From Quantum Theories to Market Frictions: Rovelli's "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" | GratitudeSeries 28/60

Carlo Rovelli's "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" has been a constant source of inspiration and wisdom in my life, particularly in shaping my understanding of the world and my work on 'The Internet of Value'. His words and ideas, drawn from a lifetime of groundbreaking work in theoretical physics, provide profound insights into how we perceive time, reality, and our place in the universe.

You don’t get anywhere by not ‘wasting’ time

One of the most striking lessons from Rovelli, which often provides solace during my moments of self-doubt or introspection, comes from his reflection on Albert Einstein's life. Rovelli remarks, “In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don’t get anywhere by not ‘wasting’ time." In an age where productivity and hyper-optimization are often glorified, Rovelli's observation is a reminder of the value in embracing stillness and the seemingly unproductive moments of life. It's a reassurance that sometimes, in the act of 'just being,' we find our most profound insights and inspirations. This has been true on several occasions in my life.

Genius Hesitates

It’s said that quantum mechanics was born precisely in the year 1900, virtually ushering in a century of intense thought. The German physicist Max Planck calculated the electric field in equilibrium in a hot box. To do this he used a trick: he imagined that the energy of the field is distributed in ‘quanta’, that is, in packets or lumps of energy. The procedure lead to a result which perfectly reproduced what was measured (and therefore must be in some way correct) but clashed with everything that was known at the time. Energy was considered to be something which varied continuously, and there was no reason to treat it as if it were made up of small building blocks. To treat energy as if it were made up of finite packages had been, for Planck, a peculiar trick of calculation, and he did not himself fully understand the reason for its effectiveness. It was to be Einstein once again who, five years later, came to understand that the ‘packets of energy’ were real. Einstein showed that light is made of packets: particles of light. Today we call these ‘photons’. He wrote, in the introduction to his article:

“It seems to me that the observations associated with blackbody radiation, fluorescence, the production of cathode rays by ultraviolet light, and other related phenomena connected with the emission or transformation of light are more readily understood if one assumes that the energy of light is discontinuously distributed in space. In accordance with the assumption to be considered here, the energy of a light ray spreading out from a point source is not continuously distributed over an increasing space but consists of a finite number of ‘energy quanta’ which are localized at points in space, which move without dividing, and which can only be produced and absorbed as complete units.”

These simple and clear lines are the real birth certificate of quantum theory. Note the wonderful initial ‘It seems to me …’, which recalls the ‘I think …’ with which Darwin introduces in his notebooks the great idea that species evolve, or the ‘hesitation’ spoken of by Faraday when introducing for the first time the revolutionary idea of magnetic fields. Genius hesitates.

How does this matter to m e? Initially, my focus was primarily on the rapid movement of skills, exploring how this could be facilitated through job boards, gigs, and similar platforms. However, as I delved deeper into the intricacies of physics presented by Rovelli, a new perspective emerged: the importance of reducing friction.

This shift in thinking, inspired by the principles of physics, led to a reevaluation of my approach. Instead of merely accelerating skill transfer, I realized that addressing the underlying frictions in the labor market was a more fundamental and effective strategy. This realization was not just a strategic pivot but also a philosophical one, mirroring the profound shifts in understanding that come from scientific inquiry.

Furthermore, Rovelli's work provided a robust intellectual foundation that has been instrumental in my engagement with the QuantumComputingIndia community. His ability to communicate complex ideas in simple terms has been a guiding light, enabling me to convey intricate concepts of quantum computing and its implications in a more accessible manner.

Time ~ f (Heat)

Heat, as we know, always moves from hot things to cold. A cold teaspoon placed in a cup of hot tea also becomes hot. If we don’t dress appropriately on a freezing cold day we quickly lose body heat and become cold. Why does heat go from hot things to cold things, and not vice versa? It is a crucial question, because it relates to the nature of time” “ In every case in which heat exchange does not occur, or when the heat exchanged is negligible, we see that the future behaves exactly like the past

This is crucial because if the friction i.e. learnings are not passed on we as a society will behave exactly like the past. The lessons from the 2008 financial crisis and the market solutions such as cryptocurrency and blockchain are frictions i.e. learnings and we can only better ourselves by learning from these and not shunning them as “just techie solutions who don’t understand economics / monetary policy etc”. If we do. then we are going to end up in the same state as before, basically no difference between the past and future!

"Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" is more than a book about physics; it's a philosophical guide that encourages us to view our world and our work through a lens of curiosity, humility, and interconnectedness. As I continue my work on 'The Internet of Value,' I constantly refer back to the wisdom imparted by Carlo Rovelli. His insights not only shape my professional endeavors but also provide a comforting companion in times of need. Thank you, Carlo Rovelli !

Reference List

  1. Carlo Rovelli - Wikipedia. Available at:

  2. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics - Wikipedia. Available at:

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