The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World Reprint Edition
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"[Deutsch] makes the case for infinite progress and such passion, imagination, and quirky brilliance that I couldn't help enjoying his argument. . . . [He] mounts a compelling challenge to scientific reductionism." --The Wall Street Journal
“A deep theory of why humanity is destined to make progress may be found in David Deutsch’s dazzling The Beginning of Infinity. Deutsch presents science as a force for betterment, since it impels us to explain the world while forcing us to acknowledge our fallibility.” – Steven Pinker, The Guardian
"Provocative and persuasive . . . Address[es] subjects from artificial intelligence to the evolution of culture and creativity." --The Economist
“[Deutsch’s books] are among the most ambitious works of nonfiction I have read, in that their aim is no less than an explanation of all reality. . . . They are treatises that weave together not just physics and astronomy but biology, mathematics, computer science, political science, psychology, philosophy, aesthetics, and—most important for Deutsch—epistemology, among other fields, in fashioning a profound new view of the world and the universe.” --The New Yorker’s Book Bench
“Deutsch has an important message . . . that our destiny is to be explainers of the world around us, and explaining is the key to our mastery. . . . He writes clearly and thinks wisely. His book could help the world toward better ways of dealing with its problems.” --Freeman Dyson, The New York Review of Books
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"All evils are due to the lack of knowledge." Really? No, not all, far from it.
Or the in the other chapter when it is stated that we always learn and absorb new ideas from conjecture and criticism. Again, seems like a big oversimplification. Yes, some ideas, in part, but our emotions, biases, psychological state play huge role i what we come to believe. And if the idea fits into what we value we would not criticize or test it before absorbing it. Maybe some people would, but most wouldn't.
I understand that the author is a scientist and big proponent of Popper epistemology and that's how he looks at it. And that's how science and rational inquiry should work, even though I m sure even in science biases a psychology still play a big role. But I think the author is way too optimistic about the human nature.
So, because I don't agree with the (some of) assumptions, the conclusions don't follow for me either. But I believe you can learn from a book even if you don't agree with the author and this book has a lot of value and touches a lot of different topics. So I recommend it, just be cautious and subject what the author says to criticism (as he recommends).
Deutch is famous for his obdurate and far-fetched espousal of multiverse theory. The theory itself is not scientific (there can be no evidence against it) and theoretically incoherent.
Deutch's analysis of beauty is correct, I believe. But I thought of this many years ago and I am sure I am not the first.
Deutch's memetic theory of culture is extremely superficial (he does not know the literature) and his observations on when ideal thrive and fail is simplistic and untenable.
Deutsch, equal parts physicist (his actual day job) and philosopher, creates a carefully constructed argument designed to prove that there are no theoretical limits on human knowledge. Can we stop the aging process? Given enough knowledge, sure. After all, the complexity of the problem is finite, and the biological processes underlying the aging process are relatively well understood. Given enough time and resources for the necessary research, there’s no reason that humans can’t prevent aging from occurring. (The practical implications of such an outcome would be fascinating, but that’s not the focus of the book.) Basically, Deutsch argues that any physical process that is not precluded by laws of nature (like traveling faster than the speed of light, for example) is achievable given sufficient knowledge and that if we don’t have that knowledge right now, we can obtain it.
The foundation of his proof rests on two basic truisms: that in any endeavor problems are inevitable, and that all problems are soluble given sufficient knowledge.
One of the many meanings of “infinity” (which he carefully lays out at the end of each chapter’s summary) is that there are no limits on what can be known. He says that suggesting that there are “bounds on the domains in which reason is the proper arbiter of ideas is a belief in unreason or the supernatural.” He buttresses his argument by offering a brief tour of history and The Enlightenment. Western civilization of the Pre-enlightenment remained stagnant during the Dark Ages specifically because organized authority squelched free inquiry and the creation of original conjectures which could be tested to conclusively rule out false ideas. Deutsch says that it is only through the creation of original conjectures that knowledge can be expanded. All assertions must be tested, and proof sought. Whatever is true withstands any degree of testing that one can muster, while that which is false crumbles. With the Enlightenment, explanatory knowledge became the most important determinant of physical events, not superstition or human authority. Once that occurred, the curve of charted knowledge growth became steep indeed with no end in sight.
Accepting that humans have the theoretical power to become infinitely knowledgable, doesn’t mean that getting there is easy. Here, Deutsch delves into his theories of “optimism.” Continuing to pursue knowledge through the solution of problems is fundamentally an exercise in optimism. We believe that a solutions exist, even if we haven’t yet found them. If we try to improve things and fail it's because we did not know enough in time. Civilizations that have collapsed did so because they had insufficient knowledge of how to save themselves or they ran out of time before a solution could be found. The inhabitants of Easter Island are highlighted as an example as well as (somewhat controversially) our own current predicament as a civilization faced with the challenge of dramatic climate change. Deutsch suggests that climate change is simply another example of a problem that needs sufficient knowledge with which to devise a solution.
Arguments like this can cause Deutsch to come across as cold and rational to a fault. While it’s hard to argue with the logic of his carefully constructed propositions, it can leave one searching for a little humanity behind the words. In this regard, “The Beginning of Infinity” can sometimes feel less like a late night conversation with a buddy and more like a lecture from Mr. Spock.
