Carlo Rovelli (born 3 May 1956) is an Italian theoretical physicist and writer who has worked in Italy, the United States, France and, since 2020, in Canada.[1] He is also currently a Distinguished Visiting Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute,[2] core member of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy of Western University in Canada,[3] and Fractal Faculty of the Santa Fe Institute in The United States.[4]

Carlo Rovelli
Rovelli in 2017
Born (1956-05-03) 3 May 1956 (age 68)
Verona, Italy
  • Italian
  • American
Alma mater
Known for
  • Lewis Thomas Prize (2024)
  • (2004)
  • International Xanthopoulos Award (1995)
Scientific career
FieldsTheoretical physics
Doctoral advisorMarco Toller

Rovelli works mainly in the field of quantum gravity and is a founder of loop quantum gravity theory. He has also worked in the history and philosophy of science. He collaborates with several Italian newspapers, including the cultural supplements of the Corriere della Sera, Il Sole 24 Ore, and La Repubblica. His popular science book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, was originally published in Italian in 2014. It has sold over a million copies worldwide.[5] In 2019, he was included by Foreign Policy magazine in the list of the 100 most influential global thinkers.[6] In 2021, he was included by Prospect magazine in the list of the 50 world's top thinkers.[7]

Life and career


Carlo Rovelli was born in Verona, Italy, on 3 May 1956. He attended the Liceo Classico Scipione Maffei in Verona. In the 1970s, he participated in the student political movements in Italian universities. He was involved with the free political radio stations Radio Alice in Bologna and Radio Anguana in Verona, which he helped found.[8] In conjunction with his political activity, he was charged, but later released, for crimes of opinion related to the book Fatti Nostri, which he co-authored with Enrico Palandri, Maurizio Torrealta, and Claudio Piersanti.[9]

Rovelli has credited his use of LSD at this time with sparking his interest in theoretical physics,[10] saying of his experience: "it was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually... Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more... And I thought: ‘Well, it's a chemical that is changing things in my brain. But how do I know that the usual perception is right, and this is wrong? If these two ways of perceiving are so different, what does it mean that one is the correct one?"[11]

In 1981, Rovelli graduated with a BS/MS in physics from the University of Bologna, and in 1986 he obtained his PhD at the University of Padova, Italy. Rovelli refused military service, which was compulsory in Italy at the time, and was therefore briefly detained in 1977.[12] He held postdoctoral positions at the University of Rome, the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, and Yale University. Rovelli was on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh from 1990 to 2000,[13] where he was also affiliated with the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. Since 2000 he has been a professor at the Centre de Physique Théorique de Luminy of Aix-Marseille University in France.[14]

Main contributions


Loop quantum gravity


In 1988, Rovelli, Lee Smolin and Abhay Ashtekar introduced a theory of quantum gravity called loop quantum gravity. In 1995, Rovelli and Smolin obtained a basis of states of quantum gravity, labelled by Penrose's spin networks, and using this basis they were able to show that the theory predicts that area and volume are quantized. This result indicates the existence of a discrete structure of space on a very small scale. In 1997, Rovelli and Michael Reisenberger introduced a "sum over surfaces" formulation of the theory, which has since evolved into the currently covariant "spin foam" version of loop quantum gravity. In 2008, in collaboration with Jonathan Engle and Roberto Pereira, he has introduced the spin foam vertex amplitude which is the basis of the current definition of the loop quantum gravity covariant dynamics. Loop theory is today considered a candidate for a quantum theory of gravity. It finds applications in quantum cosmology, spinfoam cosmology and quantum black hole physics.

Physics without time


In his 2004 book, Quantum Gravity, Rovelli developed a formulation of classical and quantum mechanics that does not make explicit reference to the notion of time. The first step towards a theory of quantum gravity without a time variable is described by Wheeler–DeWitt equation. The timeless formalism is used to describe the world in the regimes where the quantum properties of the gravitational field cannot be disregarded. This is because the quantum fluctuation of spacetime itself makes the notion of time unsuitable for writing physical laws in the conventional form of evolution laws in time.

