Fritjof Capra

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Fritjof Capra (2010)

Fritjof Capra (born February 1, 1939 in Vienna ) is an Austrian-American physicist , systems theorist, philosopher , management trainer and author. He tries to establish a connection between Eastern mysticism and modern physics with a holistic - systemic approach and advocates a sustainable ecological way of life in a global civil society . From the mid-1970s to the 1980s, he was considered to be one of the main representatives of the esoteric " New Age movement ", a term that was later no longer used as a self-designation but was given a derogatory meaning. Accordingly, Capra distanced himself from the movement. He is the founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley , California , and teaches at Schumacher College , an international center for ecological studies in England. He lives in Berkeley , California.


Fritjof Capra was born in 1939 as the son of the lawyer and SS officer Heinz Capra and the poet Ingeborg Capra-Teuffenbach . He received his doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Vienna in 1966 . From 1966 to 1968 he researched and taught in the field of high energy physics at the Sorbonne in Paris , from 1968 to 1970 at the University of California, Santa Cruz , and 1970 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and from 1971 to 1974 at Imperial College London , University of London . He then worked from 1975 to 1988 at the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at UC Berkeley . In addition, he taught at UC Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University , published a few technical articles and dealt with his considerations regarding a correspondence ("convergence") between Eastern mythology , mysticism and philosophy on the one hand and modern physics on the other Page, for which he published several books, at times with high editions.

His best known book is The Tao of Physics (1975). Originally he wanted to write a thesis on elementary particle physics and was therefore in contact with his compatriot, the nuclear physicist Victor Weisskopf . His supervisor in Santa Cruz, Michael Nauenberg , convinced him to write a popular science book. In the Federal Republic of Germany the most widespread manifesto of the New Age was his 1983 book Wendezeit , which was published again and again . On Marilyn Ferguson's recently published esoteric book The Gentle Conspiracy. Personal and social transformation in the Age of Aquarius , he contributed the foreword.

In 2007 his work on the scientific work of Leonardo da Vinci appeared under the title The Science of Leonardo .


Capra's thinking is shaped by a holistic - systemic approach, with which he treats different areas and areas of knowledge. His work is pervaded by the attempt to overcome the Cartesian separation of mind and body and replace it with a holistic worldview. In doing so, he criticizes the mechanistic- reductionist approach that, in his opinion, dominates western science today. The analytical mind feels like Capra by elements of Eastern philosophy supplement, which is also the mystical , spiritual involve side of human life. Through the Center for Ecoliteracy (center for ecological education) he wants to teach children and interested adults a sustainable lifestyle and anchor ecological education in schools.

In his more recent works he also criticizes the unhealthy, unsustainable lifestyle of the western world and points out environmentally friendly alternatives. Instead of dominating, exploiting and subjugating the earth, Capra aims for a respectful treatment of nature and the environment, for a resource-saving coexistence of people and the ecosystem that surrounds them. Again and again he warns of dangers and problems that would arise from the new branches of science ( nuclear power , genetic engineering , industrialized agriculture and other biotechnologies ) and whose consequences, according to his description, will only suffer future generations. He also opposes unrestricted globalization based on market fundamentalism , which maximizes the profits of some corporations at the expense of the majority of the world's population. As a way out, he suggests a social, just and environmentally friendly other globalization with the help of a strengthened, democratic UN in the sense of a global civil society .

The Tao of Physics

In his first book, The Tao of Physics , Capra deals with the cultural transformation that arises from the insight into the philosophical convergence between modern physics and the Taoist traditions of Eastern mysticism. With the knowledge of quantum physics , the ideal of objective , value-free natural sciences can no longer be maintained. In quantum physics experiments, the observer is always involved in the experimental set-up and influences the “answer of nature” through his question. This shows that all research can never be value-free and that it always depends on the values ​​and ethical norms that are often not explicitly formulated in any science. The Eastern mysticism could contrast with their deep wisdom are the philosophical background for the modern scientific theories. Capra connects basic concepts of modern particle physics with Far Eastern philosophical traditions, because both results and views are very similar. In the path to knowledge , scientific studies and experiments differed from the insights gained through meditation and philosophical reflection. Mystics looked inward, explored their consciousness and incorporated the body experience into their mystical worldview. Physicists studied the material world empirically, but also recognized the unity of all things and processes. Quantum physics made it clear that the observer and his consciousness are integral parts of this unity.

