The Big Picture: Table of Contents

Greetings, surface-dwellers! I have finally emerged from the secret underground laboratory where I have been polishing the manuscript for The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself. We pushed up the publication date to May 10, so you’ll get it in plenty of time for your summer beach reading. Evidence that it exists, all 145,000 glorious words:


As will happen in the writing process, the organization of the book has changed since I first mentioned it. Here is the final table of contents. As you might gather, I went with an organization of many short chapters. Hopefully that will help give the book the feeling of a light and enjoyable read.


    0. Prologue

* Part One: Cosmos

  • 1. The Fundamental Nature of Reality
  • 2. Poetic Naturalism
  • 3. The World Moves By Itself
  • 4. What Determines What Will Happen Next?
  • 5. Reasons Why
  • 6. Our Universe
  • 7. Time’s Arrow
  • 8. Memories and Causes

* Part Two: Understanding

  • 9. Learning About the World
  • 10. Updating Our Knowledge
  • 11. Is It Okay to Doubt Everything?
  • 12. Reality Emerges
  • 13. What Exists, and What Is Illusion?
  • 14. Planets of Belief
  • 15. Accepting Uncertainty
  • 16. What Can We Know About the Universe Without Looking at It?
  • 17. Who Am I?
  • 18. Abducting God

* Part Three: Essence

  • 19. How Much We Know
  • 20. The Quantum Realm
  • 21. Interpreting Quantum Mechanics
  • 22. The Core Theory
  • 23. The Stuff of Which We Are Made
  • 24. The Effective Theory of the Everyday World
  • 25. Why Does the Universe Exist?
  • 26. Body and Soul
  • 27. Death Is the End

* Part Four: Complexity

  • 28. The Universe in a Cup of Coffee
  • 29. Light and Life
  • 30. Funneling Energy
  • 31. Spontaneous Organization
  • 32. The Origin and Purpose of Life
  • 33. Evolution’s Bootstraps
  • 34. Searching Through the Landscape
  • 35. Emergent Purpose
  • 36. Are We the Point?

* Part Five: Thinking

  • 37. Crawling Into Consciousness
  • 38. The Babbling Brain
  • 39. What Thinks?
  • 40. The Hard Problem
  • 41. Zombies and Stories
  • 42. Are Photons Conscious?
  • 43. What Acts on What?
  • 44. Freedom to Choose

* Part Six: Caring

  • 45. Three Billion Heartbeats
  • 46. What Is and What Ought to Be
  • 47. Rules and Consequences
  • 48. Constructing Goodness
  • 49. Listening to the World
  • 50. Existential Therapy
  • Appendix: The Equation Underlying You and Me
  • Acknowledgments
  • Further Reading
  • References
  • Index

A lot of ground gets covered. In Part One we set the stage, seeing how discoveries in science have revealed a universe that runs under unbreakable, impersonal laws of nature. In Part Two we think about how to conceptualize such a universe: how to learn about it (Bayesian inference, abduction) and how to talk about it (emergence and overlapping theoretical vocabularies). In Part Three we get down and dirty with quantum mechanics, the Core Theory, and effective field theories. In Part Four we start down the road of connecting to our macroscopic world, seeing how complexity and life can arise due to the arrow of time. In Part Five we think about the leading challenge to a physicalist worldview: the existence of consciousness. And in Part Six we recognize that the universe isn’t going to tell us how to behave, and acknowledge that the creation of meaning and purpose is ultimately our job.

Now back to being a scientist with me. I have drafts of four different papers on my computer that need to be kicked out and onto the arxiv!

This entry was posted in Big Picture, Philosophy, Science, Words. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to The Big Picture: Table of Contents

  1. Ida Spaulding says:

    Looking forward with great anticipation to reading this important book. Thank you.

  2. Dan Linford says:

    Sean — This looks fantastic!

    I am really excited to hear about this. I’ve been following your work for a while. I started my academic career in physics, moved to philosophy half way through grad school, and currently work in a philosophy department. I like your work because you seriously engage both science and philosophy in depth and — like me — you are an atheist who takes religion seriously. I will definitely buy a copy of this book when it comes out!

    I wanted to ask you at what level you were aiming this book. Is it a popularization? Or will it be aimed at a more scholarly level? Somewhere in between?

