The Order of Time – Carlo Rovelli

I was expecting The Order of Time to be mostly about physics, and how general relativity and spacetime work. It is that, but it is also a book about philosophy, our sense of self and briefly, LSD.

It is a short book, well-written and fascinating to read. Different ideas swim to the surface, such as a mention of the development of time zones around the world, which had also been discussed in Blood, Iron & Gold, which I had finished the same day as I read this. And although most historic physicists remain flat and characterless, anyone who Rovelli knew, or knew by reputation, is written with character, and personal anecdote, a much warmer text than many scientific books.

Of course the main theme is scientific. It is a discussion on how time is essential for how we witness the monotonic increase in entropy, and the impact of relativistic changes on the passing of time meaning that the idea of a universal “now” is a mythical construct, possible only across Earth because of our inability to perceive sufficiently small changes in time.

But then we are off again, discussing what exists. A cat? A law? A cartoon character? Ourselves? Rovelli ties all of these pieces back together to give a message on the fragility and beauty of life.


The News: A User’s Manual – Alain de Botton

This thoughtful little book discusses how the news is chosen, and how this affects our world views. Taking topics by turn, the general theme is that light-touch headlines cause us to be less, not more, aware of the realities of the world around us.

I loved how it looks at good intentions of sharing important information can lead to a bias in how we view the world, and how news cannot allow depth of studying of decisions, but only outcomes.

It certainly has helped break me of my headline-watching habits, and after a couple of weeks I don’t think that is a bad thing. Instead I check a weekly news review, and don’t feel less aware of the world for it.

The Path – Professor Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh

One of those books that just seems to have appeared in my to read pile, The Path didn’t grab me for a long time. But I finally picked it up prior to a road trip this summer, and it certainly gave me something to think about.

The central theme is that ancient Chinese philosphy is valuable to everyday life in the modern Western world. I was sceptical of this before I read it, certainly books that usually make such promises then disappear down a rabbit hole. But this book is short and to the point. Each philosopher’s teachings are linked back to the modern world and how they can help us today, and with generous margins this book comes in at under 200 pages.

Puett’s normal audience is an undergraduate course of, not necessarily philosophy, students. It is accessibly pitched and intended to help think about how to live your own life, but also how to manage others, be they family members or in a work environment. It is about how to find The Way, and guide your life so you are working with it rather than struggling against both your own nature and the outside world.

It is a very good sign when a non-fiction book leaves me hunting through the further reading section to learn more, and thinking about how what I read can be woven into my life.

The Impact of Science on Society – Bertrand Russell

The Impact of Science on Society
The Impact of Science on Society is the publication of a series of lectures Russell gave in the late 1940s He was at this stage a well-respected philosopher mathematician and social critic, trying to explain the new world that had been created following the use of the atomic bomb along with social change that had occurred in his lifetime.

Of course from this perspective a single world government controlled under scientific principles looked to be the only solution which would avoid world annihilation, and he explored the ways that this could be as positive a move as possible. I found the interest in this book as evidence that the “establishment” were/are trying to create a new world order to be slightly amusing. Especially as surely by now we would have the one government if that was the aim, not the continued drawing of the lines between the USA and Russia over sixty years later.

He gives a few draft “rights of man”, which is a stark reminder that the now well-known human rights were being drafted in this era, and how very necessary they were in the wake of world war two. This is tied with a reflection of how very much society and government had changed in his life, and a reflection that people in communities working for a common purpose as they had during the war were often happier than they were in peacetime.

He also explores the limits of science, that the need to exploit finite raw materials will always place constraints on growth, and that in the absence of world wars we will need to find a new way to place brakes on population growth.

There is an inherent optimism in this book that humanity will choose reason over death, and I think he would be happy to discover that the Cold War did end, and for the time being at least reason has been chosen over death, even though he was wrong as to what shape that reason would take.