Sean M. Carroll


Sean M. Carroll
Sean Carroll 2017.jpg
Sean Carroll in 2017
Sean Michael Carroll

(1966-10-05) October 5, 1966 (age 55)
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma mater
Known forDark electromagnetism
f(R) gravity
Poetic naturalism
Spouse(s)Jennifer Ouellette
AwardsAndrew Gemant Award (2014)
Guggenheim Fellowship (2015)
Scientific career
FieldsPhysics, cosmology, astrophysics, general relativity
InstitutionsCalifornia Institute of Technology
ThesisCosmological Consequences of Topological and Geometric Phenomena in Field Theories (1993)
Doctoral advisorGeorge B. Field
InfluencesAlbert Einstein, Ludwig Boltzmann, Richard Feynman, Hugh Everett III, Daniel Dennett, David Hume

Sean Michael Carroll (born October 5, 1966) is an American theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum mechanics, gravity and cosmology. He is a research professor in the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics in the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Department of Physics[1] and an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute.[2] He has been a contributor to the physics blog Cosmic Variance, and has published in scientific journals such as Nature as well as other publications, including The New York Times, Sky & Telescope and New Scientist. He is known for atheism, critique of theism and defense of naturalism.[3][4][5][6] He is considered a very prolific public speaker and science populariser.[6][7][8] In 2007, Carroll was named NSF Distinguished Lecturer by the National Science Foundation.[9]

He has appeared on the History Channel's The Universe, Science Channel's Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, Closer to Truth (broadcast on PBS),[10] and Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. Carroll is the author of Spacetime And Geometry, a graduate-level textbook in general relativity, and has also recorded lectures for The Great Courses on cosmology, the physics of time and the Higgs boson.[11] He is also the author of four popular books: From Eternity to Here about the arrow of time, The Particle at the End of the Universe about the Higgs boson, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself about ontology, and Something Deeply Hidden about the foundations of quantum mechanics. He began a podcast in 2018 called Mindscape, in which he interviews other experts and intellectuals coming from a variety of disciplines, including "[s]cience, society, philosophy, culture, arts and ideas" in general.[12]


Carroll received his PhD in astronomy in 1993 from Harvard University, where his advisor was George B. Field. His dissertation was entitled Cosmological Consequences of Topological and Geometric Phenomena in Field Theories. He worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara[13] and as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago until 2006 when he was denied tenure.[14] He is now a research professor at Caltech.

Carroll has a B.S. in Astronomy, Astrophysics and philosophy from Villanova University in Pennsylvania.[15][16]

In 2010, Carroll was elected fellow of the American Physical Society for "contributions to a wide variety of subjects in cosmology, relativity and quantum field theory, especially ideas for cosmic acceleration, as well as contributions to undergraduate, graduate and public science education".[17] In 2014, he was awarded the Andrew Gemant Award by the American Institute of Physics for "significant contributions to the cultural, artistic or humanistic dimension of physics."[18] In 2015, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.[19]

He is also a very prolific public speaker, holding regular talk-show series like The Mindscape,[20] which he describes as "Sean Carroll hosts conversations with the world's most interesting thinkers", and The Biggest Ideas in the Universe.[21] He also delivers public speeches as well as getting engaged in public debates in wide variety of topics.

Carroll has appeared on numerous television shows including The Colbert Report and Through the Wormhole.[22] He also worked as a consultant in some movies[23][24] like Avengers: Endgame[25] and Thor: The Dark World. Besides consulting, Carroll worked as a voice actor in Earth to Echo.[26]

Personal life

Carroll is married to Jennifer Ouellette, a science writer and the former director of the Science & Entertainment Exchange.[27]


Carroll has worked on a number of areas of theoretical cosmology, field theory and gravitation theory. His research papers include models of, and experimental constraints on, violations of Lorentz invariance; the appearance of closed timelike curves in general relativity; varieties of topological defects in field theory; and cosmological dynamics of extra spacetime dimensions. He has written extensively on models of dark energy and its interactions with ordinary matter and dark matter, as well as modifications of general relativity in cosmology. He has also worked on the foundations of quantum mechanics, especially the many-worlds interpretation, including a derivation of the Born Rule for probabilities.

