The Big Picture

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The Big Picture

Big Picture, The - On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself - Hardcover - USA - 1st Edition.jpg

Hardcover - USA - 1st Edition.

Author Sean Carroll
Published 2016-05-10
Type Non-fiction
Genre Educational
Themes Philosophy, Physics, Pseudoscience, Science
Age Group Adult

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself is a book about the major aspects of the universe including science and philosophy. It was written by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll and published on 2016-05-10.

In the book, Carroll describes his world view, which he calls "poetic naturalism," and explains how it embraces science, while still allowing for a romantic wonder and appreciation of the universe. He then explains the current scientific understanding of various "big picture" fields like the origin and propagation of the universe, the origin and propagation of life, consciousness, freewill, ethics, and so forth. He also explains various supernatural arguments for these topics and explains why they all fail.


Read?Audiobook read by Sean Carroll.

After seeing him lecture and debate, Sean Carroll became one of my favorite scientists, so, when I saw this book, I was eager to read it, and really enjoyed it.





  • True to the title, Carroll covers all the big picture ideas covering the universe, life, consciousness, and ethics.
  • Carroll talks about the why it's necessary to discuss emergence and explains why things appear to act different at different levels of emergence, and why it's important to change the way we talk when discussing things at different levels of complexity. This is extremely important as people who fail to factor in emergence make the fallacy of composition.
  • I really like Carroll's descriptions of "poetic naturalism."
  • I like that Carroll points out multiple times that life isn't a thing, but a process.
  • Carroll rightfully points out that naturalism isn't found in the scientific method, so it's wrong to say science can only deal with natural things and not include the supernatural. But he immediately follows this up by pointing out that scientific experiments overwhelmingly point to a naturalistic worldview.
  • Carroll does a pretty good job explaining why mysticism can't exist within our current models for the universe because everything that happens in our day-to-day lives is already accounted for by the four fundamental forces. I don't think anyone who believes in mysticism will find this convincing, but it help cement naturalism to those who already don't believe.


  • Like every other popular science book I've read about quantum mechanics, this book doesn't do a very good job of explaining what it is or how scientists are able to make accurate predictions with it. And, since it frequently uses terms that only make sense withing the field, if the reader doesn't already have a post-grade-school-level understanding of quantum mechanics they will be confused. Of course, the book isn't meant to be a primer on quantum mechanics, so I can't fault it too much.
  • Like pretty much every book I've read about philosophy, I found that it has a tendency to ramble about philosophical ideas that have little to no meaning to the average person. It also occasionally uses complex terms and ideas without describing them or giving examples.
  • I don't really see what his term "planet of belief" gains over just talking about a persons beliefs.
  • By using the term "God" with a capitol G, Carroll is inadvertently lending credence to Monotheists. This is a quibble, but I wish people would stop doing it.


  • Nothing.


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