David Deutsch

The Beginning of Infinity

This is one of the best books I’ve read, maybe even the best book I’ve ever read. I think it’s a profoundly important book as I feel a lot of other people would agree. The subtitle, ‘Explanations that Transform the World’, is not an understatement in any way. It’s is a lot more than I ever expected it to be and Deutsch is an incredible author and physicist.

Deutsch’s main argument is that the Enlightenment was the start of the ‘beginning of infinity’, which refers to an infinite amount of knowledge creation. Deutsch distinguishes knowledge as information which has a solid explanation and has proven resistant to falsification. He states that ‘the real source of all our theories is conjecture, and the real source of our knowledge is conjecture alternating with criticism’. Prior to the Enlightenment Deutsch argues that the societies that existed were static, explaining his reasoning behind them being this way. The Enlightenment therefore set up the conditions for knowledge creation which disrupted that pattern. He also has a running theme throughout the book which is that problems are inevitable, and they are soluble, demonstrating his infinite optimism.

He addresses large issues such as climate change and concepts like empiricism and creationism. He addresses misconceptions about them and their fundamental explanations. He also goes on to explore philosophical issues and focuses on the impacts of bad philosophy in various domains with a dedicated chapter called ‘A Physicist’s History of Bad Philosophy’. He heralds the philosophy and teachings of Karl Popper throughout the book which taught me a lot about Popper’s work, and I will definitely be exploring more of it in the future.

Some parts of the book I did find difficult to fully understand such as his chapters on the ‘Multiverse’, in which he attempts to explain aspects of quantum physics through a sci-fi story. Despite it being quite dense I did find I learnt quite a bit from this section of the book as a lot of the explanations are quite good and Deutsch is quite prolific within the domain, therefore he’s good at explaining the fundamentals.

Deutsch also explores memetics and explains that human creativity evolved as a way to faithfully reproduce existing memes. Two of the chapters which address this are ‘The Evolution of Culture’ and ‘The Evolution of Creativity’, in which Deutsch analyses the way memes work. He also explores how this is misunderstood and gives his critique on many teachers within this domain. 

The ideas within this book, I believe, are so important. I sort of share Deutsch’s infinite optimism in that problems are inevitable, and they are also soluble as I think this important for the progression of society. He’s certainly had a great impact on the way I think through this book as I find myself coming back to mental models or concepts he’s addressed in order to make decisions.

I think everyone should read this book it is incredibly good, albeit quite dense at times. I will have to re-read at some point because there’s so much in here and I feel like it’s quite hard to take it all in in one read. There’s also a lot of good supplementary material which helps with understanding. My favourite are these videos by Brett Hall. He does videos on every chapter and is really good at extending and simplifying some of the explanations.