This position led him to face the following problem: if time is not part of the fundamental theory of the world, then how does time emerge? In 1993, in collaboration with Alain Connes, Rovelli proposed a solution to this problem called the thermal time hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, time emerges only in a thermodynamic or statistical context. If this is correct, the flow of time is not fundamental, deriving from the incompleteness of knowledge. Similar conclusions had been reached earlier in the context of nonequilibrium statistical mechanics, in particular in the work of Robert Zwanzig, and in Caldeira-Leggett models used in quantum dissipation.[15][16]

Relational quantum mechanics


In 1994, Rovelli introduced the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, based on the idea that the quantum state of a system must always be interpreted relative to another physical system (like the "velocity of an object" is always relative to another object, in classical mechanics).[17] The idea has been developed and analyzed in particular by Bas van Fraassen[18] and by Michel Bitbol. Among other important consequences, it provides a solution of the EPR paradox that does not violate locality.[19] Rovelli has expressed the main idea of relational quantum mechanics in the popular book Helgoland.

Relative information


Rovelli won the second prize in the 2013 FQXi contest "It From Bit or Bit From It?" for his essay about "relative information". His paper, Relative Information at the Foundation of Physics, discusses how "Shannon's notion of relative information between two physical systems can function as [a] foundation for statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics, without referring to subjectivism or idealism...[This approach can] represent a key missing element in the foundation of the naturalistic picture of the world."[20] In 2017, Rovelli elaborated further upon the subject of relative information, writing that:

In nature, variables are not independent; for instance, in any magnet, the two ends have opposite polarities. Knowing one amounts to knowing the other. So we can say that each end “has information” about the other. There is nothing mental in this; it is just a way of saying that there is a necessary relation between the polarities of the two ends. We say that there is "relative information" between two systems anytime the state of one is constrained by the state of the other. In this precise sense, physical systems may be said to have information about one another, with no need for a mind to play any role. Such "relative information" is ubiquitous in nature: The colour of the light carries information about the object the light has bounced from; a virus has information about the cell it may attach, and neurons have information about one another. Since the world is a knit tangle of interacting events, it teems with relative information. When this information is exploited for survival, extensively elaborated by our brain, and may be coded in a language understood by a community, it becomes mental, and it acquires the semantic weight that we commonly attribute to the notion of information. But the basic ingredient is down there in the physical world: physical correlation between distinct variables. The physical world is not a set of self-absorbed entities that do their selfish things. It is a tightly knitted net of relative information, where everybody's state reflects somebody else's state. We understand physical, chemical, biological, social, political, astrophysical, and cosmological systems in terms of these nets of relations, not in terms of individual behaviour. Physical relative information is a powerful basic concept for describing the world. Before “energy,” “matter,” or even “entity.”[21]

History and philosophy of science

Carlo Rovelli, Rome 2015

Rovelli has written a book on the Greek philosopher Anaximander, published in France, Italy, US[22] and Brazil. The book analyses the main aspects of scientific thinking and articulates Rovelli's views on science. Anaximander is presented in the book as a main initiator of scientific thinking.

For Rovelli, science is a continuous process of exploring novel possible views of the world;[23] this happens via a "learned rebellion", which always builds and relies on previous knowledge but at the same time continuously questions aspects of this received knowledge.[24] The foundation of science, therefore, is not certainty but the very opposite, a radical uncertainty about our own knowledge, or equivalently, an acute awareness of the extent of our ignorance.[24]

Religious views


Rovelli defines himself "serenely atheist".[25] He discussed his religious views in several articles and in his book on Anaximander. He argues that the conflict between rational/scientific thinking and structured religion may find periods of truce ("there is no contradiction between solving Maxwell's equations and believing that God created Heaven and Earth"),[26] but it is ultimately unsolvable because most religions demand the acceptance of some unquestionable truths while scientific thinking is based on the continuous questioning of any truth. Thus, for Rovelli, the source of the conflict is not the pretense of science to give answers – for Rovelli, the universe is full of mystery and a source of awe and emotions – but, on the contrary, the source of the conflict is the acceptance of our ignorance at the foundation of science, which clashes with religions' pretense to be depositories of certain knowledge.[26]

