The Big Picture
On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself
The instant New York Times bestseller about humanity's place in the universe—and how we understand it.
“Vivid...impressive....Splendidly informative.”—The New York Times
“A tour de force.”—Salon
Already internationally acclaimed for his elegant, lucid writing on the most challenging notions in modern physics, Sean Carroll is emerging as one of the greatest humanist thinkers of his generation as he brings his extraordinary intellect to bear not only on Higgs bosons and extra dimensions but now also on our deepest personal questions: Where are we? Who are we? Are our emotions, our beliefs, and our hopes and dreams ultimately meaningless out there in the void? Do human purpose and meaning fit into a scientific worldview?
In short chapters filled with intriguing historical anecdotes, personal asides, and rigorous exposition, readers learn the difference between how the world works at the quantum level, the cosmic level, and the human level—and then how each connects to the other. Carroll's presentation of the principles that have guided the scientific revolution from Darwin and Einstein to the origins of life, consciousness, and the universe is dazzlingly unique.
Carroll shows how an avalanche of discoveries in the past few hundred years has changed our world and what really matters to us. Our lives are dwarfed like never before by the immensity of space and time, but they are redeemed by our capacity to comprehend it and give it meaning.
The Big Picture is an unprecedented scientific worldview, a tour de force that will sit on shelves alongside the works of Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Daniel Dennett, and E. O. Wilson for years to come.
Carroll (The Particle at the End of the Universe), a theoretical physicist at Caltech, marshals an impressive array of scientific information to convince readers that the universe and everything in it can be explained by science. He posits "poetic naturalism" as a philosophy, which for him serves as a way to figure out "the best way to talk about the world." He distinguishes his poetic form from other variants of naturalism by affirming that there is an underlying physical reality that exists independently of the human mind, and that there are "many useful ways of talking about it." His determination to counter supernatural ontologies drives the book, and Carroll acknowledges that his philosophy may seem like "an appealing idea" to some and "an absurd bunch of hooey" to others. Carroll can be repetitive, and some of his the anecdotes, such as the connection between Elisabeth of Bohemia and Ren Descartes, are interesting but tangential. Much of the material here will be new to many readers, but regardless of familiarity, Carroll presents a means through which people can better understand themselves, their universe, and their conceptions of a meaningful life: "It's up to us to make wise choices and shape the world to be a better place."