The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Change the World by David Deutsch

Summary
  1. Deutsch argues that explanations have a fundamental place in our universe and that improving them is the basic regulating principle of all successful human endeavor. Through the ever-increasing refinement of our explanations, Deutsch argues that progress is potentially boundless
Key Takeaways
  1. Infinity in this case refers to the boundless reach of certain ideas
  2. There has only been one period in history where progress has been as sustainable and stable as it has since the scientific revolution to current day. There have always been pundits who have argued whether this progress is any good but the author argues that it is good and that progress can in fact be infinite
  3. A mindset of fallibilism, where one knows certain current conceptions are faulty and look to correct them and disregard for “knowledge authority” are essential for unlimited knowledge growth. The enlightenment in later scientific revolution came about because of the unprecedented attack on knowledge from authority. Seeking good explanations was the spirit of the age
  4. The real source of our knowledge is a conjecture along with testing criticism questioning and refinement
  5. Problems are inevitable but humans thrive because these problems are solvable
  6. Common misconceptions about evolution is that it always indicates progress and it always favors species-level survival rather than individual. What it does indicate is the genes which are most effective at spreading. Organisms are the slave or tools of genes and their desire to spread
  7. All knowledge is built incrementally but occasionally a step leads to an unexpected leap and opens new frontiers. Periods of perspiration followed by bursts of innovation. This is the jump to universality. Universality is often not a prime objective but when a small change in the system was made, universality just happened to be achieved – a jump to universality. Many antique systems such as numerals and alphabets were not universal and therefore did not catch on quickly. DNA may be the earliest jump to universality
  8. Argues that we can expect AI to take a similar jump to universality too and become much more powerful. Part of the issue today is not truly understanding creativity and once we do we will be able to better build it into programs
  9. Qualia – the subjective aspect of a sensation
  10. Can better understand infinity through the infinite reach of certain ideas (infinite hotel thought experiment)
  11. Beware of the difference between prediction and prophecy. Prophecy purports to know things which cannot be known – bad explanations and theories tend to fall in this camp
  12. Optimism – all evils are due to current lack of knowledge
  13. Explanations make human potential nearly limitless as we can continuously improve our understanding, going from misconception to slightly better misconception
  14. One of the most important aspects of choice and decision making is the freedom and creativity to come up with new choices
  15. Elegance – the deep beauty found in certain explanations
  16. Argues there is objective beauty and though it is hard or impossible to verbalize now, as our conception and understanding of it improves moving forward, we’ll be able to create beauty that we can’t even conceive of today
  17. Cultures consist of memes and they evolve. Memes exist as both mental representations and behavior
What I got out of it
  1. An interesting book with some fun thought experiments – progress is potentially limitless as people can seemingly forever keep moving from faulty explanations to slightly less faulty explanations