Different worldviews

As in all subsequent works, Capra complains that the entire Western tradition is shaped by the teachings of the Greek atomists Leucippus and Democritus , according to which there is a separation of dead matter, which consists of the smallest indivisible particles ( atoms ), and the immaterial spirit. This dualism between mind and matter or between body and soul found its climax with René Descartes and, together with Isaac Newton's mechanistic model of reality, became the fundamental paradigm of Western thought. According to Capra, this view causes the inner fragmentation of the human being, who from then on no longer identifies with his whole organism , but only with his spirit. In Western society, this separation of the self and the world extends to the whole of society and the environment , which, in Capra's view, leads to the ecological, social and cultural crises of the present.

In contrast, the eastern view of the world is organic. The universe is understood as a fundamental unit with which man lives in harmony and to which he feels he belongs. All phenomena are interrelated and dynamic. The Eastern worldview is based on time and I Ching (change) .

Reality and relativity

In modern physics, too, the universe is seen as an indivisible dynamic whole, the parts of which are connected to one another by a complicated network of relationships. In the subatomic area, all phenomena are connected, an isolated consideration of individual particles is impossible. Only as integrated parts of a whole can their properties be understood and described in a statistical way. The probability instead of determinism has been recognized as a fundamental feature of the atomic reality. According to Capra, atomic basic building blocks are mere idealizations that enable description models. The concept of the cosmic web is also used in Eastern traditions to convey the mystical experience of oneness with nature. Opposites and polar relationships are not seen as static, but as a dynamic interplay of two extremes. Quantum physics also overcomes the separation of terms that were previously thought of as separate, as demonstrated by the wave-particle dualism . In the theory of relativity , space and time are united by the concept of spacetime , mass and energy are connected via Albert Einstein's famous formula E = mc² . According to Capra, the dynamic play of time and change in the Eastern worldview comes intuitively very close to the understanding of time in the theory of relativity - also in the fact that both directions break away from the traditional view of the causal chain of cause and effect and thus achieve a mental liberation from time. The structures and symmetries created by constant change are secondary and transitory. Atomic physics and Eastern mysticism cross the boundaries of everyday experience and come to a view of reality beyond existence and non-existence.


Niels Bohr introduced the concept of complementarity for physics , which, according to Capra, is strongly oriented towards the “ yin and yang ” principle of Chinese philosophy . Instead of absolute opposites, the dynamic interplay of complementary forces describes the basis of reality much better. The particle image and the wave image are two complementary descriptions of the same reality. Capra takes the view that science and mysticism complement each other and emphasize the rational and intuitive abilities of the human mind. What is important to him is not the synthesis of the two poles, but their dynamic interaction. In the West, the Yang principle is too much in the foreground - the rational, masculine-aggressive side of being human. According to Capra, human well-being in the future will depend on whether more Yin aspects are taken over and nature is experienced holistically.

A new paradigm - turning point

In his book The Turning Point (1982) (dt. Turning Point , 1983), a term that at times the slogan of the so-called " New Age was" movement, to Capra extensively studied the effects of Western overemphasis on yang principle: The mechanistic-reductionist analytical worldview, the exploitation of women and nature and the strong fragmentation of the academic disciplines would have made a holistic interdisciplinary view difficult.

The current economic and social problems such as unemployment , crime , environmental pollution etc. arise, according to Capra, from a crisis of perception in Western society. The modern, globally networked world can no longer be understood in the context of the reductionist-mechanistic world view of Descartes and Newton, but needs a new holistic-organic view of reality. From this systemic perspective, the diverse mutual dependencies and connections can be recognized. Capra begins his analysis of the current state of the western world with a historical-philosophical recourse to Arnold J. Toynbee , who sees cultural transitions as necessary stages in the development of cultures . Like Toynbee, Capra assumes a cyclical process of creation, growth, flowering, collapse and break-up, whereby the loss of flexibility is a sign of a cultural decline. Capra defends his idea of ​​a mythical better past and postulates that the "turning point" had come in the 1980s at the end of the age of fossil fuels, which must be followed by a paradigm shift . The most important transitions, according to Capra, are the decline of patriarchy and feminism , the near end of fossil fuel reserves and the associated cultural change.

