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.