83 of 84 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2003
This is simply a fascinating collection of the words of many recognized masters of physics on the topic of the science of physics and how it relates (or doesn't) to religion and spirituality. There is a short introduction by Ken Wilber. If you value such information, here's your book.
I wrote this review because the book is worth 5 stars. The one person who criticized the book, and brought the rating down to 4 stars, seemed to be talking about some other book. The review made no sense. My take is that it was a rant against a perception rather than an experience of the book. There is nothing New Age about this book. And this is much less a book about Ken Wilber's views (which are not New Age anyway) and much more a book about the views of Eddington, Pauli, Planck, Jeans, etc. If you're curious about the spiritual views of these men, here's your opportunity. Enjoy!!!
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2009
American philosopher Ken Wilber has done a great service by bringing together in a single volume excerpts from the mystical writings of the world's greatest physicists. Six of the eight men included were Nobel laureates including Einstein, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Plank, de Broglie, and Pauli.
These are the intellectual giants who gave us the twin pillars of modern physics, relativity theory and quantum mechanics, upon which all of contemporary science rests. Given the popular view that they must have been atheists it is astonishing to learn that all of them were quite explicit in expressing the need for a mystical outlook extending beyond the physical world.
Let's be clear. Wilber as editor has not pulled a few paragraphs out of context. Erwin Schroedinger for example writes of "the mystic vision", De Broglie writes that "the mechanism demands a mysticism", and Wolfgang Pauli speaks of "embracing the rational and the mystical."
None of these men were particularly 'religious' however. The popular religions of today (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.), may be viewed as specific theories of Ultimate Reality (this reviewer's characterization). They all make specific statements - some empirically testable, many others not - about people and events in the physical world and how these related to God, or Allah, or All That Is, or some similar term.
Mysticism on the other hand is not a religion but a path to understanding. It has nothing to do with religious creeds or doctrines, or whether or not there is a personal God, and certainly nothing to do with science which is something else entirely. Mystics simply believe on the basis of personal experience that there is likely to exist another level or levels of consciousness beyond that of the five senses. Through rigorous mental practice they believe that it is possible to access wisdom and insight from that level which represents the highest or ultimate reality.
Individual mystics may personally identify with one religion or another but the practice of mysticism as a path is found in all the major religions and is, in and of itself, areligious. This point is unfortunately muddied in Wilber's otherwise quite interesting introduction where he equates religion with spirituality (p.18), something most thoughtful people would probably strongly reject. One can be deeply spiritual without committing to any specific set of religious doctrines.
Finally, I feel compelled comment on Wilber's assertion that the physicists would reject so called New Age books like "The Tao of Physics" and "The Dancing Wu Li Masters". The key argument of such books is less that physics "proves" Taoism or Buddhism or some other form of Eastern esoteric thought but rather that seemingly bizarre and unbelievable statements about the nature of space and time and reality made by practitioners of these traditions appear to be supported by the findings of modern physics. (Cf. for example G. Zukav, "Wu Li Masters", p. 256 and especially p. 331).
For the last hundred years or so science and religion have declared a truce in their war for the allegiance of the mind of Man. Science would to stick to matters of the physical world while religion would stick to matters of the world beyond the senses. However as much as both sides, including Ken Wilber, would like to keep it that way, the march of scientific knowledge takes us ever forward toward a world view that challenges our most basic assumptions about the nature of human reality.
I am speaking here specifically of entanglement, the now widely accepted principle in physics that particles really do influence each other without regard to distance or time, that is, they interact instantaneously even if they are separated by billions of light years. This was scientifically demonstrated in 1982, the year before Quantum Questions was originally released, and has been confirmed repeatedly since then. Even more disconcerting are recent experiments which seem to imply that actions in the present (as we perceive it) can actually alter events that have already been recorded in the past. (Cf. Amir D. Aczel, "Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics", 2003).
However troubling such findings may be to our everyday conception of 'reality', they merely confirm Max Plank's famous statement that "those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it."
The shocks keep coming and they are getting stronger whether we like it or not. Will they lead to a total paradigm shift in our conception of reality?
The deeper significance of this book is that it shows all scientists and those who someday will be scientists that being a mystic is okay. Want to argue with Heisenberg and Plank and Einstein and Schroedinger and....?
41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 1997
Wilber selects telling comments, in their own words, from
some of the key big names of modern physics. Well edited
and insightfully commented, Wilber presents a strong case
that these physicists were indeed not philosophical
materialists, and some were outright mystical.
