Roberto: „There’s no turning back time“

roberto in his livingroom


An interview with Roberto Fernandez. Topic: ” Time”. We sat on Roberto’s beautiful terrace in Leiden. Roberto is a physicist and mathematician and after having been a professor and researcher around the globe, he just started a new position at the NYU in Shanghai. It was a great privilege for us to be able to discuss “Time” with a man who knows so much more about the matter than we will ever be able to comprehend. However, does this knowledge affect how he deals with time privately? Continue reading and find out. Enjoy!

A little disclaimer: It took some editing and choice making to make the initial, scientific part fit with our blog format. However, we’d love to use the more in-depth discussion about time for a special on our blog later on. So stay tuned.

Is there a simple way to describe what time is?

There is not even a simple way for physicists to describe time. I prefer to give you a little history on how the notion of time has evolved. We’re actually still in the middle of it.

Initially, time was a very abstract notion. It took time for people to realize what time is and how to measure it. Then Galileo singled out time as an absolute direction. Time is only growing and only goes in one direction. So the unit of time is something absolute for the whole universe. This idea stayed until Einstein in the beginning of the 20th century. He showed that time and space can get mixed up. So some observer could see something as space, which another observer would see as time.
There was another complication with the notion of time which has to do with the perception of reversibility and irreversibility. This differs in different scenarios.
However, the evolution of the universe is irreversible. The universe is aging.

Does knowing about these scientific aspects of time affect your personal relationship with time?

(Laughs) Personally, for me, time is something irreversible. It’s still flowing in one direction and cannot be turned back. There is, in fact, no point in trying to turn back time.

roberto books and memories

Do you generally have this mindset in your life?

Yes. The main mindset is that you can’t go against time. You could resist a little bit but not go against. I feel this on a personal level when opportunities point in a different direction than what I wanted. But also on a more general level. For instance, there are people of my generation who are against the use of cellular phones. Worse than that smart phones. I consider this a completely stupid attitude. Totally stupid. Because it’s irreversible. You’re just being left behind. The new generations are basically standing and built on the use of cell phones, so you better understand them if you want to understand the new generation. If you want to remain with your golden idea of your own generation and all that, ok.

Where does this resistance to go with time and innovation come from?

I think that there is some resistance to learning something new. Probably it feels like reality is moving too fast for the speed at which you’re able to learn or willing to learn. But there’s also this reflex that things are not going the way they should be going, which seems to be universal. All generations have had it. I’m completely against that!

What are you for then?

I’m for the phone, I’m for following the new generations. Definitely!

You say that time is moving too fast?

No, I didn’t say that. The speed of time depends on your frame of observation. However, it’s moving in one direction and it’s moving.

Is it always moving at the same pace, scientifically speaking?

No, no! That’s the point. Relativity tells you that this depends on where you’re observing and how you are observing. Things that go very quick for somebody could go very slow for you and vice versa. This has been proven.

roberto looking at his books

So there is a psychological and individual connotation to time. How is your perception of it?

There are moments in which time is going too fast and I cannot keep up. I am requested to make changes too fast for my own easiness. And other times time is more relaxed. But these are rarer now.

Do you see a difference in how you felt time passing when you were younger compared to now?

Yes, definitely. When I was younger, time ran slowly. I had all the time in the world. I could plan, I could do, I could experiment because I had time to catch up. Then, there was a period when I was building my family and my career in which I didn’t even see time going by. I didn’t have time to measure my time. I just focussed on what I did and tried to survive. Now that I am facing the final stage, I start to feel that time is going too fast again. I would like to have more time.
Especially, because I find myself with many things to do.

What do you think about the quote „Nobody is actually too busy. It’s only a matter of priorities.“?

In an ideal world maybe, but in a practical world sometimes you really don’t have the time. You might have your priorities right, but you just cannot follow them, because you have to get to the end of the month because there is a child that is sick because you have a commitment that is crucial or because there are other people who depend on you. So no, I wouldn’t agree with that. Many people put that as an excuse, but in my experience most of the time you are too busy for your priorities.

roberto and his son

Place of Birth: Tandil, Argentina (400km south of Buenos Aires)
Parents: Father Roberto Fernandez (engineer), mother Eva René Rosso (mathematics professor)
Siblings: 5 siblings, 3 boys and 3 girls with Roberto being the oldest and the youngest is 15 years younger than him. All still or back in Tandil.
Profession: Professor of mathematics and physics at the University of Utrecht. Soon at the NYU Shanghai.
Age: 65
Nationality: Argentinian
Relationship status: Married
Romantic or realistic? Realistic on the short-term. On the long term, he has a more romantic point of view.
How many Facebook friends do you have? Maybe 20-30.
Adventure or Stability? Looks for stability on a midterm but always falls into new adventures eventually.
Coffee or Tea? Coffee
Favorite spot in the world: Tandil
If I were a bitterbal I’d be filled with…potatoes.
Sitting on a mango tree feels like…leisure time that I never have.