Review of “The Biggest Ideas in the Universe”

I have been struggling, as a ‘layperson’ for a while now trying to wrap my head around how the universe functions. And, beyond that, if there is some great master design that we just can’t see or if we are simply smart monkeys on a rare earth. And at the end what does this do to our faith? Modern worshippers of ‘scientism’ would say those things are unrelated, but the ancients knew they were connected.

I read Sean Carroll’s book as part of this quest. It is an excellent introduction to how physics built upon itself over the last 200 years, the names of the geniuses who each added one idea to the top of the pile, and the math that underpins it. I’ve never been great at math, and I’ve used that statement as an excuse to “run away, run away” (like the Monty Python sketch). Now, I say ‘introduction’, but there is nothing introductory about the math in Carroll’s book. Which sent me to Amazon to buy a refresher math workbook, which I’m working my way through hoping to get through Algebra and Calculus. But you have to love the math – like Sheldon Cooper said “I wanna do the math!!”

It is a pretty tight knit group, working over many hundreds of years – each putting in thousands and thousands of man hours to, hopefully, maybe, one day, add a tiny thought or new idea to the pile and be counted with the greats. Everybody else just tries to understand Einstein or Heizenberg or Schrodinger, tries to replicate their experiments, tries to catch a tiny glimpse, a blurred reflection of what they might have seen.

The things that still blow my mind-hole are the basics. Gravity, entropy, and spacetime. Light speed, the constant and consistent pull of gravity and the inevitability of entropy as the three constants around which our universe is built. Spacetime giving us distance and location, gravity giving us the bend into general relativity and entropy giving it all directionality. I find that remarkable.

All of this is still part of a massive argument. Even at the basic level, does the math show us the nature of the universe or is it all just a mathematical trick to describe the way it works. Is the math only an immense Van Gogh painting that tells us nothing of the reality of that being drawn, only what it looks like? And the book didn’t even start to address quantum entanglement or dark matter (or the lack thereof) or the universe’s unexplained ‘inflation’ and other ideas we invented to try and explain what we see (or don’t see).

And none of this does anything to faith, except reinforce that there is a lot going on out there which doesn’t seem to be coincidence, that the likelihood of something working as well as this cosmic machine works on the macro level to give us gravity and the micro-level to give us mitochondria is, well, unlikely. And, like Fermi’s paradox, we might be more special and more lonely than we would like to admit. That, for us to exist, we not only need food and water and air (which require a global ecosystem), but we need gravity and entropy and light (which require a universal one).

Maybe it was all made for us.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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4 Responses to Review of “The Biggest Ideas in the Universe”

  1. Mario V Albano says:

    Beautiful presentation of the universe of things! I practice my faith and appreciate the wonders of God’s creation; man try their darndest best to understand what our Creator has wrought! Thank you, Mr. Hirst!


  2. Joel: We’ve had this discussion before….I previously thought like you and still can’t quite turn my back on who I once was. Every single day I return to these same questions that haunt me and every day the result is the same. Inconclusive. I fervently hope that your take is the correct one and that there is some design, some creator at work here.

    The link below addresses some of your points and the excerpt below that is a summary of my view of the universe from a January entry.

    A Brief History of…..Everything
    January 22, 2023 1:57pm

    In the beginning there was energy which evolved into matter. The matter spread throughout space and coalesced into stars and planets. The planets cooled and began to support life. Life became conscious and recognized good, evil, and mortality. Gods were invented to give meaning to short, brutish lives. Emotions were elevated to art. Reason and logic developed. Progress led to questions about the universe. Stars collapsed, matter came together again, and the forces generated turned all the matter to energy. Tabula rasa, baby! The cycle started anew for the “infinith” time. Each cycle taking roughly 100 trillion Earth years.

    And that’s the history of everything…. since before eternity started. I left out some details, but this is pretty much how we got here and where we’re going. This history applies to all the other, infinite civilizations out there that have flowered and died and those yet to arise that will exist for a billion years before some cosmic irony extinguishes them. None may escape this fate.

    N.B. – Don’t run any of this by your astrophysics neighbor….it’s just my redneck version of cosmology.

    So only one question remains. If you have managed to hold on to your faith, you have all your answers. If not, where do you go from here?


  3. Pingback: Our Cosmic System | Joel D. Hirst's Blog

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