applied.

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Map of Colleagues and Mentors

When I was reviewing my career in preparation for the forthcoming collection of my essays from five decades (see previous blog post), I felt tremendous gratitude to many colleagues and mentors who have influenced and inspired me during various phases of my professional life. To acknowledge my debt to them I decided to document their names in a systemic way.

Click here to download the interactive PDF and then open it in Adobe Reader or Acrobat.

In the interactive PDF I have arranged their names and portraits in a network corresponding to the conceptual network of my synthesis of the Systems View of Life. Hovering the cursor over their portraits will open up biographical information about them, including my relationship with them, in the side bar. (Please note that this interactive feature requires opening the PDF with Adobe Reader or Acrobat.)

Over the years I have been influenced and inspired by many more colleagues than I was able to include in this map. To all I owe deep gratitude.

PANDEMICS — LESSONS LOOKING BACK FROM 2050

Fritjof Capra and Hazel Henderson

Imagine, it is the year 2050 and we are looking back to the origin and evolution of the coronavirus pandemic over the last three decades. Extrapolating from recent events, we offer the following scenario for such a view from the future.

As we move into the second half of our twenty-first century, we can finally make sense of the origin and impact of the coronavirus that struck the world in 2020 from an evolutionary systemic perspective. Today, in 2050, looking back on the past 40 turbulent years on our home planet, it seems obvious that the Earth had taken charge of teaching our human family. Our planet taught us the primacy of understanding of our situation in terms of whole systems, identified by some far-sighted thinkers as far back as the mid-nineteenth century.  This widening human awareness revealed how the planet actually functions, its living biosphere systemically powered by the daily flow of photons from our mother star, the Sun.

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La botanica di Leonardo

A Unique Exhibition in Florence

For scholars and admirers of Leonardo da Vinci, 2019 has been a special year. It marks the 500-year anniversary of his death. Consequently, there have been several major Leonardo exhibitions in Europe: in Florence, Milan, Paris, London, and other places. I have had the great honor to act as scientific curator of a unique exhibition about Leonardo’s botany in Florence (together with Stefano Mancuso, professor of plant neurobiology at the University of Florence), which opened on September 13 and will run until December 15 (https://www.labotanicadileonardo.it/). The exhibition is promoted by the Municipality of Florence and is sponsored by Aboca, a company producing plant-based health products (and who are also my Italian publishers).

Entrance to the exhibition in the monastery of Santa Maria Novella

The exhibition is unique in several ways. There has never been an exhibition on Leonardo’s botany, perhaps the least known of the many branches of science in which he made pioneering discoveries. Moreover, there has never been an exhibition interpreting the scientific ideas of the genius of Vinci from the perspective of 21st-century science. As I remarked at the opening ceremony:

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In Memoriam Geoffrey Chew 1924 – 2019

Geoffrey Chew, who died last April at the age of ninety-four, was one of the deepest and most radical thinkers of twentieth-century physics. His bootstrap theory, technically known as S-Matrix theory, is based on the idea that nature cannot be reduced to fundamental entities, like fundamental constituents of matter, but has to be understood entirely through self-consistency. According to Chew, all of physics has to follow uniquely from the requirement that its components be consistent with one another and with themselves.[1]

Geoffrey Chew discussing S-Matrix theory with Fritjof Capra,
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, 1984; photo: Jacqueline Capra

This idea constitutes a radical departure from the traditional spirit of basic research in physics, which has always concentrated on finding the fundamental constituents of matter. At the same time, it can be seen as the culmination of the conception of particles as interconnections in an inseparable web of relationships, which arose in quantum theory and acquired an intrinsically dynamic nature in relativity theory.

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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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Werner Heisenberg: Explorer of the Limits of Human Imagination

Zentralbild Prof. Dr. phil Werner Kar. Heisenberg, Physiker, geboren 5.12.1901 in Würzburg, Professor für theoretische Physik, Direktor des Max-Planck-Instituts für Physik in Göttingen, Nobelpreis für Physik 1932 (Aufnahme 1933) 39049-33

Prof. Dr. phil Werner Kar. Heisenberg (Aufnahme 1933)

(published in Resurgence, UK, September/October 2016)

Werner Heisenberg, who died forty years ago, was one of the founders of quantum theory and will be remembered, along with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, as one of the giants of modern physics. He played a leading role in the dramatic change of concepts and ideas that occurred in physics during the first three decades of the twentieth century. These concepts brought about a profound change in our worldview: from the mechanistic worldview of Descartes and Newton to a holistic and ecological view.

At the very core of this change of paradigms lies a fundamental change of metaphors from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network. As Heisenberg put it in his classic Physics and Philosophy: “The world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole.”

The new view of reality was by no means easy to accept for physicists at the beginning of the twentieth century. The exploration of the atomic and subatomic world brought them in contact with a strange and unexpected reality. In their struggle to grasp this new reality, scientists became painfully aware that their basic concepts, their language, and their whole way of thinking were inadequate to describe atomic phenomena.

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