Carlo Rovelli, Relational QM, and Nondualism

I recently finished Carlo Rovelli’s most recent book, Helgoland, and greatly enjoyed it. The core of the book is about the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, which he has helped develop over recent decades. I won’t try to summarize the book or what relational QM is, but I wanted to share some thoughts about nondualism that stemmed from reading the book. He never uses the term nondualism in the book, but his ideas seem to be very much in the nondual tradition.

A key idea of the book and of relational QM is that all properties of an object are relational: they say something about the relationship between the object and the world. With that in mind, it makes little sense to talk about an object in isolation, an object in itself, as its properties would be stripped away and there would be nothing we could say. The object would be emptiness, nothingness. When we want to say something meaningful about an object, we do so by relating it to other objects (an object need not be a concrete, tangible item either). Reality is a network of objects and relations, and an object is defined by how it is situated in that network.

For me there is a clear connection to nonduality. While it seems that we live in a world consisting of a multiplicity of things, this is in fact illusory. There is simply the whole. The world does not come pre-chopped. We chop it up based on how things are relevant and important to us and our survival. But an object on its own is meaningless.

This also got me thinking about personal identity, and the distinctions often made between open individualism, closed individualism, and empty individualism. While I have leaned towards open individualism for some time, I have also suspected that open and empty individualism may not be so different from each other. The relational view clarifies this for me. In a sense we are all one with each other and with everything, as we are defined by properties that express relations with the rest of reality. We are continuous with the rest of nature. There is no border to your personal identity. And there is no separate self that persists over time.