What is Modern Superstition?

In the heyday of the countercultural revolution of the 1960s, Fritjof Capra, a physicist, sitting by the ocean one late summer afternoon, “sees” the atoms of his body participating in a cosmic dance of energy with the atoms of the elements. He “feels” the rhythm of the cascades of energy coming down from outer space and “hears” its sound, and at that moment he knows that this is the Dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dancers. It is then and there that he finds a connection between Taosim and modern physics, between spirits and matter, between the subjective spirituality of Eastern mysticism and the objective materiality of modern science. The book that he writes about this mystical experience finds millions of gullible readers around the world, who are entranced by its advertised connection between the rationality of physics and the spirituality of Eastern theosophy.

Equipped with the philosophical bludgeon of emergence, Robert Laughlin, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, pummels the rationality of physics “from the bottom down.” The breakthroughs of physics, all of them without exception, turn into serendipitous discoveries. Mathematics, the language of nature as attested by scholars from Plato to Einstein, becomes a tool for the mastery of the universe. Nuclear physics becomes responsible for the catastrophic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. General relativity without which GPS would not work, becomes a speculative theory hiding a skeleton in its closet. He announces the end of quantum physics because of the impracticality of its application to the every day phenomena.

Stephen Wolfram, a computer genius and a precocious physicist who founded one of the most successful scientific computing companies, goes into a self-imposed 10-year seclusion to write a 1200-page tome intended to replace physics – and all the other sciences – with “a new kind of science”. The reality of this new science is the collection of images and animations that come to life on the desktop of a computer using certain rules applied to cellular automata. This desktop reality is the primary source of information of the “new kind of science,” and if it disagrees with the physical reality, then the latter is declared wrong. The theory of evolution and the second law of thermodynamics are just two of the casualties of the edicts of this physicist’s desktop reality. The financial might and the internet savvy of the author have turned his book into a best seller, despite its absurd premise, its trivialization of important and glorification of unimportant physical concepts, and its inclusion of many blunders and swindles.

3 thoughts on “What is Modern Superstition?”

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  2. Wolfram is clearly within his right of artistic freedom, especially since most of the illustrations in his book are patterns of points on a square grid — which before the invention of computers was known as weaving, one of the world’s most popular forms of art.

    Capra is clearly within his right of religious and philosophical freedom.

    Zakov is violating principles of society by promoting false medicine. You already claimed that medicine is not science, so you shouldn’t consider him a problem to scientists. It’s up to the health profession to speak out against him.

    Laughlin is promoting Constructivism, which is an attack on all aspects of modern society, not just science. His ilk is too pervasive and dangerous to be covered in that little vignette. If you’re worried about Constructivists, you should have a separate section for castigating just them.

    Meanwhile, the claims that are actually Modern Superstitions; such as string theory, information theory, and the multiverse; get no mention at all.

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