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

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

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    Available in PDF Format | The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.pdf | English
    Sean M Carroll(Author)
*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.

"Weaving the threads of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and philosophy into a seamless narrative tapestry, Sean Carroll enthralls us with what we ve figured out in the universe and humbles us with what we don t yet understand. Yet in the end, it s the meaning of it all that feeds your soul of curiosity." Neil deGrasse Tyson, host ofCosmos: A Spacetime OdysseyWith profound intelligence and lucid, unpretentious language, Sean Carroll beautifully articulates the worldview suggested by contemporary naturalism. Thorny issues like free will, the direction of time, and the source of morality are clarified with elegance and insight. The Big Pictureshows how the scientific worldview enriches our understanding of the universe and ourselves. A reliable account of our knowledge of the universe, it is also a serene meditation on our need for meaning. This is a book that should be read by everybody. Carlo Rovelli, author ofSeven Brief Lessons on Physics "Vivid . . . impressive. . . . Splendidly informative." TheNew York Times Book ReviewNever hectoring, always tolerant, the author presents a seductively attractive picture of a universe whose ultimate laws lie within our grasp. . . . [Carroll] gives us a highly enjoyable and lucid tour through a wide range of topics. . . . Even if you don t agree with what he says, you are unlikely to be enraged by such an urbane and engaging lecturer; more likely, you will be enthralled. TheWall Street JournalA nuanced inquiry into how our desire to matter fits in with the nature of reality at its deepest levels, in which Carroll offers an assuring dose of what he calls existential therapy reconciling the various and often seemingly contradictory dimensions of our experience.Maria Popova, Brain Pickings[The Big Pictureis] atour de forcethat offers a comprehensive snapshot of the human situation in our infinitely strange universe, and it does this with highly accessible language and engaging storytelling. Salon Sean Carroll s holistic vision accommodates the sciences and the humanities and has a high probability of provoking readers into clarifying their own views about the complex relations among science, religion, and morality. The Times Literary SupplementThe Big Picture impresses. Carroll is a lively and sympathetic author who writes as well about biology and philosophy as he does about his own field of physics. Financial TimesCarroll is the perfect guide on this wondrous journey of discovery. A brilliantly lucid exposition of profound philosophical and scientific issues in a language accessible to lay readers. Kirkus Reviews(starred review) "Carroll presents a means through which people can better understand themselves, their universe, and their conceptions of a meaningful life." Publishers WeeklyGuides us through several centuries worth of scientific discoveries to show how they have shaped our understanding and indeed how the laws of nature are linked to the most fundamental human questions of life, death, and our place in the cosmos. Library Journal(prepub alert) "Intensely insightful." Scientific American "With its delightful blend of evocative love paens and four-dimensional integrals, The Big Pictureoffers a uniquely physical vision of life's meaning. This is poetry." --Physics Today[Carroll] sets out to show how various phenomena, including thought, choice, consciousness, and value, hang together with the scientific account of reality that has been developed in physics in the past 100 years. He attempts to do all this without relying on specialized jargon from philosophy and physics and succeeds spectacularly in achieving both aims. ScienceTrue to the grand scope of its title. . . . Anyone who enjoys asking big questions will find a lot to consider.BooklistLanguage philosophy, quantum mechanics, general relativity they re all in The Big Picture. Sean Carroll is a fantastically erudite and entertaining writer. Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Pulitzer Prize winnerThe Sixth ExtinctionFrom the big bang to the meaning of human existence, The Big Picture is exactly that a magisterial, yet deeply fascinating, grand tour through the issues that really matter. Blendingscience and philosophy, Sean Carroll gives us a humane perspective on the universe and our place in it. As gripping as it is important, The Big Picture can change the way you think about the world. Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner FishIn this timely exploration of the universe and its mysteries both physical and metaphysical Sean Carroll illuminates the world around us with clarity, beauty and, ultimately, with much needed wisdom. Deborah Blum, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and author of The Poisoner s HandbookSean Carroll is a leading theoretical cosmologist with the added ability to write about his subject with unusualclarity, flare, and wit. Alan Lightman, author of The Accidental Universe and Einstein s Dreams "Until now you might have gotten away believing modern physics is about things either too small or too far away to care much about. But no more. Sean Carroll s new book reveals how physicists quest to better understand the fundamental laws of nature has led to astonishing insights into life, the universe, and everything.Above all, a courageous book, and an overdue one." Sabine Hossenfelder, Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies "Instead of feeling humbled and insignificant when gazing upward on a clear starry night, Carroll takes us by the hand and shows us how fantastic the inanimate physical universe is and how special each animate human can be. It is lucid, spirited, and penetrating." Michael S. Gazzaniga, author of Who's in Charge? and Tales from Both Sides of the Brain"Included on Brain Picking's -The Greatest Science Books of 2016- ListIncluded on NPR Science Friday's -The Best Science Books of 2016- List-Weaving the threads of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and philosophy into a seamless narrative tapestry, Sean Carroll enthralls us with what we've figured out in the universe and humbles us with what we don't yet understand. Yet in the end, it's the meaning of it all that feeds your soul of curiosity.---Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey -With profound intelligence and lucid, unpretentious language, Sean Carroll beautifully articulates the worldview suggested by contemporary naturalism. Thorny issues like free will, the direction of time, and the source of morality are clarified with elegance and insight. The Big Picture shows how the scientific worldview enriches our understanding of the universe and ourselves. A reliable account of our knowledge of the universe, it is also a serene meditation on our need for meaning. This is a book that should be read by everybody.---Carlo Rovelli, author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics -Vivid . . . impressive. . . . Splendidly informative.---The New York Times Book Review -Never hectoring, always tolerant, the author presents a seductively attractive picture of a universe whose ultimate laws lie within our grasp. . . . [Carroll] gives us a highly enjoyable and lucid tour through a wide range of topics. . . . Even if you don't agree with what he says, you are unlikely to be enraged by such an urbane and engaging lecturer; more likely, you will be enthralled.---The Wall Street Journal -A nuanced inquiry into 'how our desire to matter fits in with the nature of reality at its deepest levels, ' in which Carroll offers an assuring dose of what he calls 'existential therapy' reconciling the various and often seemingly contradictory dimensions of our experience.---Maria Popova, Brain Pickings -[The Big Picture is] a tour de force that offers a comprehensive snapshot of the human situation in our infinitely strange universe, and it does this with highly accessible language and engaging storytelling.---Salon-Sean Carroll's holistic vision accommodates the sciences and the humanities and has a high probability of provoking readers into clarifying their own views about the complex relations among science, religion, and morality.---The Times Literary Supplement-The Big Picture impresses. Carroll is a lively and sympathetic author who writes as well about biology and philosophy as he does about his own field of physics.---Financial Times -Carroll is the perfect guide on this wondrous journey of discovery. A brilliantly lucid exposition of profound philosophical and scientific issues in a language accessible to lay readers.---Kirkus Reviews (starred review) -Carroll presents a means through which people can better understand themselves, their universe, and their conceptions of a meaningful life.---Publishers Weekly -Guides us through several centuries' worth of scientific discoveries to show how they have shaped our understanding and indeed how the laws of nature are linked to the most fundamental human questions of life, death, and our place in the cosmos.---Library Journal (prepub alert) -Intensely insightful.---Scientific American -With its delightful blend of evocative love paens and four-dimensional integrals, The Big Picture offers a uniquely physical vision of life's meaning. This is poetry.- --Physics Today -[Carroll] sets out to show how various phenomena, including thought, choice, consciousness, and value, hang together with the scientific account of reality that has been developed in physics in the past 100 years. He attempts to do all this without relying on specialized jargon from philosophy and physics and succeeds spectacularly in achieving both aims.---Science -True to the grand scope of its title. . . . Anyone who enjoys asking big questions will find a lot to consider.---Booklist -Language philosophy, quantum mechanics, general relativity--they're all in The Big Picture. Sean Carroll is a fantastically erudite and entertaining writer.---Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Pulitzer Prize-winner The Sixth Extinction -From the big bang to the meaning of human existence, The Big Picture is exactly that--a magisterial, yet deeply fascinating, grand tour through the issues that really matter. Blending science and philosophy, Sean Carroll gives us a humane perspective on the universe and our place in it. As gripping as it is important, The Big Picture can change the way you think about the world.---Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish-In this timely exploration of the universe and its mysteries--both physical and metaphysical--Sean Carroll illuminates the world around us with clarity, beauty and, ultimately, with much needed wisdom.---Deborah Blum, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and author of The Poisoner's Handbook -Sean Carroll is a leading theoretical cosmologist with the added ability to write about his subject with unusual clarity, flare, and wit.- --Alan Lightman, author of The Accidental Universe and Einstein's Dreams -Until now you might have gotten away believing modern physics is about things either too small or too far away to care much about. But no more. Sean Carroll's new book reveals how physicists' quest to better understand the fundamental laws of nature has led to astonishing insights into life, the universe, and everything. Above all, a courageous book, and an overdue one.---Sabine Hossenfelder, Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies -Instead of feeling humbled and insignificant when gazing upward on a clear starry night, Carroll takes us by the hand and shows us how fantastic the inanimate physical universe is and how special each animate human can be. It is lucid, spirited, and penetrating.---Michael S. Gazzaniga, author of Who's in Charge? and Tales from Both Sides of the Brain -Sean Carroll's lucid The Big Picture reveals how the universe works and our place in it. Carroll, a philosophically sophisticated physicist, discusses consciousness without gimmicks, and deftly shows how current physics is so solid that it rules out ESP forever.- --Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our NatureIncluded on Brain Picking's "The Greatest Science Books of 2016" ListIncluded on NPR Science Friday's "The Best Science Books of 2016" List"Weaving the threads of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and philosophy into a seamless narrative tapestry, Sean Carroll enthralls us with what we've figured out in the universe and humbles us with what we don't yet understand. Yet in the end, it's the meaning of it all that feeds your soul of curiosity."--Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

