Sean and The Big Picture

Sean Carroll has just published his book about The Big Picture, which seems to be the kind of book accomplished physicists used to write after they got older.
I have not read it and I have no plans to do so. But he has given us a good idea about its content on his blog, so I can tell you what I find a bit weird about it.

We know that Sean is a believer of the many worlds interpretation (*) and it would make sense to discuss what it suggests for "the meaning of life, the universe and everything" if all possible worlds are equally real in some sense. Others have already discussed this in some parts, but it would have been interesting to get "the big picture" from one of the true believers.

But Sean told us that "The discussion of the basics of quantum mechanics itself is quite brief, and I mention the Many-Worlds formulation only to emphasize that there’s nothing about QM that implies we need to be idealist, anti-realist, or non-determinist".
Later he tells us e.g. this "poetic naturalist" story: "The universe is not a miracle. It simply is, unguided and unsustained, manifesting the patterns of nature with scrupulous regularity. Over billions of years it has evolved naturally, from a state of low entropy toward increasing complexity, and it will eventually wind down to a featureless equilibrium condition."
This is obviously along the conventional one-world interpretation most people are familiar with (*).

Either Sean is not really serious about many worlds, or he did not think it through yet, or he left it all for his next book.

(*) As far as I know, his derivation of "the arrow of time" also involves a cosmological multiverse, which is independent of the many worlds interpretation, but surprisingly also mostly missing from his book as far as I can tell. If you find this disappointing, Don Page discussed a much bigger picture in this preprint.

5 comments:

Lee said...

I think a popular science book, or in this case maybe a popular philosophy book, serves its purpose if it gets a few young people interested in science. I'm not certain the particulars of the book are all that important to achieve the purpose. I know several people whose interest in science was stimulated by reading Fritjof Capra's book when they were young, and personally I thought a great deal of the content of that book was crap.

Lee said...

Personally I think Pascal's wager is a much more straightforward argument for why one should try to believe in the existence of a God than what I understand of Page's argument. I assume by referring to Page's paper that you think it might be better if cosmologists kept their speculations as to the existence of gods or lack thereof to themselves.

wolfgang said...

>> Pascal's wager
I think the wager only works because of an asymmetric assumption:
Heads you win, tails you don't lose.
But what if the creator of this world is really evil and hates those who pray to the wrong one?

>> Page
Yes, but my point is also "if you do believe in many worlds and the multiverse, then why do you tell us this conventional 1-world story?" At least Don Page tries thinking through what it would mean if we live in a multiverse...

wolfgang said...

>> Fritjof Capra
I too read his book and survived, but i think it gives people a wrong impression what physics is actually about. Some popular books are better than others (e.g. Weinberg's 3 minutes) but most pretend that physics (helps us to) answer the "deep questions" and this is just not true.
In this case I actually agree with Peter Woit.

Lee said...

Gamow's "One Two Three... Infinity" was the best popular science book I read when I was young. "The First Three Minutes" hadn't been written then, but it and Gamow's book are in my opinion two of the best popular physics related science books ever written.

However, what I think makes a good popular science book isn't all that important. If the goal is to stimulate an interest in science in young people, then if it achieves that goal it is a success regardless of what I think of the content. If the goal is to educate the general public then it becomes trickier. In that case pretending that science is somehow related to meaning and "deep questions" may do a fair amount of actual harm to science. I think Capra's book fits in both categories.