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

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4.18  ·  Rating details ·  3,942 Ratings  ·  467 Reviews
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 o ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Dutton
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Marek Winiarz I will take a middle position. If you know nothing of physics, the author does not "explain everything along the way". Concepts of entropy and minimum…moreI will take a middle position. If you know nothing of physics, the author does not "explain everything along the way". Concepts of entropy and minimum energy are key, yet their knowledge is assumed. To be fair, if you are reading this text, you are on a pretty high knowledge level to start with. But even physicists cannot describe what the Core Theory is. Quantum relativity is probabilistic and makes sense only mathematically, so understanding details is not that important. Since the reader cannot understand all the deep physics (I sure don't), it's the big outline that matters, and I think that you can follow that. But believing without understanding is called faith, so some faith is in play. However this is not dogma and the reader is not obligated to "believe". Whether life happened to hydrogenate carbon dioxide is entertaining to think about but it's not in any way empirically provable. So the purpose in reading is not blind faith but stimulation of thought and the author's contribution of ideas to the eternal questions.(less)
Marek Winiarz The author's point is that the universe is made up of both. Atoms create the physical "plant"; stories create useful descriptions of our experience.…moreThe author's point is that the universe is made up of both. Atoms create the physical "plant"; stories create useful descriptions of our experience. This book is about exactly those concepts. Happy reading!(less)

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Manny
Apr 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People looking for an intelligent summary of naturalism
[A cloud in Heaven. PLATO, LUCRETIUS, HUME, LAPLACE, DARWIN, THE REV BAYES and sundry others]

PLATO: Meeting to order. Manny has asked us to review Sean Carroll's new book. I trust you've all read it?

LUCRETIUS: Say, how come we're writing this for him? What's going on, Plato?

PLATO: I owe Manny a little favor. Fellow-seekers after wisdom, we have eternity ahead of us. This won't take more than an aeon or two. Who's first?

LUCRETIUS: Okay, I didn't like it much.

PLATO: Would you care to elaborate, de
...more
David
This is a wonderful book about the meaning of our universe, and of life. Sean Carroll is an active theoretical physicist, and he brings some fresh new ideas to philosophy. He coins a new term, Poetic Naturalism. It stems from a quote by Muriel Rukeyser,
The universe is made of stories, not atoms.
While naturalism is the idea that only natural laws and forces (not supernatural or spiritual) operate in the world, poetic naturalism says that the way we find meaning to life does not naturally emerge
...more
Dannii Elle
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this on a read to review basis from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Sean Carroll, and the publisher, Dutton, for the opportunity.

A brief overview of this fascinating non-fiction can be written no more aptly than in the synopsis itself - "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 conne
...more
Charlene
After having a countdown for this book, which spanned months, I woke up at 5 am on May 10th and thought, "It's finally here!" I opened my Audible library and it was better than Christmas. In the quiet of the morning, I began to listen to this deeply philosophical book and immediately fell in love with it. It felt like a Poetic Naturalist's version of Christmas- material gifts replaced by the gift of trying to understand the nature of our vast universe and the world in which we live.

Those who ha
...more
Max
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
Physicist Sean Carroll goes well beyond the ordinary bounds of his discipline in this wide ranging exposition. He begins with ontology, the fundamental nature of everything, and ends with how humans can derive meaning living in a world that is not transcendent. Along the way we get explanations of quantum field theory, quantum mechanics, entropy, Bayes Theorem, abiogenesis, evolution and consciousness. Much of the material does not represent new thinking, but one discussion stood out to me.

In hi
...more
Atila Iamarino
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Por onde começar? Escolhi o Big Picture por ser um dos livros mais vendidos do ano passado. E foi bem fácil entender o porquê. Este é aquele livro gigante sobre ciência que posso recomendar para qualquer um.

Os capítulos passam por como entendemos o Universo e o que é o tempo, como a ciência entende o mundo, o que é a física quântica e o que ela descreve, o surgimento da vida e de complexidade, o surgimento de mentes e da consciência, para terminar com uma reflexão sobre a vida.

É um livro muito b
...more
Brian Clegg
Most popular science books either focus in on a specific bit of science, or explore the work of a particular scientist. However, every now and then, authors get the urge to go large - to take on life, the universe and everything. It’s what you might call the science writer’s midlife crisis - and this title typifies the genre.

Of itself, this isn’t a bad idea, though it can be a struggle to decide how to organise such a vast subject matter, and the ‘big book’ syndrome frequently rears its ugly hea
...more
Book Riot Community
When I started reading The Big Picture I assumed it would be about cosmology. Sean Carroll is a cosmologist and physicist at the California Institute of Technology, and his previous books dealt with that subject. Carroll’s new book is about an even bigger topic – everything. What Carroll attempts to do is give the big picture of our existence, and he does a fine job. He combines science, philosophy, religion, psychology and other subjects, to show why no one explanation works. There can be no ge ...more
Mark
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Can meaning and purpose be found and explained within a non-theistic (vs. an atheistic - related, but different) worldview? Sean Carroll argues that not only is it possible, but the only reasonable perspective. He creates a new paradigm, which he calls poetic naturalism to explain how he joins science, philosophy, and a naturalistic worldview with one that also allows for wonder, mystery, joy, purpose, and meaning in life.

