Helgoland – Carlo Rovelli – Quotes

Not to fear rethinking the world is the power of science

Individual objects are the way in which they interact. If there was an object that had no interactions, no effect upon anything, emitted no light, attracted nothing and repelled nothing, was not touched and had no smell… it would be as good as non-existent.

Quantum theory describes manifestations of one object to another.

The discovery of quantum theory, I believe, is the discovery that the properties of any entity are nothing other than the way in which that entity influences others. It exists only through its interactions. Quantum theory is the theory of how things influence each other. And this is the best description of nature that we have.

Facts that are real with respect to an object are not necessarily so with respect to another.

The life of an electron is not a line in space: it is a dotted manifestation of events, one here and another one there. Events are punctiform, discontinuous, probabilistic, relative.

This is a solution to the puzzle, but it comes at a cost: no universal set of facts exist.

A single equation codes quantum theory. It implies that the world is not continuous but granular. There is no infinite in going towards the small: things cannot get infinitely smaller. It tells us that the future is not determined by the present. IT tells us that physical things only have properties in relation to other physical things. That these properties make sense only when things interact. It tells us that sometimes perspectives cannot be juxtaposed. 

Whatever we think about communism, there is no denying that Lenin was an extraordinary politician. His knowledge of philosophy and science is also impressive; if today we elected politicians as cultivated as Lenin, perhaps they would be more effective.

…the possibility of a relational interpretation of quantum mechanics opens up: the elements useful for thinking the world are manifestations of physical systems to each other, not absolute properties belonging to each system.

When Einstein objected to quantum mechanics by remaking that ‘God does not play dice’, Bohr responded by admonishing him to ‘Stop telling God what to do.’ Which means: Mature is richer than our metaphysical prejudices. It has more imagination than we do.

‘Contextuality’ is the technical name that denotes this central aspect of quantum physics: things exist in a context.

An isolated object, taken in itself, independent of every interaction, has no particular state. At most we can attribute to it a kind of probabilistic disposition to manifest itself in one way or another. But even this is only an anticipation of future phenomena, a reflection of phenomena past, and only and always relative to another object.

It is always from others that we learn, from those different from ourselves. Despite millennia of uninterrupted dialogue, the East and the West still have something to say to each other. As in the best marriages.

I believe that one of the greatest mistakes made by human beings is to want certainties when trying to understand something. The search for knowledge is not nourished by certainty: it is nourished by a radical absence of certainty.

But quantum physics is the discovery that the physical world is a web of correlations: relative information. The things of nature are not collections of isolated elements, in haughty individualism. Meaning and intentionality are only particular cases of the ubiquity of correlations. There is a continuity between the world of meanings in our mental life and the physical world. Both are relations.

…the relational perspective shows that physics is always a first-person description of reality, from one perspective.

It is true that we have the ‘intuition’ of an independent entity that is the ‘I’. But we also once had the ‘intuition’ that behind a storm there was Jove… And that Earth was flat. It is not through uncritical ‘intuitions’ that we construct an effective comprehension of reality. Introspection is the worst instrument of inquiry if we are interested in the nature of mind: it is tantamount to looking for our own prejudices and wallowing in them.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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