Published by Riverhead Books on May 8, 2018
Genres/Lists: Non-Fiction, Science/Technology/Psychology, Translated
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Consider the following: time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. If this sentence confounds you but piques your interest, then I can already tell you that you want to read The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, which answers questions such as what is time? Is there a universal time? What does it mean to live in the present? Does the present exist?
Turns out, these are simple questions with no easy answers because time is complicated. I don’t mean that timezones are confusing or that time passing faster in the mountains is perplexing, but that at an elemental level, time doesn’t even exist the way we think it does.
Luckily, The Order of Time takes an approachable, scientific look at these questions and explores ideas rooted in quantum physics, thermodynamics, and the human condition. It will expand your mind, confuse the heck out of you, and, if you’re like me, leave you pondering some pretty heavy philosophical conundrums.
One thing I learned that does make sense is that there is no now because now is just the perception of time. By the time we perceive something happening, nanoseconds have already passed. This means that everything we do, think, say, or hear exists both in the past and the present depending on if you’re saying it or hearing it. In other words, time is so fleeting we’re more or less living in the future as much as we are the present. For example, I can ask what you’re doing right now (reading this sentence) but by the time you process the words I have written, the act of reading it is in the past. WHAT?!
Taking this one step further, this also means two people are never actually in the same place at the same time. I can speak to you, but by the time you perceive my actions, I am already living in the past. Throw in timezones and it’s easy to see why there’s no true, universal time. Time exists in relativity. Perhaps the author says it best when he said, “Physics does not describe how things evolve “in time” but how things evolve in their own times, and how “times” evolve relative to each other.”The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli will perplex and astound you, but its well worth the TIME. Click To Tweet
This relativity also applies to what it means to exist. One example The Order of Time gives is the emergence of teams. A group of children can line up and pick teams, one by one, for a soccer game. This new team doesn’t already exist, but it emerges and then does exist because different entities combine to make it so. So if you can create something out of nothing, what does that mean for the whole of existence? And is existence all relative? Some might say that a literary character doesn’t exist, as in they are not “real”, but yet they do exist, if even in our collective minds. Existence, Rovelli argues, is grammatical: “Words such as “here,” “now,” “I,” “this,” “tonight” all assume a different meaning depending on who utters them and the circumstances in which they are uttered.”
Philosophical pondering aside, Rovelli explains all of this by rooting it in science. He tackles major scientific theories of time, from Aristotle’s belief that time measures change to Newton’s idea that time is independent of us. He discusses entropy and how it evolves over time, linking it to the laws of thermodynamics and quantum physics.
Yet despite this heavy reading, there’s a romantic quality to The Order of Time. Because in the end, it’s all about how we, as humans, perceive time. It is our own “blurred vision” that shapes how we see the world. We are made up of our experiences, traces, and narratives, and each is unique to us. And although the following quote isn’t about time, per se, it does speak to the larger question of whether the absence of something exists: “But it isn’t absence that causes sorrow. It is affection and love. Without affection, without love, such absences would cause us no pain. For this reason, even the pain caused by absence is, in the end, something good and even beautiful, because it feeds on that which gives meaning to life.”
Recommended for: Science-y types who enjoy the philosophical conundrums that come with trying to understand the universe.