The Turning Point
Reviewed by Kuldip Singh Dhir
THE Turning Point in Flamingo paperbacks is the first Indian edition of this splendid thoughtful book of Fritjof Capra published by Simon and Schuster in USA and Harper Collins in UK more than a decade back. Capra, the best selling author of The Tao Of Physics has written and lectured extensively about the philosophical implications of modern science. In The Tao Of Physics he showed how we might merge new scientific ideas with the mystical philosophy of the East and the West. Since then, he is at the forefront of the revolution in modern science which has challenged conventional view of the world, based on the thinking of Descartes and Newton and brought us towards a holistic systemís view.
The Turning Point examines the multiple crises in important areas of contemporary life including medicine, psychology, economics, political science and ecology in a bid to resolve it. This meticulous analysis is based on long years of research and discussion with scientists and exports from various disciplines.
Capraís basic thesis in this groundbreaking book is that numerous manifestations of the crisis in the world today are different facets of only one crisis, which is essentially a crisis of perception. We are trying to apply the concepts of an outdated worldview to a reality that can no longer be understood in terms of these concepts. We live in a globally interconnected world in which all phenomena are interdependent.
We need a new paradigmó a new vision of reality; a fundamental change in our thoughts, perceptions and values. The various manifestations and implications of this paradigmatic shift are the subject of the book.
The discussion falls into four parts. The first part introduces the main themes. The second describes the historical development of our traditional worldview and the dramatic shift of basic concepts that has occurred in modern physics. The third part elaborates the profound influence of the Cartesian-Newtonian thought on biology, medicine, psychology and economics; and the authorís critique of the mechanistic paradigm in these disciplines.
In this process, the author emphasises the limitations of this worldview, value system evolved on its basis and their implications for individual and social health. The new view of reality has been detailed in the last part. It contains glimpses of the emerging new view of life, mind, consciousness and evolution, the corresponding holistic approach to health and healing, the integration of Western and Eastern approaches to psychology and psychotherapy; a new conceptual framework for economics and technology; and an ecological and feminist perspective which is spiritual in nature and will lead to profound changes in our social and political structures.
The paradigm, which dominates our culture at present, comprises ideas and values associated with the scientific revolution, the enlightenment and the industrial revolution. They include the belief in the scientific approach as the only valid approach to knowledge; the view of the world as a mechanical system composed of elementary building blocks; and the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth. Scientism cares only for the rational with little regard for the intuitive. This has led to fragmentation at every level of knowledge, life and society.
The systems theory looks at the world in terms of interrelations and interdependence of all phenomena. In this framework, an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those of its parts is called a system. Living organisms, societies and ecosystems are all systems with subsystems. Arthur Koestler calls these subsystems holons. Holon is both a whole and a part.
Quantum Physics, the manifestation of an extreme specialisation of rational mind, has revealed the limitations of the mechanistic worldview. The universe is no longer seen as a machine made up as a multitude of separate parts, but as a harmonious indivisible whole, a network of dynamic relationships that include the human observer and his consciousness in an essential way. This has necessitated profound changes in concepts of space, time, matter, object and cause and effect. Capra argues convincingly that the appropriate way of approaching nature is respect, cooperation and dialogue.
The Turning Point is an exposition of the worldview brought forward by new physics, which has been named as systemís view in the sense of general systems theory. This systemic view of looking at things as inter-connections has been the most useful philosophical insight from the quantum world where we never end up with things, but face interconnections.
This is how modern physics reveals the basic oneness of the universe. It cannot be analysed in terms of isolated elements, but only as an organic whole. The traditional division between mind and matter can no longer be maintained. These are correlated but not causally connected. The new science has opened up an unprecedented possibility of inclusion of the study of human consciousness in future theories of matter.
Capraís treatise outlines minute details of biology, medicine, psychology, economics, technology and industry developed on the Cartesian-Newtonian model, and the crises precipitated by it. Against this backdrop, the systemís view of reality has been laid out. It has been applied to various areas of knowledge starting with biology and medicine, which are the basis of individual and social health. The Cartesian view looks at the individual as a machine and the new view sees an organism as a living system. Machine is constructed whereas organism grows. The machine is an assembly of a well-defined number of parts in a precise pre-established way. Functioning of organisms is guided by cyclical patterns of information flow known as feedback loops. Their breakdown is usually cause by multiple factors that may amplify each other through interdependent feedback loops.
A machine can survive alone in a given environment. An organism that thinks only in terms of its own survival will invariably destroy both its environment and itself. Universal oneness, interconnections, mind-matter nonduality, man-nature relationship, the approach to knowledge and growth in the systems viewpoint - all have a spiritual ring characteristic of Capra. In fact, the parallels between science and mysticism, which he drew in The Tao Of Physics, have been extended here to diverse disciplines. For example, he rejects the reductionist approach to illness with its strong emphasis on drugs and surgery. He wishes it to be supplemented and eventually replaced by holistic therapies with emphasis on relaxation and stress reduction.
Individuals functioning exclusively in the Cartesian mode concentrate on manipulating the external world and measure their success by the material possessions and the progress of the society in terms of material prosperity. As a result, the individual becomes alienated from the inner world. Undifferentiated economic, technological and institutional growth is still regarded as the sign of healthy economy, although it is now causing ecological disasters, widespread corporate crime and social disintegration. We have to realise that people who have to deal with structures, organisations or enterprises of inhuman dimensions invariably feel threatened, alienated, deprived of their individuality.
The journey of our civilisation along the Cartesian road has reached a dead end. The Turning Point signpost is there before us.