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"The Dancing Wu Li Masters"

An Overview of the New Physics

By Gary Zukav

Copyright © 1979 by Gary Zukav

Published by William Morrow and Company

ISBN 0-688-03402-0 (Hardcover) and 0-688-08402-8 (Paperback)

Reviewed by Michael Kisor

The Dancing Wu Li Masters   is a classic. I would recommend it to any layman with an interest in physics. It is well written and understandable by mere mortals. If, however, you are totally sciencephobic and have absolutely no curiosity about physics, you are unlikely to get your money's worth from this book. In that case, i would steer you toward The Holographic Universe.   If that whets your appetite to learn more about physics, which it very well might, then come back and read this book.

The Dancing Wu Li Masters   differs quite a bit from The Holographic Universe,   but there is also a lot of overlap and dovetailing between the two. They overlap in that the "new physics" is leading us toward a profoundly new concept of reality, and both books address this. But make no mistake about it, The Dancing Wu Li Masters   is first and foremost a book about physics for the layman. If you want to learn about Einstein's Relativity Theories, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Bohr's atom, Schrödinger's Cat, or Quantum Mechanics, i can think of no better book to introduce you to the topic than The Dancing Wu Li Masters.   Zukav does more than just present the physics, he fills in some of the context and historical background in which our science developed and does so in an interesting manner. You do not need a scientific nor mathematical background to comprehend this book, only a desire to learn about physics.

Why might you be interested in physics? Well, you might not, but then again you might and just don't know it. If you have an interest in cosmology, mysticism, paranormal, altered states of consciousness, or similar topics you may be surprised how today's physics relates. Many believe that we are on the verge of a paradigm shift in our scientific thinking. The new physics is ushering in that belief. After reading The Dancing Wu Li Masters   you will understand why people make that assertion. You will learn why it appears that our consciousness may help to create "reality" and how the scientist cannot help but influence the outcome of experiments on sub-atomic particles. You will also learn why the universe is not like a giant machine, with the implication that we are something more than organic robots or automatons. You will also see how the laymen's understanding of science is about a 100 years behind the times. You may be surprised to learn that, unlike a 100 years ago, science is no longer waging an all out assault upon religion. In fact science is beginning to support some of the fundamental tenants of most religions and is laying a groundwork for a new spirituality. I'm not suggesting that science is supporting the dogma   which tends to surround institutionalized religion. It should also be noted that these are my interpretations, not those of Zukav per se. Zukav does, however, occasionally note the similarity between science and religion, such as in this passage where he has just explained how sub-atomic particles collide and annihilate each other, and from which new particles are born:

Subatomic particles forever partake of this unceasing dance of annihilation and creation. In fact, subatomic particles are this unceasing dance of annihilation and creation. This twentieth-century discovery, with all its psychedelic implications, is not a new concept. In fact, it is very similar to the way that much of the earth's population, including the Hindus and the Buddhists, view their reality.

Hindu mythology is virtually a large-scale projection into the psychological realm of microscopic scientific discoveries. Hindu deities such as Shiva and Vishnu continually dance the creation and destruction of universes while the Buddhist image of the wheel of life symbolizes the unending process of birth, death, and rebirth which is a part of the world of form, which is emptiness, which is form.

Imagine that a group of young artists have founded a new and revolutionary school of art. Their paintings are so unique that they have come to share them with the curator of an old museum. The curator regards the new paintings, nods his head, and disappears into the vaults of the museum. He returns carrying some very old paintings, which he places beside the new ones. The new art is so similar to the old art that even the young artists are taken aback. The new revolutionaries, in their own time and in their own way, have rediscovered a very old school of painting.

It is as Mark Twain said in his essay "The Whole Human Race" when he indicated he shall not find a single original thought in his own head, nor in the head of others, even if he should have 500 years in which to find it. So it seems to be with our science as well. This is an interesting book. It is primarily about physics, but as you can see, it is not dry reading like a textbook would be. The average person without a background in science or mathematics can understand what Zukav has written. All it takes is a curiosity in the subject or the implications to which it leads.

Other comments on The Dancing Wu Li Masters:  

David Bohm, Professor of Physics, Birkbeck College, University of London, in Nature   writes:
This book is an extremely clear and easily understandable account of the latest developments in physics, which can be read with equal profit by those who have little or no mathematical or technical knowledge, and by those who specialize in the study of physics and in its research... It is to be recommended highly both for those who want to understand the essential significance of modem physics, and for those who are concemed with its implications for the possible transformation of human consciousness.
Martin Gardner, staff writer for Scientific American   writes:
Zukav is such a skillful expositor, with such an amiable style, that it is hard to imagine a layman who would not find his book enjoyable and informative.
Max Jammer, author of The Conceptual Deuelopment of Quantum Mechanics   and The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics   writes:
I enjoyed reading The Dancing Wu Li Masters. It succeeds in the difficult task of introducing the non-physicist to the spirit and problems of modem physics.
Robert March, in Physics Today   writes:
Dealing with general relativity [Zukav] manages to convey the profound mental shift required to reduce physics to geometry. This is a neat trick, considering that he addresses an audience familiar with neither physics nor non-Euclidean geometry.
David Finkelstein, Director, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology writes:
. . . this book is not only readable, but it also puts the reader in touch with all the various ways that physicists have worked out for talking about what is so hard to talk about. In short, Gary Zukav has written a very good book . . .
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, in The New York Times   writes:
. . . the most exciting intellectual adventure I've been on since reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Author's Introduction to The Dancing Wu Li Masters:  

My first exposure to quantum physics occurred a few years ago when a friend invited me to an afternoon conference at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, California. At that time, I had no connections with the scientific community, so I went to see what physicists were like. To my great surprise, I discovered that (1), I understood everything that they said, and (2), their discussion sounded very much like a theological discussion. I scarcely could believe what I had discovered. Physics was not the sterile, boring discipline that I had assumed it to be. It was a rich, profound venture which had become inseparable from philosophy. Incredibly, no one but physicists seemed to be aware of this remarkable development. As my interest in and knowledge of physics grew, I resolved to share this discovery with others. This book is a gift of my discovery. It is one of a series.