His most-cited work, "Is Cosmic Speed-Up Due To New Gravitational Physics?" (2003) was written with Vikram Duvvuri, Mark Trodden and Michael Turner. With over 1,900 citations, it helped pioneer the study of f(R) gravity in cosmology.[28][failed verification][third-party source needed]

Carroll has also worked on the arrow of time problem. He and Jennifer Chen posit that the Big Bang is not a unique occurrence as a result of all of the matter and energy in the universe originating in a singularity at the beginning of time, but rather one of many cosmic inflation events resulting from quantum fluctuations of vacuum energy in a cold de Sitter space. They claim that the universe is infinitely old but never reaches thermodynamic equilibrium as entropy increases continuously without limit due to the decreasing matter and energy density attributable to recurrent cosmic inflation. They assert that the universe is "statistically time-symmetric," insofar as it contains equal progressions of time "both forward and backward".[29][30][31] Some of his work has been on violations of fundamental symmetries, the physics of dark energy, modifications of general relativity and the arrow of time. Recently he started focusing on issues at the foundations of cosmology, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics and complexity.

In 2017, Carroll presented an argument for rejecting certain cosmological models, including those with Boltzmann brains, on the basis that they are cognitively unstable: they cannot simultaneously be true and justifiably believed.[32] The article was solicited as a contribution to a larger work on Current Controversies in Philosophy of Science.

Philosophical and religious views

Carroll, while raised as an Episcopalian,[33] is an atheist, or as he calls it, a "poetic naturalist". He turned down an invitation to speak at a conference sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, because he did not want to appear to be supporting a reconciliation between science and religion.[34] In 2004, he and Shadi Bartsch taught an undergraduate course at the University of Chicago on the history of atheism. In 2012, he organized the workshop "Moving Naturalism Forward", which brought together scientists and philosophers to discuss issues associated with a naturalistic worldview. His article "Does the Universe Need God?" in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity develops the claim that science no longer needs to posit a divine being to explain the existence of the universe. The article generated significant attention when it was discussed on The Huffington Post.[35] Carroll received an "Emperor Has No Clothes" award at the Freedom From Religion Foundation Annual National Convention in October 2014.[36]

His 2016 book The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself develops the philosophy of poetic naturalism, the term he is credited with coining. The book talks about wide range of topics such as submicroscopic components of the universe, whether human existence can have meaning without God—and everything between the two.[6]

Carroll's speeches on the philosophy of religion also generate interest as his speeches are often responded to and talked about by philosophers and apologists.[4][37][38][39][40][41][42] Carroll believes that thinking like a scientist leads one to the conclusion that God does not exist.[8] Carroll thinks that over four centuries of scientific progress have convinced most professional philosophers and scientists of the validity of naturalism.[43] Carroll also asserts that the term methodological naturalism is an inaccurate characterisation of science, that science is not characterised by methodological naturalism but by methodological empiricism.[44]

Carroll is a vocal atheist who has debated with Christian apologists such as Dinesh D'Souza and William Lane Craig.[6] He occasionally takes part in formal debates or discussions about scientific, religious and/or philosophical topics with variety of people.

Debates, dialogues and discussions

The Moving Naturalism Forward Project

In 2012, Carroll gathered several well-known people from a variety of backgrounds for a 3 days seminar on Moving Naturalism Forward.[45][46][47] The participants were Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Jerry Coyne, Simon DeDeo, Massimo Pigliucci, Janna Levin, Owen Flanagan, Rebecca Goldstein, David Poeppel, Alex Rosenberg, Terrence Deacon and Don Ross with James Ladyman. The seminars were held in Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in October 25-29, 2012.