He opposes these phenomena with the non-linear ecological and networked thinking in processes of systems theory . The system is viewed as an integral whole, the properties of which cannot be reduced to individual parts, but only appear from a certain degree of complexity through emergence . Capra applies the systems theory view to many areas of knowledge: physics, medicine, psychology, biology, economics and environmental protection. He criticizes the devastating effects of the Cartesian view of the world on the individual and on society as a whole.

As early as 1982, Capra described the beginning of a transformation into the "age of solar energy". The hallmarks of a declining culture - lack of flexibility, clinging to outdated ideas as well as encrusted and corrupt institutional and political structures - are present. For Capra, the hope for the future was the insight that evolutionary renewal processes cannot be stopped by short-sighted political activities. In an interview entitled "The solar age is coming" in 2009, he affirmed his theses and prognoses:

“The point is that the most important problems cannot be solved individually, but are interrelated and must therefore be viewed as a system. This is what I have been working on for the last 30 years: on a synthesis that offers an integrated picture of the biological, spiritual and social dimensions of life. "

The turning point became a bestseller for the New Age movement.

Web of life

In its understanding of life, Capra includes living systems on several levels: organisms, social systems and ecosystems . Ecological understanding from Capra's holistic point of view assumes that people and societies are embedded in the cyclical natural processes and structurally linked to them. In “Lebensnetz”, too, Capra would like to initiate a paradigm shift that replaces the exploitation of nature and people with capitalism , patriarchy, imperialism and militarism and instead focuses on basic values ​​of balance between expansion and conservation, competition and cooperation , quantity and quality and between Dominance and partnership establishes.

The concept of autopoiesis , the possibility of self-generation, shows that the network as a whole is generated by its components and, conversely, that each component contributes to the generation of other components in cyclic loops. In this context, Capra reports James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis , which sees the entire earth as a living, self-organizing system. He tries to describe these living systems with those of the mathematics of complex dynamic systems , which allow a quantitative analysis of the system with non-linear equations.


Capra sees organisms systemically as complex networks of relationships with one another, each with a dynamic, flexible and yet stable structure. Organisms function through cyclical feedback loops , constant flow of matter and information, metabolism , they are dynamic, capable of reproduction and highly non-linear . Through the feedback loops, every organism is in a constant process of development , learning and evolution . According to Capra, the process of creative penetration into new territory leads to an orderly development of complexity . From a systems-theoretical point of view, evolution begins in a dynamic equilibrium that tries to maintain its stability through negative feedback loops ( homeostasis ). Only when the system variables experience a critical deviation from the normal state does the whole system fall into a crisis. But such a bifurcation can also cause an evolutionary step. He also sees the ecosystem surrounding the organism as an organism that develops together with the organisms embedded in it (“coevolution”). The life of the microcosm creates, Capra argues, the conditions in the macrocosm for its further progress, while the biosphere produces its own microorganisms . Evolution, according to this systems theory, is an ever-advancing open adventure that creates its own purpose. The outcome cannot be predicted, but there are general patterns :

  • progressive increase in complexity, coordination and mutual dependence and networking
  • the integration of individual individuals in complex systems
  • the constant improvement of certain functions and behavioral patterns.

Life as a process

In its definition of life, Capra combines three concepts:

  • The organizational pattern is the autopoiesis of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela . This configuration of relationships constitutes the basic properties of the system. This includes a physical boundary that separates the organism from its environment and a metabolism that connects it to it.
  • Dissipative structures from Ilya Prigogine implement the organizational pattern in a physical structure .
  • The life process as defined by Gregory Bateson and Maturana and Varela is cognition . The constant creation of the organizational pattern takes place in this activity.