Thomas Brophy, PhD (physics)
56 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 1999
I am replacing a lost copy of this book. It is essential in my library. People believe the great physicists were atheists. This book will completely dispell that notion. They shared a view of Ultimate Reality (God, if you feel comfortable with that word) that is very consistant with the Eastern, yogic idea that U.R. can be known through direct experience and that all that is is a manifestation of That. If your friends tell you mysticism is a fairy tail, whip out a copy of this book. When they find that Einstein, Plank, Heisenburg, etc. even based their discoveries on it, they will have to eat their words!
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2002
If science and religion split after Pythagoras, this book proves that is really was not so. If you believe that science takes away faith, think again. Ken Wilber gives us essays from the greatest minds that shaped the 20th Century. Starting with Heisenberg and ending with Eddington, Wilbers collection of essays is a wonderful example of how it was the deepest of faiths and ideas in God and religion that drove some of the best minds. In his introduction, Wilber goes the step ahead to actually almost lay such faith and views as a precondition to stellar scientific achievement. What Wilber attempts here in his introduction is a masterly synthesis of human thought, in some bold extrapolations.
Definitely worth reading and keeeping as a precious possession.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2006
I was ready to hate this book, ready to do battle with another soft-headed New Ager who, in a mirror image of the lab coat creationists, wants to bend science to their will, to appropriate its authority to help sway, even coerce, for the sake of their grand cause. Was I surprised! Wilber's introduction is a pellucid repudiation of The Toa Of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Master and a devestating blow to the even less legitimate "What The Bleep Do We Know." Wilber even abandons his own earlier views on physics supporting his mysticism. Why? Because he read these founders of New Physics, and not one of them believed that their work supported it. And this wasn't out of their ignorance of Eastern thought. No, in fact, each of these great thinkers is well versed in mysticism and, ultimately, they are mystics themselves! Wilber makes it clear that (opposed to my belief that science can only become mysticism henchman if you lessen science) that only by lessening your mysticism can you claim it's proven in the lab. And pragmatically he argues that by hitching your mysticism to the science wagon, you are (as was the case with Capra) subject to the further results of experiments that might disprove your theory. Science is, after all: provisional, changing, abstract and only intelligible in the language of mathematics. Mysticism, on the other hand, is unmediated, absolute and ever-true. Not that Wilber walks away from his dialogue with these great scientists disillusioned. His Mysticism is firmly intact. He just admits that science is not the way to get there, except in the sense that a profound understanding of physics gives you a profound understanding of its limits, of its failure to address being as such. And it is this deep understanding that lead all these scientists to their mysticism. Science should be left to scientists and Religion to the religious. Why would you want to mix the two? Only if you want to coerce, only if you are too weak to look Shiva in the eyes. This book changed me, I hope you can read the introduction with an open mind.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2009
Any book that can end, by the introduction, an internal debate that has raged for years in my own mind all the while providing an entirely new perspective on some of the most brilliant minds of modern times deserves the highest mark.
I have struggled for years to come to terms with the balance of physics and mysticism. The Tao of Physics and such never really rung completely true for me, and I had resided myself to accepting that perhaps someday physics would explain my experiences.
This book brings so much clarity to my perspective on this matter and how they are traveling in two different directions. The critical reviews either sought something different or completely misunderstood the book (if they read it at all).
I can't get over how mystical our most brilliant scientists were. I suddenly don't feel so alone ... or insane.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2002
Aside from the great collection of writings by the world's great physicists, the introduction by Ken Wilber is worth the price of this book. If the reader can understand this well written 25 pages, he or she will be able to understand the world and our place within it. Not recommended for close-minded, pseudo-scientific persons.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2001
I am buying a copy to replace one I gave away. I can't be without this book. I had it on the shelf for 10 years before I read it last year; I wish I had not waited. As a research scientist I tend to think science governs all, and yet my own experiences suggest otherwise. This book addressed that paradox and opened my mind to considering several other possibilities. It is NOT all cliches, nor vague or difficult but it is written for an intelligent thinker.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2013
In his introduction to the mystical writings of some of the greatest 20th century physicists, Wilbur makes clear that the 'new physics' cannot be used to legitimate the mystical vision. These physicists, to a person, made the case that their equations were an attempt to model the world, not a description of reality. The mystic vision, on the other hand, is the direct consciousness awareness of reality. In Platonic terms, the 'new physics, is describing the shadows on the cave wall while the mystic vision is seeing the source that creates the shadows. The difference between the 'old physics' (Newtonian physics) and the 'new physics' (quantum physics) is that the latter realizes it is not describing reality, while the former thinks it is doing so. Wilber's presentation of the writings of these great 20th century physicists is a wonderful corrective to the supposition that the 'new physics' is somehow legitimating the mystical vision.