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The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  5,362 ratings  ·  542 reviews
The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World
Hardcover, 487 pages
Published July 21st 2011 by Viking (first published March 1st 2011)
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Oct 11, 2011 added it
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
Sep 29, 2011 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
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
Dec 14, 2011 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 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
Anastasia Hobbet
May 06, 2012 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
Nov 19, 2011 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
Chaunceton Bird
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an entertaining explanation of human progress. It was a bit disjointed, but that's just because there are a lot of ideas presented that are only related in that they contribute to humanity's march into infinity. ...more
Stephie Williams
Mar 17, 2018 rated it liked it
In this book the author David Deutsch argues that there is no or can be no end to how far we can, or other sentient creatures, can go in furthering our explanations of the universe. This is our knowledge will continue to grow with out bounds. He explains why explanations are the key element in our gaining knowledge, and not the standard true justified belief of epistemology. He attempts to show how induction and empiricism fail to describe our knowledge acquisition. He believes science is practi ...more
Nick Black
Jun 26, 2011 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.
picked it up today. can't wait.
Dr. Deutsch wrote one hell of a PhD dissertation back in the da
Daniel Clausen
Nov 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I must read this book again. Perhaps one of the richest and most poetic defenses of reason, enlightenment, and creative scientific explanation I've read in a long while.

The design of this book is also beautiful. The essays themselves are exploratory and complex, yet the ending summaries and their definitions make it easy to take away the key points.

And what is the key point of this book? One of the most optimistic messages possible: problems are solvable through the creation of knowledge, and
Jan 15, 2012 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
Ed van der Winden
Oct 13, 2011 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
Nov 12, 2012 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
Max Nova
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
Tiffany Conner
Dec 27, 2011 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
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
This book is a brilliant journey into the mind of an extraordinary intellectual. The message is profoundly optimistic and this book is an important work of philosophy of science.

We have a great deal of knowledge about the vast and unfamiliar reality that causes our observations, and of the elegant, universal laws that govern that reality. This knowledge consists of explanations: assertions about what is out there beyond the appearances, and how it behaves. Where do explanations come from? Empiri
Ryan Boissonneault
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Expanding on the philosophy of Karl Popper, The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch is the definitive work of philosophy for the twenty-first century.

I suspect that on first exposure it may not be entirely clear what the underlying message and philosophy is. The structure of the book, the chapter headings, and the frequent digressions will cause some readers to either abandon the book or miss the point. But for those that stick with it, and really absorb the lessons, the philosophy is powerfu
Thore Husfeldt
Mar 25, 2016 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
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved parts of this book and got some amazing insights. However, there were other parts, where I either did not understand what the author was trying to say fully or did not agree with the flow of reasoning. The best thing about it was a crystal-clear argument for optimism towards the future of humans. I liked the introduction to infinite set theory using the example of Infinity Hotel, a clever made-up tale of a dialogue between Socrates and Hermes on epistemology, plausible story for the evol ...more
Michael Flick
Oct 05, 2011 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
Danielle Morrill
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Yes! This is a dense but worthwhile read. Understanding the root of dynamic versus static culture is crucial, and the closing refutation of Nick Bostrom's argument for simulations is so elegant. Worth putting on your shelf and working through slowly, and possibly the best inspiration for my fiction writing in some time. ...more
Timothy Warnock
Jul 27, 2012 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
Terry Pearce
This book is astoundingly good. Definitely the best non-fiction I've read since Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. Maybe better, even. Deutsch starts with explanations being the basis for knowledge, and builds up basic, hard-to-argue-with principles into convincing monoliths that smash some conventional interpretations of knowledge, science and philosophy to tiny pieces. He gives the most understandable insight I've yet had into quantum physics and in particularly the many universes theor ...more
Lance L
Feb 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book seems like a clinic in logical fallacies. Every chapter is peppered with straw man attacks on rival scientists, false syllogisms, false analogies, and head-slapping non sequiturs. Argument against the Virtual Reality hypothesis: I believe that reality is knowable. In a virtual reality scenario, there would be no access to the underlying reality, so it wouldn't be knowable. So it can't be. For those keeping score, that's begging the question AND a false syllogism. The pages are just lit ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Sep 08, 2011 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
Jan 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science, philosophy
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.
Sandy Maguire
Mar 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
This is a frustrating book, because I simultaneously agree with the conclusion and an entirely unimpressed with its argument. There is some great stuff here about the meaning of "reality" (things that are _real_ are those things that are involved in our best explanation for a phenomena), and it gives a good heuristic metric for the quality of arguments (good arguments are ones in which there are few-to-none variables which can be changed without affecting the outcome.) Also that people are relev ...more
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Acknowledging human fallibility, the Enlightenment set up a tradition of conjecture and criticism. Perpetually correcting misconceptions allows us to create unbounded knowledge. Problems are inevitable, but soluble. Optimism is the theory that all failures are due to insufficient knowledge, and has been the basis for our progress since the Enlightenment. It is ours to actively foster in the future.

"The possibilities that lie in the future are infinite. When I say 'It is our duty to remain optimi
Mar 21, 2013 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
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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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Neal Stephenson is the bestselling author of the novels Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Seveneves, Reamde, Anathem, The System of...
33 likes · 7 comments
“Some people become depressed at the scale of the universe, because it makes them feel insignificant. Other people are relieved to feel insignificant, which is even worse. But, in any case, those are mistakes. Feeling insignificant because the universe is large has exactly the same logic as feeling inadequate for not being a cow. Or a herd of cows. The universe is not there to overwhelm us; it is our home, and our resource. The bigger the better.” 23 likes
“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.” 20 likes
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