After chemistry, physics was my worst subject in high school. I avoided both in college. So I picked up Rovelli’s first best seller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics hoping to fill some gaps in my knowledge. As much as he tried to explain some of these lessons to non-scientists, I still didn’t quite get some of his points. Same with The Order of Time. So I haven’t even tried to tackle Reality Is Not What It Seems: the Journey to Quantum Gravity. Quantum gravity is Rovelli’s alternative to string theory, which also eludes my dense brain.
As I said in the previous post, his latest book covers a wide variety of topics, some of them quite technical, but in clear, understandable language. He even writes a concise introduction to Nagarjuna, a profound Buddhist philosopher whom I have been studying.
One of my favorite essays tells us about Peter Godfrey-Smith’s research into the intelligence of octopuses. In his book Other Minds, Godfrey-Smith explores the consciousness of these creature and, in Rovelli’s words, concludes that consciousness is the “form taken by the relations between an organism and the world.” Strikingly paralleling to the Buddhist concept of sense-consciousness in its theory of how we know.
His essay on Zeno’s paradoxes cleared up many points for me. Previously I said that I preferred Diogenes’ “refutation” of Zeno’s paradox, which supposedly demonstrates the impossibility of moving from point A to point B. Zeno argued that first you have to go half the distance between A and B, then half of that, and so on cutting the distance into an infinite number of halves. Diogenes just got up and walked from A to B. So there, Mr Wiseass Zeno. As I quoted before, Hegel did not like Diogenes’ approach. He described it as
an assertion and a refutation which of course it is easier to make than to enter upon thought, to seize the confusions into which thought, quite unforced, leads when it formulates itself in ordinary consciousness, and to solve them by means of thought. … this sensuous consciousness will never let itself be raised from the sphere of the empirical to that of Thought.
Hegel would have liked Rovelli’s short essay showing the logical and mathematical errors in Zeno’s argument. Basically, you can divide a finite distance into an infinite number of pieces, but it still remains a finite distance.
I must admit that I had difficulties with one essay, the one on “Churchill and Science.” The only excuse I can think for Rovelli’s praise of this genocidal racist is that he was writing in early 2017 when Trump had just taken office, and Kelly Ann Conway was introducing us to “alternative facts.” He didn’t research this subject as thoroughly as he did so many others.