But, just as that begins to happen, he manages to branch off into another fascinating exploration of Ideas writ large, covering topics such as quantum mechanics, the Multiverse, the mathematical impossibility of truly representational government, memes, beauty, creativity, sustainability, artificial intelligence, and the concept of mathematical infinity. Each one of these explorations is tied to the basic premise of the infinite expansion of knowledge, though some less successfully than others. For example, his exploration of beauty is completely devoid of the ineffable emotions that most of us associate with that quality. This is perhaps one of the only realms where logic has less to offer than unjustifiable irrationality.
While not all of these topics hold together as a completely coherent whole, each is utterly fascinating in its own way (particularly his exploration of the multiverse, a concept so foreign to human experience, that the chapter calls for repeated readings to promote comprehension). Everything is so carefully laid out that you’re likely to be persuaded of Deutsch’s position that given enough time, there’s nothing that we can’t learn and that there are no problems which are insoluble. Overall, this book is a great source of brain food for anyone looking to sharpen their mental acuity, step out of the ordinary, and go for a walk with a brilliant mind.
Top international reviews
Unfortunately the author is clearly a major supporter of the many worlds theory, which in my humble opinion only illustrates that the sharpest minds can be capable of judgements which do not show much common sense. The fact that I disagree with him on this will not worry him or the world in the slightest, which is as it should be, and in no way lessens my feeling that this is still a very important and informative work. The author is also more optimistic than I about the long term future of the human race, but here I hope it is he who is correct.
I am not going to rush finishing the book. Its too deep for that, and disagree or not, I am eagerly looking forward to reading the rest of this very praiseworthy book. I am very fortunate in that just when I thought I had read most of the popular books written around modern Physics and philosophy I keep finding books like this and "Beyond Weird" which are top class.
I loved this book. Parts of it -- the sections on ethics and aesthetics --are, I think, more in the area of his personal preferences. But his explanations about issues in philosophy and especially philosophy of science (empiricism, induction, Karl Popper) are wonderfully clarifying. And I love his view about human progress and rationality, something we're hearing too little of today.
Progress is potentially an infinite path and therefore, no matter how far we have enriched human lives, there will always be an infinite path of future improvement open to us. That's worth repeating. No matter how magnificent humanity has become in the future, it has only just started. How refreshing is that compared to today's shrill calls of anxiety and clamour for action based on the unexamined presumption that states have a magic wand solution? But we have to take those steps along that path. It's up to us whether, for example, we invent better quantum computers or new sources of energy, or indeed use the inventions we already have, such as the thorium-reactor. Advance is not automatic.
It is also our responsibility to refrain from tampering with the free competition of ideas, especially scientific theories. For all scientific progress depends on breaks with consensus, not its consolidation. If one day all scientists agreed that "science is settled", science would die the same day. (Perhaps inadvertently, many have flouted that truth by restricting free speech.) It was this Darwinian-like, ruthless competition within science for new explanatory theories that are "hard-to-vary" that made possible our emergence from a merely self-perpetuating type of civilisation, typical of all past —and now extinct—civilisations.
In publishing this book, David Deutsch has eased and made more secure our steps along the path of infinite progress.
However, the author ranges very broadly, and the chapters, hardly related to the main premise, had a generally negative impact on me. For example, he includes a chapter on choice concerning voting systems, which I thought irrelevant to the main thrust of the book, and uniquely for the author, it did not seem to have been thought through; he appears to put forward the argument prevalent before the Great Reform Act that it did not matter how MPs were chosen as long as they formed a body capable of weighing the matters before them. In addition, Professor Deutsch has given space to attacks on those who hold to different beliefs and philosophies to himself, such as empiricists, instrumentalists, and those of religious belief. I would be on his side in at least some of these cases, but the problem is that he is only able to make his views known forcefully, but cannot possibly present the fully developed arguments that characterise the rest of the book. The effect of what I have to call digressions, together with the 25 page dialogue with Socrates, is to make the book significantly longer than it might have been. To do justice to it, I found myself reading one or two chapters at a time so I read it over a time span of 3 weeks. As a result of this and what I found a slightly haphazard ordering of the chapters, I found myself referring back far more often than normal. I think that with tighter editing, the book could have been shortened by close to a third, reducing my problems significantly, and I really hope that this is done for some future edition.
Every chapters a tour de force, to many to cover here, but for example, the one on quantum mechanics, the multiverse and the concept of fungibility is the best description of the particle/wave duality I've read. Or why do humans find flowers beautiful, I mean we're not bees.
Anyway a fantastic positive book about our place in the world. Read it and be wise.
I doubt if I’ve ever read anything better, more life-affirming, more full of wonder, originality and imagination. There seems nothing that Mr Deutsch cannot bring a new perspective to.
It is well written-grammatically sound-a rare pleasure nowadays! and leavened with dashes of dry humour.
Some topics are hard to grasp -the multiverse for example-but perseverence pays off.
Finding myself with a head full of questions, I decided to aim for the top and email Professor Deutsch to seek some answers : bingo! A prompt,friendly and comprehensive reply soon followed.
This writer,despite being one of our foremost physicists,is approachable and obliging.
Other readers might wish to follow suit.