Learn the key ideas of the book by Sean Carroll

The Big Picture

The development of the key principles of philosophy and science throughout human history

Science has opened new doors and shed new light on many of our old beliefs to provide us with new knowledge about the world and the universe, which has also led to a change in language. Philosophy and general human beliefs, however, have not yet adapted to these discoveries, and many people still struggle to accept that everything that takes place in our world is only the result of a combination of atoms held together by the laws of physics: how can this vision of the world be reconciled with the human need to seek the meaning of our existence? SeanCarrollretraces some fundamental stages of thought and scientific discoveries to demonstrate that not only is it possible, but we also have a duty to reconcile the certainty of the laws that govern nature with our need to find a meaning and purpose in our actual existence.

The Big Picture
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.

The nature of reality from Aristotle to modern day: scientific discoveries have changed the way we view our world

Human beings have always wondered about the origin and nature of the world that surrounds them. For philosophers, this question is answered through a branch of metaphysics called ontology, which is the science of ‘what is’, of the kinds and structures of objects. In simple terms, ontology seeks the classification and explanation of entities and promotes theories on the nature of being and existence. There have been many ontological approaches throughout history, such as idealism and realism, each of which represents the opposing theory to the other. One of the philosophers who most profoundly influenced the vision of the world in the West is undoubtedly Aristotle, for whom things had their own natural state of being, which changed due to the effect of four different causes. These four causes were the material cause, the formal cause, the efficient cause, and the final cause. The nature of an object was what determined its movement, which could only take place towards a goal.

This way of interpreting reality was questioned by many other thinkers, but it was with Galileo Galilei that we began to radically change perspective. He said that the Universe does not need a cause, but moves forward independently. Today, to the theories of Galileo, Newton and other great scientists are added those of Einstein on relativity, and all subsequent discoveries, thanks to which it is now known that reality, including therefore human beings, is a set of particles governed by laws of physics.

This change of ontology, however, has not seen a parallel change in the language used to describe the world: it is in fact difficult to give up the cause-effect system described by Aristotle because it would mean accepting that life has no meaning in the world beyond its earthly limits, and that any effort we make is practically useless.


The key ideas of "The Big Picture"

The nature of reality from Aristotle to modern day: scientific discoveries have changed the way we view our world
A world held up by the cause-effect principle needs a supreme being at the origin of everything
Galileo began to describe the world according to the principles of physics, such as the conservation of momentum
The world is made up of patterns that determine the relationships between all things
Today we know the fundamental rules of physics and they help us understand daily life
The cause-effect principle exists, but it is no longer one of the fundamental rules of physics
Our ability to think has developed during the course of human evolution
Everything that happens in the brain is the result of the activity and connection of neurons
Love does not hold all the particles everything is made of together, the laws of physics do
Believing in naturalism means accepting that there is nothing after death
Take-home message
4books preview

Try 4books Premium for free!