Theory of mind

In his theory of the mind, Capra follows on from the Santiago theory of the mind by Varela and Maturana, who identify the process of knowledge , cognition, with the life process. Spirit is therefore not a substrate that exists independently of matter according to the dualistic conception, but a process that is processed by the brain as a specific structure. The relationship between mind and brain is thus that between process and structure. The interdependence between structure and process overcome the old separation between spirit and matter. The distinction between determinism and freedom should be overcome insofar as a living system is determined by its organizational patterns and structure. He sees this structure as a product of earlier structural transitions that were triggered by interaction with the environment through structural coupling. He himself decides which environmental stimuli and in which form the organism reacts, whereby he himself determines its structure and is thus free. Structural determinacy therefore only means that the structure provides the framework within which the system can move. Capra also pushes the boundaries of the cognitive network further than is the case according to current scientific understanding. The nervous system , immune system and the endocrine system of hormones work closely together and together form the "cognitive network".

In the Santiago theory, cognition is understood as the constant creation of a world through the life process. Life is knowledge (Maturana). Every living being creates its own world depending on its structure. Due to the similarity of the human structures, the common abstract language and the entire culture, the different worlds unite to form a common living environment.


According to Capra (and Maturana ), awareness means the highest level of the mind, which includes self-awareness , the knowledge that one knows. Only through reflective, abstract thinking can communication arise that is understood as the coordination of behavior through mutual structural coupling. Maturana's theory of consciousness emphasizes communication and symbolic language together with self-awareness as the cornerstones with which human consciousness can be understood. Consciousness is always embedded in the social context through language and is therefore a social phenomenon. According to this theory , the felt, experienced self, the ego , has no independent existence, but arises from the internal structural couplings. Individuality and autonomy do not mean independence and abandonment if the diverse relationships within the life web are recognized. This experience of reconnecting to the network of life that surrounds humanity, the cultural, social network, is what Capra describes as the regaining of full humanity, which was lost through the Cartesian fear that arose through the separation of mind and body.

Change management

Capra applies his theory of life to a wide range of areas, including change management in large organizations, which often creates uncertainty because it is associated with an uncertain future. A corporate climate in which the vitality of the organism can be expressed remains flexible, efficient and creative. Informal networks are very important, they guarantee the necessary exchange of information. He suggests a non-hierarchical, flexible management style with strong participation of all parties involved in order to maintain the vitality of the organism of the organization. Disturbances are absorbed in a living network, which changes the network itself. Only a disturbance that is in harmony with one's own structure is understood as such. This makes the difference to deterministic, controllable machines: living organisms can only be disturbed, but not regulated from the outside. The change of organisms is not predictable, they are autonomous in this sense, in that they react to disturbances in their own self-organizing way. In 2004, Capra summarized this in an interview as follows:

“Of course you can design a company very rigidly, (...). Such an organization works like a machine; it is not very efficient, not adaptable, not creative. Such an organization cannot develop. It lacks the qualities that are characteristic of life. The alternative would be to create a climate in which the vitality of an organization can be expressed. In such an organization there are informal networks that are creative and fluid. Like all living systems, these networks react autonomously to disturbances - through change. "

Nonetheless, he emphasizes that a company is not just a living network, but at the same time and interacting with one another is also a structured organization so that management impulses can advance positive change.


With his work Tao der Physik, Capra found its way into Franco Volpi's Great Lexicon of Philosophy (2004).

According to Hans-Dieter Mutschler , mysticism and physics in the Capra sense have no point in common. The comparison is only possible because mysticism is projected into the world of everyday concepts.

In 1993 Hans Günther Ruß presented a critical study entitled: The new mysticism. Eastern mysticism and modern science in New Age thinking, in which he dealt with Capra. With his approach, Capra tries to counteract secularization in connection with the natural sciences. He claims that modern physics supports certain belief systems.

"If correspondences between physics and mysticism could be conclusively proven, the latter would benefit from the reputation of the former."

First and foremost, Capra sees commonalities in “holistic thinking” and “logic”. According to Ruß, this is an outsider's opinion, whereby Capra expects that his readers are not aware of the subtle differences in scientific interpretations. According to Capra, objective knowledge is fiction. Accordingly, scientific theories have to be denied the ability to provide information about reality. As epistemological absurdity soot refers to the fact that Capra is in the search for the truth but to physics refers.

