The last two chapters of Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture are almost wistful summaries of his personal philosophy and philosophical experience based on a physicalist perspective of the universe. The penultimate chapter, Listening to the World, lists his ‘Ten Considerations’ as alternatives to the Ten Commandments; 23
- Life Isn’t Forever.
- Desire Is Built into Life. (“Life is characterized by motion and change…”)
- What Matters Is What Matters to People.
- We Can Always Do Better.
- It Pays to Listen. (He includes ancient thinkers in this).
- There Is No Natural Way to Be.
- It Takes All Kinds. (There is no single way to live).
- The Universe Is in Our Hands. (We can choose what to do with our special abilities as a species).
- We Can Do Better Than Happiness. (“Wouldn’t you rather have a good story to tell?”)
- Reality Guides Us. (Meaning not Nature, but the truths of science, and not the illusions of opinion or dogma).
Carroll’s final chapter, Existential Therapy, rehearses his life first as a Christian believer and later as a scientist/atheist. On his journey he was, unlike Camus (but like Einstein), impressed by the intelligibility of the universe and in time came to a ‘cheerful’ naturalism once he recognized that the remaining mysteries of the cosmos are not unsolvable. In his opinion, “The universe is not a miracle. It simply is, unguided and unsustained, manifesting the patterns of nature with scrupulous regularity… We are the miracle, we human beings. Not a break-the-laws-of-physics kind of miracle, a miracle in that it is wondrous and amazing how such a complex, aware, creative caring creatures could have arisen in perfect accordance with those laws.”24
Carroll closes by noting that poetic naturalism is “a rich and rewarding way to apprehend the world, but it’s a philosophy that calls for a bit of fortitude.”25 However we can choose to not to drift in a ‘purposeless’ cosmos aware of our finitude. Like Camus’ Sisyphus, we can find meaning in the tasks we choose and ultimately find ways of “mattering for ourselves and those around us in the brief amount of time we have in the world.”26
(final continuation next post)
23Carroll, Sean, The Big Picture. Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016. ISBN 978-052595- 482-8, pages 419-427.
24 Ibid., page 431. Carroll’s quote is nearly the opposite of the one by Professor Daniel Robinson in Synopsis on the Question of God (Cont’d), dated 3/27/2019 on this site.
26Ibid., page 433.