Sean Carroll

Speech Topics

Human beings are made from the same particles and forces that make up rocks and rivers and planets. But the world as described by science, from quantum uncertainty to the genetic code and the expansion of the universe, can seem exotic and alien to us. Sean explores how our human-sized world fits into the bigger picture defined by the underlying laws of nature – in particular, how our impressions of cause and effect and the appearance of complex structures can be traced to special conditions near the Big Bang – and what it implies for meaning and matter in the universe.

Science fiction has introduced us all to the idea of traveling into the past — but is it really possible? Dr. Carroll will talk about how time travel could work according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, including the hypothetical idea of wormholes connecting distant regions of space. The talk will also explore the logical structure of time travel, and what it implies about predestination and free will. In the end, time travel is probably not possible, but by taking the idea seriously we help understand how the universe works.

The twentieth century witnessed breathtaking discoveries about the nature of the cosmos. We learned that the universe is over ten billion years old, that it is expanding, and that ordinary objects (stars, planets, human beings) comprise less than five percent of what the universe is made of. The rest is in the form of “dark matter” and “dark energy,” mysterious substances that physicists are trying to understand. Dr. Carroll will discuss the evidence that points us to dark matter and dark energy, as well as some of the theoretical ideas that might help explain them.

Human beings do not stand outside nature; we are a part of it. Ultimately we are made of particles, evolving and interacting according to the laws of nature. And we know what those laws are — modern science has reached a point where the laws underlying everyday life are completely understood. What does this mean for our understanding of consciousness, free will, and the meaning of life? Dr. Carroll will show how taking the laws of nature seriously opens a vista of possibility, freeing us from outmoded ideas about what it means to be human.

For decades, particle physicists have searched for the elusive Higgs boson, the missing piece to the “Standard Model” that explains the world we see. In July 2012, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva announced that they found it. Dr. Carroll explains why the Higgs boson is so important, talks about the enormous challenge physicists overcame to build the LHC and get it running, and considers what the future of particle physics will look like.

Does the idea of “God” help us explain the universe as we see it? Dr. Carroll argues that God is not a necessary being, and therefore theism should be judged on the basis of how well it fits the data. By comparing the predicted and actual universes under theism and naturalism, we find out that God isn’t a very good theory in the final analysis.


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Sean Carroll is a physicist and author. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993, and is now on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology, where his research focuses on fundamental physics and cosmology. His work has been recognized by fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the American Physical Society.

With broad intellectual commitments and a strong belief in public outreach, Carroll is the author of The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, and Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity. He has written for Discover, Scientific American, New Scientist, Sky & Telescope, and other publications. His blog Cosmic Variance, hosted by Discover magazine, features a wide range of topical commentary and ideas. He has been an invited speaker at conferences and activities devoted to philosophy, theology, engineering, medicine, design, paleontology, education, politics, media, film, art, and literature.

Carroll has been featured on television shows such as The Colbert Report, National Geographic’s Known Universe, and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. He is a popular speaker, having given talks on every continent except Antarctica. He has also served as an informal science consultant for several movies and TV shows, including Tron: Legacy, Bones, and Thor.


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