What Spacetime Explains: Metaphysical Essays on Space and Time

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Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or creeps or slows or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or landscapes. When we wake from a vivid dream we are dimly aware that the sense of time we have just experienced is illusory. Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who wants to make the uninitiated grasp the excitement of his field.

His book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics , with its concise, sparkling essays on subjects such as black holes and quanta, has sold 1. We meet outside the church of San Petronio in Bologna, where Rovelli studied.


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A cheery, compact fellow in his early 60s, Rovelli is in nostalgic mood. Before that, he was in the US, at the University of Pittsburgh, for a decade.

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He rarely visits Bologna, and he has been catching up with old friends. We wander towards the university area. Piazza Verdi is flocked with a lively crowd of students. There are flags and graffiti and banners, too — anti-fascist slogans, something in support of the Kurds, a sign enjoining passers-by not to forget Giulio Regeni , the Cambridge PhD student killed in Egypt in He was a passionate student activist, back then.

What did he and his pals want?

Leibniz and Newton on Space | SpringerLink

We wanted a world without boundaries, without state, without war, without religion, without family, without school, without private property. He was, he says now, too radical, and it was hard, trying to share possessions, trying to live without jealousy. And then there was the LSD. He took it a few times. And it turned out to be the seed of his interest in physics generally, and in the question of time specifically. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality.

He had hallucinations of misshapen objects, of bright and dazzling colours — but also recalls thinking during the experience, actually asking himself what was going on. But how do I know that the usual perception is right, and this is wrong? If these two ways of perceiving are so different, what does it mean that one is the correct one?


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Reality, to quote the title of one of his books, is not what it seems. He gave his conservative, Veronese parents a bit of a fright, he says.

Gottfried Leibniz: Metaphysics

It was after the optimistic sense of student revolution in Italy came to an abrupt end with the kidnapping and murder of the former prime minister, Aldo Moro, in that Rovelli began to take physics seriously. But his route to his big academic career was circuitous and unconventional. When I was young, the problem was how to avoid work. Academia, then, seemed like a way of avoiding the world of a conventional job, and for some years he followed his curiosity without a sense of careerist ambition.

And this was a privilege — I knew more things, there was more time. The popular books, too, have come relatively late, after his academic study of quantum gravity, published in If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. Both theories are successful; but their apparent incompatibility is an open problem, and one of the current tasks of theoretical physics is to attempt to construct a conceptual framework in which they both work.

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String theory offers another, different route towards solving the problem. How does time fit in to his work? Time, Einstein long ago showed, is relative — time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object, for example. Time, then, is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us.


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For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. World enough and space—time: Absolute vs relational theories of space and time. MIT Press.

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French S. Garber D. Hacking I. Hartz G. History of Philosophy Quarterly 1: — Google Scholar. Isis 52 4 : — CrossRef Google Scholar. Leibniz G. Verlag, Berlin Google Scholar. Reidel, Dordrecht Google Scholar. Leibniz, G.

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Philosophical essays. Paris: J. The Labyrinth of the coninuum: Writings of to Yale University Press. Selected, edited and translated, with an introductory essay, by R. Lodge P. Newton, I. Samuel Clarke. University of California Press. Cohen and A. Northrop F. Roberts J. Rodriguez-Pereyra G. Russell, B. The philosophy of Leibniz.

Rynasiewicz R. The text. Shapiro A. Stein H. In: Stuewer R.

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