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 audio book that will become a classic of its kind.
©2011 David Deutsch (P)2011 Gildan Media Corp
"Provocative and persuasive...Mr. Deutsch's previous tome, The Fabric of Reality, took a broad-ranging sweep...The Beginning of Infinity is equally bold, addressing subjects from artificial intelligence to the evolution of culture and of creativity; its conclusions are just as profound." (The Economist)
David Deutsch is a genius. As the father of modern quantum computing, he has an exceptional mind, and I found this book full of stimulating ideas and arguments going well beyond the reach of Physics.
His thesis, based on a synthesis of Popper, Dawkins and Hilbert, as well as his own interpretation of the Many Worlds theory of QM, is that through creativity, and the continuous search for "good explanation", we are able to shape our environment in ways no other force of nature is capable, and the reach of that ability is infinite.
At times his arguments are really hard to follow, and I suspected he may be slipping in some slightly dubious logic. For instance, his argument against the "Anthropic Principle" explanation for the "fine tuning problem". However, his early chapters e.g. on Hilberts "Infinity Hotel" and on "fungible" universes in QM are exhilarating.
However, as the book went on, I became increasingly irritated. Having persuaded us of the power and reach of "good explanations", he betrays these very values. In his chapter on aesthetics, he specifically rejects the explanation that we find flowers beautiful for biological reasons (e.g. bright colours as a super stimulus for a species once adapted to seek brightly coloured ripe fruits), and instead opts for an "objective beauty" explanation, which explains nothing.
To add insult to injury he follows this by a lengthy explanation of cultural evolution based on Dawkins "meme" theory, (which itself is a poor explanation, which even Dawkins has not bothered to develop). Deutsch's conclusion that in the past creativity was used to suppress innovation is bizarre. "Dual Inheritance Theory" (which includes memes), provides a better explanation, contrasting vertical (traditional) and horizontal (progressive) modes of cultural information transmission, each of which carries benefits and dangers. His final chapters on ecology, were therefore unconvincing.
Overall, very interesting, often complex, sometimes flawed.
"Covers nothing to everything"
One of my favorite books and provided me with many insights into our place in the universe and how we know the things we know. Deutsch explains the very small to the very large. He provides a reasonable explanation of the measurement problem in physics and a consistent theory on multiple universes. His survey of different schools of philosophies is one of the best I've read. He even has a detailed chapter on developing the most efficient election process which doesn't fully fit the theme of the book, but he explains it so well it becomes an intriguing chapter.
After reading the book, you will have an appreciation for the infinity and understand what is meant by 'everything possible will happen with certainty".
"Brilliant but difficult to understand"
I'd HAVE to listen to it again if I want to understand some of the many highly abstract intellectual concepts introduced by Deutsch. I think this is a compelling read anyway. I will listen again.
No. I wouldn't say they were too technical, just above my intellectual and cognitive "pay grade" in some areas. I suspect most listeners will feel the same way. Though I personally have a PhD in an admittedly unrelated-to-physics but nonetheless a very analytical and technical field, I simply could not follow certain discussions, such as the one relating to Quantum Mechanics.
He was competent and a clear enunciator. However, I think actually READING a physical book would be better in this case: It would enable one to go back to prior sentences or pages to reread them. The nature of his book is such that if you didn't understand the initial paragraphs of a topic he introduces, the odds are good that you won't understand the rest of the discussion. His arguments are like building blocks.
Yes, "Infinity Hotel" was one. Another was a discussion of his views, which I share, on how mankind should deal with the prospects of global warming.
Deutsch is absolutely a genius. I am not convinced he is necessarily right when he tries to extend his scientific reasoning to completely unrelated fields, but he definitely makes you think in a completely new light. I'd say "Bravo". This is a very important book.
"Three books in one, but not necessarily a value"
When writing a review, I like to wait a few weeks after listening to a book. I find, when I look back, that my memory is able to distill some of salient points and I am better able to reflect on the essence of a particular book. As far as this work is concerned, here are the reflections that come to mind:
1. In my opinion, there seems to be a theme, perspective, tone, whatever one wishes to call it, by physics/hard science authors that their particular field entitles them to comment on or critique general issues or questions with a greater weight or authority than others. This also tends to create hyperbolic and grandiose titles like "The Begining of Infinity: Explanations that Transformed the World.No doubt this is related to the rigorous standards of their discipline. One may have heard such statements like " there is nothing else but physics" (I am heavily paraphrasing). In particular, one section of this book asks us to believe that even beauty is objective, can be given criteria and scientifically explained. That's right, beauty is no longer in the eye of the beholder but is subject to the laws of physics too. Thus, following these suggestions to their conclusions, all art curriculums should be replaced by science courses and legitimate beholders will have first interned at Fermilab.
Very often however, they neglect to point that their positions, postulations and conclusions are based on a particular interpretation and not necessarily on proven fact, though they would have us think otherwise. In this case, the author is known for espousing ideas based on the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics, hardly a widely accepted view. Listening to this book, one would never know that.