Generally speaking, people can be grouped into two categories of intellectual preference. The first group prefers explorations which require a precision of logical processes. These are the people who become interested in the natural sciences and mathematics. They do not become scientists because of their education, they choose a scientific education because it gratifies their scientific mental set. The second group prefers explorations which involve the intellect in a less logically rigorous manner. These are the people who become interested in the liberal arts. They do not have a liberal arts mentality because of their education, they choose a liberal arts education because it gratifies their liberal arts mental set.

Since both groups are intelligent, it is not difficult for members of one group to understand what members of the other group are studying. However, I have discovered a notable communication  problem between the two groups. Many times my physicist friends have attempted to explain a concept to me and, in their exasperation, have tried one explanation after another, each one of which sounded (to me) abstract, difficult to grasp, and generally abstruse. When I could comprehend, at last, what they were trying to communicate, inevitably I was surprised to discover that the idea itself was actually quite simple. Conversely, I often have tried to explain a concept in terms which seemed (to me) laudably lucid, but which, to my exasperation, seemed hopelessly vague, ambiguous, and lacking in precision to my physicist friends. I hope that this book will be a useful translation  which will help those people who do not have a scientific mental set (like me) to understand the extraordinary process which is occurring in theoretical physics. Like any translation, it is not as good as the original work and, of course, it is subject to the shortcomings of the translator. For better or worse, my first qualification as a translator is that, like you, I am not a physicist.

To compensate for my lack of education in physics (and for my liberal arts mentality) I asked, and received, the assistance of an extraordinary group of physicists. (They are listed in the acknowledgments). Four of them, in particular, read the entire manuscript. As each chapter was completed, I sent a copy of it to each physicist and asked him to correct any conceptual or factual errors which he found. (Several other physicists read selected chapters).

My original intention was to use these comments to correct the text. However, I soon discovered that my physicist friends had given more attention to the manuscript than I had dared to hope. Not only were their comments thoughtful and penetrating, but, taken together, they formed a significant volume of information by themselves. The more I studied them, the more strongly I felt that I should share these comments with you. Therefore, in addition to correcting the manuscript with them, I also included in the footnotes those comments which do not duplicate the corrected text. In particular, I footnoted those comments which would have slowed the flow of the text or made it technical, and those comments which disagreed with the text and also disagreed with the comments of the other physicists. By publishing dissenting opinions in the footnotes, I have been able to include numerous ideas which would have lengthened and complicated the book if they had been presented in the text. From the beginning of The Dancing Wu Li Masters to  the end, no term is used which is not explained immediately before or after its first use. This rule is not followed in the footnotes. This gives the footnotes an unmitigated freedom of expression. However, it also means that the footnotes contain terms that are not explained before, during, or after their use. The text respects your status as newcomer to a vast and exciting realm. The footnotes do not.

However, if you read the footnotes as you read the book, you will have the rare opportunity to see what five of the finest physicists in the world have to say about it as they, in effect, read it along with you. Their footnotes punctuate, illustrate, annotate, and jab at everything in the text. Better than it can be described, these footnotes reveal the aggressive precision with which men of science seek to remove the flaws from the work of a fellow scientist, even if he is an untrained colleague, like me, and the work is nontechnical, like this book.

The "new physics", as it is used in this book, means quantum mechanics, which began with Max Planck's theory of quanta in 1900, and relativity, which began with Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity in 1905. The old physics is the physics of Isaac Newton, which he discovered about three hundred years ago. "Classical physics" means any physics that attempts to explain reality in such a manner that for every element of physical reality there is a corresponding element in the theory. Therefore, "classical physics" includes the physics of Isaac Newton and relativity, both of which are structured in this one-to-one manner. It does not, however, include quantum mechanics, which, as we shall see, is one of the things that makes quantum mechanics unique.

Be gentle with yourself as you read. This book contains many rich and multifaceted stories, all of which are heady (pun?) stuff. You cannot learn them all at once any more than you can learn the stories told in War and Peace, Crime and Punishment,  and Les Miserables  all at once. I suggest that you read this book for your pleasure, and not to learn what is in it. There is a complete index at the back of the book and a good table of contents in the front. Between the two of them, you can return to any subject that catches your interest. Moreover, by enjoying yourself, you probably will remember more than if you had set about to learn it all.

One last note; this is not a book about physics and eastern philosophies. Although the poetic framework of Wu Li   is conducive to such comparisons, this book is about quantum physics and relativity. In the future I hope to write another book specifically about physics and Buddhism. In view of the eastern flavor of Wu Li,  however, I have included in this book those similarities between eastern philosophies and physics that seemed to me so obvious and significant that I felt that I would be doing you a disservice if I did not mention them in passing.

Happy reading.
Gary Zukav
San Francisco
July 1978

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