The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav is a book that helps the layman understand fundamental concepts and issues in modern physics. But the author goes beyond that goal to make philosophical postulates about the implications of physics for consciousness, intent and reality.
The book notes that the Chinese term for physics, "Wu Li," can mean patterns of organic energy or matter, universal law or order, organic patterns, my way, nonsense, or enlightenment. Apparently Zukav likes the similarities between modern physics and Buddhist concepts.
Zukav lays the foundation for modern physics by discussing Newtonian physics and Einstein's theories of special and general relativity. Using laymen's terms and well chosen photos, drawings, and charts, Zukav discusses the particle and wave characteristics of light and the energy states of electrons in atoms.
The author introduces concepts of quantum mechanics and the world of subatomic particles, which he quotes Henry Stapp as describing as "not a structure…but rather a web of relationships between elements whose meanings arise wholly from their relationships to the whole."
Zukav then equates quantum mechanics to "old eastern mysticism." He notes how photons are conceived as wave functions rather than actual particles. According to wave theory, he says, the universe generates endless possibilities until perception (measurement) actually occurs. Zukav emphasizes that we – humans – are perceiving the universe and in that sense we actualize reality and presumably foreclose other possibilities.
Zukav goes on to discuss black holes, quasars, electromagnetic, gravitational, and strong and weak nuclear forces. Discussing subatomic particles, he notes that all particles exist potentially as different combinations of other particles. Here he draws a parallel with the Buddhist view that "each object is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact is everything else" or according to Mahayana Buddhism, physical reality "is based upon the interdependence of all things.
Zukav is also fascinated by observations from Feynman diagrams of physics that three particles can suddenly appear and then vanish. Zukav therefore challenges conventional thinking that "a vacuum obviously is not empty," and that "empty" and "full" are "false distinctions that we have created."
Thus, throughout his book, Zukav makes that point that physics teaches not to mistake the abstractions we draw from reality for reality itself. Again he draws a parallel to Buddhism "form is emptiness, emptiness is form."
Physics again shatters conventional thinking as Zukav discusses the observation that events that happen in one place may be connected to events far away. For example, the properties of two distant particles may appear to be coordinated even though there is no known way for the particles to exchange information. One possible implication, according to Zukav, is that separate parts of the universe may still be connected.
Here Zukav speculates about how consciousness and intent could affect reality.
There is discussion of determinism -- whether we have free-will to make decisions or not -- and of the possibility that many worlds could or do exist.
The Dancing Wu Li Masters provides a readable insight for the layman into modern physics and some of its philosophical implications.