Contentions with Sam Harris

Science and morality

Carroll's first dispute with Harris generated interest from Russell Blackford,[48] Julian Sanchez[49] and others.[50][51]

In March 2010, a TED talk by Sam Harris sparked a debate about whether one can derive morality from science.[52] Harris argued that science can—and should—be an authority on moral issues, shaping human values and setting out what constitutes a good life. Carroll reacted to Harris' related speech via a blog post he published on the Discover magazine.[53] Carroll cited David Hume's is–ought problem, stating he completely disagrees with Harris' major view. After further exchanges,[54][55] Harris argued that his critics define science in exceedingly narrow terms, calling Hume's problem a "lazy analysis." Harris compared Carroll's reaction to him dismissing Carroll's physics with a reference to something Robert Oppenheimer once wrote.

Carroll responded again on the grounds that science deals with empirical reality and stated morality is not part of empirical reality.[56][57] Responding to Harris' criticisms, Carroll went on to state that there is no single definition of well being; that maximizing well-being being the proper goal of morality is not clear.

On the dispute, a review by a ScienceBlogs author asserted that Harris was using provocative rhetoric.[50]

Understanding of reality

In a podcast in 2018, Sam Harris engaged with Carroll. They discussed consciousness, the many-worlds view of quantum mechanics, the arrow of time, free will, facts and values, and other topics including moral realism.[58][third-party source needed]

The Great Debate: Has Science Refuted Religion?

In 2012, he teamed up with Michael Shermer to debate with Ian Hutchinson of MIT and author Dinesh D'Souza at Caltech in an event titled "The Great Debate: Has Science Refuted Religion?"[59][60] After the debate, Carroll wrote "we won."[61]

Discussion with Hans Halvorson on physics, metaphysics and philosophy

In February 2014, Carroll discussed physics, philosophy and the existence of God with Philosophy Professor whose research specialty is Philosophy of Physics, Hans Halvorson.[62] After the discussion Carroll wrote that the discussion was fruitful, he also noted that Hans Halvorson agreed that the purported fine-tuning isn't a very good argument in favor of the existence of an intelligent designer.[63] William Lane Craig talked about this discussion, stating that "Halvorson really offered no positive argument for theism" and that Carroll "offered few comments in favor of naturalism, he also did not present really any very compelling case for naturalism".[64]

Debating William Lane Craig

In 2014, Carroll participated in a highly anticipated debate with philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig as part of the Greer-Heard Forum in New Orleans.[65] The topic of debate was "The Existence of God in Light of Contemporary Cosmology." Carroll represented Team Naturalism, with Alex Rosenberg and Tim Maudlin. Craig represented Team Theism, with Robin Collins and James Sinclair. A book has been published containing the transcript of the debate and the following Questions and Answers session on the second day of the event.[66]

Going into the debate, Premier Christian Radio, a British Christian Radio station, described William Lane Craig as "Leading Christian Philosopher" and Sean Carroll as "Leading Atheist Scientist" in their debate report.[5]

In 2011, Carroll made the following remarks on Craig after Craig's debate against Lawrence Krauss: "Craig is a very polished debater, and has his pitch honed to a fine sheen; every sentence makes a succinct point. On the other hand, many of his sentences are simply false."[67] Before the debate Craig too made some remarks about Carroll, noting "He's a prominent scientist... Carroll is philosophically informed. He understands the philosophical debates over these subjects, the philosophical distinctions that have been drawn, and their relevance to these questions."[64] Both Carroll and Craig published post-debate reflections.[68][69] Carroll wrote that Craig kept on repeating the same arguments even after he [Carroll] replied to them; this criticism was shared by Craig's teammate Robin Collins, as well as Jason Rosenhouse.[70][71]

Evangelical Christian and theoretical physicist Don Page criticised Craig's use of the Kalam cosmological argument. He professed broad agreement with Carroll except on the question of whether naturalism is simpler than theism.[72] Theoretical physicist Aron Wall responded in depth, stating for instance that "I agree with Carroll that the BGV theorem is not by itself particularly strong evidence for a beginning."[73] Conversely, Ronald Cram called this assertion "the most shocking in your face denial of science I had ever seen by a well-known scientist."[74] Another who wrote extensively on the debate was Luke Barnes, a postdoctoral cosmology researcher at Western Sydney University.[75][76][77] Richard Carrier, a historian whose works focus on the historicity of Jesus, atheism and empiricism, referenced this debate as one of Craig's biggest two losses.[78]

