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Tech Q&A

Fritjof Capra

Describe your latest project.
My current and very exciting book project has occupied me for the last 3 years and is now almost completed. It is a book about the science of Leonardo da Vinci. I have been fascinated by the genius of Leonardo for a long time and have found that there are very few books about his science. Moreover, those that exist look at him from the perspective of Galileo and Newton, which is inappropriate in my view. In my forthcoming book, I present a coherent account of Leonardo's tremendous scientific achievements and evaluate them from the perspective of 21st-century scientific and philosophical thought. Leonardo's science is a science of living forms, a science of quality, which can be seen as a distant forerunner of today's complexity and systems theory.

In studying the writings of Leonardo, I have found that they are very relevant to our time. As our sciences and technologies become increasingly narrow in their focus, unable to understand the problems of our time from an interdisciplinary perspective, and dominated by corporations with little interest in the well-being of humanity, we urgently need a science that honors and respects the unity of life, recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all natural phenomena, and reconnects us with the living Earth. This is exactly the kind of science Leonardo da Vinci anticipated and outlined 100 years before Galileo and 200 years before Newton.

The book (working title: The Science of Leonardo da Vinci) will be published by Doubleday in the U.S. and by Rizzoli in Italy in the fall of 2007.

What inspires you to sit down and write?
I started out as a scientist and have also been a writer for over 30 years. I always write — notes, journal entries, articles, lectures, courses, etc. I keep extensive files with notes about my thoughts and my readings, and when I feel that I have enough material for another book, I begin to order my notes and plan the book. This process typically takes about two years before I actually sit down and begin to write the book.

Describe your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
In 8th grade I had a young and very inspiring math teacher who kindled my love of mathematics and of abstract thinking. When he taught us algebra and geometry, he always told us about unsolved math problems that fired up my imagination. After high school, I began to study mathematics but then changed my major to theoretical physics. I received my Ph.D. in theoretical physics, with a math minor, in 1965.

Chess or video games?
I used to play chess with great passion as a child and still follow the chess world championships.

What do you do for relaxation?
Tennis, skiing, jazz.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
I read a lot of adventure books, including (like all boys in Germany and Austria) the cowboy-and-indians stories by Karl May.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
There is a whole range of new technologies, known as ecodesign or biomimicry, which I discuss at length in my last book, The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living. All these ecodesign technologies incorporate the basic principles of ecology and have some key characteristics in common. They tend to be small-scale projects with plenty of diversity, energy efficient, non-polluting, community-oriented, and labor-intensive, creating plenty of jobs. They have the potential of dramatically improving our lives.

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
Leonardo da Vinci, for a day in his old age, to get inside his head and find out what he wrote in the 6,000 pages of notebooks that are now lost. (We do have about 6,500 pages of his manuscripts.)

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
Best: Latin, German, math; worst: chemistry.

By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
We will either have made dramatic changes to close the current gap between our unsustainable human technologies and the sustainable systems of nature, or we will suffer from catastrophic consequences.

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In ten years?
The critical question is: which country leads the world in ecodesign technologies? I would say Germany, Denmark, and some other European countries, plus Cuba in sustainable agriculture.

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