Carlo Rovelli Has Once Again Taken Me Along For The Ride

White Holes - Carlo Rovelli (2023)

I have admired so many great thinkers, imagining how it must have been for contemporary readers of Goethe, Homer, Nietzsche, etc.  To share in the intimate thoughts of those at the cutting edge of abstract human exploration (Literature, Philosophy, Science, Arts) as they themselves first share them with the world at large seems to me one of the rarest glories that life may afford for a layperson such as myself, in love with science and human exploration.  Reading the work of Carlo Rovelli I find myself exactly where I imagined decades ago, with open ears and mind, receiving original ideas from someone on the leading edge of abstract thought, ideas which will alter everything moving forward.  I feel so fortunate.

(I must mention here that Mr. Rovelli is Italian, and writes in his native language.  I feel a great debt owed to the translator of this book, Simon Carnell.  He managed to convey both the facts and the subtle meanings in a wonderful way.)

Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist, and one of the most original thinkers.  He is gifted not only with the ability to grasp and calculate abstract mathematics and physical theory, but he writes like a poet, explaining the science with the same fervor with which he explains his personal mode of work.  He not only loves ideas, and exploring them as far as possible, but he loves the process by which he develops his ideas.  The joy he finds in work that, to many, may seem like mathematical drudgeries and theoretical mazes, is readily apparent.  I felt his joy and wonderment as his conclusions led to new questions, and eventually to the idea that a black hole does not "die" but is instead, reborn as a "white" hole.  

Thirty years ago, black holes were barely an accepted theoretical idea.  Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them catalogued in visible space, with nearly every galaxy containing a massive black hole at its center.  Physicists sought to understand the "life cycle" of a black hole, much like they studied the life cycle of stars.  Many assumed that a black hole was a permanent null void in space, while others, such as Stephen Hawking, surmised that through natural quantum effects, the black holes would slowly "evaporate" away.  Evidence of these processes has been found.   These became the consensus on black holes.

Mr. Rovelli's genius lies not only in the real of physical science, but in the much-admired (by me) and often lacking skill that is pure abstract thought.  It is in abstract thought that the human mind achieves greatness.  This place is where intuition, knowledge, and the magic of consciousness combine to create the truly new ideas.  From the first human to note that fire made the clay underneath hard and sturdy, thereby intuiting that shaping the clay while wet and then placing it in the fire she could create a vessel or bowl, to Albert Einstein discovering the relativity of time while pondering the way train stations miles apart managed to keep track of departures and arrivals, this mind abstraction has shaped all of humanity.  It is in this realm that Carlo Rovelli realized a black hole does not need to evaporate or die, since quantum effects prevented the actual formation of a singularity, always assumed to reside inside all black holes.  Instead, Rovelli grasped that the gravity pit would bounce back, in a sense, and that the black hole would become a "white hole," an object that spews matter and energy out of itself into the universe at large, without ever becoming a singularity.  This is a BIG idea, and the hard part was yet to come.

Many non-scientists assume that the job of physicist is to come up with ideas.  That is only the very start of the process.  The work comes in using rigorous mathematics to test the ideas over and over again, looking for any and all possibility of error, assumption, and misunderstanding.  One must also look into any previous work that may have analyzed the same phenomenon.  It can take a lifetime to properly verify that a physical theory stands up.  It is now 2024 and we still run experiments testing the theories Einstein crafted one hundred years ago.  THEY HOLD UP! My favorite sections of this book are when Rovelli describes the joy he feels when the mathematics consistently work in his idea's favor.  What the Universe does not allow will not happen. The joy of discovery is a pure one, and rarely described so beautifully.

I am fortunate to find myself here, with Carlo Rovelli, at the start of his journey.  I expect he will explore white holes and every new possibility they may bring.  I will be right there with him, receiving periodic updates hopefully, as he continues his foray into the unknown, leading the charge for the rest of us.  I highly recommend this book.

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