The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World
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The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  963 ratings  ·  127 reviews
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 i...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published July 21st 2011 by Viking Adult (first published March 1st 2011)
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Andy Matuschak
I am not sure that another book has influenced my thinking quite as much as The Beginning of Infinity.

As I read through Deutsch's many provocative assertions, I often reacted with instinctive scorn and disbelief. But with only a few exceptions, I found myself within a few pages not only persuaded but convinced of the utter obviousness of his ideas.

The specific assertions in this book are important not because of the claims they make relevant to that field, but because they are meta-assertions wh...more
Gendou
Summary: Lose, philosophical rambling, plus an insightful take on Many Worlds.

Author's favorite word: parochial

I'm trying to be more positive in my reviews. Here are the good parts:
* Plausible story of the evolution of the technology of numerals.
* Refutation of anthropic reasoning for being a bad explanation.
* Introduction to infinite set theory using the idea of Infinity Hotel.
* Refutation of the Precautionary Principle for being pessimism.
* A clever, made-up tale of Socrates and Hermes on epis...more
Rachel
Can you give a book a one AND a four? This book has me split. I didn't really like it, but I did make it through and give myself credit for that (although I skipped the sections where he plays like Socrates...weird...how did his editor let that through?). And even though I didn't like it, it made me think in directions I hadn't gone before. That's worth a lot.

The author is prideful and arrogant and really rather strange, But he is good at explaining bizarro physics concepts that are on the surf...more
rmn
Who knew that the beginning of infinity was also the start of boring, I mean really, what a crappy way to have to spend infinity.

Anyway, this book is dryly written (despite what the back of the book jacket says) and confusingly uneven with some parts being informative and some being so incomprehensible that they would likely put somnambulists to sleep.

As far as I can tell, the author has a valid thesis which is that human intelligence can solve any problems we face as long as people remain open...more
David
This is a very interesting introduction to modern research in computational complexity and its often intriguing applications to physics, cosmology and even philosophy.

The part that struck me the most was his chapter on "Optimism". He argues that we are in the midst of an explosion of scientific knowledge and technology that may well continue for many years into the future, yielding a world that is far more advanced than anything we can imagine at the present time. He then argues further that th...more
Gary
I finished this book a month ago and at first I wasn't sure what I thought of it. But a month has gone by and I still think about it. In fact I think about it a lot.

Some other reviewer mentioned that his favorite word was "parochial" which made me laugh because it does seem to be true. And I finally had to look it up in the dictionary because he only gave a one sentence definition of "parochial" that I thought was lacking. And by that I mean I didn't understand it. I looked it up online. I wish...more
Anastasia Hobbet
David Deutsch is brilliant, iconoclastic, and so sure of himself that it takes my breath away. No political correctness here! And no homage to that creaky old ideal of writing within your own speciality. But then he's a cosmologist, so what's not within his specialty?! Accordingly, this book is about absolutely everything. It includes critiques of contemporary science fiction, conversations between Socrates and his adherents, trips into intergalactic space, and a thorough discussion about the pr...more
Michael Flick
Dense and difficult and in the end unsatisfying. The two fundamental questions are "How?" and "Why?" The author addresses the first, the how question, which is the only question science can answer. He argues, not wholly persuasively, for infinite progress. He ignores the why question. And in so doing, he ignores the crucial question of what meaning there can possibly be, at least for people, in infinity. The answer is: "none." What gives meaning to human life is precisely finitude, not infinity...more
Ed van der Winden
I cannot stress the importance of this book enough. This book is about the power and potential of explanations and therefore also of our potential as a species, as the people who are able to create these explanations. Deutsh's book is an incredibly lucid and powerful explanation in itself and I will even go as far as to conclude that with this book Deutsch has become the most important philosopher of our time!
Do yourself a favor and read this book! Deutsch's book is not technical and understanda...more
Nick Black
Sep 07, 2011 Nick Black rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Nick by: Scott Aaronson
fascinating, but not everything i was hoping for. i'm surprised to see this book being used as one of the required texts for scott aaronson's 6.893 Philosophy and Theoretical Computer Science this fall, a course which i would happily give up either testicle to attend. seriously, stop reading whatever crap you're reading and go through that reading list. it's a who's who of everything that matters.
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picked it up today. can't wait.
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Dr. Deutsch wrote one hell of a PhD dissertation back in the da...more
Timothy
While I was, admittedly, turned off by the cover [worth mentioning here only because this book touches on a universal aesthetic], the ideas and perspectives offered in this book are incredible.

