Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Carlo Rovelli - Reality Is Not What It Seems (Penguin, 2017) ****

In this great book, physicist Carlo Rovelli explains what we know about reality, and how it can be interpreted. It's a wonderful journey into the nature of science itself, about what we know and don't know, and about what we can know. In our universe there are one billion galaxies with each around 1 billion stars, and our world is just one planet of those stars. In the middle of our galaxy, there is a black hole that is one million times the size of our sun, and that swallows up entire "solar systems" like a whale eats little fish (I checked this, and they do eat small fish, and not only plankton, which I thought).

He gives an overview of a number of theories that are currently used to describe the facts and findings of modern physics. What comes out loud and clear is that our universe is finite.

Rovelli gives a historic overview of theories about our world, and how they involved over time. He does this in a very readable and accessible way, often using anecdotes and discussions from the life of the physicists who shaped our current thinking.

Rovelli ends the book with some musings on the nature of science. He says that the only thing that's infinite is our ignorance. And that's maybe a good thing too. "Science is not reliable because it provides certainty. It's reliable because it provides us with the best answers we have at present. Science is the most we know so far about the problems confronting us. It is precisely this openness, the fact that it constantly calls current knowledge into question, which guarantees that the answers it offers are the best so far available."

There is a lot we don't know yet. And that's a message which still offers mystery and humility.

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