The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself

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Penguin, 2016 - Science - 470 pages
41 Reviews
*INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER*
"Vivid . . . impressive. . . . Splendidly informative."--The New York Times
"
Succeeds spectacularly."--Science
"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.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - nbmars - LibraryThing

To say this is an ambitious book is an understatement. Just read the subtitle: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself. The author, Sean Carroll, is a professor of physics at Cal Tech ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - NateK - LibraryThing

This was not an easy read. There is a LOT of science in this book, and even though each chapter builds on itself in a nice logical sequence, I found it difficult at times to keep up. That does not ... Read full review

Contents

Prologue
1
Times Arrow
54
Learning about the World
69
Updating Our Knowledge
75
Is It Okay to Doubt Everything?
84
Reality Emerges
93
What Exists and What Is Illusion?
105
Planets of Belief
115
Funneling Energy
244
Spontaneous Organization
250
The Origin and Purpose of Life
260
Evolutions Bootstraps
273
Searching through the Landscape
279
Emergent Purpose
291
Are We the Point?
302
Crawling into Consciousness
317

Accepting Uncertainty
123
What Can We Know about the World without Actually Looking at It?
130
Who Am I?
139
Abducting God
144
How Much We Know
153
The Quantum Realm
159
Interpreting Quantum Mechanics
166
The Core Theory
172
The Stuff of Which We Are Made
178
The Effective Theory of the Everyday World
186
Why Does the Universe Exist?
195
Body and Soul
205
Death is the End
215
The Universe in a Cup of Coffee
225
Light and Life
237
The Babbling Brain
327
What Thinks?
336
The Hard Problem
348
Zombies and Stories
355
Are Photons Conscious?
363
What Acts on What?
372
Freedom to Choose
378
Three Billion Heartbeats
387
Rules and Consequences
403
Existential Therapy
428
The Equation Underlying You and Me
435
References
443
Further Reading
451
Index
457
Copyright

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About the author (2016)

SEAN CARROLL is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He received his PhD in 1993 from Harvard University. Recently, Carroll has worked on the foundations of quantum mechanics, the arrow of time, and the emergence of complexity. He has been awarded prizes and fellowships by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics, and the Royal Society of London. His most recent award, in 2014, was from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Carroll has appeared on The Colbert Report (twice), PBS's NOVA, and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, and he frequently serves as a science consultant for film and television. He has been interviewed by various NPR shows, Scientific American, Wired, and The New York Times. He has given a TED talk on the multiverse that has more than one million views, and he has participated in a number of well-attended public debates concerning material in his new book, including one in New York City in 2014 with Eben Alexander.

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