The Biggest Ideas in the Universe Book Summary - The Biggest Ideas in the Universe Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro
00:00

The Biggest Ideas in the Universe summary

Sean Carroll

Space, Time, and Motion

3.9 (94 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

The Biggest Ideas in the Universe by Sean Carroll is a mind-expanding exploration of the most profound concepts in physics, cosmology and mathematics. It tackles complex ideas in an accessible and engaging way, making it a must-read for those interested in the mysteries of the universe.

Table of Contents

    The Biggest Ideas in the Universe
    Summary of 4 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 4

    Space

    You’re probably aware of the concept of space. It’s that “thing” where everything takes place. Where “objects” are located. But have you ever really thought about what space actually is? To start unpacking the concept, it might help to wind the clock back some 300 years.

    In the early 1700s, there were two schools of thought. One posited that space was a substance and had an existence of its own – it was the “container” for everything else. The other considered space to be nothing at all. There was much discussion at the time, especially in a series of letters between Samuel Clarke in England – who agreed with Isaac Newton that space was indeed a substance – and the German Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, an adversary of Newton who believed space was relational. Leibniz’s death brought the exchange to an abrupt end in 1716, but by then, they’d talked about everything from space to free will to God.

    Most physicists today agree with Newton: space is indeed a “thing.” Why do they believe that? Well, first, space isn’t empty. There are fields of one type or another – gravity, for instance – operating within it. And second, space (as part of spacetime) can change on its own. 

    At the moment, the whole picture still isn’t completely understood. We do know some basics, though. Take space’s dimensionality, for instance. Grab a couple of pencils, and tie them together at right angles. Then pick up a third, and tie it at the same intersection so it’s at right angles to the other two. Now pick up a fourth and tie it at the same intersection at right angles to the other three. That’s right! It’s not possible. You’ve just effectively demonstrated that space is three-dimensional.

    Occasionally, physicists treat some things as having only one dimension – a stream of electrons moving rapidly along the length of a long wire, for example. Or having two – a thin film or the surface of a three-dimensional object. But although they can model systems as if they have just one or two dimensions, they in fact have all three. And when it comes to string theory or some other models, physicists envision even more than three dimensions. Not quite as simple as it first seems, huh? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that’s all beyond the scope of this Blink!

    Having three-dimensional space, though, provides us with a neat explanation as to why the gravitational force between two objects is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Imagine lines radiating out from the center of the sun – these represent lines of gravitational force. Now imagine another bigger sphere with the sun at its center. All the lines radiating from the sun pass through this sphere. Finally, imagine another even bigger sphere even further out. All the lines also pass through the radius of this megasphere. But due to its size, fewer lines pass through any given area compared with the first. The area of a sphere is proportional to its radius squared. So it follows that the gravitational force is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between two objects.

    OK, enough about space for now. Let’s turn our attention to the next big idea in the universe: time.

    Want to see all full key ideas from The Biggest Ideas in the Universe?

    Key ideas in The Biggest Ideas in the Universe

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is The Biggest Ideas in the Universe about?

    Space, Time, and Motion (2022) is the first of a three-part series titled The Biggest Ideas in the Universe. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sean Carroll began producing videos that explained some of the biggest ideas and concepts of modern physics – and the equations which support them. He produced 24 videos in all and then developed the book series from that material.

    The Biggest Ideas in the Universe Review

    The Biggest Ideas in the Universe (2016) explores the most profound concepts that shape our understanding of the cosmos. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It presents a comprehensive overview of the biggest questions in astrophysics and cosmology, offering a deeper understanding of our place in the universe.
    • Through clear explanations and engaging examples, it makes complex theories accessible, appealing to both science enthusiasts and those new to the subject.
    • With its fascinating exploration of topics like dark matter, black holes, and the nature of time, it leaves readers with a sense of wonder and a thirst for further exploration.

    Who should read The Biggest Ideas in the Universe?

    • Physics buffs
    • Paradoxical twins looking for an answer
    • Anyone looking for an overview of the concepts of space, time, and spacetime

    About the Author

    Sean Carroll is the Homewood Professor of Natural Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. He’s an expert in cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. He’s written several other books including Something Deeply Hidden, Spacetime and Geometry, and The Big Picture. He’s also host of the podcast Mindscape, in which he discusses science, philosophy, culture, and the arts.

    Categories with The Biggest Ideas in the Universe

    Book summaries like The Biggest Ideas in the Universe

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked these summaries

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    31 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    The Biggest Ideas in the Universe FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Biggest Ideas in the Universe?

    The Biggest Ideas in the Universe explores the most profound concepts in physics, from quantum mechanics to the nature of time.

    How long does it take to read The Biggest Ideas in the Universe?

    The reading time for The Biggest Ideas in the Universe varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Biggest Ideas in the Universe a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Biggest Ideas in the Universe is a fascinating read for anyone curious about the mysteries of the cosmos and the fundamental laws of nature.

    Who is the author of The Biggest Ideas in the Universe?

    The author of The Biggest Ideas in the Universe is Sean Carroll.

    What to read after The Biggest Ideas in the Universe?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Biggest Ideas in the Universe, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Welcome to the Universe by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    • Why the Universe Is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross
    • Starry Messenger by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    • Until the End of Time by Brian Greene
    • The Big Picture by Sean Carroll
    • How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes
    • The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll
    • The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
    • The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
    • What is Life? by Erwin Schrödinger