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The Order of Time
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Listen in 19 min.
Learn the key ideas of the book by Carlo Rovelli

The Order of Time

Unravelling the mystery of time with quantum mechanics

Time is one of life’s greatest mysteries, and one which humans have forever been trying to solve. The nature of time even eludes the greatest specialised physicists, but we can now be certain of one thing: our perception of time, as well as our concept of the present and the future, is completely wrong. By reviewing some of the macro changes in scientific thinking, and examining the most recent theories, Carlo Rovelli takes us on an extraordinary journey that dismantles our idea of time, piece by piece, and goes on to rebuild it on much more solid foundations.

The Order of Time
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.

The nature of time is one of life’s great mysteries, but the idea of time we have as human beings is distorted by our perception

As human beings, we believe we know a great deal about the world we live in, but reality is not actually what it may seem. For example, we think that the sun revolves around the Earth, and not the other way around. Out of all the mysteries surrounding the cosmos, time has probably been studied and hypothesised about more than any other. Yet the idea we have of time is all wrong. 

The first aspect of time that is important to mention is that it does not always pass at the same speed, and is either slower or faster, depending on altitude. The first person to discover this was Albert Einstein, well before the invention of clocks capable of measuring such a small difference. At a high altitude, time passes more quickly than at sea level, because of the mutual attraction between the sun and earth that affects space and time. Since the earth is a relatively large mass, time slows down as we get closer to it, and speeds up as we move further away, like when we climb a mountain, for example. We cannot directly observe the effects of this phenomenon with the naked eye, but it nonetheless leads to an important question: if time changes, and two clocks were to therefore measure it differently, which of the two is “right”? Meanwhile, Rovelli says that this is a pointless question, because one measurement of time cannot be more accurate than another. Each one changes in relation to the other, and there are many more than two. Therefore, there is no single universal time.


The key ideas of "The Order of Time "

The nature of time is one of life’s great mysteries, but the idea of time we have as human beings is distorted by our perception
Time does not actually have a direction, even though humans reason in terms of past, present, and future
Time depends on the speed at which a body is moving, and it makes no sense to speak about a present moment that is simultaneously shared everywhere in the universe
Measuring time means measuring the changes that take place in things and events
Time has no direction: there is no difference between past and future according to the laws that govern the world
The world is a series of events, not objects, and things take place over time, they do not simply exist
We can define the world by eliminating the variable of time, and using other variables that still describe and measure it
Time is ignorance. Our approach shows that we know very little about the world we live in
The world moves from a state of low entropy, to one in which entropy is increasing
The phenomenon humans perceive as the “present time” is what happens inside time
Take-home message
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