The debate also featured in two academic articles titled "The Kalam Cosmological Argument Meets The Mentaculus" and "Big Bounce or Double Bang" by a doctoral student at Purdue University. In one article, the author asserts that he presents Craig and Sinclair a dilemma.[79][80][81]

"Death is not final" debate

In 2014, Sean Carroll partook in a debate held by Intelligence Squared, the title of the debate was "Death is Not Final". Carroll teamed up with Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist by profession and known for his skepticism, the two argued against the motion. Their adversaries were Dr. Eben Alexander, neurosurgeon by profession and an author, and Dr. Raymond Moody, a philosopher, author, psychologist and physician.

The organisers held surveys asking the positions of the listeners, both of live audience and online audience, both before and after the debate. In pre-debate survey among the live audience, 30% stated they are against the motion, 36% stated that they are for the motion and 30% stated they are undecided. In post-debate survey, 46% stated they are against the motion, 42% stated they are for the motion and 11% stated they are undecided. In this category, the against-the-motion team was declared winner by the organisers, as 7% swung to against-the-motion side from for-the-motion side.[82][83][84] During the Emperor Has No Clothes award talk, Carroll stated "we won the debate." in regard to this debate.[85] Religion Dispatches published a review of this debate. They assessed "Each side made a strong case, but each side also got its comeuppance.".[84]

Alan Wallace vs Sean Carroll: The Nature of Reality

In 2017, Carroll took part in a discussion with B. Alan Wallace, a Buddhist scholar and monk ordained by the Dalai Lama. It was organized by an institution sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.[86] In this public dialogue, they discussed the nature of reality from spiritual and scientific viewpoints.[87] The dialogue took place in San Francisco at the Nourse Theater, part of the City Arts & Lectures program. Around 1,250 people were present in the auditorium, which had been dubbed as "one of the most well-attended cross-disciplinary conversations in recent history" at the time.[88] Patheos, the largest English language religion and spirituality site in the world, published a review of this debate. The site assessed that the philosophical materialist view was explained and explored by Carroll while the opposing view was not fully worked by Alan Wallace.[89] The dialogue was mediated by theoretical physicist and author Marcelo Gleiser, director of Dartmouth's Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement.[90] The dialogue was assessed to have been good.[91]

Debate against Luke Barnes

In 2017, Carroll debated Australian researcher Luke Barnes on the topic "Does God or Naturalism best explain the universe."[92]

Dialogues with Roger Penrose

In 2018, Carroll and Roger Penrose held a symposium on the subject of The Big Bang and Creation Myths.[93] The two also engaged in a dialogue in Sean Carroll's MindScape Podcast on its 28th episode.[94][third-party source needed]

Selected publications

  • Carroll, Sean (2003). Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity. ISBN 0-8053-8732-3. Reprinted 2019.
  • Carroll, Sean (2010). From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. ISBN 978-0-525-95133-9. It tackles a fundamental open principle in physics: the arrow of time.
  • Carroll, Sean (2012). The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World. ISBN 978-0-525-95359-3. It describes the hunt for and discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and was the 2013 winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.[95]
  • Carroll, Sean (2016). The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself. ISBN 978-0-5259-5482-8., where Carroll introduces the concept of poetic naturalism.
  • Carroll, Sean (2019). Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime. ISBN 978-1-5247-4301-7.
  • Research publication list, from the INSPIRE-HEP digital library.

See also


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External links

  • Carroll's web site, Preposterous Universe
  • Sean M. Carroll at IMDb
  • Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe, lectures at The Teaching Company.
  • Video of Sean Carroll's panel discussion, "Quantum to Cosmos," answering the biggest questions in physics today, Part 1 at Perimeter Institute's Quantum to Comos (Q2C) festival
  • Video introduction to Sean Carroll's lectures "The Biggest Ideas in the Universe", 2020
  • Interview on The Colbert Report
  • Carroll, Sean. "Higgs Boson with Sean Carroll". Sixty Symbols. Brady Haran for the University of Nottingham.