2. I liked the beginning of the book. It started well and I felt it had some promise, but about mid-way through it seemed to go off the rails a bit. Beginning about the time the author is imagining dialogs with Socrates, I began to lose the thread of the material. By the time it was finished, some 12 hours later, I felt and still feel like there were a couple of different books buried in the contents. It was as if the author had gone back and picked out particular essays or short works over his career and tried to stitch them together into some sort of coherent framework. Perhaps in one of the many alternate quantum worlds this and similar techniques are more successful.
3. One of the books' main arguments, as I found some 18 hours in, is that in the authors view, mankind has potential limited only by the laws of physics. Given time, anything that is possible will be achieved (more or less - again I am paraphrasing). In my opinion, the gentleman is far too sanguine with regard to humans and human nature. The last couple of hours seemed almost pollyanna-ish. Perhaps I am being too hard, it was after all very close to a listening marathon, but I seriously doubt anyone would suggest that this book is an example of the objective beauty it suggests. It did, in fact, infinitely transform me in a being 20 hours older than I was before.
"This book is a wild ride!"
Wow. I do not pretend to understand even the 20th part of the ideas in this book. Who would have thought that a physicist and mathematician could express himself so eloquently on so many disparate subjects? This book is all over the map; it's a wild romp through an amazing mind. David Deutsch's ego must be at least the size of the Milky Way Galaxy--no, wait, that's too "parochial", too provincial by N orders of magnitude! Well, I guess it does take some bravado to take on evolution, quantum mechanics, history, universality, even knowledge itself, and still find time for politics, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and a conversation with Socrates. Along the way, as Deutsch manages to drop an amazing idea you never heard before into just about every paragraph, his major theses boils down to two things: first, good explanations lead to an infinity of knowledge, while bad explanations have only the power to fool us; and secondly, there will always be problems, but they can be solved if we can separate the good explanations from the bad ones.
Doing that in the real world we live in every day is hard, way harder than I think Deutsch realizes. We are fallible human beings who more often than not ignore even the most elegant of explanations with impunity. That said, being inside his head for the last couple of days was a privilege indeed.
By the way, the reader did a great job of not being in the way!
"You have to take the bad with the good"
I am not sure if this book is an optimistic anti-dogmatic prescription for unlimited progress or anti-religious liberal ravings about how people should think. Maybe it is a bit of both.
Some nits: The author describes Good Explanations and criticism as the key to progress. Near the end of the book he suggests calling Good Explanations, instead, misconceptions (which I find better, but still not quite right). I would instead use the less loaded term of Story. With a Good Explanation being a Falsifiable Predictive Story. The author also uses Testable which is not quite right. I like Falsifiable as being more to the point.
I was quite unimpressed by the dialog and the description of the multi-worlds interpretation as a Good Explanation.
This book has some of the same undercurrents as The Singularity is Near, but is more rambling, less focused, and more philosophical. Although there were a lot of interesting ideas in this book, there was also quite a lot missing. It seems to me there is much more to a really Good Explanation than is implied, and there is more yin-and-yang to conservative verses progressive than the author presents.
Nevertheless it is a good listen for anyone interested in thinking about how the scientific method really works. Unfortunately some parts are pretty boring or just tedius.
"Deutsch is a master of sophistry."
Deutsch no. Dixon yes.
Not that hard.
David Albert wrote an excellent and friendly review of this book in The New York Times Sunday Book Review of 08/12/2011. Despite it’s positive tone, it reassured me that I made the correct decision to stop listening to it. Sadly, it took me about 12 hours to decide that. Deutsch is smart and eloquent, but he's a master sophist. He writes clearly and skillfully, but treats his conjectures as facts. A term I once heard for this is “lying the truth”. He convinces himself that things are actually the way he thinks they are, and then he writes as if that is the case, which in his created mindset, it is. He covers many topics. For those where you have some knowledge, the holes in his certainty are obvious. For those where you don’t have some knowledge, you’re in danger of accepting some ideas as truths that are no more than pure speculation on his part.
"Probably better in book form"
I must confess that I gave up part way through the book. This is only the third book in many years of listening that I could not force myself to see through to the end. I really liked parts of the book but really disliked other parts. The chapter titled The Dream of Socrates was too much for me. It seemed to go on and on without saying anything that I cared about. The reason I think this would be better in book form is that then you could flip through and read parts of interest and ignore the other parts. Since I'm usually driving when listening to audio books, skipping through the book is not an option.
"What an amazing book..."
Going on my third listening of the book...
You've never heard of most of the ideas in this audiobook. It's a masterpiece of original thinking from a creative genius.
Get this audiobook before your friends do, you'll have a 50 year head start in diner party converstations.
"A Perspective Shifter"
This book has flaws. Dr. Deutsch makes a few generalizations that I found a bit unfair -- related to physiological research and sustainability as it relates to environmentalism.
It's a perspective shifter.
I think about progress and humanity and our place in the universe differently.
I think about science and the scientific method differently.
It gave me glue to connect concepts I've found and liked from other books.
It's deep. It's complex. It's not "easy".
But certainly valuable.
"Excellent achievement for a complex topic."
The extreme ability to make simple even the most complicated scientific points.
The Good Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. In a way these two books make the scientific point of the absurdity of god's existence.
His narration is very clear and makes easy to understand difficult complex given his ability to emphasize the necessary words.
The multiple universes we live in.
Dr. David Deutsch has an encyclopedic knowledge and clarity of our universes...
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