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Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  9,014 ratings  ·  1,078 reviews
From the best-selling author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics comes a new book about the mind-bending nature of the universe

What are time and space made of? Where does matter come from? And what exactly is reality? Scientist Carlo Rovelli has spent his whole life exploring these questions and pushing the boundaries of what we know. Here he explains how our image of the w
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 15th 2016 by Allen Lane (first published January 2014)
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Sara Sams Yes, I think so-- in chapter 12: the idea that reality more or less boils down to* information interacting between systems. If you stop believing in i…moreYes, I think so-- in chapter 12: the idea that reality more or less boils down to* information interacting between systems. If you stop believing in it, you're still interpreting information (just, perhaps, erroneously).

*ha, a joke about thermodynamics! (less)
Osama I read the book when I'm 26, and understood it.
But I read similar books when I was 20, and as young as 15.

I don't think age matters that much as long…more
I read the book when I'm 26, and understood it.
But I read similar books when I was 20, and as young as 15.

I don't think age matters that much as long as there are interest in science or the topic. The author makes sure it is as simple as possible.

I think it is for everyone older than 10, and younger than dead. (less)

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Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in physics
Goodreads friends who know about physics told me that this book really does provide a comprehensible explanation of loop quantum gravity. I was a little sceptical, having already seen a couple of unsuccessful attempts, but now that I've read it I'm convinced. It does what it says on the box.

If loop quantum gravity (LQG) hasn't been on your radar, let me give you some background and explain why this is a big deal. Physics has for the last century rested on two basic theories, quantum mechanics an
Making Space

Quantum Gravity is the closest thing in Physics to a coherent explanation of the origin and fate of the universe - how it began, how it works, how it evolves. Quantum Gravity also has a pretty fair shot to reconcile the apparent paradoxes and contradictions involved in and between the theories of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Most recent scientific observations favour it over alternative theories as the way forward for Physics. But Quantum Gravity does fail to explain one
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, 2017
"Before being technical, science is visionary."
- Carol Rovelli, Reality is Not What it Seems


(5 stars for poetry; 3 stars for precision)

When one discusses matters celestial or theoretical or cosmological it best translates when done in math or poetry. Rovelli has an amazing talent for singing the esoteric, theoretical language of Quantum Gravity. He finds meter with its loops and rhyme in the paradoxes. He is able to fluidly convert the edges of theoretical physics into a language that amateur
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'll be honest and up front, I only wanted to read more into Loop Quantum Gravity.

Say what?!? Well, it's the leading contender against String theory. It doesn't try to mash together the main problem area of gravity with quantum mechanics, but rather extends quantum mechanics as a granular geometric equation into the macro realm of what we understand as special relativity.

In other words, Reality is finite, quantifiable, and can be extrapolated from the underpinnings of the general field of quant
Enlightenment à la Rovelli (serves 2)

1. Divide the Dante into equal halves and fasten together with a good transdimensional adhesive to form a 3-sphere. Be careful not to get any glue in the primum mobile. Set aside to dry.

2. Stir the Lucretius, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Heisenberg until thoroughly mixed. Add a little Anaximander to taste. Put in a warm place until it has risen.

3. Add the Feynman path integral and the lattice approximation to the spacetime. Whisk into a spin-foam using a qua

3.5 stars

In this book Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist, explains Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG) - a concept that merges Einstein's theory of general relativity with quantum mechanics.

Carlo Rovelli

The theory of LQG was developed over the past few decades by theoretical physicists using sophisticated mathematics.

Theoretical physicists, however, were hardly the first people to speculate about the nature of the universe. Rovelli's discussion starts with ancient philosophers like Anaximander, Pl
Manuel Antão
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, favorites
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Follow-up on ∂S/∂t + H = 0: "Reality Is Not What It Seems" by Carlo Rovelli

"The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events".
In "Reality Is Not What It Seems" by Carlo Rovelli

"Experimentation and transformation in both art and science spring from the same root - to understand, to encapsulate the world. This is why I've ever found reductionism (and scientism) drearily limiting and worthily pompous - t
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
Rovelli crafts a unique presentation combining insight from the ancient Greeks, some Dante, a selective history of physics and his own quest for a theory of quantum gravity. He adds a little philosophy and even a few lines of poetry to challenging scientific concepts. Despite the trimmings, Rovelli is definitely writing for the science buff. For those that read popular physics books, there is little new in the historical section, but his selections help him make his point. He describes the incom ...more
David Katzman
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've always thought that the generally accepted "solution" to Zeno's Paradox wasn't very acceptable. A curve approaching infinitely small = zero? But really, they aren't equal. You just kind of...round down? So imagine to my surprise, Rovelli supplies the most satisfying solution ever. Space...hold on...I have to pause dramatically, because this is just mindblowing...