Political engagement, pacifism and controversies


Rovelli's first book is on the Italian student political movements in the 1970s.[27] He later refused to compulsory military draft and was briefly detained. In 2021, he coordinated the Global Peace Dividend, an open letter signed by more that 50 Nobel Laureates, including the Dalai Lama, calling for all countries to negotiate a balanced cut on their military spending by 2% a year for the next five years, and put half the saved money in a UN fund to combat pandemics, the climate crisis, and extreme poverty.[28]

On 1 May 2023, Rovelli gave a political speech at the large Italian Labour Day concert in Rome, inviting the youth to engage politically for the environment, economical equality and peace, and criticizing the Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto for his direct involvement with the industrial military complex. The speech raised a large controversy.[29] As a consequence, his invitation to represent Italy at the 2024 Frankfurt Book Fair was cancelled; the cancellation itself was widely criticized, leading to his re-invitation,[30] and the resignation of the Italian Commissary for the Buchmesse.[31] Rovelli repeated his call for reduced military spending and improved international cooperation following the outbreak of the 2023 Israel–Hamas war.[32] That same year, he was one of the signatories of the International Peace Conference manifesto, which accuses the West (e.g. the United States, the European Union, and NATO) of attacking "Russia with the clear goal to destroy it as a sovereign state". The manifesto goes on to trace this Western aggression as the driving force behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[33]

Main awards

  • 2024 Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing About Science ("In the conflicted world of 2024, the abiding, idealistic voice of Rovelli’s essay collection There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness feels especially valuable.") [34]
  • 1995 International Xanthopoulos Award of the International Society for General Relativity and Gravitation, "for outstanding contributions to theoretical physics"[35]
  • Senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France
  • Laurea Honoris Causa National University of General San Martín[36]
  • Honorary Professor of the Beijing Normal University in China
  • Member of the Académie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences
  • Honorary member of the Accademia di Scienze Arti e Lettere di Verona
  • 2009 First "community" prize of the FQXi contest on the "nature of time"
  • 2013 Second prize of the FQXi contest on the "relation between physics and information"
  • 2014 Premio Letterario Merck [it] for the book Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity
  • 2015 Premio Pagine di Scienza di Rosignano for the book Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity[37]
  • 2015 Premio Alassio centolibri per l’informazione culturale[38]
  • 2015 Premio Larderello[39]
  • 2015 Premio letterario Galileo per la divulgazione scientifica [it] for the book Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity
  • Rovelli has appeared as a Disney character in a Mickey Mouse story in the Italian Disney publication of Topolino.[40]
  • In November 2022 Carlo Rovelli and rock band Belladonna release the single Nothing Shines Unless It Burns.[41][42][43] In October 2023 the song enters the Grammy Awards ballot in the Best Rock Performance category.[44]

Books and articles


Rovelli has written more than 200 scientific articles published in international journals. He has published two monographs on loop quantum gravity and several popular science books. His book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, has been translated into 41 languages.

Scientific books

  • Quantum Gravity, Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-521-83733-2
  • With Francesca Vidotto, Covariant Loop Quantum Gravity: An Elementary Introduction to Quantum Gravity and Spinfoam Theory, Cambridge University Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1107069626
  • Anaximander: And the Birth of Science, Penguin Random House, 2023[52] (republication of The First Scientist: Anaximander and his legacy, Westholme Publishing, 2011)
  • Helgoland, Penguin Random House 2021 / Helgoland, Adelphi, 2020.
  • There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness, Penguin Random House, 2020 / Ci sono luoghi al mondo dove più che le regole è importante la gentilezza, Solferino, 2020.
  • The Order of Time, Penguin Random House, 2018 / L'ordine del tempo, Adelphi, 2017.
  • Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, Penguin Random House, 2016 / La realtà non è come ci appare: La struttura elementare delle cose, Raffaello Cortina Editore, 2014.
  • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Penguin Random House, 2015 / Sette brevi lezioni di fisica, Adelphi, 2014.
  • Marion Lignana Rosenberg (translator), The First Scientist: Anaximander and his legacy, Westholme Publishing, 2011 / Che cos'è la Scienza. La rivoluzione di Anassimandro., Mondadori, 2012.
  • What is time, what is space? (interview), Di Renzo Editore, 2006 / Che cos'è il tempo, che cos'é lo spazio?, Di Renzo Editore, 2004.
  • Bologna, marzo 1977 ...fatti nostri..., a cura di e con Enrico Palandri, Claudio Piersanti [it], Maurizio Torrealta et alii, Verona, Bertani, 1977; Rimini, NdA press, 2007, ISBN 978-88-89035-17-7.
  • General Relativity: The Essentials, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
  • White Holes, Penguin Random House, 2023


