Vince's Reviews > The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch
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Jun 12, 12

bookshelves: philosophy
Read in May, 2012

It is hard to decide what rating to give this book. At different times I could have given it 3 stars, 4 stars or even only 2. The book covers a lot of different subjects and at times it doesn't feel like they all fit in to the overarching theme. The chapter on the multiverse of quantum mechanics could have been removed without losing anything, for example. It's not that it was poorly written, or wrong; it just didn't fit. On the other hand, when the themes did shine through, the book was a welcome message of optimism about human potential and our place in the world.

The themes of the book were brought together nicely in the penultimate chapter, "Unsustainable". Deutsch, following Bronowski of The Ascent of Man fame, turns the word on its head while discussing Easter Island. The Islanders aren't a dire warning about the consequences of too much progress and depletion of resources. They are instead an warning about the inevitable failure of static societies. As their society crumbled around them the Islanders could think of nothing else to do but build more giant statues of their dead ancestors, each one the same as the last.

Along related lines he rejects Jared Diamond's thesis that differences in the rate of development in different parts of the ancient world can be traced to differences in resources. He instead traces the differences to a failure of ideas. If South American traders had only had the idea to domesticate the llama and transport them away from their native habitat we very well might be trying to explain why their societies had come to dominate the world.

The solutions to human problems depend only on the creation of knowledge. Much like phonetic alphabets have universal reach in encoding language, human creativity has universal reach in explaining the seen in terms of the unseen. The search for these good (hard to vary) explanations, whether in science or philosophy or politics, proceeds by the process of creativity (conjecture), criticism, and testing (a la Popper). No matter how far we have gone, how much we have explained, we will always be closer to beginning than the end. We are at the beginning of infinity.

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I've upgraded my rating of this book after my initial review. The reason for doing so is because this book has really stuck with me in the couple weeks since I finished it. That's a great quality in a book. He stakes out plenty of potentially controversial positions, from rejecting any ultimate justification for knowledge to speculating that human creativity was initially used to facilitate greater conformity. I've found myself returning to some of the ideas and, whether I'm for or against, they are ideas worth thinking about.

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Reading Progress

05/22/2012 page 250
50.0% "Deutsch's main thesis is humans have a special place in the universe after all, as the only intentional creators of good explanations with reach beyond the parochial(<--Deutsch's favorite word!). Good explanations are hard-to-vary descriptions of the world that allow purposeful transformations. The search for good explanations is a creative process that is inherently unbounded."

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