Space is granular. That's right. Space itself is chunked just like light is made of photons. HOLY SHIT! That is why the hare can p
ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos) In Lockdown
“ ... let's look at the Earth, then you'll see there are things that stand still and things that will sooner or later come to a standstill, that is, at the moment they happen to be moving from one place to another, there is stoppage and delayed stoppage, there are two if we consider only the Earth and the way we see it, but if we take the realm of the invisible where, let's say, he says, neutrons and protons and electrons and hadrons and leptons and quarks and bosons and superpartners bicker and ...more
Aug 06, 2017 rated it liked it
This is an introductory book to one of the most promising theories of “quantum gravity” currently attempting to merge quantum mechanics and general relativity: Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG), of which the author is one of the co-founders.

Loop quantum gravity posits that spacetime is essentially just a new field, conceptually not dissimilar to the other quantized fields postulated by Quantum Field Theory, and similarly characterized by features such as granularity, “probabilistic” behaviour and “ind
TS Chan
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a topic as mind-bending as quantum physics, I marvel at Carlo Rovelli's ability to distill it down to something which normal folks like me can comprehend. To a certain extent, anyway.

The first part of the book which talked about the evolution of physics was well-written, concise and fairly easy to understand. Once he started to move into the realm of quantum gravity, the ideas and notions do get harder to grasp. Loop quantum gravity, spin networks and spin foam - the alternative to string t
Brian Clegg
I was no great fan of Carlo Rovelli's flowery, overpriced previous title, and the introduction to this book on loop quantum gravity has a similar style, but thankfully it settles down a little. However, there is still rather too much of the woffle, reverting to floral form on Lucretius and his atomist poem on nature. For those who remember How to be Topp, this is the Fotherington Thomas school of popular science - all 'Hullo clouds, hullo sky!'

We then get onto Galileo. At times, Rovelli's histor
Does anyone know what "spinfoam" is in French? I was trying to describe this book to a francophone friend and couldn't find a translation.

The word comes across as sensible in English, but écume de spin sounded just plain weird to both of us. My friend was visibly unimpressed when I told her that that what the world was made of.
Éimhear (A Little Haze)

"We are exploring at the borders of our knowledge.
Awareness of the limits of our knowledge is also awareness of the fact that what we know may turn out to be wrong, or inexact. Only by keeping in mind that our beliefs may turn out to be wrong is it possible to free ourselves from wrong ideas, and to learn. To learn something, it is necessary to have the courage to accept that what we think we know, including our most recent rooted convictions, may be wrong, or at least naive... Science is born f
Jose Moa
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There are two main streams of research in joining quantum mechanis and general relativity,the string theory that is background dependant,the space-time,and the loop quantum gravity that is not backgroun dependant as it is a quantum theory of the space-time,in this sense ,for me, this is a more fundamental theory.
This is the first book I have read on loop quantum gravity and I have found it very clear ,accesible and easy to read in this difficult and technical subject,I also have found this theor
Dec 02, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Title Music: Philip Glass, Einstein on the beach. Description: Carlo Rovelli's provocative account of how science affects our understanding of the world around us. Read by Mark Meadows.

aPriL does feral sometimes
I finished it, for which I deserve five stars. The author used great illustrations, for which he deserves five stars.

However, I think the author should have described certain quantum ideas, like 'spin networks' and loops with more illustrations and longer chapters and more words rooted in common everyday language - but on the other hand, my brain grasps liberal arts with ease while I flounder and drown in math conceptualizations, not to mention in solving higher-math equations. Maybe the author
This book is a modern day, On the Nature of Things. Like Lucretius himself, Rovelli is a poet who, with his words, constructs beautiful images of the true nature of reality.

