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The order of time
by Carlo Rovelli

book cover: the order of time

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referenced in posts

my strange relationship with time
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highlights (4)

  • There is no single time: there is a different duration for every trajectory; and time passes at different rhythms according to place and according to speed. It is not directional: the difference between past and future does not exist in the elementary equations of the world; its orientation is merely a contingent aspect that appears when we look at things and neglect the details. In this blurred view, the past of the universe was in a curiously “particular” state. The notion of the “present” does not work: in the vast universe there is nothing that we can reasonably call “present.” The substratum that determines the duration of time is not an independent entity, different from the others that make up the world; it is an aspect of a dynamic field. It jumps, fluctuates, materializes only by interacting, and is not to be found beneath a minimum scale. . . . So, after all this, what is left of time?

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  • On closer inspection, in fact, even the things that are most “thinglike” are nothing more than long events. The hardest stone, in the light of what we have learned from chemistry, from physics, from mineralogy, from geology, from psychology, is in reality a complex vibration of quantum fields, a momentary interaction of forces, a process that for a brief moment manages to keep its shape, to hold itself in equilibrium before disintegrating again into dust, a brief chapter in the history of interactions between the elements of the planet, a trace of Neolithic humanity, a weapon used by a gang of kids, an example in a book about time, a metaphor for an ontology, a part of a segmentation of the world that depends more on how our bodies are structured to perceive than on the object of perception—and, gradually, an intricate knot in that cosmic game of mirrors that constitutes reality. The world is not so much made of stones as of fleeting sounds, or of waves moving through the sea.

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  • And a human being? Of course it’s not a thing; like the cloud above the mountain, it’s a complex process, where food, information, light, words, and so on enter and exit. . . . A knot of knots in a network of social relations, in a network of chemical processes, in a network of emotions exchanged with its own kind.

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  • The error lies in seeking to understand the world in terms of things rather than events. It lies in ignoring change. The physics and astronomy that will work, from Ptolemy to Galileo, from Newton to Schrödinger, will be mathematical descriptions of precisely how things change, not of how they are. They will be about events, not things. The shapes of atoms will be eventually understood only with solutions to Schrödinger’s equations describing how the electrons in atoms move. Events again, not things.

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