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Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to…

Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (original 2014; edition 2018)

by Carlo Rovelli (Author), Simon Carnell (Translator), Erica Segre (Translator)

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423838,848 (4.11)26
Traces how the human image of the world has changed throughout history, demonstrating the evolution of the idea of reality while touching on subjects ranging from the Higgs boson to quantum gravity."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."--Jacket.… (more)
Title:Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity
Authors:Carlo Rovelli (Author)
Other authors:Simon Carnell (Translator), Erica Segre (Translator)
Info:Riverhead Books (2018), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli (2014)



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Sometimes it's not what you understand or what you know for certain that really matters. It's acknowledging the limits of your understanding and still to be willing to press on. That, in fact, is close to what Carlo Rovelli identifies as the chief virtue of science. It's a point he makes in the final chapter of this fascinating journey from Anaximander past Copernicus and Newton, to Einstein, Dirac, and a host of other startlingly brilliant physicists, all of whom ventured forth from that initial point of ignorance. I feel like I'm in good company even though my ignorance may be clouding out my brilliance.

Rovelli writes clearly and simply. He doesn't hide behind the math, but he also isn't afraid to trot out the beautiful (his word) equations of Newtownian physics, Einstein's special and general relativity, and of his own field, quantum loop theory. For those with more of a math and physics background, this book will probably even be more illuminating. But even if you are just an interested onlooker, you'll certainly gain something. And it's comforting to learn that Einstein himself was not also a brilliant mathematician. Theoretical physics is at least as much about conceptualizing the problems and pointing in the direction of the possible solutions. And Rovelli certainly brings these concepts to life.

Am I ready now to give a lecture on the true nature of reality? No. But I have a much better idea about just how strange it is as compared to what I once may have thought. And I want to learn more.

Recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Nov 19, 2018 |
"The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events".

In "Reality Is Not What It Seems" by Carlo Rovelli

Rovelli is more than right to rail against the schism of art and science. Theoretical physics in some sense is the poetry of science; and science in its great evolution from the classical era on was intertwined with art (Galileo was a musician, Leonardo an anatomist and technological innovator; Piero was a geometer, while painters have ever worked at the edge of physics (light properties) and materials science (pigments and chemical properties), and so on). Experimentation and transformation in both art and science spring from the same root - to understand, to encapsulate the world. This is why I've ever found reductionism (and scientism) drearily limiting and worthily pompous - that utilitarian speculation over what art 'is for', that misapprehension of art as a kind of elaborate trickery, only readable in the light of neuroscience or physics. The best writers of fiction, artists, composers and scientists are, I've long felt, the ones who see the 'divide' as porous, and are open to findings in both great spheres of endeavour and experimentation.

I have come across this author's work before and have found him to possess a really enlightening, critical yet accessible style. The work of his that I read and still stays with me is his "The First Scientist: Anaximander". It is a brilliant evaluation of the 'Earth as floating stone' thesis of the Greeks.

Just remembered the Hamilton-Jacobi equation ∂S/∂t + H = 0 is another way of describing a classical system. From which you can wiggle your way to the Schrodinger equation. I think particularly interesting is in a paper by Hiley, and de Gosson where they say, Schrodinger was led to his equation from his knowledge of the classical Hamilton-Jacobi approach which has a close connection with the eikonal of classical wave theory. They go on to derive the Schrodinger equation from classical mechanics using a very deep group and operator approach. The Hamilton-Jacobi equation is indeed a good motivation to get to the Schrödinger equation (and is already very similar to it). Whichever way, you are motivated by classical mechanics, but you can't avoid the mathematical complexity of quantum mechanics. Classical mechanics is a good approximation in some regimes, but overall it's wrong and there's no "going back to classical" in physics.

This time around, I'm also struck that superdeterminisst physicists think of correlations between widely separated points as "vacuum correlations", which are well-known to decay faster than exponentially at space-like separation. It seems better to consider correlations that are observed in experiments at widely separated points to be a consequence of experimenters taking months or years to set up and debug and tune their state preparation and measurement apparatus (which, moreover, is often constrained to an effectively 1-dimensional space of light guides or collimated matter or laser beams, so that the 3+1-dimensional vacuum is kept as far away as possible). Full of nonsense as usual, I am. Hey ho.

