This is a “book report” of sorts from my friend Dr. Ed Lundeen. The name of the book is, “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. This book is very insightful, but for me an impossibly hard read. This is why I am thankful for other brilliant minds to help ease my learning. The book speaks to the fact that problems are inevitable. This of course, makes me very happy because if we have problems, we have work – if we have work – we have meaning. My answer to problems is always “collaboration innovation” or group problem solving. I find it interesting that these two skills require both trust in oneself and trust between people. Enjoy.

Dear Friends et al.

Again, you are the unwitting recipient of my need to share with someone this great experience I’ve had. A few of you have heard, David Deutsch’s book, “The Beginning of Infinity” is the best I’ve read in many years.

This email is in 2 parts. There is the easy, swift summary of the book here, and below many points of interest I tried to pull out of the book to make it clearer how many things he ends up talking about that are of such great import. I say this now so, before some of you delete this, you will read for just a few more seconds.

Deutsch’s is one of the most optimistic books I’ve read. It posits 2 things (among many).

1) Problems are inevitable

2) Problems are solvable (soluble in his words)

He is convinced that humans, having made the “leap to infinity” can and will (barring disaster that wipes all of us out) keep growing forever. The leap he speaks of comes in the form of a language that has infinite words and a number system with infinite numbers. The computer is another form of infinity — Deutsch notes we could have had computers much earlier (with Babbage in the 19th century) but we lacked imagination. That is not the case now.

Because we are now at the “Beginning of Infinity”, progress is unlimited as is the potential for growth. D. asks us to see beyond our own, parochial and short-term world view and recognize what is available to us, humans, because we do have infinite capacity.

In short, this is the most optimistic book of complex thinking I’ve read since — well, I’m not sure it has an equal in that regard. And so, I thought others might enjoy it for that reason — that it shines light in a world where it is easy to see dimness too often.

Enjoy (if you do)

Ed Lundeen

Deutsch is a fallibilist. Like most scientific thinkers. He seeks to understand how things really behave and what is really there. And he knows that his and others fundamental explanations will contain errors and that those errors are inevitable and that the process of science and fallibilism will try to correct these errors. p. 9

Our sense organs are notoriously fallible — we perceive nothing as it really is. This point goes deeply into the way we can understand the world. p. 10

Humans use “rules of thumb” to make most decisions and understand the world. And all those rules have an explanation whether we know it or not. p. 16

While referencing explanations for the arrival of Spring by ancient people, who used various god/goddess theories to explain, he notes that whenever a wide range of variant theories can account equally for a phenomenon they are explaining, there is no reason to prefer one over another; to advocate for any one over another is “irrational” p. 21

Feynman said “Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves” But those who use easily variable explanations (he cites gamblers who lose or win, and prophets/psychics) will be able to easily continue to fool themselves since they are insulated from evidence. They do not seek “Good Explanations.” ” Good explanations are those that are hard to vary in that changing the details would ruin the explanation.” This is a concept he will return to over and over again. p. 22. 32

Today we don’t test EVERY testable theory, just those few we find are good explanations — we can reject most false theories without testing them, simply because they are BAD explanations. p. 25.

Science proceeds from creative conjectures, but the imagination can create fiction much more easily than truth. p. 26

Anthropocentric explanations (using purposeful human based thought and action as our basis for understanding) is good ONLY for understanding human affairs. Not science. p. 43

It is easy to mistake quirks of one’s own perspective (the night skies rotation) for universal laws. That he calls Parochialism. And it is almost always wrong p. 44

Here’s his first, most wonderfully optimistic concept. “Every physical transformation to be performed in a given time with given resources or under and other conditions is either:

– impossible because it is forbidden by the laws of nature, or

– achievable given the right knowledge. p. 56. Brilliant.

“Changing our genes in order to improve our lives and facilitate further improvements is no different from augmenting our skin with clothes our our eyes with telescopes” p, 59

If one says ultimately there are things we can’t understand by moving toward better brains and automation, he considers this no better than an appeal to the supernatural and that we may as well have not bothered giving up the myths of our ancestors about the gods making things happen. p 60

One of his most brilliant points “Problems are inevitable. Problems are soluble (or solvable)” This is one of the concepts that made the Enlightenment to his mind “The Beginning of Infinity”. p. 65

Another great quote “…the existence of an unsolved problem in physics is no more evidence for a supernatural explanation than the existence of an unsolved crime is evidence that a ghost committed it”. p. 97

Einstein is quoted “There could be no fairer destiny for any physical theory than that it should point the way to a more comprehensive theory in which it lives on as a limiting case.” p. 113

Our explanations in one field of knowledge will affect our explanation in others. E.g. if we believe that a conjurer (magician) performs his magic by supernatural abilities then we will have certain beliefs about fields such as cosmology or psychology driven by this mistaken belief. p. 117

You can’t derive a factual theory from an “is” — knowledge growth does not consist of finding ways to confirm one’s beliefs. p. 120

The “jump to universality” happened with the development of flexible number systems that had an infinite reach and alphabets that had letters that could be endlessly arranged to form new words — it was furthered by the development of computers (which could have been done as early as the early 1800′s had Charles Babbage gone further with his work). The jump to universality only ever happens in “digital” systems since error-correction is essential to the process of potentially unlimited length.+ p. 142 – 147

