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The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform The World (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 26 Jan 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (26 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140278168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140278163
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Experience the thrill of the highest level of discourse available on this planet ... This is the great Life, the Universe and Everything book for our time (Independent)

Bold ... profound ... provocative and persuasive. (The Economist)

Science has never had an advocate quite like David Deutsch. He is a computational physicist on a par with his touchstones Alan Turing and Richard Feynman, and also a philosopher in the line of his greatest hero, Karl Popper. His arguments are so clear that to read him is to experience the thrill of the highest level of discourse available on this planet and to understand it. (Peter Forbes The Independent)

This is Deutsch at his most ambitious, seeking to understand the implications of our scientific explanations of the world ... I enthusiastically recommend this rich, wide-ranging and elegantly written exposition of the unique insights of one of our most original intellectuals. (Michael Berry Times Higher Education Supplement)

David Deutsch...may well go down in history as one of the great scientists of our age. (Andrew Crumey The Scotsman)

About the Author

Born in Haifa, Israel, David Deutsch was educated at Cambridge and Oxford universities. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a professor of Physics at the University of Oxford, where he is a member of the Centre for Quantum Computation. His many honors include the Institute of Physics' Paul Dirac Prize and Medal. The author of The Fabric of Reality, he lives in England.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Popinjay on 29 Mar 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has been 14 years since the publication of *The Fabric of Reality* and here at last is the sequel!

Within a few hours reading I'm confronted by explanations of how Occam's Razor is a misconception and how the biosphere cannot sustain human life. So, wow, I'm hooked!

Chapter 6: "The Jump to Universality" alone is worth the price of the book. It explains how many systems of symbolic representation, such as written characters, numerals and the genetic code evolve slowly and steadily before wandering into universal domains with corresponding huge leaps of expressive power.

The theme of *The Beginning of Infinity* is how the search for hard-to-vary explanations is the source of all progress in science and in the rest of human affairs, and that this progress may continue indefinitely, since all problems are soluble. But it can only do so if we choose to make it happen, in part by acknowledging that problems are inevitable and that 'all evils are caused by insufficient knowledge' (Deutsch's 'Principle of Optimism'). This makes human beings precious and of central importance in the scheme of the things, including cosmological physics.

There is a lot of material here, in 18 Chapters, because Deutsch is most concerned with ideas which have 'reach', including reach into diverse disciplines such as aesthetics, morality and political theory.

My guess is that some if not many readers will be put off by this breadth, considering it arrogant for an academic to write authoritatively outside his home fields of physics and the philosophy of science.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Alan Michael Forrester VINE VOICE on 3 April 2011
Format: Hardcover
"The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch (BoI) is a great book that explores a range of important issues in physics, maths, explanations, the theory of knowledge (epistemology) and political and moral philosophy. This may make BoI sound somewhat daunting and impractical to many people. Who needs that sort of high flown stuff? However, one of the ideas in BoI is that explanation is important and that good explanations seem obvious and expand your horizons at the same time, and every explanation in BoI illustrates this point. In addition, the author explains himself very clearly, so there isn't a steep hill to climb to understand the explanations he gives. BoI is also entertaining and often quite witty. BoI will also repay repeated reading because there are a lot of ideas in it.

I'll give a brief sketch of some of the ideas you can expect to find in BoI. The first idea that I would emphasize is that explanation is central to living a rational and satisfying life. Good explanations are well adapted to solving problems - for example, the theory that the Earth orbits the sun is well adapted to explaining the seasons.

The next is that problems are inevitable because we will certainly make mistakes, and they are soluble because those mistakes can be fixed. The author explains that any way of changing the world that is not forbidden by the laws of physics is allowed. If there was some problem that we could never possibly solve, e.g. - some mathematical proofs can't be proven, then that would in itself be a fact about the laws of physics.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Elliot Temple on 1 April 2011
Format: Hardcover
It takes disparate topics and unites them in one powerful worldview. Topics range from physics and philosophy to voting systems and alphabets to optimism and objective aesthetics to evolution and creationism, and even morality. Each topic has enlightening individual analysis, but even better than that is the worldview behind the analysis, which comes out as one reads the entire book. The Beginning of Infinity is about a way of thinking. It is the most rational way of thinking ever to be explained.

You might think that David Deutsch is a genius (and he is) and that therefore his way of thinking won't work for you. That is not the case. His worldview can help anyone with any topic. It's not equally useful for all fields -- it fairs better with important topics -- but it always has a surprisingly large amount of relevance and use. And unlike many philosophers who want to sound impressive, Deutsch has made a concerted effort to write clearly and accessibly. This isn't a book written only for the initiated.

I've identified three main themes which I think best describe the most important message of the book.

The first theme is the titular one. Like Deutsch's previous book, chapters conclude with short summaries and terminology sections. But he's got a new section too: the meanings of the beginning of infinity encountered in the previous chapter. So what kind of infinity is Deutsch concerned with? Primarily progress. Humans are capable of an infinite amount of progress. We can improve things without limit, and learn without limit. This covers not just material improvement but also moral improvement.
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