Poetic naturalism contends that we have different ways of talking about r
...more
Dave Ciskowski
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: donated-lost
A disappointing book; despite its potential, I can’t recommend it. Carroll’s tenet — the idea he calls “poetic naturalism” — is appealing to me and would be worthy of a good exploration. Unfortunately, Carroll spends most of his time exploring the “naturalism” side of his philosophy, which amounts to knocking over cardboard opponents. The early phases of the book (where Carroll is on his most certain scientific ground) read as an interesting tour of the current state of cosmology and the Standar ...more
Gendou
Carroll introduces a philosophical idea he calls "poetic naturalism" in which the ontology includes objects which are useful in talking about the world at a given scale or levels of detail. For example, we can talk about people when it's useful to do so, and not worry that people are just made up of atoms and without getting distracted by questions like which is the last atom that's part of "me" on the tip of my finger.

The book takes the reader from the beginning of science with Newton's laws of
...more
Peter Mcloughlin
I probably would have given this a five star rating but I am very familiar with Dr. Carroll from Youtube and the Great courses and his other books. I like the book a lot but I have seen this stuff before in other places. The only reason I am withholding the five is that I wanted to see something new. I would recommend this book who doesn't know Dr. Carroll from the interwebs and I think he is a good writer and I like his grand work here but I think i like his earlier works better. Still I like t ...more
Whitney Milam
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I finally have a term to sum up my own personal philosophy toward life (which was certainly deepened and expanded by reading this book): poetic naturalism.
Katie
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, science
I bought this at an airport bookstore, mostly because I admired the audacity of someone who would write a book about life, meaning, and the universe and slap it all on the cover.

I'm pretty much the audience for this book. I like science but have zero formal training in it; I like books that are overly ambitious in their scope. I also went into this book (without realizing it) already having essentially the same philosophical and religious views as the author. That made for a somewhat satisfying
...more
Blair
Poetic Naturalism: Not a Good Way of Talking

The “Big Picture” is an attempt by a physicist to explain our universe, up to and including culture. It begins with naturalism, the concept that there is a single, objective reality that follows a set of laws. We can discover those laws by observing that reality using scientific method. The author extends that (or dilutes it) to something he calls “Poetic Naturalism”. This means, in his words:

1) There are many ways of talking about the world.
2) All go
...more
Jose Moa
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, cosmology, essay
This is a ambitious well structured honest book that for me achieved two goals,make the conection between the substructure and superestructure of the whole cosmos,is to say give a explanation of the galaxies,stars,life,evolution,humans as a consecuence of the interaction of the fundamental quantum fields and asociated particles,and second makes a rigurous argumentation of the no necesity of the existence of supernatural or divine influences,in this sense is a book that rigurously arguments in fa ...more
Ross
Jul 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Quite interesting philosophical discussion of what we know, what we can know, and what we can't know. The author is a professor of physics and begins with a review of the history of what we have learned about the laws of physics
He then launches into a discussion of philosophical belief systems contrasting those of theism and atheism. He describes his belief in a system termed "poetic naturalism." The naturalism part is that there are no gods, no creators, no life after death, etc. In other word
...more
James Murphy
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Carroll's book is ambitious, and ultimately it's impressive because he achieves--at least as far as I can determine--what he set out to do. The big picture is the nature of reality explained by contemporary science. He describes how the universe works in every scale from the cosmic to the quantum and how the current understanding of such elemental foundations make clear concepts like the arrow of time and entropy and unite in our heads as consciousness and language and even notions of morality.

I
...more
Hélio Steven
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
At some point in life, we all end up wondering about our place in the cosmos. For a lot of human history, it was thought we were at the center of all action, and that the universe was way smaller than it actually is. Given the epistemic/scientific limitations of much of our history, one can't say it wasn't all that unreasonable to hold such a view. Plus, it probably was somewhat reassuring, making more vivid the idea that we were somehow special in the big scheme of things. What's not to find at ...more
Pustulio
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Si pudiera le daba 6 estrellas.

Pinche libro V E R G A

Si en bold y en mayúsculas. Es un libro que te explica un poquito de todo, un poco de como funciona el mundo de manera científica para después adentrarte en un mundo filosófico con un contexto científico y SUPUTAMADRE. Me dejo reflexivo, me hizo pensar más de lo que pensé que lo iba a hacer.

Y las recomendaciones de vida que da, ha sido de lo mejor del mundo.

