In search of what connects us, Carlo Rovelli explores beyond physics

It is perhaps Rovelli’s writing style, as well as his facility with ideas, that sets him apart from other popular science writers.For some readers, he says, the writing in my books is what matters to them. And the truth is that I use analogies, some poetic, but it’s not coloring or embellishment. That’s actually where I’m trying to go, trying to convey an emotion, a certain sense of wonder, a certain sense of soul.

Simon Carnell, along with his late wife, Erica Segre, translated five of Rovelli’s books, including his new one. He said in an email that he considered Rovelli’s style to be “highly compressed without ever becoming dry or airless”. He added that Rovelli “has the scientific instinct to avoid and eliminate superfluous words (including translations of his work), but more importantly, a writing ability to do so in the service of a style. elegant, lively and above all engaging.

As well as offering Rovelli’s heady but lean synthesis of science and the humanities, his new book also features articles dealing with politics, climate change and justice. Dean Rickles, professor of history and philosophy of modern physics at the University of Sydney, said in a Zoom interview that this larger project by Rovelli, with its theme of interdependence, is particularly compelling.

“He is now concerned about justice, peace and climate. He has become a sort of political scientist,” he said. “I think you can boil it all down, really, to some kind of quality, like a democracy in all things… We’re all interdependent.”

Perhaps the best way to think about Rovelli’s worldview is through the work of Nāgārjuna, a second-century Indian Buddhist philosopher whom he admires. Author of “The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”, Nāgārjuna taught that there is no immutable, underlying, stable reality – that nothing is self-contained, everything is variable, interdependent. Reality, in short, is always something other than what it was or appeared to be, he argues. To define it is to misunderstand it.

In “Emptiness is Empty: Nāgārjuna,” another article in his new book, Rovelli writes of how the philosopher’s conception of reality elicits a sense of awe, a sense of serenity, but without consolation: “Understanding that we we don’t exist is something that can free us from attachments and suffering; it is precisely because of the impermanence of life, of the absence in it of any absolute, that life has meaning.

Before leaving Rovelli’s house that day, I took another look at the hidden snow outside. The reality seemed both more convincing and more mysterious. Hesitantly, I asked him if he thought there was a big truth in a capital ‘T’. He made me happy, then stopped for a moment.

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