Fritjof Capra – System thinking

A lecture given at Schumacher College (UK), Dartington on 7 May 2014.

System thinking and ecology

The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities designed so that their way of life, physical structures and technologies do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life. To do this requires a new ecological understanding of life, as well as a new kind of “systemic” thinking.

Systemic understanding of life

In this lecture, Fritjof Capra describes that such a new understanding of life in terms of complexity, networks, and organizational patterns has recently emerged at the forefront of science. He will place particular emphasis on the new conception of the nature of mind and consciousness, which is one of the most radical philosophical implications of the systemic understanding of life; and the urgency of this new understanding for dealing with our global ecological crisis and protecting the continuation and flourishing of life on Earth.

Fritjof Capra spoke as part of his short course at Schumacher College.

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Fritjof Capra

Fritjof Capra (born February 1, 1939) is an Austrian-American physicist and author of international bestsellers such as The Tao of Physics (1975) and The Turning Point (1982). 

Capra received his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Vienna in 1966. He has conducted research in the fields of particle physics and systems theory and has written popular science books on the implications of physics research, such as The Tao of Physics, which is subtitled An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern MysticismThe Tao of Physics claims that physics and metaphysics inevitably lead to the same knowledge. Capra is fluent in English, German, French and Italian.

books and movies

After a trip through Germany in the early eighties, Capra wrote the book Green Politics (1984), together with the eco-feminist Charlene Spretnak. Capra also contributed to the screenplay for the film Mindwalk (1990), starring Liv Ullman, Sam Waterston and John Heard. This film was a free adaptation of his book The Turning Point. In 1991 Capra wrote the book Belonging to the Universe, together with David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, who is called the current Thomas Merton. This book, which is based on Thomas Kuhn’ s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, explores the parallels between thinking according to new paradigms in science and religion; according to the authors, this together yields a remarkably coherent vision of the universe.

Capra wants Western society to renounce the conventional linear way of thinking and the mechanistic vision of Descartes. Capra criticizes the reductionist Cartesian view that everything can be studied in parts to understand the whole, and encourages his readers to take a holistic view.

Fritjof Capra is co-founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy (“Center for Ecological Literacy”) in Berkeley, California, Usa, which aims to promote ecology and systems thinking in primary and secondary education.

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