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The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World [Hardcover]

David Deutsch
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)


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Book Description

July 21, 2011 0670022756 978-0670022755 First American Edition

Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year

A bold and all-embracing exploration of the nature and progress of knowledge from one of today's great thinkers.

Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand life's mysteries, from the mundane to the seemingly miraculous. In this important new book, David Deutsch, an award-winning pioneer in the field of quantum computation, argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe. They have unlimited scope and power to cause change, and the quest to improve them is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach, according to Deutsch: we are subject only to the laws of physics, and they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve.

In his previous book, The Fabric of Reality, Deutsch describe the four deepest strands of existing knowledge-the theories of evolution, quantum physics, knowledge, and computation-arguing jointly they reveal a unified fabric of reality. In this new book, he applies that worldview to a wide range of issues and unsolved problems, from creativity and free will to the origin and future of the human species. Filled with startling new conclusions about human choice, optimism, scientific explanation, and the evolution of culture, The Beginning of Infinity is a groundbreaking book that will become a classic of its kind.


Editorial Reviews

Review

Bold ... profound ... provocative and persuasive. The Economist Science has never had an advocate quite like David Deutsch. He is a computational physicist on a par with his touchstones Alan Turing and Richard Feynman, and also a philosopher in the line of his greatest hero, Karl Popper. His arguments are so clear that to read him is to experience the thrill of the highest level of discourse available on this planet and to understand it ...This is the great Life, the Universe and Everything book for our time and the answer is not 42: it is infinity. To understand precisely what Deutsch means by this, you will have to read him. Do so and lose your parochial blinkers forever. -- Peter Forbes The Independent This is Deutsch at his most ambitious, seeking to understand the implications of our scientific explanations of the world ... I enthusiastically recommend this rich, wide-ranging and elegantly written exposition of the unique insights of one of our most original intellectuals. -- Michael Berry Times Higher Education Supplement David Deutsch...may well go down in history as one of the great scientists of our age. -- Andrew Crumey The Scotsman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

David Deutsch, internationally acclaimed for his seminal publications on quantum computation, is a member of the Quantum Computation and Cryptography Research Group at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First American Edition edition (July 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022756
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022755
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
140 of 146 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Beginning of Infinity is a masterpiece April 2, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
It takes disparate topics and unites them in one powerful worldview. Topics range from physics and philosophy to voting systems and alphabets to optimism and objective aesthetics to evolution and creationism, and even morality. Each topic has enlightening individual analysis, but even better than that is the worldview behind the analysis, which comes out as one reads the entire book. The Beginning of Infinity is about a way of thinking. It is the most rational way of thinking ever to be explained.

You might think that David Deutsch is a genius (and he is) and that therefore his way of thinking won't work for you. That is not the case. His worldview can help anyone with any topic. It's not equally useful for all fields -- it fares better with important topics -- but it always has a surprisingly large amount of relevance and use. And unlike many philosophers who want to sound impressive, Deutsch has made a concerted effort to write clearly and accessibly. This isn't a book written only for the initiated.

I've identified three main themes which I think best describe the most important message of the book.

The first theme is the titular one. Like Deutsch's previous book, chapters conclude with short summaries and terminology sections. But he's got a new section too: the meanings of the beginning of infinity encountered in the previous chapter. So what kind of infinity is Deutsch concerned with? Primarily progress. Humans are capable of an infinite amount of progress. We can improve things without limit, and learn without limit. This covers not just material improvement but also moral improvement.
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159 of 176 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Short of Infinity October 23, 2011
Format:Hardcover
Books that combine an excellent review of quantum physics with a provocative world view should probably merit a baseline three stars, and this one does. That said, The Beginning of Infinity does not seem to have the makings of a classic in the genre.

As numerous reviews have pointed out, this book is a David Deutsch "Theory of Everything", not in terms of uniting all four of the basic forces of physics (though in a sense he does that), but in the sense of expanding quantum physics into a theory that encompasses everything that we humans tend to hold meaningful. Thus the book includes attempts to show that an absolute standard of beauty, a system of ethics, and even systems of politics and (loosely interpreted) parenting and education can be derived from Deutsch's unique point of view.

