Reality Is Not What It Seems

Reality Is Not What It Seems

The Journey to Quantum Gravity

Book - 2017 | First American edition.
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"The man who makes physics sexy . . . the scientist they're calling the next Stephen Hawking." -- The Times Magazine

From the New York Times -bestselling author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and The Order of Time , a closer look at the mind-bending nature of the universe.

What are the elementary ingredients of the world? Do time and space exist? And what exactly is reality? Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli has spent his life exploring these questions. He tells us how our understanding of reality has changed over the centuries and how physicists think about the structure of the universe today.

In elegant and accessible prose, Rovelli takes us on a wondrous journey from Democritus to Albert Einstein, from Michael Faraday to gravitational waves, and from classical physics to his own work in quantum gravity. As he shows us how the idea of reality has evolved over time, Rovelli offers deeper explanations of the theories he introduced so concisely in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics .

This book culminates in a lucid overview of quantum gravity, the field of research that explores the quantum nature of space and time, seeking to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity. Rovelli invites us to imagine a marvelous world where space breaks up into tiny grains, time disappears at the smallest scales, and black holes are waiting to explode--a vast universe still largely undiscovered.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 2017.
Edition: First American edition.
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780735213920
Branch Call Number: 530.143 Rov
Characteristics: 280 pages : illustrations, map ; 22 cm

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AJ_Owens
May 29, 2019

Rovelli offers a capsule history of relativity and quantum theory, using clear examples and illustrations, and with due caveats adds his own ideas. As a non-physicist, I found the book helpful, but the concepts (such as time resulting from a process that is somehow not in time) remain difficult and puzzling.

The book features some mild editorializing about blind acceptance and religion. Surprisingly, Rovelli later applies the same criticism to physicists who assume that time and space are continuous rather than discrete.

Rovelli is clearly knowledgeable on Ancient Greek philosophy, and the book invokes Democritus almost as a patron saint. But one remark about Plato being "off-track" deserves comment, because it goes to the heart of larger themes in the book.

The passage in Plato (Phaedo 96ff) involves Socrates' response to Democritus (indirectly, since Plato never mentions Democritus). Socrates laments that Anaxagoras, after promising to investigate Mind as the cause of things, actually traces the causes of human action to "bones and sinews." Recently sentenced to death, he adds movingly:

"Or again, if he tried to account in the same way for my conversing with you, adducing causes such as sound and air and hearing and a thousand others, and never troubled to mention the real reasons, which are that since Athens has thought it better to condemn me, therefore I for my part have thought it better to sit here, and more right to submit to whatever penalty she orders."

This is a critique of materialism that still resonates today.

Ironically, later in the book, Rovelli says in context of Democritus that "the nature of man is not his internal structure but the network of personal, familial, and social interactions within which he exists." Perhaps that is what Plato was saying when he went "off-track."

Rovelli quotes the modern philosopher Nelson Goodman approvingly: ""An object is a monotonous process." Goodman was a pupil of Alfred North Whitehead, a mathematician familiar with the development of relativity and quantum mechanics in the early 20th century. Links between Whitehead's idea of process and Rovelli's may be worth exploring. Notably, Whitehead also held that time is discrete, and not infinitely divisible.

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peawormsworth
Feb 27, 2019

great read.
History of spacetime science told in a different way.
Makes a good case for quantum loop gravity being a potential TOE.
Similar to "Elegant Universe" as a quality intro to string theory.

You're not going to get the proof here, but it will give you an idea of what it is and where it might be leading before going into the math.

The writing could be smoother and there are too many repetitive boring examples. But for being a translation from Italian, it's reasonable.

I complain too much here. I really liked it. It was not too dumbed down. Very useful for inspiring the imagination.

r
retina
Aug 05, 2018

Absolutely brilliant, limpid, understandable and with a warmth rare in science writers. Dr Rovelli is an important scientist and I am grateful that he took the time to write this book on a subject that in his hands becomes completely approachable. Highly recommended!

squib May 05, 2018

undoubtedly the most thorough illustration of quantum physics -- loop quantum gravity theory -- which brings us up to date with the cutting edge of defining our physical cosmos. It fills in so many blanks without retreading so much of the early days of the exploration of quantum mechanics.

highly recommended for those interested in the subject.

SFPL_danielay Apr 09, 2018

After giving us an overview of major ideas in physics in "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" Rovelli takes on the much more difficult topic of quantum theory and quantum gravity and tries to make the general reader understand some of the concepts and theories associated with these theories. I found it interesting and mind-boggling but not as impossible to follow as I had feared. I no way could I explain quantum gravity to anybody after reading this book but hopefully the next time I hear something about quantum loops or the absence of time at the quantum level there will be more than a spark of recognition in my brain.

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patcarstensen
Mar 31, 2018

The gradient gets pretty steep when he covers 20th century physics, but one should not be intimidated. He also emphasizes every place where Italy plays a role, such as Einstein spending a lot of time in Italy as a boy.

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pm221
Jan 28, 2017

A great antidote to the excessive hype over string theory, multiverses etc. Loop Quantum Gravity may well be the key to aligning quantum theory with general relativity, and this book manages to explain it in understandable terms.

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