Excerpt of the Day: Gary Zukav on The Enchantment of Physics

Dancing Wu Li Masters

As part of my Excerpt of the Day series, here’s a great quote from The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav.

“When I tell my friends that I study physics, they move their heads from side to side, they shake their hands at the wrist, and they whistle, ‘Whew! That’s difficult.’

This universal reaction to the word ‘physics’ is a wall that stands between what physicists do and what most people think they do. There is usually a big difference between the two.

Physicists themselves are partly to blame for this sad situation. Their shop talk sounds like advanced Greek, unless you are Greek or a physicist. When they are not talking to other physicists, physicists speak English. Ask them what they do, however, and they sound like the natives of Corfu again.

On the other hand, part of the blame is ours. Generally speaking, we have given up trying to understand what physicists (and biologists, etc.) really do. In this we do ourselves a disservice. These people are engaged in extremely interesting adventures that are not that difficult to understand.

True, how they do what they do sometimes entails a technical explanation which, if you are not an expert, can produce an involuntary deep sleep. What physicists do, however, is actually quite simple. They wonder what the universe is really made of, how it works, what we are doing in it, and where it is going, if it is going anyplace at all.

In short, they do the same things that we do on starry nights when we look up at the vastness of the universe and feel overwhelmed by it and a part of it at the same time. That is what physicists really do, and the clever rascals get paid for doing it…

The fact is that physics is not mathematics. Physics, in essence, is simple wonder at the way things are and a divine (some call it compulsive) interest in how that is so.

Mathematics is the tool of physics. Stripped of mathematics, physics becomes pure enchantment.”

For more great thoughts on science and philosophy, check out the full book here on Amazon.


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