Most of you have been following my blog for years now and you know the topics that are most interesting and important to me. You could probably rattle off a short list of the typical subjects which I tend to gravitate towards and wax eloquent on for yet another 1,000+ word post! One of these cornerstone topics has surfaced yet again this week in the form of our next installment in our Reading For Success series. Every Friday I share with you insights I uncovered from the books I have read over the past week (for better or worse - remember you're getting what you paid for).
Last week we discussed the importance of recognizing what matters, and the week before that also closely related to the same. As such I am sure you half-expect today's R4S to follow along the same line. But that's linear thinking. That type of thinking suggests time is follows a straight line and the past (behind us) informs us about the future (before us). In this case you would be mistaken.
This Week's Theme: The Value of Time
This week we are digging deep into a personal favorite topic of mine: the study of time; or maybe to phrase it differently the value of time. As I shared at the beginning, this is a topic which resides near and dear to my heart and you'll find me frequently sharing thoughts and opinions on the subject. As my list of shelved books waiting to be read have deemed it to be so, this week I focus on the value of time and the many implications time has upon our lives. Hold on to your seats, we go pretty deep this week.
When Einstein Walked with Gödel
This book, When Einstein Walked with Gödel, written by Jim Holt gives away the depth about to be encountered merely by reading the subtitle; Excursions to the edge of thought. As such I admit this book has been calling my name for a while but due to the many business and personal development books I've been reading I have not allowed myself the indulgence.
Soaking into something so comfortable and familiar as a look into the essays of Albert Einstein is a treat; and requires less effort than other books I have recently undertaken. This week however as I was determining the topic and books available I simply could not withstand the draw any longer. My deep love for thinking and the value found in pondering the deeper concepts of mathematics, physics, and our universe should come as no shock given my education and personal interests and this book was a mental delicacy in which I found numerous morsels of intellectual delight. Here's the highest and easiest summarization I can muster:
In this book Jim focuses on a number of deep-thought essays published by Einstein, Gödel, Mandelbrot, Turing, Dawkins, and many many more. Given the diffuse knowledge of the authors the subjects also span time, space, relativity, the cosmos, even dipping into philosophy.
This book is not for the faint-of-heart, however, the concepts are explained well and shared with enough humor and secondary detail to make the reading enjoyable for even the slightly-less technically entertained reader (a.k.a. 'non-nerd'). I was reminded of some of the lectures I had soaked in early in my career and was able to renew my deep fascination and appreciation for earlier thinkers. Not to mention, the physics and mathematical computations involved in the study of time are endlessly enthralling.
The Order of Time
I cannot say for certain if Amazon was the instigator behind the second book this week, The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli. However, I imagine you may find this as a recommended purchase should you explore the first title we just finished. I suspect this power of suggestion influenced my library accordingly and I'll begrudgingly thank Amazon later for their algorithm prowess later.
If you follow along reading as I do then I think it only fair to warn you the depth uncovered in the first book mentioned previously is only exacerbated in this novel. In fact, I would recommend not attempting an immediate journey directly into this book, but rather break things up a bit with the third book we shall review in a few paragraphs. After this brief interlude return then to this book and fortify your mind for the journey beyond.
I have not read many books that stretch my analytical and scientific thinking to the extent this book did. Carlo does a masterful job using colorful imagery and practical application to convey incredibly difficult thoughts in an attempt to simply a topic as complex as any studied by humans in all of history. The concept of time. Carlo divides his book into three sections: The Crumbling of Time, The World Without Time, and The Sources of Time. The author begins by an exploration of what modern physics understands about time and how our understanding has evolved, followed by a reflective look at the implications of these findings on our world today, before closing with how we take this new understanding of the ambiguity of the concept of time and yet still contrive meaning from our surroundings and differentiate our past from our future.
I fear I will be unable to summarize this book adequately so perhaps I'll share only one compacted thought in a feeble attempt to whet your mental appetite.
