Carlo Rovelli and Philip Pullman on the Science and Stories That Transform Our World
Friday, 28 May
Carlo Rovelli is the internationally bestselling theoretical physicist whose many fans include Benedict Cumberbatch, Antony Gormley, Neil Gaiman and Lily Cole. In May 2021 he came to Intelligence Squared to talk about the themes of his new book Helgoland, in which he takes us back to the birth of a revolutionary idea that has reshaped the whole of science and our very conception of the world.
Rovelli told the story of the brilliant young Werner Heisenberg who, suffering from hay fever, retreated to the treeless island of Helgoland in the North Sea where he began to glimpse a world in which nothing exists until it interacts with something else, upending our all-too-solid conception of reality. This is the world of quantum theory.
Now a century on from Heisenberg’s extraordinary insight, Rovelli has done what he dared not do before – to connect quantum theory with a panoply of philosophical ideas, including Buddhist thought, the problem of consciousness and even the discussions between Lenin and Bogdanov at the time of the Russian revolution. He explained that the way we interpret this insight has profound implications for our culture and philosophy. As he says, ‘Our ‘I’ is made of relations, as is our society, our cultural, spiritual and political life… It is time to take this theory fully on board, for its nature to be discussed beyond the restricted circles of theoretical physicists and philosophers, to deposit its distilled honey, so sweet and a little intoxicating, into the whole of contemporary culture.’
Rovelli was in conversation with Philip Pullman, author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, and named by The Times as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. These two master storytellers discussed how it is only through our imaginations that we can truly understand the world we live in.
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