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The Order of Time Paperback – Illustrated, December 10, 2019
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From the Publisher
“ An elegant grapple with one of physics’ deepest mysteries. . . .A masterly writer. . . . In this little gem of a book, Mr. Rovelli first demolishes our common-sense notion of time. . . .an ambitious book that illuminates a thorny question, that succeeds in being a pleasurable read.” —Wall Street Journal
“No one writes about the cosmos like theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli. . . Rovelli’s new story of time is elegant and lucidly told, whether he is revealing facts or indulging in romantic-philosophic speculation about the nature of time.” —The Washington Post
“An incredible book. . . [Rovelli] manages to communicate some of the most complex and inspiring ideas we have about time with a poetry, charm and wit that is infectious.” —Benedict Cumberbatch
“Rovelli has crafted an accessible, mind-expanding read that challenges our perceptions of time, space and reality.” —TIME
“A deep—and remarkably readable—dive into the fundamental nature of time. . . written with enough charm and poetry to engage the imagination of anyone who reads it.” —Financial Times
“The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli, hardly seems like pool-side reading, but anyone with the least interest in the science of the physical world will be by turns astonished, baffled and thrilled by what Rovelli has to say about the true nature of time, which has little in common with our everyday conception of it. Rovelli is the poet of quantum physics.” —John Banville
“We live in an age of wonderful science writing, and Carlo Rovelli’s new book, The Order of Time, is an example of the very best. Time is something we think we know about instinctively; here he shows how profoundly strange it really is.” —Philip Pullman
“Mind-bending.” —Michael Pollan
“Rovelli is a wonderful writer, and so even when you (or perhaps I should just stick to the first-person singular) don’t know what’s going on, he comes up with enjoyable, occasionally beautiful metaphors to help you (me). . . The ideas in The Order of Time are extraordinary, and I rather fear you should read it” —Nick Hornby, The Believer
“The Order of Time is a little wonder of a book. It provides surprising insights into an increasingly mysterious world, offers warmly humane reflections on our existential condition, and sustains a virtual conversation that will continue long after the reading has ceased.” —PopMatters
“A dizzying, poetic work” —The Guardian
“A compact and elegant book” —Nature
“Rovelli, a physicist and one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory, uses literary, poetical and historical devices to unravel the properties of time, what it means to exist without time and, at the end, how time began.” —Scientific American
“Physics' literary superstar makes us rethink time . . . The Order of Time will surely establish Rovelli among the pantheon of great scientist-communicators . . . More of this please” —New Scientist
“Where other writers struggle to get their complex ideas across, Rovelli introduces profound notions with ease, using simple but evocative language . . . He also has a knack for mixing his serious enterprise with a sense of humor.” —Science Magazine
“In this fascinating new book, Carlo Rovelli weaves together physics, philosophy, and art to explore the enduring mystery of time itself.” —Bustle
“An elegantly concise primer makes theoretical physics intelligible . . . it would be to do a disservice to Rovelli and this stunningly written book, to say that brevity is its main virtue.” —The Times (UK)
About the Author
- Publisher : Riverhead Books; Illustrated edition (December 10, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0735216118
- ISBN-13 : 978-0735216112
- Lexile measure : 1040L
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 4.84 x 0.71 x 7.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #14,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Rovelli is a "time denier". OK, that's being a little unfair but not by much. What he denies is that there exists an independent, fundamental property or quality of the universe that is time. Of course the universe is full of movement and change, events unfolding into other events. His basic position is that time emerges into our perspective, our viewpoint, from these phenomena, but it is merely an illusion. The movement is real, the changing is real, but the time in which all of this seems to occur is nothing more than a manifestation of human (possibly animal) mind and the illusion, in turn, is supported by the entropy generated in the functioning of our brains.
The book (not long read) is divided into three parts. In the first Rovelli covers the various sub-disciplines of physics and their temporal implications (or lack thereof). He begins with classical physics (the equations work backwards in time), and moves on to General and Special Relativity, and quantum mechanics. Here he demonstrates that our simple intuition of a universal time flowing from past to future is untenable. Time, mind-independent time, if it exists at all, cannot be like that. In part two he further demolishes time. Not only is it not what we think, in and for physics, it doesn't really exist at all; even the present is an illusion! In part three, he puts time back together for and in the perspective of an subjective viewpoint.
He argues it is the fact that we view the world from a perspective, that when we perceive the world we inevitably blur the details into a sort of summary or gestalt for our perspective, that causes time to appear to mind, The physics supporting that appearance comes down to thermodynamics. Human time, brain time, is "thermal time". Certainly Rovelli thinks thermodynamics (in particular the 2nd law) is real, but while responsible for what consciousness perceives of time and so a real enough subjective experience, from the 3rd party perspective of physics, change is real, but time is a mirage.
This book is written for a lay audience. There is almost no math in it (what there is appears in footnotes), and it defends a view common to much of the physics and philosophy community. To be sure Rovelli differs a bit from some of his peers. He argues that relativistic "block time" is no more a "true portrait of objective time" than any other theory. In Rovelli's view remember there is no such thing as "objective time".