    Anyway, I look forward to reading this!

  3. Sean Carroll says:

    Dan, thanks. It is definitely aimed at a general audience. The goal is more to bring things together and tell a consistent story than to break any truly new ground.

  4. Jonathan says:


    Something I’d really appreciate is a timeline about the known beginning of the Universe; when the forces were created, when the Matter/Antimatter split happened, when Inflation happened etc. I’ve never seen these put into order.
    Just throwing out ideas..

  5. Phil Torres says:

    Wow, looks absolutely amazing. I hope there will be an audio book too — there’s nothing I love more than wandering through the woods for hours at a time listening to books about science and philosophy.

  6. Bob Zannelli says:

    Looking forward to getting my copy, book on order.

  7. Kym P says:

    Very much looking forward to this book !

    How are the “known unknowns” handled ? Will explanations of Dark Energy and Dark Matter change the Big Picture ?

  8. Evanthia Allen says:

    I can’t wait! Am going to marathon-read between now and then so that I’ll have a clear, pristine nightstand come Spring.. Sean, you are the best!!

  9. Vivian Keaskin says:

    I feel it’s gonna be one of the most interesting book I’ve ever read… I can’t wait ! Thanks Sean Carroll … ;))

  10. “A lot of ground gets covered.” From the TOC, that is a bit of an understatement! I look forward to seeing it published.

  11. Paul Hemmer says:

    Can’t wait!

  12. AJ says:

    Hi Sean. Will the book be available in the UK in May?

  13. Sean Carroll says:

    It should be coming out in the UK from Oneworld. Probably not until June, though.

  14. bostontola says:

    First, congratulations on being ahead of schedule, a rare and impressive feat.
    Second, I am looking forward to reading it. The original looked like a description of reality from the beginning to us with a tight ‘chain of custody’ of the science. This version looks like it feathers in a bit more philosophy. Either way should be edifying.

    Thanks for the monumental effort that should help many understand so much more.

  15. Ray Gunn says:

    Got my annual mystery christmas package. Last year’s contained a hoverboard, apple watch, and a cryptic note with the numbers 2-11-15 5, 10, 21, 34, 58, 33. But this year’s package contains your new book plus a hand-powered flashlight, a full-body radiation suit, and another cryptic note with the numbers 6-28-16 and the letters C M E.

  16. Ramesam says:

    Cograts to Sean.

    A bold adventure that a hardcore Scientist rarely tries, but we know Sean enjoys it and inspires many in the process.
    Surely the book will be a great success. Recent books on similar style (e. g. Amanda Gefter’s) almost touch the ancient Advaita theme but shy away from embracing it. Hope Sean could see the glaring similarity between what Advaita holds and what modern Physics at the cutting edge says be it Cosmology or Consciousness.

  17. Clayton says:

    One imagines that the parenthetical note “(Bayesian inference, abduction)” should read “(Bayesian inference, induction),” but in case I am wrong, consider my interest very much piqued!

  18. Sean Carroll says:

    Not a typo! Everyone should know about abduction.

    The chapter title “Abducting God” is therefore a pun that probably nobody will get.

    It’s not exactly the same as Bayesian inference, but close enough so that for this book I didn’t highlight the differences.

  19. Jake says:

    Can’t Wait! Will you be going on a book tour?

  20. Sean Carroll says:

    There may be a few talks, but for the most part touring will be virtual.

  21. JEREMY BECKER says:

    Looking forward to reading it…

  22. Antonio (AKA "Un físico") says:

    I wonder if this book has a way to distinguish author’s speculations from settled science (like in Thorne’s book about Interstellar); otherwise, this book will not be worthy.

  23. Kevin Henderson says:

    Sounds like it’s going to be Hitchiker’s guide level book. Should be fantastic.

  24. James Cross says:

    My math is rusty but, if 1 picture is worth a thousand words, wouldn’t that make this book about 145 pictures instead of 1?

    Looking forward to reading it.

  25. John Marsh says:

    Did you know that Amazon have just withdrawn this book ? I had it on pre-order (since it’s bound to be good 🙂

    But, now “Currently unavailable. We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock. “.. Order cancelled ….