According to Capra, mysticism also claims truth for itself. This is in contrast to his radical constructivism and subjectivism . Ruß agrees with Ken Wilber , according to which "physics and mysticism are by no means different paths to the same reality, but different paths to two completely different levels of reality, the last one transcending the first, however."

Capra fail to recognize the difference between physical and mystical holism . While mystics see the everyday world as holistic, physicists only speak of inseparable phenomena in the micro area, while the mechanism of material objects of classical physics belongs to our everyday area. The systems theory to which Capra relies is also in opposition to holism. Because she postulates the interaction of individual components. Since the theories of the natural sciences are free of religious components, no religious content can logically be derived from them.

Soot rated positively, Capra may give impetus to deal more closely with questions of quantum physics. After all, he has tried to find a style of presentation that allows readers who are not properly trained to understand.


  • The Tao of Physics. OW Barth-Verlag, 1977, ISBN 3-502-67093-5 .
  • Turning time. Scherz-Verlag, Bern 1983 (revised and expanded 1985), ISBN 3-426-77706-1 .
  • With Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics. 1984 (English), ISBN 0-525-24231-7 .
  • The new thinking. Scherz-Verlag, Bern 1987, ISBN 3-426-77358-9 .
  • Screenplay for the feature film Wendezeit (1990) with Liv Ullmann .
  • With Alexander Exner, Roswitha Königswieser: Change in Management - Management of Change. 1992. In: The systemic evolutionary management. ISBN 3-7007-0262-0 .
  • Turning point in Christianity. dtv, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-423-30371-9 .
  • Web of life. Scherz-Verlag, Bern 1996, ISBN 3-502-19106-9 and Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1996.
  • The Capra Synthesis. Scherz-Verlag, Bern 1998 ISBN 3-502-15102-4 .
  • Hidden connections. Thinking and acting in a networked manner in business, politics, science and society. Scherz-Verlag, Bern 2002, ISBN 3-502-15106-7 .
  • The Science of Leonardo. 2007 (English), ISBN 0-385-51390-9 .


  • Hans Russ: The new mysticism. Eastern mysticism and modern science in “New Age” thinking (= epistemata , series: philosophy , volume 135). Königshausen & Neumann , Würzburg 1993, ISBN 3-88479-830-8 (Dissertation Uni Mannheim 1992, 96 pages).
  • Maria Wölflingseder: Social change - from above or from below? A study of social change from the point of view of Paulo Freire and Fritjof Capra with a special focus on current New Age trends . edition sandkorn, Linz 1992, 235 pages. ISBN 3-901100-19-9 . Dissertation at the University of Vienna, Institute for Educational Science.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Thomas Angeli: Interview with Fritjof Capra in the magazine “ObserverNatur” , issue 03/2009.
  2. Denis Stern: The national writer Ingeborg Teuffenbach. PDF, Bachelor thesis at the University of Osnabrück.
  3. David Kaiser on the creation of "The Tao of Physics" in a 2007 lecture. ( Memento from July 19, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  4. ^ Sphinx, Basel 1982.
  5. a b Oliver Prange : Interview with Fritjof Capra. ( Memento of September 26, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) On: Swiss portal for communications industry, February 2004 (PDF).
  6. ^ Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-520-83901-6 .
  7. ^ Hans-Dieter Mutschler: Physics, Religion, New Age. Echter Verlag, Würzburg 1990, p. 167.
  8. Hans Günther Russ: The new mysticism. Eastern mysticism and modern science in New Age thinking. Verlag Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 1993, p. 10.
  9. Ruß 1993, p. 10.
  10. Russ 1993, p. 44 f.
  11. Ruß 1993, p. 76.
  12. Russ 1993, p. 79.
  13. ^ K. Wilber: The Atman Project. Paderborn 1990, p. 160, cit. according to Ruß 1993, p. 83.
  14. Ruß 1993, p. 84.
  15. ^ Russ 1993, p. 88.
  16. ^ Russ 1993, p. 91.