In The Beginning of Infinity, Deutsch goes to great creative lengths in an attempt to make quantum physics less mysterious and more comprehensible. In this he succeeds better than many other authors. As an educated person that has made an effort to keep up over the last five decades with advances in science, but still regularly gets pushed into "I'm FAIRLY sure I understand what is being said" territory, I found Deutsch's explanations illuminating and very helpful. Deutsch's explorations of the implications of the well-known single photon studies (leading many, but not Deutsch, to say that photons are "both particles and waves") are striking and deeply exciting. Deutsch is an acknowledged leader in quantum theory and quantum computing, and when he discusses topics that he knows best, he seems to be on the most solid ground (as solid as anything can be in this quantum world!).
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88 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book for the Thinking Person August 1, 2011
Format:Hardcover
This is a fantastic book. You may not agree with all of his conclusions but I find it difficult to believe one could read this book and not be challenged by its ideas. It is a very unusual book that touches on topics in philosophy and science that aren't readily available to the average person, but David Deutsch has done a good job making the material accessible to the intelligent lay reader.

This book is optimistic about the future as the author believes that human knowledge will solve the problems created by previous human knowledge. I think he is right and he does an incredibly good job of arguing that thesis. I suspect however, that regardless of the quality of the content, many people who are anti-progress (and there are a lot of them out there) are going to dislike it. I hope somebody attempts a refutation of Deutsch. I would be interested in reading it and if anyone knows of something already available please speak up.

I highly recommend this book. It can't help but make you think. I learned a lot and thought a lot while I was reading it and I'm still thinking about it. That qualifies it for 5 stars in my world. Get it, you won't regret it even if you disagree with its conclusions.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch - a book review September 12, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If this book were as difficult to understand as some of the comments on it are, it would not be one I'd want to read! I'm no scientist but I wanted to give it a try because I'd heard David Deutsch speaking and found him very easy to follow and absolutely fascinating, and I wanted more.

Having read the book three times (and the bit about the Infinity Hotel four times to figure out what happened to the puppy!) and finding that I am getting more out of it with each reading, I can understand that it may be controversial in some respects, but I don't understand why it is attracting such intense and bizarre hostility. What am I missing? For me, the writing is crystal clear, charming and riveting, like the author himself when you hear him speak -- it's a sheer delight to read. It made me laugh out loud several times -- I LOVE that the author's sense of humor comes through even in what is a very deep, important book. And it even moved me to tears.

The subject matter is super wide-ranging, including stuff about physics and mathematics (no formulas, thankfully), beauty (yes, really!), voting systems (why proportional voting systems are fundamentally unfair despite the best intentions of those proposing them), environmentalism (why we have it all wrong!), intriguing stuff about culture, history, philosophy, etc., etc. David Deutsch is truly a polymath.

But what I personally find so enthralling is the way reading this book is challenging me and changing the way I think. I love the way all the apparently disparate issues are united in a single, coherent worldview having implications far beyond just what David Deutsch discusses in this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Deutsch is a tough read, but stick with it ...
Deutsch is a tough read, but stick with it. I have been discouraged with the outcome of the enlightenment, but he gives me hope. Read more
Published 12 days ago by J. J. Podolak
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating
a very uplifting view on human thinking and its potential. a must read for anyone with any sense of curiosity.
Published 1 month ago by andrew saddington
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but dogmatic
I had loved his previous book "The Fabric of Reality" even if he already then exhibited his tendency to think his opinions were just the right ones. Read more
Published 1 month ago by J. Thomere
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
This is a fascinating read about the 'reach' of the human brain. I found it difficult (I have an advanced degree in physics), understanding perhaps only 20% of it. Read more
Published 1 month ago by DBrown
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't you dare to stop thinking
This book by David Deutsch is not a book about science but a book about philosophy of science also known as epistemology. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars One great idea
David Albert (Prof. of Philosophy at Columbia) writes (http://goo.gl/v2qd0c), "Deutsch ... is so smart, and so strange, and so creative, and so inexhaustibly curious, and so... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Russ Abbott
4.0 out of 5 stars Variation and selection applied to epistemology, and then to...
The basic tenet of this book - that variation and selection applied to epistemology unleashes a very unique, powerful and potentially unbounded genie - is fascinating to say the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by David A. Tomala
5.0 out of 5 stars Expand Your Brain
Deutsch may be the smartest man alive - ever! Caution: be prepared to read this book more than once or twice.
Published 7 months ago by Frank C Rac
5.0 out of 5 stars A stimulating read for all.
The book is in fine condition and the content of the book is stimulating and has explanations that lead one to think more precisely about the questions under consideration in the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Thomas Vermaak
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant and beautiful
This book is a work of art and a work of genius. Every sentence is original, creative and packed with meaning, yet never technical. It will uplift you and enlighten you. Read more
Published 8 months ago by frequent user
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