  1. ^ "Resume" (PDF).
  2. ^ "Facultypage".
  3. ^ "Faculty".
  4. ^ "Fractal faculty".
  5. ^ Carlo Rovelli (25 July 2017). "Carlo Rovelli: 'I felt the beautiful adventure of physics was a story that had to be told'". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  6. ^ "2019 Global Thinkers". Foreign Policy. 12 January 2019.
  7. ^ "The world's top 50 thinkers 2021". Prospect Magazine. 13 July 2021.
  8. ^ Carlo Rovelli, "Fatti Nostri".
  9. ^ "Fatti Nostri", Bertani editore, 1977, (re-edited Rimini, Nda Press, 2007), ISBN 978-88-89035-17-7
  10. ^ "Send us your questions for Carlo Rovelli", The Guardian, 5-3-2019. Retrieved 1-6-2023.
  11. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (14 April 2018). "'There is no such thing as past or future': physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 January 2022.
  12. ^ Carlo Rovelli, "Cos'è il tempo? Cos'è lo spazio?".
  13. ^ "Artista". Archived from the original on 21 May 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  14. ^ Laurent, Lionel (29 February 2008). "Is Time Just A Trick Of The Mind?". Retrieved 4 January 2011.
    - Carlo Rovelli. "Carlo Rovelli forecasts the future". New Scientist. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  15. ^ Zwanzig, R. (1973). "Nonlinear generalized Langevin equations". Journal of Statistical Physics. 9 (3): 215–220. Bibcode:1973JSP.....9..215Z. doi:10.1007/BF01008729. S2CID 121594079.
  16. ^ Caldeira, A. O.; Leggett, A. J. (1981). "Influence of Dissipation on Quantum Tunneling in Macroscopic Systems". Physical Review Letters. 46 (4): 211–214. Bibcode:1981PhRvL..46..211C. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.46.211. ISSN 0031-9007.
  17. ^ "Relational Quantum Mechanics" The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition).
  18. ^ van Fraassen, Bas C. (11 July 2009). "Rovelli's World" (PDF). Foundations of Physics. 40 (4): 390–417. Bibcode:2010FoPh...40..390V. doi:10.1007/s10701-009-9326-5. S2CID 17217776.
  19. ^ Smerlak, Matteo; Rovelli, Carlo (3 February 2007). "Relational EPR". Foundations of Physics. 37 (3): 427–445. arXiv:quant-ph/0604064. Bibcode:2007FoPh...37..427S. doi:10.1007/s10701-007-9105-0. S2CID 11816650.
  20. ^ Carlo Rovelli, Relative information at the foundation of physics (Marseille, CPT & Toulon U.). October 31, 2013. 3 pp.; Published in "It from Bit or Bit from It? On Physics and information", A Aguirre, B Foster and Z Merali eds., 79-86 (Springer 2015)
    - Carlo Rovelli, Relative information at the foundation of physics, Retrieved 2019-10-01. Archived 2020-07-27 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known? - Relative Information",, 2017. Retrieved 13-9-2019
  22. ^ Carlo Rovelli, Anaximandre de Millet, ou la naissance de la science, Dunod, 2009; Che cos'è la scienza. La rivoluzione di Anassimandro, Mondadori Università, 2011; Carlo Rovelli, The first scientist. Anaximander and his legacy, Westholme Publishing, 2011.
  23. ^ Anaximandre de Millet, ou la naissance de la science, pg. 180.
  24. ^ a b Anaximandre de Millet, ou la naissance de la science, pg. 75.
  25. ^ There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness, Penguin Random House, 2020
  26. ^ a b The First Scientist, pg. 153.
  27. ^ Bologna, marzo 1977 ...fatti nostri..., Bertani, 1978
  28. ^ "‘Colossal waste’: Nobel laureates call for 2% cut to military spending worldwide", The Guardian 14-12-2-2021, 2017. Retrieved 1-6-2023
