The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself is an excellent overview of a current understanding of the physics of the universe, how life might have begun, and the reasonableness of a naturalistic worldview (i.e., there are no supernatural forces). Carroll’s strengths are clear explanations of quantum field theory, entropy, time, and concise explorations of philosophical issues or deep questions. For example, instead of confused discussions about whether something has meaning, we can say that things don’t matter to the Universe, but they matter to us and that’s good enough. Something only has meaning if you find it meaningful.
Additionally, don’t confuse different levels of analysis. Yes, we are made of particles but you typically cannot meaningfully answer questions about higher order emergent phenomena (like people with their hopes and fears) by appealing to particles or cells. (See Dennett’s Intentional Stance for more detail). He also provides some interesting historical nuggets such as a woman having on ongoing debate with Descartes about mind-body dualism because she felt his proposal didn’t explain how it would actually work.
That said, his explorations of some philosophical and (meta) ethical issues are not too deep, nor the implications of Many-Worlds, but he provides analysis and conclusions that align with deeper explorations, so it is a helpful contribution. Probably best to see his confident conclusions as provisional and as a starting point for the interested reader.
While I didn’t learn too much (because I’ve read similar things before), I did like his framing of various issues and I think it would be a very useful and informative book to most people.
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