“If you believe there are bounds on the domain in which reason is the proper arbiter of ideas, then you believe in unreason or the supernatural”. Similarly if you reject the infinite then you are stuck with the finite and the finite is parochial” p.166

“That is one of the attributes of the unbounded growth of knowledge; we are only just scratching the surface, and shall never be doing anything else.” p. 175

…’if the question is interesting, then the problem is soluble… Inherently insoluble problems are inherently uninteresting… [thus] the distinction between what is interesting and boring is not a matter of subjective taste, but an objective fact… and the interesting problem of why every problem that is interesting is also soluble is ITSELF soluble. We do not know why fine tuning exists, ..or why the world is explicable. But eventually, [given time and effort] we shall.” p. 193

Great Popper Quote :The possibilities that lie in the future are infinite. When I say ‘It is our duty to remain optimists’, this includes not only the openness of the future but also that which all of us contribute to everything we do; we are all responsible for what the future holds in store. Thus it is our duty, not to prophesy evil but, rather, to fight for a better world (The Myth of the Framework). p. 196

Trying to know the unknowable leads to error and self-deception and a bias toward pessimism. Predictions are about future events for which we have good explanations; prophesy is for anything that purports to know what is currently unknowable. p. 198

Policies cannot be derived from anything. We must choose their quality based solely on how good they are as explanations, how hard they are to vary. p. 209

“The Principle of Optimism: All Evils are caused by insufficient knowledge” (Brilliant!!!) p. 212

“Instead of looking upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all.” Pericles, “Funeral Oration, c. 431 BCE. p. 217

“Could it be that the moral imperative not to destroy the means of correcting mistakes is the only moral imperative?” (From a play imagining Socrates having a dialogue with the god Hermes about seeking wisdom and the difference between Athens and Sparta. p. 235

“Bad philosophy…denies the possibility, desirability or existence of progress. And progress is the only effective way of opposing bad philosophy.” p. 324

“To choose an option, rationally, is to choose the associated explanation.” p. 341

Rational analysis concentrates on how rules and institutions contribute to the removal of bad policies and rulers and the creation of new, better options. p. 345

The states of mind involved in “pure” science and art are essentially the same, for both seek universal and objective truth. Sometimes the “beauty” in both cannot be defined in words; it is in-explicit. And yet as a quote from Saliere in “Amadeus” play by Peter Schaffer, 1979) regarding the music of Mozart noted: “displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall.” p. p.365 (This is deeply related the fundamental notion of “Quality” suggested by Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).

“The overwhelming majority of ideas disappear within a lifetime or less.” p. 370 (Yet another powerful existential thought)

People often give explanation for their behaviors that are incorrect. p. 375 (This is more than just the unconscious at work — it is also that we don’t understand the underlying reasons for many actions — like when Americans say “in the hospital” and British say “in hospital”).

Biological evolution was just a prelude to the real story of evolution, that of memes. p. 380

To keep a society static you must FIRST prevent new ideas — the enforcement of the status quo is only ever a secondary way to prevent progress. p. 382 (Important for Welch).

Piety, devotion to duty and obedience are built into our sense of self — and while this is essential, it can also help to stifle creativity. A balance is needed — with an emphasis on creativity. p. 382

He believes creating knowledge is also a natural human need and only static societies can hold it back (and that temporarily) p. 386

…rational memes evolve toward deep truth, anti-rational memes evolve away from them [deep truths].” p. 389

“…whenever we find ourselves enacting a complex or narrowly defined behaviour that has been accurately repeated from one holder to the next, we should be suspicious. If we find that enacting this behavior thwarts our efforts to attain our personal objectives, or is faithfully continued when the ostensible justifications for it disappear, we should become more suspicious. If we then find ourselves explaining our own behaviour with bad explanations, we should become still more suspicious. Of course, at any given point we may fail either to notice these things or to discover the true explanations of them. But failure need not be permanent in a world in which all evils are due to lack of knowledge.” p. 395

Scientific observation is impossible without pre-existing knowledge about what to look at, what to look for, how to look, and how to interpret what one sees. …theory has to come first [according to Popper]. p 403. {This point matters more than we might initially think).

Imitation is NOT [emphasis mine] at the heart of meme replication. p. 409

The collapse of Easter Island is a myth of the variant of Spaceship Earth. It happened, but only because Easter Island became a static society. p. 421

“It is knowledge alone that converts landscapes into resources and humans alone who are the authors of the explanatory knowledge and hence of the uniquely human behaviour called “history” p. 429

Prophecies of human disaster is false and biased. Malthusians biggest mistake is they think they have a way of averting disaster (by sustainability) which is completely wrong. p. 435

“all triumphs are temporary…Only progress is sustainable.”. p. 436

Events will almost always turn out as we did not foresee and we do best to react to them with progress, rather than by trying to use what we have now to solve future problems (alone). p. 440

We would understand science better if we called theories “misconceptions” right from the start as we will always discover their successors. The growth of knowledge is from “problems to better problems”. p. 446

Infinite ignorance is necessary for there to be infinite potential for knowledge. We will never be “nearly there”. This ides leads to dogmatism and stagnation. p. 447

To predict beyond the relevant horizon is prophecy, not prediction — wondering what is beyond is ok though. p. 458

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