What is happening “now” in a distant place? Imagine, for example, that your sister has gone to Proxima b, the recently discovered planet that orbits a star at approximately four light-years’ distance from us. What is your sister doing now on Proxima b? The only correct answer is that the question makes no sense. It is like asking “What is here , in Beijing?” when we are in Venice. It makes no sense because if I use the word “here” in Venice, I am referring to a place in Venice, not in Beijing.If you ask what your sister, who is in the room with you, is doing now , the answer is usually an easy one: you look at her and you can tell. If she’s far away, you phone her and ask what she’s doing. But take care: if you look at your sister, you are receiving light that travels from her to your eyes. The light takes time to reach you, let’s say a few nanoseconds—a tiny fraction of a second—therefore, you are not quite seeing what she is doing now but what she was doing a few nanoseconds ago.If she is in New York and you phone her from Liverpool, her voice takes a few milliseconds to reach you, so the most you can claim to know is what your sister was up to a few milliseconds ago. Not a significant difference, perhaps.If your sister is on Proxima b, however, light takes four years to reach you from there. Hence, if you look at her through a telescope, or receive a radio communication from her, you know what she was doing four years ago rather than what she is doing now....There is no special moment on Proxima b that corresponds to what constitutes the present here and now.Our “present” does not extend throughout the universe. It is like a bubble around us....How far does this bubble extend? It depends on the precision with which we determine time. If by nanoseconds, the present is defined only over a few meters; if by milliseconds, it is defined over thousands of kilometers. As humans, we distinguish tenths of a second only with great difficulty; we can easily consider our entire planet to be like a single bubble where we can speak of the present as if it were an instant shared by us all. This is as far as we can go.
I apologize for the length of that excerpt, however the implications and revelations found in even this simplified extraction from the greater work is deep and impactful. As Carlo states, "...it is the most astounding conclusion arrived at in the whole of contemporary physics."
I must restrain myself from continuing on with this particular book, the theory and concepts proposed are eye-opening and world-altering. If you had to read only one book from this week's selection - make it this one.
Side Note: If you are unable to read this book, you also have the awesome opportunity to listen to one of my favorite actors, Benedict Cumberbatch, read this work!
My Morning Routine
As suggested previously in synecdochical fashion, my final book this week should be read non-sequentially as listed and you should interpose My Morning Routine, by Benjamin Spall between the previous. This is an enjoyable easy-read filled with anecdotal advice and real-life notes from dozens of successful individuals.
This compilation of ideas covers all manner of time management, meditation, self-control, personal awareness, mental health, and a host of other topics. I have often found it fascinating to dig into the lives of well-known respected individuals and learn about their particular habits and routines. This book provides the perfect gateway by which to do so. As an interesting aside, I would recommend the real value in studying the lives of others is not to merely copy a routine of a successful person, but rather, the true value of a book such as this lies in the insights into the thinking behind the decisions made for a particular lifestyle or routine.
Your goal should never be to merely attempt to be someone else by copying their habits and life choices. Instead, choose to be yourself, choose to seek out what matters most to you as an individual, what resonates with your personal worldview and then seek to live in such a way as to accentuate and nurture the best version of you possible. I've shared this thought before, but it bears repeating: every person is unique, with unique talents and abilities. There is no other you in the world. Don't attempt to be someone else. Instead, be the best you possible.
Incidentally, although significantly less mentally-intense compared to the previous two books, I felt this title also conveyed an underlying theme around the importance of time. In this case the application is far more practical and far less theoretical. Rather than attempting to understand the nature and meaning of time (or as we now know, the absence of the construct) in this book we focus on how we use our time most effectively. What routines and habits allow us to capitalize on our strengths and maximize our personal talents in the most efficient way possible. In this sense this book also deals with an important topic related to the subject of time.
I apologize for the length of this post as it extends beyond the typical, however, summarized book reviews are quite difficult to provide and still capture the full beauty and power found in the eloquence of the authors. In some cases they required upwards of 800 pages to accomplish their point. Regardless, I do hope you enjoyed this post and consider expanding your thinking on the meaning of time. I would suggest any of these three books are well-worth your time. As Carlo suggests, there really isn't any such thing as time.