Overall it was brilliant, challenging, and refreshing -- it addresses so wonderfully the questions and concerns I personally found unanswered in every philosophy of science or epistemology lecture I had ever attended.

The author very beautifully connected mathematics, physics, politics, and art into a famil...more
Diarmid
David Deutsch is a Fellow of the Royal Society and and expert on the quantum theory of computation based at Oxford University. Physics and an understanding of the laws of physics are at the core of this book, but it is just as much a work of philosophy, dealing as it does with progress and human society. Deutsch's contention is that the laws of reality can be known and will provide endless opportunity for investigation and the expansion of knowledge, that the principles of the scientific method...more
Susan Clark-cook
This is a fascinating look at how we make progress as humans and as a society. Parts of it read a little like science fiction but the author assures us it all based on good science. The first half of this book was the hardest to read, and was dense with scientific updates, theories and physics, most of which I had some acquaintance with but certainly no in depth working knowledge so it was slow going. Nevertheless if you hang in there (and I realize certainly many of you may be much more sophist...more
Raresh Vlad
Deutsch really really really likes the word "parochial". The book tends to be a secular common sense raised to the status of an academic lecture. But it does describe nicely the evolution of scientific thought and has good summaries after each chapter.

I mostly object to the chapter on the objectivity of beauty. Except for that I subscribe to the arguments presented. It is a good check-up for a healthy employment of logic for the purpose of the evolution of knowledge, ie scientific knowledge.

Ther...more
Tony
Deutsch, David. THE BEGINNING OF INFINITY: Explanations That Transform the World. (2011). ****.
I have to admit that much of Dr. Deutsch’s book went over my head, and forced me to go back and re-read many sections of it. It represents the author’s personal view of how progress is achieved in any area of human endeavor, and he approaches a variety of subjects using a conversational technique. He touches upon creation, art, culture, artificial intelligence, and a variety of other disciplines, appr...more
Tiffoknee the 3rd Conner
It's not often that I feel comfortable giving a book 5 stars. While I recognize that ranking books with stars is a decidedly arbitrary way to judge quality, if it will encourage other people to give this book the time it deserves, then 5 stars it is.

There are so many good things to say about The Beginning of Infinity. I'll offer up some of the more unoriginal phrases of praise: Thought-provoking, eye-opening, original, insightful, erudite, and written in clear, accessible prose. I saw this book...more
Jafar
David Hilbert, the great and influential German mathematician, made a famous pronouncement in 1930: We Must know. We shall know. (In a bit of cruel irony, Gödel first announced his Incompleteness Theorem a day before Hilbert made this statement.) These words are inscribed on his tombstone. That was before progress and objective truth and other Enlightenment ideas went out of fashion in the twentieth century.

Enlightenment is back with a vengeance, reincarnated as David Deutsch. Call it Extreme E...more
Zweegas
Jan 11, 2012 Zweegas marked it as to-read
Last year I chose 15 books from the New York Times 100 notable books of 2010 list. So far I've read 5 of them with reactions ranging from absolute hatred to tepid amusement. I can resist trying it again though, so this is my list of 15 books from the NYT notable books of 2011 list that I picked to add to my reading list:

Angel Esmeralda -- Don Delillo
Leftovers -- Tom Perrotta
Buddha In The Attic -- Julie Otsuka
The Last Werewolf -- Glen Duncan
Mr. Fox -- Helen Oyeyemi
Come On All You Ghosts -- Matthe...more
Liviu
An awesome book and as perfect explanation of "natural philosophy" for the 21st century as it gets; while I hold powerfully with almost all of the book's theses, I never could explain them as clearly as the author does - this is a must read for anyone interested in both the "big things" and how understanding and explanation - the main leg of we call progress - are so powerful that they have literally changed the world in 2-3 centuries more than pretty much in all its history, that they accelerat...more
Patrick
Amazon review:
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...more
Roy Kenagy
Nov 15, 2011 Roy Kenagy marked it as to-read
David Albert in New York Times Book Review: http://nyti.ms/u0MIzg

"...a brilliant and exhilarating and profoundly eccentric book. It’s about everything: art, science, philosophy, history, politics, evil, death, the future, infinity, bugs, thumbs, what have you."