The key message in this book is that everything comes down to geometry and the geometry of space is much more interesting than we probably suppose. Energy has morphed into various shapes as it traveled from the radiation of the hot, dense, atom sized ball it was when it was young, to elements and forms seen in the cooler, ex
Dan Graser
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Given the audacity of several titles on string theory that have been published for the last decade or so, I can forgive the overly grandiose title here. A more appropriate title would be, "The Contextual Justification for Early Elements of the Theory of Loop Quantum Gravity as a Means of Linking Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity." If this is your first introduction to several modern concepts in physics then this is a 5 star book for you, those more familiar with the material can likely sk ...more
kartik narayanan
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reality is not what it seems is a good book on physics. But like the author himself mentioned, seven brief lessons on physics is a more concise and direct treatment of the topics covered in the book. I would agree and direct readers to 7 Brief instead of this one.
Britta Böhler
Although the subject - the journey from the Newtonian laws of motion to quantum physics - is fascinating, Rovelli's book is a not very succesful mix of very basic information (which is boring if you are the least bit familiar with the topic) and - not very well explained - difficult details and examples (which are incomprehensible if you are new to the topic). ...more
This is amazing! Complicated concepts put into simple, everyday language that makes them easily understood. I can't get over the fact that so many of the early scientists figured stuff out simply by changing their own perspective.

Roy McMillian is a genius on the audio. I can't rave enough about his narration.
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, science
I wholeheartedly agree with Manny's review.

Applying Occam's razor clearly favors Loop Quantum Gravity (LCG) theory over String theory with its 11 or more dimensions. Amazingly, dropping the 'background' of empty space and time as basic notions simplifies obtaining LCG as a theory that makes General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics compatible.

There are even some cosmological experiments that could test LCG: e.g. observing a black hole that expands again (bounces back) would suggest that space/ma
Mar 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Carlo Rovelli, a prominent theoretical physicist, presents to the broad public an easily accessible introduction to quantum gravity. The book traces the development of ideas from antiquity, through the renaissance, to present times. It's a story about the origins and development of special and general relativity, quantum theory, and their long-awaited reconciliation: quantum gravity. We get a glimpse into the process of inventing a scientific theory, specifically, the natural progression to loop ...more
Jimmy Ele
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: foundation
A need to think about the ideas more thoroughly is preventing me (at the moment) from writing a review.
Emre Sevinç
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
How about setting up a protocol among popular physics writers, so that they don't have to start from Democritus, continue with Newton, explain Einstein's special and general relativity and then quantum mechanics for the hundredth time? I don't know if it's publishers pushing a for a minimum number of pages, or maybe it is that authors think they have to give the whole context from scratch every time they write a book, but I think it will be much space-saving if we could refer to established popu ...more
Rick Presley
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing

I can see why Fundies and Evangelicals don't hang around with theoretical physicists. It breaks their presumptions. Not ASsumptions, but PREsumptions.

The fact of reality is that we don't really know it's nature or of what it is composed. My religious friends all KNOW what it is made of, but they don't have to grapple with fundamental questions. If one wants to believe in the God of Job chapter 38, this book is a great introduction. I would highly, highly recommend it for anyone who
Feb 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of this 'journey to quantum gravity' provides a lively and poetic insight into the key moments in the history of development of atomistic theory, from Leucippus, Democritus and the Lucrecius's poem On the Nature of Things, through Newton, Faraday and Maxwell, to general relativity and quantum theory.
The second half is an enthusiastic and entertaining attempt to explain to the general reader the implications of the ongoing theory known as 'loop quantum gravity'.
This part was an ext
Rachel (Kalanadi)
I like that Rovelli's explanations and analogies differ from what I've read elsewhere, but I didn't follow some of the complexities of quantum gravity near the end. But then, who really does??

This is the first physics text I've read clearly written after the Higgs boson was found and super symmetry was not confirmed at the LHC, which seems to have shifted the balance between the competing theories of loop quantum gravity and string theory.
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Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist and writer who has worked in Italy and the USA, and currently works in France. His work is mainly in the field of quantum gravity, where he is among the founders of the loop quantum gravity theory. He has also worked in the history and philosophy of science. He collaborates regularly with several Italian newspapers, in particular the cultural suppl ...more

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