UNCOMMON WISDOM Conversations With Remarkable People by Fritjof Capra (Simon & Schuster: $16.95)

While Albert Einstein emphasized that "creativity is more important than knowledge," most scientific work follows the assumption that perspiration is more important than inspiration. What is essential, most scientists believe, is not an addition to the glut of questions about the natural world but laborious work to find some answers. Thus, it's not surprising that Fritjof Capra felt pressured to conclude his postdoctoral work in physics at UC Berkeley after he began writing about striking similarities between atomic phenomena and Buddhist philosophy. We live, he wrote in "The Tao of Physics," amid "a gigantic cosmic dance of vibrating molecules and atoms." In this collection of talks with economists, physicists, doctors and anthropologists, Capra displays some resentment toward the academic establishment; it found his ideas "far too novel," he writes with unusual immodesty.

A meeting with Eastern spiritual leader Krishnamurti seems to have resolved most of Capra's internal conflict between Buddhism and science, however. "First, you are a human being," Krishnamurti tells him, "then you are a scientist." He teaches Capra that by developing an inner harmony through meditation, he will become better able to accept contradictions in scientific and philosophical thought.

"Uncommon Wisdom" succeeds as an interdisciplinary romp through forward-looking thought largely because Capra is able to understand conflicting points of view. Sometimes, Capra is too blithe, though, and the writing becomes repetitive and discursive, the debate overly idealistic ("I am going to work out a set of criteria for social health to replace the GNP," says economist Hazel Henderson) and the arguments far-fetched (women, Capra claims, will be able to use their sensitivity about biological cycles to predict developmental patterns in society). On the whole, however, "Uncommon Wisdom" offers an unusually provocative discussion of our basic assumptions. "At the hunter-gatherer level we need aggression and competitiveness," argues one scientist interviewed in the book, "but isn't this the last thing we need in a densely populated environment with strong cultural control?"

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