Monday, February 18, 2013

#429: Gary Zukav

Gary Zukav is a spiritual teacher, author of four New York Times bestsellers, and prominent member of the Human Potential Movement. He is also an Oprah favorite, having appeared more than 30 times on her show to ramble about “transformation in human consciousness” concepts as discussed in “The Seat of the Soul”. He rose to fame, however, with “Dancing Wu Li Masters, An Overview of the New Physics”, claimed to be “a book that manages to explain relativity and a lot more without resorting to a single bit of mathematics.” Indeed, Zukav himself explains 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.” It inexplicably won the American Book Award for Science.

Most of his writings file under inconsequential, fluffy newage technobabble with a penchant for applying “quantum” as a substitute for Prior’s “tonk”, i.e. an inference rule that licenses any conclusion Zukav may want to draw whatsoever (Jeremy Bernstein on Zukav and Capra: “A physicist reading these books might feel like someone on a familiar street who finds that all the old houses have suddenly turned mauve”). Particularly prominent is – predictably – the move from claims concerning the role of observation on atomic systems to the claim that “physics has become a branch of psychology”. In fact, part of Zukav’s incoherence stems not so much from not understanding physics as from his complete lack of philosophical training or rigor (for a philosophical criticism of Zukav, see here).

Diagnosis: Although Zukav may perhaps be evasively fluffy more than ardently committed to crankery – a borderline loon, in other words – he is still one of the main influences of the disparaging mass of quantum woo floating around the Internet, and he must at the very least be held partially responsible for evils such as Deepak Chopra.

For a good primer on quantum quackery, go here.

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