I recently discovered Carlo Rovelli’s book Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity. This was among the big sellers at Waterstones, and I soon discovered why. Rovelli is very good at communicating ‘difficult’ scientific ideas. His subject matter is physics, that most basic of sciences, and this book gives a good overview of the implications of the current thinking of some physicists.
His story begins with the Ancient Greeks and particularly Democritus and his atomism, the essential granular quality of the universe. Although no work of Democritus survived, the essential ideas were rediscovered at the time of the Renaissance, ultimately inspiring Isaac Newton and his model of the existence of particles in space and time, and of forces between them, action at a distance, what became known as gravity.
The next great step was the ‘discovery’ of electric and magnetic fields between particles by Faraday and Maxwell.
With his special theory of relativity in 1905, Einstein brought together space and time, into space-time, and in 1915 his general relativity further integrated spacetime with fields, as covariant fields.
The amazing story of quantum mechanics, developed by many collaborators including Planck, Heisenberg and Dirac, then simplified the physicists’ model of the universe to two things: Spacetime and Quantum fields. And then the ultimate aim of Quantum gravity is to reduce this to just one building block of the whole universe – Covariant quantum fields.
Yes it’s a great story and well worth reading for insight into where the physicists are at, but without the incomprehensible (to most people) maths that lies behind it.
But always remember this. It’s only a model; it’s not reality. And the model doesn’t really understand the interiority of things, life, consciousness, the mystery of existence… i.e. most of what’s important.