One of TIME’s Ten Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade
"Meet the new Stephen Hawking . . . The Order of Time is a dazzling book." --The Sunday Times
From the bestselling author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Reality Is Not What It Seems, Helgoland, and Anaximander comes a concise, elegant exploration of time.
Why do we remember the past and not the future? What does it mean for time to "flow"? Do we exist in time or does time exist in us? In lyric, accessible prose, Carlo Rovelli invites us to consider questions about the nature of time that continue to puzzle physicists and philosophers alike.
For most readers this is unfamiliar terrain. We all experience time, but the more scientists learn about it, the more mysterious it remains. We think of it as uniform and universal, moving steadily from past to future, measured by clocks. Rovelli tears down these assumptions one by one, revealing a strange universe where at the most fundamental level time disappears. He explains how the theory of quantum gravity attempts to understand and give meaning to the resulting extreme landscape of this timeless world. Weaving together ideas from philosophy, science and literature, he suggests that our perception of the flow of time depends on our perspective, better understood starting from the structure of our brain and emotions than from the physical universe.
Already a bestseller in Italy, and written with the poetic vitality that made Seven Brief Lessons on Physics so appealing, The Order of Time offers a profoundly intelligent, culturally rich, novel appreciation of the mysteries of time.
In this far-reaching text rife with references to poets, artists, and philosophers, as well as scientists, theoretical physicist Rovelli (Seven Brief Lessons on Physics) takes readers through the current scientific understanding of time, stating that "we inhabit time as fish live in water." Rovelli begins with a look at why time, Rainer Maria Rilke's "eternal current," only flows forward. Humans can see the past but not the future, he writes, because of how heat flows, from hot to cold. He states that "only where there is heat is there a distinction between past and future," using as an example a film of a rolling ball gradually slowing, due to heat-producing friction; if run backwards, the film becomes absurd. Entropy, "the quantity that measures this irreversible progress of heat in only one direction," provides the direction of "time's arrow." Meanwhile, the human perception of simultaneity, the idea of "now" in two different locations, is an illusion, an insight that Rovelli calls "perhaps the greatest and strangest of Einstein's discoveries." In considering time, Rovelli also explores quantum time, loop theory, and the nature of memory. As much philosophy as physics, this accessible study introduces the complex questions behind the perception and study of time.