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The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,292 Ratings  ·  220 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
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Hardcover, 487 pages
Published July 21st 2011 by Viking (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
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Gendou
Oct 15, 2011 Gendou rated it did not like it
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
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Rachel
Dec 14, 2011 Rachel rated it liked it
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
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Blair
This book is about rational optimism. For the past few hundred years in the West, science and logical thinking have been changing things for the better. The author believes we are just beginning an era of continual progress that has no bound.

His key idea is that science is defined by seeking explanations for the universal laws that govern reality. Explanations go beyond simply describing what we observe, or “instrumentalism”. A good explanation has “reach” – it explains not only what we see, but
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Anastasia Hobbet
May 06, 2012 Anastasia Hobbet rated it it was amazing
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
rmn
Nov 19, 2011 rmn rated it it was ok
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
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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
David
Jan 15, 2012 David rated it really liked it
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
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Nick Black
Sep 07, 2011 Nick Black rated it really liked it
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
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Nelson Zagalo
Um rasgo de inteligência em estado puro, é o que posso dizer sobre a leitura das palavras de David Deutsch em “The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World”. A ciência, ou melhor, o pensamento científico elevado ao cume da experiência humana, explanado de uma forma simples e acessível e ao mesmo tempo capaz de ir ao fundo de tudo aquilo que somos enquanto seres humanos, mais, de tudo aquilo que poderemos vir a ser. É um livro com uma mensagem poderosamente otimista, capaz de ...more
Tiffoknee the 3rd Conner
Jul 17, 2012 Tiffoknee the 3rd Conner rated it it was amazing
Shelves: indispensable
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
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Gary
Nov 12, 2012 Gary rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
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
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Ed van der Winden
Oct 13, 2011 Ed van der Winden rated it it was amazing
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
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Timothy
Jul 27, 2012 Timothy rated it it was amazing
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
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Michael Flick
Oct 18, 2011 Michael Flick rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: worst
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
John
Feb 15, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Gary
Jun 06, 2012 Gary rated it it was amazing
"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
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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
Rick Wayne
I wanted to love this book. It was very thought-provoking. Indeed, parts of it are genuinely brilliant and caused me to rethink some of my previously held beliefs.

But it is also irregularly farcical. The Socratic dialogue is out-of-place, repetitive, and poorly written. The chapter on infinities is badly executed. The chapter on sustainability swings at straw men and ends the book on a kind of dogmatic idealism completely out of place with the entirety of the rest.

I wanted to give it three and a
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Nancy McKinley
Apr 09, 2014 Nancy McKinley rated it it was ok
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
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Matt Ward
Apr 05, 2016 Matt Ward rated it it was ok
I understand that "popular" accounts of technical subjects have to make some concessions. Unfortunately, I found most of this book extremely sloppy and loose, which led to horrible arguments.

Example 1: Playing loose with "infinity." At first, I thought he just didn't realize his mistake, but then he devoted a whole chapter to explaining exactly what I wanted to point out. At one point he says there is no such thing as "utopia," because we will always have progress.

His argument seems to be that
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Thore Husfeldt
Apr 22, 2016 Thore Husfeldt rated it it was amazing
My mind is blown. As close to a unified theory of everything as it gets. And an optimistic, bold, and lucid opportunity to change you mind about a lot of things.

You thought science is a method for producing correct or useful statements? That we should prevent falsehoods from being formulated in the scientific community? That we derive explanations from sensory experience? You believe in inductivism? Logical positivism? That claims are scientific if they are testable? That the Turing test is good
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Max Nova
May 21, 2016 Max Nova rated it it was amazing
David Deutsch's "The Beginning of Infinity" is one of the more thought-provoking books I've read in the past few years. Its scope is incredibly broad - from epistemology and quantum fungibility to environmental ethics and societal evolution. Deutsch is a physicist (of self-admittedly fringe beliefs in regards to some quantum theory) and I'm always a bit skeptical when subject-matter experts try to extrapolate outside of their areas of speciality - particularly when they do so on as massive a sca ...more
Karl
May 25, 2014 Karl rated it liked it
This book is a little like watching a clever person talk to himself inside a mostly empty room. There are moments that are insightful and rewarding, but you suspect that if you and half a dozen of your friends or colleagues got up and went somewhere else, he would probably still be sitting there talking an hour later without having noticed that anyone left (or possibly that anyone was even there to begin with). I would be the absolute last person to criticize anyone for wanting to think creative ...more
Susan Clark-cook
Nov 20, 2011 Susan Clark-cook rated it it was amazing
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
Vlad
Jan 16, 2013 Vlad rated it really liked it
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
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Tony
Aug 28, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
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Kyle
Apr 05, 2012 Kyle rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
A magnum opus for the philosophy of science, and probably one of the most powerful and incisive statements of (and arguments for) a rational, critical theory for human life. David Deutsch, a physicist at Oxford, makes a profound case in science, history, and the world at large for good explanations and knowledge-creation. He argues, against the grain of nearly every wishy-washy and/or unproductive explanation out there, that human beings and their ideas are the sum-total origin of progress in th ...more
Marks54
Mar 25, 2013 Marks54 rated it liked it
I am mixed in my reactions to this book. In some fundamental ways, I enjoyed the book very much and appreciate that the author is very smart, widely informed, and a terrific writer. I agree with the book's fundamental intent and was greatly stimulated by the exposition. On the other hand, I think that the author tries to do too much and that, as a result, the exposition is least compelling and the most problematic precisely at the points that are most critical to the book's argument. Overall, th ...more
Jafar
Dec 05, 2011 Jafar rated it it was ok
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
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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.” 11 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.” 6 likes
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