Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli

Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli

Dante’s vision of the universe prefigured 20th Century ideas

Reality turns out not to be what it seems. I have a feeling that there was never a time when people who thought about it actually believed that the Earth was flat. But we have certainly believed lots of things that are equally untrue since we evolved brains that had the capability to ponder these matters.

Look up at the sky. It looks like a solid crystal sphere. When the sun sets, there are points of light on it that don’t move relative to one another, just as points on a sphere wouldn’t. It seems obvious that we live surrounded by something solid. But we now know that the sky is nothing, merely a way of looking out from our planet at the Universe beyond it. The points of light we see at night are in fact simply other suns millions or billions of miles away. They do move, just too slowly for us to notice.

There is not much evidence on a day to day basis that the Earth moves. But we now know it not only does, but does so at a speed well beyond our everyday experience of velocity.

So we should by now be used to the idea that things are not what they seem. Even something as basic as time, which seems to be not so much something we observe as part of the very fabric of the world we live in, we learn from Einstein is rather more flexible and sophisticated than we generally imagine.

So when you see a book title like “Reality Is Not What It Seems” it doesn’t immediately strike you as something that is implausible. But it turns out that even us well educated rather jaded inhabitants of the 21st century can still be in for a shock. Time indeed is not only not much like how it looks when you get close up to it. In a way, it doesn’t even exist. Oh and neither does space while we are at it. The reasoning whereby the author reaches that conclusion is rather hard to summarise in a few words. In fact you probably need nearly as many as are in the book to get even close to it. But anyone with a decent grasp of science should be able to follow it. You can get a pretty good idea even if you don’t – though I wouldn’t trouble to read the footnotes if you haven’t studied science to at least degree level.

This book is only just over 200 pages, but still manages to give a really good summary of the development of our understanding of the big picture of our place in the Universe from the Ancient Greeks right up to the beginning of last year. It is the sort of knowledge that enhances your life. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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