In 2015 a philosopher (Roberto Unger) and a physicist (Lee Smolin) wrote "The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time". This book (reviewed by me on Amazon) makes precisely the opposite case from that of Rovelli. Of course they recognize what Relativity and quantum mechanics imply about time, but they maintain, nevertheless, that a notion (and reality) of objective, "universal time", is more fundamental than any other phenomena of the universe, even more than space! Rovelli mentions this book in a footnote and admits that Unger and Smolin's view "is defensible", but he leaves it there and never addresses what is defensible about it.
The Unger/Smolin book goes against the grain of 95% of today's physicists. Personally I agree with Smolin and Unger. The fact (thanks to limiting effect of the speed of light) that we cannot map our present to any present in a remote galaxy, or even the nearest star does not mean there is no present there, in fact everywhere. Something is happening, NOW, everywhere in the universe. We do not know what it is, but that does not mean the present isn't real as Rovelli believes. Had Rovelli directly addressed Unger and Smolin I would have given this book another star. Had he not mentioned them at all, I would have taken another away.
In summary this is a decent and well written book advocating for a particular view of time (or no time) that I happen to think is wrong, but what do I know? It happens to be the dominant view in physics today. Rovelli is a well respected physicist and a good writer. Those of you interested in the subject will find this book valuable whether you agree with the author or not.
Really a great book that transforms the way we perceive "the reality". It probably should be read more than once. The final thoughts of the writer on the meaning of life and death are also beautiful. Almost a little poetic. The book is written in an intelligible way.
And he brings all of it to bear in this delightful book about time, which, in the end, is life, and everything, including the context in which it unfolds. It would be in error to suggest that time doesn’t exist, but it would be equally in error to suggest that time is as simple as the continuum we record with our clocks.
What I like most about the book is the fact that Rovelli recognizes that philosophy and science, if not two sides of the same coin, are cousins. He refers to Proust, which few scientists do, and suggests that while reason is among the best tools available for interpreting our “collective delirium,” it is “only an instrument, a pincer.”
The science and the prose are very accessible. You will, however, have to be willing to think abstractly, a skill that in our wired, binary world seems to be greatly dissipating. And he is the first scientist I have read in a while who takes time to explain why the problem is sometimes not the science itself, but the limitations of language. Language is a human construction and has not kept up with our scientific revelation. Which is why theoretical physicists sometimes seem to be speaking another language. If only there was another language that was constructed in the world as we know it today, our communication would be so much easier and our knowledge would expand more rapidly.
It would be impossible to summarize the knowledge contained in this book. You really have to read it. Here is a start, however: “The world is not a collection of things, it is a collection of events.” If you can comprehend that the rest is largely additional perspective.
And if the idea that universal time doesn’t exist in any absolute sense seems a stretch, consider Rovelli’s simple explanation (I’m paraphrasing): People never used to worry about clocks. They worried about the cycle of sunshine and darkness. But that cycle is different in every single village, town, and city on the planet. The cycle varies both east to west and north to south. And back when we used to spend our lives in our little village we didn’t care. But then the scientists and engineers invented trains to take us from one village to the next. And people needed to know when the train left their village. But how can you develop a timetable when every village has its own time? You can’t. But, at the same time, it’s not quite practical to say that the whole world has just one time. Farmers don’t care what the sun is doing in London. They care what it’s doing on their farm. (China actually has no time zones by edict. The entire country is on Beijing time and there are significant practical limitations.) The solution was the time zone, and it’s a compromise. Time zones are a construct and practical in the local sense, but highly inaccurate when talking about the universe. In the language of theoretical physics, they don’t exist.
Eastern philosophers believe that reality is not knowable. It is real, but is made up of an infinite number of variables. We can only comprehend or think about a handful at a time. A tree is real. I can touch it and smell it. But it is not entirely knowable because there are too many variables (e.g. altitude, climate, soil, etc.) that define each tree for me to know them all. Time is the same way. Time is real but it is not knowable. Throw in the limitations of language and it begins to look like an illusion.
To his great credit, Rovelli admits that there is much we don’t know. Think of a Seurat painting that has been blacked out. We have exposed a few, perhaps 10% (my number), of the original dots of pigment. It’s a lot, but we’re still guessing as to what the underlying picture is.
And that’s pretty exciting. The key to our understanding to date, however, is the second law of thermodynamics which states that entropy can never decrease. It’s critical to our understanding of time, as Rovelli explains. Personally I’m not convinced it’s inviolate. Perhaps we just haven’t uncovered enough dots of pigment yet. If entropy could work both ways it would explain a lot, but attraction does not equal fact. (Entropy obviously has a big role in causality, of course. Bidirectional entropy would be a huge boost for inductive reason.)
It’s a short book and even if you get through a small amount of it you will learn a lot. Beyond writing in an accessible way, Rovelli comes off as very personable. The perfect person to sit down and share a cup of coffee with. If only he had the time. (Sorry)
A marvelous book that I highly recommend.
Top reviews from other countries
In the book he deals with time on the quantum level (essentially, time does not exist here) and at the level of the gravitational universe (in relativistic theory) where every part of the universe has it’s own, local, time. Then finally looking at time from the human perspective and how it might be built on the basis of entropy so that we see time as a series of events given direction by the increase in disorder as ‘time’ progresses.
Many books on abstruse subjects leave you with a sense of bafflement - our human senses and sensibilities are built by evolution to deal with our world of trees, rivers and animals, not atoms and black holes. This book tackles this topic and leaves you with a sense of wonder and delight.