Spend­ing time with the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist Carlo Rovelli; fa­mil­iar voices join the Koze club on Knock, Knock

A quick (or was it?) chat with physics su­per­star Carlo Rovelli

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

Do your eyes start to glaze at the men­tion of quan­tum grav­ity? Then you haven’t met Carlo Rovelli. The Ital­ian sci­en­tist’s first book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, was a run­away hit — a di­gestible in­tro­duc­tion to head-spin­ning con­cepts. His new book is called The Or­der of Time (with Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch on audiobook du­ties, just FYI). He gave us some of his.

ESQUIRE: Is time travel pos­si­ble?

CARLO ROVELLI: “Look, go­ing to the fu­ture is easy — that’s what we do all the time. That’s our life. And jump­ing to the far fu­ture is cer­tainly pos­si­ble, it’s just an is­sue of money: if we build a space­ship and go near a black hole and come back, we come back in the fu­ture. But go­ing to the past is a dif­fer­ent story.”

ESQ: What got you hooked on the con­cept of time in the first place?

CR: “I was puz­zled about time since I was 16. Mostly be­cause I was that gen­er­a­tion in which you had to take hal­lu­cino­genic drugs, and take LSD, and I had this in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing out of time. Then I dis­cov­ered that there’s this field of physics where there are open ques­tions about ‘What is time?’ and that res­onated with my ado­les­cent con­fu­sion. So I de­cided it would be won­der­ful to spend my life study­ing these sorts of things.”

ESQ: Were you wor­ried this book would be too dense?

CR: “Yes. Very much. The Seven Brief Lessons had this huge suc­cess and I was afraid of writ­ing any­thing else. The rock band sec­ond al­bum the­ory. I wrote about time be­cause time has been a con­stant con­cern in my life. I’ve spent 30 years go­ing around this ques­tion. So I de­cided to do a book which is more dif­fi­cult, which goes more in-depth,

and risk dis­ap­point­ing peo­ple.”

ESQ: Do you think it’s im­por­tant to write with a sense of hu­mour?

CR: “Yes, I do. Science of­ten is on the de­fen­sive — it has to prove that it’s believ­able and ra­tio­nal. But I think science writ­ing has been ex­ag­ger­at­ing try­ing to keep it dry and purely ra­tio­nal. We hu­man be­ings are also driven by emo­tions, so what drives sci­en­tists is feel­ings and emo­tions, and what drives peo­ple’s cu­rios­ity is the same thing.”

ESQ: How do your col­leagues re­spond to that ap­proach?

CR: “One of the best re­ac­tions I got was from David Gross, who is a No­bel Prize win­ner, one of the great­est Amer­i­can physi­cists and an enemy of me in terms of science di­rec­tion — we have in­sulted one an­other more than once pub­licly — and he wrote an email to me say­ing, ‘This is fan­tas­tic. Thank you for com­mu­ni­cat­ing the way I my­self view science in such a won­der­ful way.’ It was a com­pletely pos­i­tive ap­pre­ci­a­tion.”

ESQ: What do you con­sider a waste of time?

CR: “Oh Face­book. There’s no doubt. It’s a black hole, Face­book. It’s ab­sorb­ing every­body’s time and en­ergy into an il­lu­sion of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the planet, which is not true. You’re just com­mu­ni­cat­ing with a teeny frac­tion of hu­man­ity.”

ESQ: Is there an­other book in the pipe­line?

CR: “No. It was a lot of en­ergy to write this one and my job is not to be a writer. My job is to be a physi­cist and I have things I still want to do.”

— The Or­der of Time (Allen Lane) is pub­lished on 26 April

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