- Mass Market Paperback: 339 pages
- Publisher: Bantam; English Language edition (September 1, 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 055326382X
- ISBN-13: 978-0553263824
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (274 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #753,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics English Language Edition
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At an Esalen Institute meeting in 1976, tai chi master Al Huang said that the Chinese word for physics is Wu Li, "patterns of organic energy." Journalist Gary Zukav and the others present developed the idea of physics as the dance of the Wu Li Masters--the teachers of physical essence. Zukav explains the concept further:
The Wu Li Master dances with his student. The Wu Li Master does not teach, but the student learns. The Wu Li Master always begins at the center, the heart of the matter.... This book deals not with knowledge, which is always past tense anyway, but with imagination, which is physics come alive, which is Wu Li.... Most people believe that physicists are explaining the world. Some physicists even believe that, but the Wu Li Masters know that they are only dancing with it.
The "new physics" of Zukav's 1979 book comprises quantum theory, particle physics, and relativity. Even as these theories age they haven't percolated all that far into the collective consciousness; they're too far removed from mundane human experience not to need introduction. The Dancing Wu Li Masters remains an engaging, accessible way to meet the most profound and mind-altering insights of 20th-century science. --Mary Ellen Curtin
"'Stripped of mathematics, physics becomes pure enchantment'...I don't care how dumb you are at science; you'll come away from this book feeling like a Wu Li master yourself."
--Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
"Zukav is such a skillful expositor, with such amiable style, that it is hard to imagine a layman who would not find this book enjoyable and informative."
--Martin Gardner, staff writer, Scientific American
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Top Customer Reviews
I took it up again this year after reading *Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking*, by one of my intellectual heroes, Douglas Hofstadter, and his colleague, Emmanuel Sander. They presented the compelling argument that
we can only form thoughts via analogies. From these we create the categories by which we organize our lives. The problem is that whenever we finally settle on a set of categories that we are comfortable with, it turns out that those categories don’t really explain as much as we thought they did. Our youth consists of successively having to recognize the inadequacy of the categories we have so laboriously developed--only to discover, once we've finally developed some categories that seem to work, that those categories are wrong, too!
What was profound about that book was their recognition that great scientific discoveries may be expressed in mathematical terms, but the insights came from skilled expansion of each genius' analogies/categories. Einstein's recognition that the speed of light was the only constant, when everything else is relative, and that gravity is equivalent to acceleration represented creative extension of analogies, were a total disruption of the way people had categorized things in the past.
In short, the combined conclusion that we can only make sense out of the world via analogies--and the analogies we've come up with are probably wrong--was disturbing.
After that, I read much of *The Age of Entanglement*, by Louisa Guilder. Her position is that physics is not the tidy finished product that those of us who don’t really know much about it believe it to be. Modern physics is a process that entails brilliant observations and conclusions, but very painful ones, with different physicists having very different views on what is “truth”. Basically, Einstein's tidy categories got upset when the quantum physicists claimed that in the world of sub-atomic particles there is no underlying reality that we can perceive. That is there is no underlying reality that we can perceive without changing it. The best we can do is to identify probabilities that events happen. There is no "particle" in sub-atomic particles. Einstein died being convinced that somewhere out there was a theory that could unite the perceptions of reality we have when we look at the outside world and the probabilistic understanding of sub-atomic physics. He was absolutely convinced that "God does not play dice".
The problem with that book is that in focusing on the disagreements between the physicists, it made use of extensive (and, yes, verbose) communications among them. This tended to confuse the underlying arguments.
So, I dusted off *The Dancing Wu Li Masters". (OK, I couldn't find my copy, so I bought the Kindle edition.) And yes, it is much clearer both in describing the subject matter, and in driving home the problem we have with the analogies (categories) we have for looking at the world.
The last three hundred years of (at least western) civilization have been unusual in history. Discoveries by Galileo and Newton that the physical world follows natural "laws" that can be identified and catalogued, have given us the illusion that we understand what is "reality". In the limited perspective of us walking around, this is true, and the insights have changed all of our lives. From nuclear energy to the space program, the world we understand is vastly different from what it was at the beginning of the 14th Century.
But in the Twentieth Century, the quantum physicists have returned us to the era of Eastern Mysticism. The universe is energy, that occasionally (sort of) coagulates into what we see as matter. But this is all an illusion, based on the limitations of our ability to see inside what's going on. And we are limited in our ability to see what's going on.
In Chinese, one word for physics, "wu li" means Patterns of Organic Energy. But the same syllables pronounced differently in Chinese can mean "My way", "Nonsense", or "I clutch my ideas". There is definitely something to think about, here.
At the risk of extending another analogy that occurred to me the first time I read it. We are each actually part of an incredibly realistic video game.
When I saw it in ebook format, I couldn't resist revisiting this old favorite.