“From the perspective of a vast, seemingly indifferent cosmos,” do our lives really matter?
As might be expected, Carroll’s (Theoretical Physics/Caltech; The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World, 2012, etc.) answer is affirmative but not simple. “We are not the reason for the existence of the universe,” he writes, “but our ability for self-awareness and reflection make us special within it.” Furthermore, “understanding how the world works, and what constraints that puts on who we are, is an important part of understanding how we fit into the big picture.” In this fascinating book, Carroll explores “how and why, in the context of mindless evolution from the Big Bang to the present, the laws of physics brought about complex, adaptive, intelligent, responsive, evolving, caring creatures like you and me.” To effectively navigate these complicated matters, he turns to an area of his own research regarding how the emergence of increasing complexity in the evolving universe relates to increasing entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. Although intuitively, we associate entropy with disorganization and increased randomness, it plays a crucial role in the development of complex structures. For example, it is randomness and apparent disorganization—the role of chance variation and mutations—that are central to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. At each successive level of complexity—from stars and planets to life and conscious beings—different levels of descriptive language are necessary. This introduces a poetic aspect into the language used by scientists in their attempts to understand our place in the universe. The author affirms his conviction that “nothing we…know about consciousness should lead us to doubt the ordinary, naturalistic conception of the world,” including the provisional nature of scientific theory. Carroll is the perfect guide on this wondrous journey of discovery.
A brilliantly lucid exposition of profound philosophical and scientific issues in a language accessible to lay readers.