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Book details

  • PDF | 469 pages
  • Sean M Carroll(Author)
  • Dutton Books; Reprint edition (16 May 2017)
  • English
  • 8
  • Science & Nature
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Review Text

  • By Robert V. on 17 December 2016

    The author appears to have written this book for young Americans who come from practicing Christian families and who have an interest in science Instead of concentrating of painting the 'Big Picture' he spends a lot of time trying to persuade his target audience to overcome the indoctrinations of their upbringing and teaching them how to think like scientists.In the second half of the book the popular science writer becomes the popular philosopher. This could be an interesting perspective but it does read as though he is working out this personal philosophy as he was writing the book. Maybe that is why he has now published an abridged version.

  • By R. Wilson on 2 October 2016

    The title fits the book. it presents a very big picture of the world. Carroll's thinking ranges from the minute details of particle physics to the big questions of life's meaning and purpose.His humility is shown by his frequent acknowledgements that, in almost every part of the big picture, there's a lot we don't know. Whether it is the possibility of multiple universes alongside the one we think we can see, or the possible development of intelligent machines, Carroll admits that "we just don't know". He lives in hope, however, that the scientific method coupled with Bayesian statistics will eventually improve our knowledge in many of these areas.On the other hand, he argues that the same scientific method can be used to exclude some possibilities very dear to humankind. The biggest element he wishes to exclude from our big picture is any supernatural force, whether it is God or human spirituality. He is not so arrogant as to exclude things totally, he just ascribes to them such a low probability that we should brush them aside in any serious thinking. For me, his argument is very convincing, though I have many friends who would find it impossible to accept such a conclusion.Part of the unacceptability of such a strictly disciplined way of scientific thinking is that for many theist and spiritual people it leads to a bleak and soulless universe. However, Carroll teaches us both to care and not to care. Far from consigning us to a deadly mechanical world, Carroll ends his book with an outline of a new humanist world full of life and moral optimism.It is an excellent book with a tightly controlled way of speaking about the big picture and a careful avoidance of mixing up different ways of telling the story of our universe. And there are strands of humour and a playful outlook to add some humanity to the scientific survey.

