“The Vertigo Abyss”, by Carlo Rovelli: everything interacts with everything, but nothing is clear

“The Vertigo Abyss”, by Carlo Rovelli: everything interacts with everything, but nothing is clear
“The Vertigo Abyss”, by Carlo Rovelli: everything interacts with everything, but nothing is clear

On April 18, 1947, the British navy exploded 6700 tons of dynamite on the German island of Helgoland, in the North Sea, thus destroying war material abandoned by the Nazi army at the end of World War II. “It was probably the biggest explosion ever carried out with conventional explosives”, recalls Carlo Rovelli, adding immediately afterwards: “Almost as if Humanity were trying to cancel the tear in reality opened there” some 22 years earlier.

It is precisely this “tear in reality” that is the central theme of the book. In the first pages, Rovelli goes back to the summer of 1925, when a young German scientist, aged 23, named Werner Heisenberg, decided to spend a few days of “restless solitude” in Helgoland, the desolate island of high cliffs and almost without trees, exposed to the Atlantic winds. It was there that one morning, around three in the morning, after a marathon of calculations, he had a brilliant idea, an amazing intuition that started what is “perhaps the greatest scientific revolution of all time”: quantum mechanics. A theory that so far has never failed his predictions, which has been applied in the most varied fields of knowledge, from semiconductors to the study of the formation of galaxies, but which remains, in many ways, a real mystery. Even for those who, like Carlo Rovelli, dedicated his entire career as a theoretical physicist to it, committed to reconciling it with the other great theory of physics of the 20th century: Albert Einstein’s general relativity.

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