A review of Carlo Rovelli’s “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.”

This short book (79 pages) by an Italian Theoretical Physicist has been lauded for the skill and poetry with which it communicates very complex ideas of theoretical physics.

It does have that merit.  It is an engaging short read and the compression of big and complicated ideas into seven short chapters is like one of those theoretical compressions of matter that lie at the heart of black holes.  The image of the Universe, space, as a vast rippling sea, I loved that.

So the chapters cover Einstein’s theories of relativity, Quantum mechanics, the structure of the Universe, particle physics, probability, time, heat, black holes, and, most portentously, “ourselves.”

One review I read said the book draws from a wide range of philosophy, arts, and literature.  Not really.  There’s a glancing reference to Shakespeare here, a mention of a symphony there, a few quotes from Lucretius here.  On the whole this is a short work of scientific materialism with the odd poetic turn of phrase.  And like much of modern science, with its panic to exclude anything that does not exist within its worldview, it falls back on  frantic attempts to generate “wonder.”  So isn’t this all ‘ooooh,’ and  ‘aaaahhh,’ and ‘wow.’

For in the end this short book says that many of the theories it expounds are clunky, there is much that is unknown, but don’t worry, there’s enough to be sure that we are the result of reducible processes, nothing more.  It’s arrogant reductionist thinking dressed up with a few oooh’s and ahhh’s. The closing chapter isn’t even original thinking, it repeats much of what Richard Dawkins says in the chapter “The Mother of all Burkas” in “The God Delusion.”

Worth reading as a primer on some interesting scientific theories and ideas, and also on the limits of those same theories, but arrogant and unconvincing in its conclusions



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