Capra’s “Third Stage” of Scientific Method

If rational knowledge is associated with science, and if this kind of knowledge is one component of Eastern mysticism, then, so Capra argues, there must be some kind of a parallelism between physics and Eastern philosophy. How does he establish this parallelism? He divides scientific research into three stages. The first two stages consist of gathering experimental evidence (observation) and correlating that evidence with mathematical symbols (theory). But now Capra adds another stage:

Capra… eventually, [physicists] will want to talk about their results to nonphysicists and will therefore have to express them in plain language. This means they will have to formulate a model in ordinary language which interprets their mathematical scheme. … the formulation of such a verbal model, which constitutes the third stage of research, will be a criterion of the understanding they have reached.

This quote, despite its innocent appearance, is a conniving artifact designed to legitimize Capra’s argument for the parallel between Eastern mysticism and modern physics. The “third stage” of the scientific process, which he introduces here and uses repeatedly in his book, is entirely self-fabricated! The obligation forced on physicists to convey their science to the public is meant to equate the inaccessibility to the public of the mathematical formulation of physical theories with the imposed unspeakability of the Eastern mysticism.

The translation of modern physics into ordinary language is an impossible task because of the sophistication of the mathematical framework and experimental gadgetry employed in current physics research. Needless to say, at earlier times, the required level of sophistication was minimal. The first authoritative work on electricity and magnetism was William Gilbert’s book De Magnete. Published in 1600, this book contained the results of the frontier research in the field, yet it was all written in an ordinary language, Latin. Anybody educated in Latin and interested in the subject could read the book and understand most of it. Two hundred seventy three years later, James Clerk Maxwell published A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, which nobody except a handful of physicists and mathematicians could understand. And the degree of  sophistication and specialization has increased exponentially ever since. Nowadays, irrespective of how educated one is, or how much interest one may have in physics, one cannot understand the results of theoretical and experimental discoveries unless one knows the language of physics, namely mathematics and the experimental techniques.

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