‘The Big Picture,’ by Sean Carroll

Anthony Gottlieb in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_2022 Jun. 11 19.23The physical world is “largely ­illusory,” an editorial in The New York Times announced on Nov. 25, 1944. Wishful thinking on a depressing day? No. Had The Times gone mad? Not quite. It was endorsing the ideas of Sir Arthur Eddington, an eminent British astronomer and popularizer of science, who had just died.

Eddington began his best-known book, “The Nature of the Physical World,” by explaining that he had written it at two tables, sitting on two chairs and with two pens. The first table was the familiar kind: It was colored, substantial and relatively long-lasting. The second was what he called a “scientific table,” a colorless cloud of evanescent electric charges that is “mostly emptiness.” Likewise the two chairs and two pens. Only the scientific objects were really there, according to ­Eddington. Hence the idea that our familiar world is a deception on a grand scale.

Coming to terms with science is not getting any easier. Today’s popularizers face two challenges, both of which are admirably met by Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, in his new book, “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.” First, there is more to explain than ever before, as the sci­ences extend their embrace to a widening range of phenomena. Fortunately, Carroll is something of a polymath. His accounts of the latest thinking about microbiology or information theory are as adroit as his exploration of the links between entropy and time or his elucidation of Bayesian statistics.

The second challenge for today’s explainers is that the theories are getting weirder. Einstein used to worry that, according to quantum mechanics, God seems to be playing dice with the universe. Now it appears that he has put a stage magician in charge of the casino.

More here.