I have been reading, working through and thinking a lot about Roger Penrose’s magnum opus, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe.
It is a book that I cannot speak more highly about, possible one of the best books that I have read so far in my lifetime.
My first engagement with the book was a couple of months ago when I jumped immediately into specific sections of discussion spread throughout its 34 chapters. These sections were of immediate interest to me, already having an appreciation for Professor Penrose and already having some sense about certain parts of the book’s contents. For example, I was keen to learn more about and understand Penrose’s Twistor Theory. As Penrose acknowledges in The Road to Reality, it may not have completely worked out; but Twistor Theory is being used today in a number of interesting and exciting ways. One of my own points of intrigue here concerns the emergence of the amplituhedron, a fascinating geometrical object that incites in me an incredible level of excitement and intrigue as a young theoretical particle physics student.
For this reason, one section of the book that I had to immediately search out concerns Penrose’s discussion on the geometry of twistors and the twistor description of massless fields, as this has very much been in my thoughts. Additionally, I was incredibly eager to read his descriptions of Grassmannian space (among other similar things).
Penrose’s discussion regarding wave function collapse was another section I had ear marked. On that note, it is interesting how he seems to fall on the side of objective collapse theory – and also the many worlds interpretation – as opposed to the more textbook Copenhagen interpretation. The more I study quantum mechanics in depth and the more I learn very broadly as a theoretical physics student, on the basis of the total evidence I have absorbed thus far, I too sway toward the many-worlds interpretation. I also find the Copenhagen interpretation less than satisfactory. Where I will eventually end up in such debates is to be determined, but I was interested in reading Penrose’s take on the matter. (I am also very intrigued by the GRW interpretation, which seems tantalizing in that in seeking to avoid the quantum measurement problem, it almost actively works toward a bridge between the classical and quantum worlds. Additionally, my early interests in wave-particle duality also led me to develop an interest in the Pilot Wave/de Broglie-Bohm interpretation).
In any case, Penrose seems to view the wave function as a physical wave, which runs contrary to the established view in many university courses (that I am aware of). I’m not entirely sure about the contents of Penrose’s arguments on this level, particularly his theory of duel fields, but it is something that I will certainly engage with more deeply a little later.
It is also interesting how Penrose seems to suggest that a successful theory of quantum gravity could very well be a deterministic yet none computable theory, another section of discussion that I was eager to jump into immediately.
In the future, once I have considered the totality of The Road to Reality and thought more about the entire body of work on display, I would very much like to write a deeply engaged review and technical reading of this book as a whole (should time be permitted). After getting a taste of very specific engagements, I am already well on my way digesting all of its pages, from page 1 to 1045.
But in the present moment, I simply wanted to write a note about the book in an introductory way. In that some have described it as one of the most important books of the 20th century, I would very much have to agree. It is a truly foundational work, the sort of book that we rarely see these days with the standard of reduced and quick-to-consume literature that seems to move away from considerate, original and comprehensive thinking.
What I will say, too, is that regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with certain interpretations presented by Penrose – for example, debates about his interpretation of the wave function – this is a book that every physics student should possess. It is an absolute must read. I think it is also a book for the general reader with some appreciation for mathematics and physics. I say this while also emphasising that The Road to Reality is more than a book that engages fundamentally with a study of the physical universe and the foundation of our best mathematical theories to date. It is a credit to Penrose’s general brilliance and comprehensive nature of thinking that allows it to also be magnificently philosophical in the best sense of philosophy, as he connects fundamental insights offered by key mathematical and physical theories with the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.