CURRENT READING – THE BIG PICTURE (fourth continuation)

Having now dealt with the conceptual framework of poetic naturalism, epistemology, coherentism, and the question of God’s existence, Carroll moves on to the nature of reality in Part 3 which he titles Essence. I will try to move more quickly as to some extent he presents the picture of reality from the standpoint of physics which I already discussed on this site. 9 He explains in some detail the development of the Core Theory and proposes it as well established and unlikely to ever by controverted.

First he asserts that the world is simply a wave function… “full stop” to use his words. There is only the one wave function of the universe we observe and inhabit and we too are described by this wave function. The wave function doesn’t collapse into one possibility, but evolves smoothly into an entangled superposition, each collapse leading to a different universe – a theory known as the many worlds interpretation –literally a branching of the individual wave functions. While hard to accept, there simply is no other reasonable means to reconcile the principle of quantum uncertainty with observable reality.

He also tells us there are two key takeaways: (1) while we do not have a finished understanding, quantum mechanics at its basic level does not invalidate determinism, realism, or physicalism and (2) what we observe of the world is different than how we describe it. No future scientific discovery will eliminate the truth that “the world is just a quantum wave function. Everything else is just a convenient way of talking.”10

From there he vaults to the Core Theory or Quantum Field Theory – reality is fields from which particles and forces arise. Fields are not composed of anything, and the wave function of the universe is a superposition of all possible values of those fields. Fields can be of two types: (1) Bosons which can pile upon one another to create forces such as photons (creating electromagnetic forces) or gravitons (creating gravity), and (2) Fermions which cannot pile upon one another, but occupy space-time such as electrons and protons (or their subatomic particles). The Higgs field is responsible for giving matter to all particles. So ultimate reality is the world defined as a “quantum wave function …made of the fermion and boson fields of the Core Theory.”11 And “… the vast majority of life is gravity and electromagnetism pushing around electrons and nuclei” 12 According to Carroll this is the one and perhaps only story we can tell about reality that is definitely correct!

(fifth continuation next post)


9See posts titled Ultimate Reality and the Meaningful Life- Matter Parts I-IV published 10/24/22-11/15/22 and Teleology – Uncertainty Parts I-II published 11/20 and 11/22/20 on this site.

10Carroll, Sean, The Big Picture. Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016. ISBN 978-052595- 482-8, page 171.

11Ibid., page 176.

12Ibid., page 177.

2 Replies to “CURRENT READING – THE BIG PICTURE (fourth continuation)”

  1. A notion, (or theory) of reality is only as good as its’ intention, as you tacitly note. Professor Carroll is a physicist. Physics, then, is an interest, preference and motivation of his. For my part, reality is more of an everyday concern, entailing such matters as how people view ethics and morality; differing ideologies; whether AI could or should ever be conscious; and a host of other beliefs. Putting these ideas into perspective is a goal I label as contextual reality. How people view and act upon concepts, universe notwithstanding, is another kind of reality, different to the physicist’s view. And it falls upon interests, preferences and motives, quite independent of physics.

    1. Paul,

      Again thanks for following along. Your comments continue to be inciteful and stimulating. I suspect Carroll would view your perspective as simply another “way of talking” which may be a wastebasket response to any diversion from physics.

      Much to my surprise , there is simply too much in Carroll’s book to summarize in even 5 or 6 500 word posts, so I may be reviewing his book for the next 4-6 posts coming. I just read his chapters on body and soul and on death and believe his thinking is reasonable, but that he begs the question of dualism. From his perspective, the mind or soul must conform to the Core Theory, i.e. quantum physics. However that is the very question at hand. If the soul is non-material, it by definition would not follow physical laws. It would exist outside the material -that is, the soul or mind would communicate with the body through the brain to create actions which of course follow the laws of physics. While I believe the mind dies with the body, the dualist would simply say the mind or soul can no longer interact with the physical world once the brain can no longer act as the conduit of intentions. I see no scientific proof such a scenario cannot be in fact the case, although I admit it presumes an added feature of reality that cannot be demonstrated scientifically.

      Ultimately each person will have to decide for himself or herself whether scientific explanations of our apparent free will, spiritual experiences, or even human creations such as Shakespeare’s plays are credibly explained by strict physicalism.

      Thanks for your continued participation in


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