A momentary getting-together of sand
ON BEING PODCAST: CARLO ROVELLI, All Reality Is Interaction
16 March 2017
MS. TIPPETT: When you write about particles, you say, on the one hand, “there is no such thing as a real void,” one that is completely empty. (..) But what you say — what’s there instead, as you say, is “a world of happenings, not of things.”
DR. ROVELLI: Yes. A thing is something which remains equal to itself. A thing — a stone is a thing because I can ask where the stone is tomorrow, while a happening is something that is limited in space and time. I don’t know. A kiss is not a thing, because I cannot ask, “Where is a kiss tomorrow? Where’s this kiss tomorrow?” I mean, it’s just happened now.
MS. TIPPETT: I see. OK.
DR. ROVELLI: And I think that we don’t understand the world as made by stones, by things. We understand a world made by kisses, or things like kisses, happenings. In other words, the elementary quantities or ingredients for describing the world are not things which remain through time. They are just limited in space and time. And I think which remain through time are processes that repeat themselves. A stone is just a common flickering of electrons and things and stuff, which remains together not even forever, of course, because it goes into powder for a long time, for a while. So, to better understand the world, I think we shouldn’t reduce it to things. We should reduce it to a happening, and the happenings are always between different systems, always relations. Or always like a kiss, which is something that happens between two persons.
MS. TIPPETT: So, even for you, a stone is a happening, is seen in with a long expanse of time and an understanding of how it became what it is. It’s a happening, not a thing.
DR. ROVELLI: Yeah. I mean, we live 100 years, but suppose we lived a billion years. A stone would be just a moment in which some sand gets together and then it disaggregates. So it’s just a momentary getting-together of sand. The permanence of things is — it’s a matter of — we look at them for a short time with respect to their own staying-together.
(Source: On Being Podcast—Carlo Rovelli, March 16 episode, Image—Luca Tombolini)