I think about the work of people like Einstein, Maxwell, Dirac, Heisenberg, Pauli, Fermi. The list is very long. Such as those could pull the physics right out of the math and make either predictions that can be measured or better yet people used the principles to make things like AM/FM radio, transistors, and more recently GPS from good old Einstein; the list is almost endless as I said. But some theoretical work seems very difficult to solidify. Maybe a 1927 style Solvay conference is needed to help the general audience understand where the focus is going on Quantum Mechanics, cosmology, particle physics, the hunt for dark matter, etc. Lot's of great work is being done right now in condensed matter physics that may bring great practical applications but the money spent on the LHC thus far seems to be a dud. Other than the technology that went into it is remarkable but nothing truly remarkable came out yet (the Higgs boson; bah!).

I think Rovelli is closer than t'Hooft as Rovelli focuses on something that seems philosophically important to me. He talked about velocity as though it is meaningless to a particle unless it is measured in relation to another object. It implies that motion isn't a property as much as an observation. Space is relational and not substantival according to what I understood from Rovelli. I would argue that it is neither, but that might seem to "unscientific" to some, I'd imagine. ( )
  antao | Mar 29, 2018 |
a beautifully lyrical book about mind-bending topics. ( )
  KimBooSan | Mar 18, 2018 |
How about setting up a protocol among popular physics writers, so that they don't have to start from Democritus, continue with Newton, explain Einstein's special and general relativity and then quantum mechanics for the hundredth time? I don't know if it's publishers pushing a for a minimum number of pages, or maybe it is that authors think they have to give the whole context from scratch every time they write a book, but I think it will be much space-saving if we could refer to established popular accounts of ancient Greek, relativity, and quantum mechanics, so that it'd be possible to immediately dive into the current challenges in physics.

Having said that, I must congratulate Prof. Rovelli because he was able to convey the gist of loop quantum gravity without diving deep down into the gory mathematical details. Of course, without even summarizing such details, one can only get a very fuzzy and intuitive grasp of the matter, but that's better than nothing.

I was also excited to learn about LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), mission designed to detect and accurately measure gravitational waves from astronomical sources. According to Rovelli, what the famous LIGO did for detection of gravitational waves caused by black holes colliding, LISA will do for ancient black holes exploding, sort of a cosmic quantum gravitational background effect, similar to the famous cosmic microwave background radiation.

I also liked how Rovelli connected some of the scientific themes to literature and history, especially his references to "De rerum natura" and Dante, as well as establishing a continuity with the great thinkers of ancient Greece.

I think the chapter regarding the concept of "information" and the role it plays in modern physics theories could be expanded and clarified more. Instead of trying to introduce quantum mechanics and relativity for which we have great popular accounts, he could've used those pages to explain his ideas about information in more depth.

I can recommend this book to people who'd like to have an intuitive overview of an important direction where modern physics research is headed to. And it's always nice and inspirational to read an Italian author who knows his history and literature so well. ( )
  EmreSevinc | Dec 3, 2017 |
This is just a damn beautiful book about quantum gravity. Not sure else I can add to that. ( )
  KimBooSan | Sep 25, 2017 |
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Tempo, spazio e materia appaiono generati da un pullulare di eventi quantistici elementari. Comprendere questa tessitura profonda della realtà è l’obiettivo della ricerca in gravità quantistica, la sfida della scienza contemporanea dove tutto il nostro sapere sulla natura viene rimesso in questione. Carlo Rovelli, uno dei principali protagonisti di questa avventura, conduce il lettore al cuore dell’indagine in modo semplice e avvincente. Racconta come sia cambiata la nostra immagine del mondo dall’Antichità alle scoperte più recenti: l’evaporazione dei buchi neri, l’Universo prima del big bang, la struttura granulare dello spazio, il ruolo dell’informazione e l’assenza del tempo in fisica fondamentale. L’autore disegna un vasto affresco della visione fisica del mondo, chiarisce il contenuto di teorie come la relatività generale e la meccanica quantistica, ci porta al bordo del sapere attuale e offre una versione originale e articolata delle principali questioni oggi aperte. Soprattutto, comunica il fascino di questa ricerca, la passione che la anima e la bellezza della nuova prospettiva sul mondo che la scienza svela ai nostri occhi.
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