  • By The Sprawl on 8 October 2016

    I'm a big fan of Sean Carroll: his From Eternity To Here is one of my favourite popular physics books, and his talks and lectures as one of our most vocal public naturalists are always worth catching. I'm also an atheist, a naturalist, an opponent of religious irrationality and am very interested in cosmology and particle physics, so I was very much looking forward to this book. Unfortunately, Carroll writes best when he's focusing on a single subject, like time or the story of the Higgs Boson, and his remit here is far too wide, even for a book as hefty as this. Subjects range from free-will, consciousness and morality to truth, the standard model of particle physics, and Everettian quantum mechanics and, given this, certain topics upon which he could have written for fifty or sixty pages without scratching the surface are considered and discarded in two or three large paragraphs.It's an ambitious book, and its central, guiding worldview is 'poetic naturalism', an ill-defined concept which, for me, hews a little to close to the relativistic view of truth so common among postmodernists and the humanities in general. As far as I can tell, 'poetic naturalism' allows that the world may be described by a variety of stories. Even when these stories describe the same physical phenomenon from differing perspectives we don't have to come down on one side or another, and we don't have to focus solely on those that are 'true'. We can instead focus on how 'useful' they are to us as human beings, and in some sense this gives them truth value in and of itself.It's all a bit confusing really, but it allows Carroll to elide the question of whether something very sweet and beguiling is actually worth believing in in an objective sense. This is most useful when he comes to the question of 'free will'. Free will is always dodgy territory: if you admit a belief in the libertarian version of free will you're taking up a position that makes no sense in scientific, naturalistic terms, whilst if you believe in pure determinism and reject free will altogether, which is really the only reasonable scientific perspective, you run the risk of alienating and intimidating the average reader. The midway point between these two positions is a botch, but it's the position Carroll says he holds. It's called 'compatibilism', and I've yet to hear any of its proponents explain it in satisfactory fashion.However, this is where 'poetic naturalism' comes in: it lets Carroll admit the obvious physical fact that free will is an illusion but it also allows him to hold onto it by describing it as a 'useful' way of looking at the world. It's this subtle conflation of 'useful' and 'true' that begins to grate by the end of a book that, on the whole, avoids coming down on one side or the other regarding any of the thorny subjects it discusses. In my view and the view of most other naturalists, an idea like 'I have free will' may be useful in everyday life, in that it allows us to talk sensibly about human events using intentional language, but it can also be simply untrue. Carroll never quite admits this, and it leads to a slightly wishy-washy epistemic approach: he approaches the truth values of various human concepts, bats them back and forth and finally backs off from taking a solid position on the most important question: do they tally with the real world; are they physically true?I'm aware that from the vantage point of a poetic naturalist there's a sense in which this may be the 'wrong' question, and we should value certain narratives about the way the world work based upon their applicability and utility, but in the end if that's the case I hope Carroll doesn't write from such a perspective in any of his future books. Some of the rigor and scrupulousness of his past work is noticeably absent, and whilst The Big Picture is still worth reading, and his thoughts on all these disparate subjects still contain nuggets of brilliance, it might be a good idea to rein in the ambition next time and, in particular, junk the 'poetic' part of his naturalism. It may be both expedient and intellectually magnanimous to cede so much ground to 'other kinds of truths' besides science, and poetic naturalism may help him justify this epistemological humility, but it's when he's dealing with the hard truths of physics and empirically-verified reality that he's most readable. Poetic naturalism is all very gracious and humble, but if he used such an undiscerning philosophical worldview to deal with cosmology and particle physics he'd quickly trip over his own feet.I can't really recommend this, at least not wholeheartedly, but if you're looking for a short, slightly vague precis of the most important philosophical and scientific questions around today then you might want to go for it. As a Carroll fan I'm a bit disappointed, but it's bite-sized enough to be read in chunks and it might well display the requisite humility to appeal to the science-sceptic, humanities-influenced intellectual in your life. Personally I'd cut such people out of my life entirely rather than buy them books, but then I'm not very nice.

  • By Philip on 5 April 2017

    Excellent book looking at the basis of modern science and combing this with a philosophy of life. Put what I have been thinking for years into focus.

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