Review: The Big Picture

The Big Picture aims to propagate a physics-based philosophy and worldview. I am sympathetic to an overall non-supernatural outlook and science as a basis for finding objective fact in a confusing world viewed through imperfect senses and idiosyncratic thinking organs. I think Sean Carroll reaches further than he reasonably can in an effort to build a theory of everything, but his attempt includes many perceptive and thought provoking ideas.

Carroll is a physicist well versed in cosmology and quantum theory. He starts by combining our incomplete understanding of these disciplines into an overall description of the physical universe. Though I mentioned that our understanding of those ideas is incomplete, one of the compelling ideas that Carroll puts forth is that our understanding is complete enough to resolve the overall state of the universe. He supports the justification the consistency of, explanatory power of, and evidence for those theories justifies relying on them. I think that’s compelling, but then I showed up pretty close to that; not everyone will agree, but he lays out a clear position.

When he begins to apply Bayesian analysis and conditional probability theory to belief levels, I start wanting to argue about it. As he extrapolates further from other mathematics and physics into a life philosophy and moral basis, I find more to disagree with. I reject parts of his worldview, but my personal views are incongruent with most people’s. I don’t think any two people will agree completely on those big issues.

The value I see in Picture is that Carroll builds his perspective clearly and directly from modern cosmology. He uses mathematics and other ideas as metaphors when not directly applicable. The book sparked some interesting ideas even when I disagreed with them.


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