Carlo Rovelli, "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics"

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John F
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Carlo Rovelli, "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics"

Post by John F » Tue May 10, 2016 5:27 am

"Brief" is the word. Rovelli covers modern physics from Einstein on in six "lessons" of about 10 pages each. Rovelli is not a professional science writer, he's a professional physicist. In the elegant English translation of Simon Carrell and Erica Seore, he makes modern physics - which is baffling to most outsiders - not only understandable and clear but exciting. There is one mathematical expression in the whole book, not for us to understand (we can't) but to show the "wonderful simplicity" of modern physics at its highest level. (No, it's not E=MC²; I can't reproduce it here.) He then compares its "rarefied beauty," to those who can read it, with that of a late Beethoven string quartet: "In both cases the reward is sheer beauty and new eyes with which to see the world." This is one of many places where Rovelli's exposition verges on poetry.

But the title promises seven lessons, not six. The final chapter is not called a lesson and is not about physics: "Closing - Ourselves." Nor is it brief, being twice as long as any of the true lessons in physics. In it, Rovelli has his say on philosophical topics such as our individual free will and indeed freedom in the context of today's understanding of the physical world, and on various currently relevant topics. For example:
Carlo Rovelli wrote:I believe that our species will not last long. It does not seem to be made of the stuff that has allowed the turtle, for example, to continue to exist more or less unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, for hundreds of times longer, that is, than we have even been in existence We belong to a short-lived genus of species. All of our cousins are already extinct. What's more, we do damage...
You don't need to read further to get what Rovelli is going to say. But he does find a relevant and eloquent ending for his little book:
Carlo Rovelli wrote:Our knowledge of the world continues to grow. There are frontiers where we are learning, and our desire for knowledge burns. They are in the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, at the origins of the cosmos, in the nature of time, in the phenomenon of black holes, and in the workings of our own thought processes. Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it's breathtaking.
This little book can be read in one sitting, and not a long sitting at that. You can sample some more on the book's own web site:

If your library has the book, or can be persuaded to get it, set aside an hour or two and learn more about the universe.
John Francis

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Re: Carlo Rovelli, "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics"

Post by jbuck919 » Thu May 12, 2016 1:25 pm

Requested from interlibrary loan. A lot of my reading is in history of science and science for lay persons. Thank you John. Will advise when I've read it through.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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