Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

When listening to a professor of physics talking about quantum mechanics makes you want to press pause, so you can curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea before you continue, it's clear you need to hear more from the said professor. 

Ever since we discovered that the Earth is round and turns like a mad spinning-top we have understood that reality is not as it appears to us: every time we glimpse a new aspect of it, it is a deeply emotional experience. Another veil has fallen.

Since that was my reaction when listening to the interview with Carlo Rovelli on On Being, I bought his book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics before I even finished the episode. 

The reason for this is that before experiments, measurements, mathematics and rigorous deductions, science is above all about visions. Science begins with a vision. Scientific thought is fed by the capacity to ‘see’ things differently than they have previously been seen.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is, obviously, about physics. But it reads like a love letter to science. You can tell every word is carefully chosen. If you read it in one go, you could finish it in a couple of hours, but you don't want that. You'll want to savor it. 

Here, in the vanguard, beyond the borders of knowledge, science becomes even more beautiful – incandescent in the forge of nascent ideas, of intuitions, of attempts. Of roads taken and then abandoned, of enthusiasms. In the effort to imagine what has not yet been imagined.

It gives you background and context for big breakthroughs in physics. For someone who has only a vague understanding of the basic concepts, I was impressed with how accessible it was. Carlo makes complex ideas easy to understand and he does it with a beautiful language. 

Quantum mechanics and experiments with particles have taught us that the world is a continuous, restless swarming of things; a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities. A set of vibrations, as in the switched-on hippy world of the 1960s. A world of happenings, not of things.

Read if you want a well-written introduction to spark your curiosity for physics. Or just to enjoy good writing explaining the world we live in.