Sean Carroll quiero abrazarte.

Neta sus 10 recomendaciones de vida UNA PUTA JOYA.
...more
Gary
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
All popular science books should take a clue from this book. There is no 'one scientific method' there are just many different possible ways we determine our justified true beliefs.
This author is never afraid at talking above the listener. He's perfectly comfortable at using the appropriate terms that our needed, and he takes a stand on many of the issues within the Philosophy of Science. As the author says, science before Galileo thought in terms of causes and purpose (teleology), and afterward
...more
Jeremy
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
As ambitious as its title suggests, this is a book meant to lay out a particular worldview. If we accept the universe as physics presents it, a vast panorama of elementary particles and quantum fields born in a fiery Big Bang and destined for a thermodynamic heat death, how are we to see ourselves? Can we simultaneously accept human beings as swarms of simple particles, organisms produced by random variation and natural selection, and as conscious and intentional beings with choices and a purpos ...more
P. Wilson
Feb 08, 2017 rated it liked it
This a good book if you're looking for a reasonably clear synopsis of modern physics. It also has an excellent section on scientific reasoning, including a useful description of Bayesian probability and abduction (as distinct from deduction and induction). It is marred, however, by the what I would call the author's evangelical atheism. His alternative, "poetic naturalism," is best described by one reviewer as "not even wrong." (Robert Crease)
Poetic naturalism, the author's coinage, are the stor
...more
Paperclippe
This was more of a philosophy book than I was expecting it to be, having read many of Sean Carroll's previous books, but I ended up liking it more than I thought I was going to for more than a couple of reasons.

First, it's rare that I come across any sort of "speculative" book (I know that that's not the right word, but that's how it's sticking in my mind at the moment) that I agree with more often than not, and I did find myself agreeing with Carroll's positions much of the time. Now, I will am
...more
Amaan Cheval
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Big Picture is the best book I've read so far. It aims to address some extremely difficult questions, and surprisingly enough, it does do them justice and address them well. Sean Carroll pulls in research from several avenues to build as comprehensive a picture as possible, including logical and well-structured arguments for what he believes and why that makes sense.

The book is very thought-provoking and it feels like it does a great job at peeling apart several layers of the human experienc
...more
Jason Schneeberger
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very broad and expansive material for the mind! This book is basically a Humanist look at the universe, life and existence through the lens of physics, ontology, biology, Astro physics and quantum mechanics.

I can't fool myself into believing that I grasped everything this book lays out for its audience, but it is supremely inspiring and only furthers my thirst to learn more about science.

I really enjoyed Sean Carroll's respectful approach to religion. He is admittedly an atheist and very clearl
...more
Earl
Mar 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: won, first-reads
The Big Picture by Sean Carroll is a very accessible addition to the category of science books for the general public. As is usually the case this incorporates contextualizing the science within the more philosophical parameters of daily life. We may not think of our lives as philosophically driven but our actions and ideas are indeed so in the broadest sense. Carroll uses the concept of “poetic naturalism” to bring the discussion from the hows of science to the whys of the humanities.

I found hi
...more
Jafar
Sep 28, 2016 rated it liked it
I feel bad for talking down this book, but there’s hardly anything new in it. Sean Carroll is a fine theoretical physicist who also happens to be very well-read in my other areas. In this large book he gives you a summary of modern physics and the naturalistic explanations of things like consciousness and morality, etc. Nothing that you can’t find elsewhere. His own bit of original contribution is his insistence on what he calls “poetic naturalism”: that we can have different narratives for the ...more
Kevin
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-reads, science
I received this book for free through goodreads giveaways.

I've never read any of the other scientific "thinkers" such as Hawking and others, so I come into this book with only very basic knowledge. Some of it did go way (WAY) over my head but that is hardly the authors fault.

So how do I judge the book in the form of a review? The book made me want to read other "thinkers" books, so that alone makes this a very good book. The author is able to write in such a way that I was able to enjoy it if n
...more
Kadri
Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is great. The title of the book really says it all - you really get the big picture and find out more about philosophy of science, how the brain works, etc. It gives a lot of little bits of information that might inspire you to look into some of the topics covered in the book more deeply.
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Science and Inquiry: February 2017 - The Big Picture 7 115 Mar 27, 2017 03:49PM  
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684 followers
Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993. His research focuses on issues in cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His book The Particle at the End of the Universe won the prestigious Winton Prize for Science Books in 2013. Carroll lives in Los Angeles with his wife, writer Jennifer Ouellette.

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“As we understand the world better, the idea that it has a transcendent purpose seems increasingly untenable.” 5 likes
“Those swirls in the cream mixing into the coffee? That’s us. Ephemeral patterns of complexity, riding a wave of increasing entropy from simple beginnings to a simple end. We should enjoy the ride.” 5 likes
More quotes…