Book review: The Big Picture

Book cover for The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

How was the universe formed? What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What is our purpose in the universe?

These are questions that have occupied philosophers across generations for centuries, even millennia. And it’s these topics that author Sean Carroll tackles in The Big Picture.

Personally, I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find the answers to these questions, let alone know how to describe the answers I found to someone else. Answering existential questions is an extremely difficult task. I give Carroll a lot of credit for even making the attempt.

To analyze these questions, Carroll turns to the field of physics and uses quantum theory to delve into the origins of the universe. He goes deep describing how what we know about quantum theory today can explain the origins of the universe. From there, he explains that as our knowledge of quantum theory grows, it will help us to understand the origins of the universe even better. Throughout the discussion, he references the idea of poetic naturalism and ideas from old philosophers to make his case as to why quantum mechanics is the best way for us to model and understand the universe.

I have to admit that I struggled digesting The Big Picture. The content was good. The writing was fine. I just got lost in a lot of the discourse, especially when it got deep into the field of quantum theory. Similar to my experience with Andy Weir’s Randomize, I have a feeling that this book would resonate more with someone who has a deeper understanding of quantum theory or is very comfortable with theoretical physics. I would guess that someone who has studied the musing of ancient philosophers and enjoys philosophy would also relate better to the book. There’s also the possibility that if I were to read the book 2-3 times (or more) that I would start to “get it.” Then again, the real answer may be that I’m just in over my head on this one. It is entirely possible that the concepts are too deep for me to grasp.

In any case, The Big Picture is a deep, philosophical, technical read. I would not consider it light reading. If you decide to take the plunge, you’re going to have to hunker down, put your thinking cap on, and read carefully if you want to get the most out of the book.