  29. ^ "Rovelli: «Al Primo Maggio ho detto quello che pensavo: non sono filorusso, ma questo governo fa scelte bellicose»", Corriere della Sera 23-5-2023, 2017. Retrieved 1-6-2023
  30. ^ "Caso Rovelli, la retromarcia di Levi: il fisico sarà alla Fiera di Francoforte", Corriere della Sera, 23-3-2023.
  31. ^ "Ricardo Franco Levi, lettera di dimissioni a Sangiuliano dopo il caso Rovelli e le polemiche sul figlio", Il Messaggero 26-5-2023, 2017. Retrieved 1-6-2023
  32. ^ . Rovelli, Carlo (26 October 2023). "The new global arms race will lead to catastrophe. The west can pursue it — or choose peace". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 26 October 2023.
  33. ^ "Adesioni personali". International Initiative for Peace (in Italian). 2023. Retrieved 24 March 2024.
  34. ^ "Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli to receive 2024 Lewis Thomas Prize".
  35. ^ "Award list". ISGRG.
  36. ^ "Carlo Rovelli, doctor Honoris Causa de la UNSAM » Noticias UNSAM". (in Spanish). Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  37. ^ "Il progetto Pagine di scienza premia il prof Rovelli". Il Tirreno (in Italian). 23 March 2015. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  38. ^ "Consegnato a Carlo Rovelli il premio "Alassio per l'Informazione Culturale"". Ecodisavona (in Italian). Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  39. ^ "Il quarto Premio Larderello al fisico Carlo Rovelli". il Tirreno (in Italian). 18 August 2015. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  40. ^ Topolino no. 3175, 2016.
  41. ^ ItalianPostNews (23 November 2022). "Belladonna are auctioning off a song with Carlo Rovelli as Nft". Italian Post. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  42. ^ s.r.l, Rockol com. "√ Belladonna, all'asta un NFT con Carlo Rovelli". Rockol (in Italian). Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  43. ^ Adnkronos (23 November 2022). "I Belladonna mettono all'asta come Nft un brano con Carlo Rovelli". Adnkronos. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  44. ^ Adnkronos (18 October 2023). "√ Musica, i Belladonna e Carlo Rovelli nel ballott dei Grammy Awards". Adnkronos (in Italian). Retrieved 18 October 2023.
  45. ^ Alan Lightman (14 May 2018). "Benedict Cumberbatch Meets Albert Einstein in Carlo Rovelli's New Audiobook". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  46. ^ "Professor Carlo Rovelli". BBC Radio 4. BBC. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  47. ^ "Carlo Rovelli on why time is not what it seems". BBC Radio 4. The Life Scientific. BBC. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  48. ^ "Carlo Rovelli". BBC Radio 3. 2020.
  49. ^ "A Good Read Nick Hornby & Carlo Rovelli". BBC Radio 4. A Good Read. BBC. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  50. ^ Halperin, Jonathan; Takahashi, Drew (26 September 2022), A Trip to Infinity (Documentary), Makemake, Room 608, retrieved 8 November 2023
  51. ^ "The Museum of Curiosity - Series 17 - Episode 1". BBC Sounds. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  52. ^ "Anaximander: And the Birth of Science Kindle Edition". Retrieved 18 May 2022.
External videos
  Did you know your head ages more quickly than your feet? Interview with Carlo Rovelli, Matter Of Fact With Stan Grant, ABC News