Carlo Rovelli on our psychological experience of time

Interview: Carlo Rovelli, author of ‘The Order of Time’

In 'The Order of Time', you deconstruct the familiar human experience of time. In doing so, did you feel restrained by language?

Definitely, yes. In physics we use mathematics and so one gets over the language. Language is good for talking about reality, but it’s also blinding because one risks using it without thinking what it is actually saying. When you try to talk about time, everything goes well as long as you’re talking about our common experience of time. But as soon as you try to talk about the different temporal structure of the universe, the language is just not there […] so a lot of the book was struggling with language.

Do you have to sacrifice mathematical precision when writing books about physics?

You cannot do [physics] without mathematics; mathematics allows us to derive quantitative results and make predictions and we cannot do that in words - or we could, but it becomes horrendously more complicated. The books of Galileo do not have really explicit mathematics, it’s all words, but now we [can] transform a page of Galileo into a line of mathematics. So you lose [precision] but you gain poetry and visual things.

I could tell you that the earth is like an orange: you can walk around it and come back to the same point. The content is the same as [going] to the blackboard and writing an equation: x2+y2=1. But you look at that equation and do you really see a sphere? It takes a lot of visual intuition. I think words and language completes and explains what’s hidden in equations.


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'Time is elastic': an extract from Carlo Rovelli's 'The Order of Time'

EXCERPT: . . . Reality is often very different from what it seems. The Earth appears to be flat but is in fact spherical. The sun seems to revolve in the sky when it is really we who are spinning. Neither is time what it seems to be.

Let’s begin with a simple fact: time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. The difference is small but can be measured with precision timepieces that can be bought today for a few thousand pounds. This slowing down can be detected between levels just a few centimetres apart: a clock placed on the floor runs a little more slowly than one on a table.

[...] It only takes a few micrograms of LSD to expand our experience of time to an epic and magical scale. “How long is forever?” asks Alice. “Sometimes, just one second,” replies the White Rabbit. There are dreams lasting an instant in which everything seems frozen for an eternity. Time is elastic in our personal experience of it. Hours fly by like minutes, and minutes are oppressively slow, as if they were centuries.

Before Einstein told us that it wasn’t true, how the devil did we get it into our heads that time passes everywhere at the same speed? It was certainly not our direct experience of the passage of time that gave us the idea that time elapses at the same rate, always and everywhere....


- - - Media Bias / Fact Check - - -


Factual Reporting: HIGH

Is there a true time for the universe? A time unaffected by mass/gravity. Can it be measured?
(Jun 11, 2018 12:41 PM)Zinjanthropos Wrote: Is there a true time for the universe? A time unaffected by mass/gravity.  Can it be measured?

There are no absolute/universal measures of anything, only relative measures. Since all points of reference are arbitrary (none are uniquely preferred), we can only make measurements relative to where the measurement occurs.

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