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From Boltzmann to quantum theory, from Einstein to loop quantum gravity, our understanding of time has been undergoing radical transformations. By contrast, what Rovelli proposes is that Anaximander came up with a number of steps forward that were effectively foundational for the scientific method. Carlo Rovelli's first book, now widely available in English, tells the origin story of scientific thinking: our rebellious ability to reimagine the world, again and again. This is the way forward, and everyone who cares about science should support their national organisation. Maybe Carlo Rovelli need not answer these questions or maybe he thinks these are questions not worth asking.
In my experience, working scientists often get history of science wrong - in this case, as it's arguably more history of philosophy, I can't say whether or not Carlo Rovelli is straying far from what's known to make his point, but what he has to say about the Greek philosopher Anaximander from the 6th century BC is fascinating. Admittedly, Carlo Rovelli relies on one sentence left by Anaximander and some additional findings and analysis attributed to him. Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist who has made significant contributions to the physics of space and time. In this formative book, published in English for the first time, he clearly senses Anaximander as a kindred spirit, though his claims for the Greek are based on scattered traces of evidence. Though part of Rovelli’s project is to grant Anaximander greater prominence in histories of civilisation, he is equally interested in examining the social factors that led to this big bang moment for rational thought.
Wintering is a poignant and comforting meditation on the fallow periods of life, times when we must retreat to care for and repair ourselves. Never Split the Difference takes you inside his world of high-stakes negotiations, revealing the nine key principles that helped Voss and his colleagues succeed when it mattered the most - when people's lives were at stake.As a stand-alone proposition, it is the least bit enlightening, but after reading this book I can appreciate that Anaximander’s contribution to scientific inquiry and analysis was monumental, as Carlo Rovelli teaches. At first this seemed like hyperbole from someone championing a particular favourite, but by the end of the book I was convinced. If I understand Carlo Rovelli’s position, there are absolute truths in each of these findings that cannot be undone even by following the type of scientific inquiry unleashed by Anaximander.
Photograph: Lanmas/Alamy View image in fullscreen An engraving of Anaximander: ‘the first human to argue that rain was caused by the observable movements of air and the heat of the sun rather than the intervention of gods’. And it was no coincidence that Anaximander’s revolutionary thinking also coincided with the birth of the polis – the nascent democratic structures built on debate as to how best to govern society. Something very startling happened in Miletus, the ancient Greek city on the modern Turkish coast, in about 600BC. What Rovelli attributes to Anaximander are the idea of a non-flat Earth floating in space - surrounded by the heavens, rather than a flat Earth with the heavens above; building on Thales' example as the first known explanation for physical processes without divine intervention; introducing the concept of natural law; and challenging his master's ideas rather than simply building on them. He describes how the Greeks established that the Earth was not flat using a nearly identical scientific inquiry used by the Chinese to establish that the Earth was flat.He makes a polemical case that the culture in which the Greek’s wisdom of doubt was nurtured contained, for the first time, all the elements necessary for scientific advance.