Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

carlo rovelli physics book

A concise, but deep exploration of the nature of our universe and how it works

What is the nature of our world, of space, time, even consciousness? Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is a short book that covers (you guessed it) seven topics, including Einstein’s theories, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics. While the concepts covered are incredibly complex, Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist, writes in a way that doesn’t require the reader to have a degree in science to understand. It is an attempt to stimulate the reader’s curiosity, not a science textbook. In that sense, it is similar in style to Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, though shorter and less technical.

This quote, from a review in the Guardian, sums it up well:
“Rovelli‚Äôs book conveys a simple truth: physics is beautiful and awe-inspiring, its mysteries there for us all to muse upon.”

Topics

Spacetime – Space and time aren’t separate things, they are fused together. It goes against our intuition and what we used to believe about how the universe works. The author covers how Einstein’s special theory of relativity changed how we think about the topic.

Quantum mechanics – The universe operates in very different ways when you compare how galaxies work with how the smallest particles (like electrons) behave. The quantum world is very strange.

Thermodynamics – Heat, friction, movement, and vibration all come together to impact and interact with spacetime. Is heat one of the reasons why time behaves like it does? That’s an interesting question.

Consciousness – How does the knowledge of all of the topics above impact how we view ourselves and humanity? What does this mean for concepts like free will and what it means to be conscious? This was a fitting ending lesson to the book.

Recommendation

I love science. If you’re a science nerd, like me, I think you’ll enjoy this book. While it is written in a way to be understandable to the general public, it will likely be confusing for people who aren’t familiar with the deeper concepts in physics, especially the different theories of relativity.

Here’s a link to the Wiki page for this book (not much to see there). Here’s a link to the publisher’s website for the book. Lastly, here’s a link to the Wiki page for the author, Carlo Rovelli.

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Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death – Adrian Owen

adrian owen into the gray zone book

A science book that forces you to consider philosophical and ethical questions

I first picked this book up because I was curious about learning more regarding consciousness and the science behind it. This book delivered on that, but it also opened so many other doors of thought that I didn’t realize were there. What is consciousness exactly? What does it mean to have a good quality of life? What if we’re wrong in our assumptions about these questions? Who gets to decide? These questions go beyond the scientific method.

Science and storytelling

What I like most about this book is that it isn’t just a science book or textbook. Adrian Owen is a neuroscientist and researcher, but he also does a great job of telling the story of his discoveries and the patients he encounters along the way. It can all too easy to dismiss or gloss over data points and numbers, but when you hear the stories that people have gone through it makes you stop and put yourself in their place. While the science part really is fascinating, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to benefit from (or understand) this book. The stories of Kate, Juan, and Scott will stick with you for a long time.

It turns out, we were wrong about consciousness

Spoiler alert: many people who were previously thought to be non-responsive or in a vegetative state are actually aware of what’s going on. Up to 20%, it appears. This raises all kinds of ethical questions about how we treat people who are non-responsive or appear to be in a vegetative state. Until the science improves and we can truly know who is conscious and who isn’t, should we change how we handle these cases from a medical standpoint? Are we being ethical in making decisions about care?

Recommendation

If you have a science background and are interested in the study of the mind and consciousness, you really should read this book. Those who are on the fence or are willing to reconsider their stances on the right to live or right to die movements will also find this book interesting, if not challenging. I definitely recommend this book. It is thought-provoking and doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. In fact, it will likely leave you with more questions. If you’re okay with that, check this one out.

You can find “Into The Gray Zone” on Amazon here and find out more about the book and the author here.