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“So some ways we have of describing the universe are physics-centered, you know, talking about particles and forces and quantum mechanisms. But we also talk about it terms of macroscopic things like tables and chairs, biological things like cells and organisms, or human level things, you know, emotions and aspirations and desires. And they’re all, I strongly believe, ways of describing the same underlying stuff. So even though you don’t need to know particle physics to do biology or psychology, your theories of biology and psychology better be compatible with particle physics and your theories of psychology better be compatible with biology and so on.
“There’s an enormous amount of very exciting and challenging work to be done, to both invent these different theories and to fit them together. But I think we can see the outlines of how it will all happen…it’s what in the book I label poetic naturalism.
“Naturalism is the simple idea that there’s one world—the natural world. Even if there’s a multiverse we call it all a single world. There’s nothing else that the universe needs. The universe just goes on by itself, it doesn’t need to be sustained or created from outside. And the poetic aspect of it is that we should take seriously all of these different ways that we have of talking about the natural world.
“So you can be a naturalist and sort of be a hardcore naturalist who says the only thing that is real are elementary particles or the fundamental stuff of nature. I think that tables and chairs are real, and the argument for saying that tables and chairs are real leads you to also say that things like consciousness and free will are also real, they’re useful ways of talking about the universe.
“So the act of choosing the best way to talk about the universe is in some context a fundamentally poetic one. It is narrating the story of our lives in a useful way.”
My full half hour interview with Sean M. Carroll will be available May 12th as a Scientific American Science Talk podcast.