The writing is "...akin to great, wide, learned, meandering conversation — something that belongs to the genre of, say, Robert Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy” — never dull, often startling and fantastic and beautiful, often at odds with...more
John
Even though I disagree with many of Deutsch's ideas, I consider this book well worth reading and discussing. I see Deutsch's position as a radically conservative kind of heroic, optimistic realism rebelling against two dominate poles of western discourse: empiricism/pragmatism on the one hand and postmodernism on the other hand. He believes in physical reality, creativity, beauty, and progress, even though he requires a multiverse to support these things. He actually changed my mind about severa...more
Nancy McKinley
A few gifted writers can take any subject and breathe life into it, even a subject such as the all- elusive (at least to me)Physics. Brian Greene is a artist who excels at this and it is no simple feat. The writer of this particular book: "The Beginning of Infinity" is no Brian Greene by a long shot but then besides Mr. Greene, who is?

I must take a snipe at the fact there are no notes or sources cited. I don't know how anyone could get so far and be so bright and fail to include this.

Something...more
Kennan
Deutsch is a bit of a nutter, and his writing is by no means terse. Some of his ideas gel better than others; many of his ideas are rephrasings of others' (Popper, Everett, Dawkins).

Alternately fun and annoying, the latter usually due to the occasional garbled nature of his prose. And this from an author who wishes to convey the truth aesthetic objectiveness!

Nonetheless, some very nice stuff here, particularly his chapter on the multiverse, and his explanation of quantum mechanics via Hugh Ever...more
Kat Dornian
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kim
There is basically one single good idea in this book. It's a good one, and I liked it, and it's an idea that hadn't been explicit for me before, but basically the whole book can be summarized in two words: GOOD EXPLANATIONS. So there was really no need for it to be as long as it was. For example, I have NEVER seen exposition of the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics that was not only so excruciatingly long, but also full of ridiculous tangents.

-Phil
Seth Benzell
I picked it up on a lark at the Springfield Library, but it, With 'After Virtue', has become key to my fundamental thinking. His Popperian account of knowledge accumulation seems obviously correct to me. The most important point is that saying that all beliefs must be open to improvement doesn't mean that you don't believe in anything. The fact that we must always be 'wrong' is not frightening at all, since we can use our intellects to be progressively 'less wrong'. His pragmatic argument for th...more
Nicholas
This book really was running on the edge of my intellectual abilities at times (as was his last work)and the most satisfaction came from finishing it.but I did gain knowledge that makes sense to me in a sublime way that I found beneficial and gave me an insight into how to criticize theories,not just scientific ones.
John
A very deep, fascinating, and optimistic book. I recommend it!
Scott
I always think I like the philosophy of positivism until I stare down its most self-absorbed authors and realize they just wish everything they say is true.
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David Deutsch, FRS is a British physicist at the University of Oxford. He is a non-stipendiary Visiting Professor in the Department of Atomic and Laser Physics at the Centre for Quantum Computation (CQC) in the Clarendon Laboratory of the University of Oxford. He pioneered the field of quantum computation by being the first person to formulate a description for a quantum Turing machine, as well as...more
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“Like every other destruction of optimism, whether in a whole civilisation or in a single individual, these must have been unspeakable catastrophes for those who had dared to expect progress. But we should feel more than sympathy for those people. We should take it personally. For if any of those earlier experiments in optimism had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal.” 6 likes
“As the physicist Stephen Hawking put it, humans are ‘just a chemical scum on the surface of a typical planet that’s in orbit round a typical star on the outskirts of a typical galaxy’. The proviso ‘in the cosmic scheme of things’ is necessary because the chemical scum evidently does have a special significance according to values that it applies to itself, such as moral values. But the Principle says that all such values are themselves anthropocentric: they explain only the behaviour of the scum, which is itself insignificant.” 2 likes
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