The Big Picture

Cosmology and theoretical physics are developing rapidly. For the general reader, then, what’s the best scientific account we have of reality in 2017? An overall picture is offered by Sean Carroll ( here. He seeks to make sense of the universe and everything in it, from protons to people, from the Big Bang to the origins of life. The synthesis he arrives at he calls ‘poetic naturalism’. It is his personal presentation of the general philosophical position of naturalism ( for which our own David Hume laid foundations in the 18th century.


The book’s most striking claim is that ‘the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely known’. As Carroll recognises, some might find this bombastic: ‘It sounds an awful lot like all the many times throughout history when some great thinker or another boasted that the quest for perfect knowledge was nearly complete. Every one of which turned out to be hilariously premature,’ he writes. The author is not saying that all the laws of physics are known. Science remains ignorant of the laws underlying phenomena that are crucial to the development of the universe, such as dark matter and dark energy; nor have the two great theories of the 20th century, relativity and quantum mechanics, been unified. The key phrase in his assertion is ‘everyday life’. He means that what he calls the Core Theory of physics, the framework of fundamental forces and particles known to science today, will be sufficient to explain everything about life on Earth — including the human brain and consciousness.


Sean Carroll is a lively and sympathetic author who writes as well about biology and philosophy as he does about his own field of physics. 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. His presentation of the principles that have guided science from Darwin and Einstein to the origins of life, consciousness, and the universe is a treat not to be missed. At the end of it you’ll have the best big picture there is in one volume.


Sean Carroll ( and is a Research Professor in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology.


Listen to Sean Carroll talk about cosmology at the link (Radio 4’s ‘Life Scientific‘)


Enquire at your local library. Check the online catalogue to see if this important book is in stock.



480 pages in Oneworld Publications

First published 2016

ISBN  978-1780746067



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Professor Sean Carroll

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