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on 26 February 2015
Completely changed my understanding of Knowledge, our place in the Universe and many other topics. A truly magnificent book. I really took my time reading this book because it is not a superficial read, it is an incredibly dense yet thorough analysis of so many aspects of science, morality and knowledge that to rush through it would have meant losing the deep meanings of so many aspects of the beginning of infinity. I feel privileged to have found this book amongst so much lightweight regurgitations that pass for science literature these days. In my humble opinion this book far exceeds 'The fabric of the Universe' that I have read previously from this author. A must read book that will change the way you think forever. What more could you ask from a single book? Can not praise this author enough for this beautifully written book. Thank you.
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on 3 October 2015
I don't have much to add to other reviews of this remarkable book, so I'll just reiterate some points briefly before coming to my main point.

Firstly, the negatives. Yes, the writing style is pedestrian. Yes, Deutsch can sound quite arrogant, though as Charles Fort once remarked, it is hard to say anything new without offending somebody. Yes, some themes are not as well thought through as others. Yes, the book is a bit all over the place.

On the other hand Deutsch does present an interesting and coherent world-view (though the coherence is not always apparent) and some of his analysis (particularly of memes) is very interesting.

But what I really want to note is my spontaneous reaction to the book: it made me feel young again! Its optimistic and thoroughly positive "arrogance" is hugely refreshing in the prevailing intellectual climate of our times. And it is not just a throw-back to the simple optimism of the "white heat of technology" era because its main theme is trying to spell out the basis for optimism. Of course, this very aspect of the book is bound to irritate many a "wise head" wedded to philosophical pessimism. I don't care and despite the book's flaws I give it the five star rating, bacause it brings in something vital, something we very much need.

Thank you, David!
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on 2 August 2011
For the none science and technology graduate this is quite heavy going in my opinion.The chapter on infinity added several wrinkles to my forehead as I'm not one who finds it easy to skip things I don't understand.This book really was running on the edge of my intellectual abilities at times ,as was his last work,but I did gain knowledge that makes sense to me in a sublime way that I found beneficial and gave me an insight into how to criticize theories,not just scientific ones.The chapter subjects are wide ranging and all tie into the theme of good explanations having infinite reach,as with the authors previous work there are summaries at the end of each chapter which is a nice touch for those of us with medium sized intellects or those wishing to use it as a reference.
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This is my first David Deutsch book. In it he explains that explanations have a fundamental palace in the universe. At first I was not sure where he was going with the beginning of infinity theme. Yet I found his arguments fascination. He looks at clouds from both sides now and can surprise you be telling you want you suspected all along but could not put it in words.

You need to have a good background in several disciplines or plan on doing a lot of side reading as I swear David peeked in my library and quoted from every author I ever read. I was really floored to find he know so much about Jacob Bronowski my hero from the 70's.

Occasionally he would light on a subject that I see different but it did not distract from the point he was trying to make. I had a different view of Persephone which included pomegranates. And when he went into base number systems he concentrated on zero not taking to time to see the beauty and simplicity of the base sixty stem that we use today for time and degrees and easy conversions in geometry.

The book itself is broken up into many text book style chapters. Each chaptere on a different subjedt leading to the same point of the meaning of infinity. Each chapter has a good summary. I also listened to the voice recorded book however you miss the diagrams.

As I dove through each chapter, some of them seemed to be making the point the hard way; I kept thinking when is he going to go off the deep; like so many people that want physics to look like old eastern religious clichés. But he never did. His argument kept getting stronger and clearer. He even pointed out bad explanations and why.

When you finish the book (and it ends too soon) you will look at the world differently. It is like the mechanic that looks at the car and does not see its glossy finish but the culmination of many tuned systems that came together for a purpose.

You of course will have to read this book again.
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on 8 August 2011
450 pages is a very long read when a book is not bad enough to discard but not good enough to be a comfortable read. I have read David Deutsch on his own speciality subject and enjoyed that, but this book seems something of an overlong personal indulgence on his part, at my considerable expense.

Admittedly some interesting ideas are put forward, but he seems far too offhand and dogmatic in his frequent ventures outside his specialism. I was not expecting a discourse (never mind a whole chapter!) on the merits of the 'first past the post' electoral system - I'd go for a different sort of book for that.

And his brash (over) confidence in his understanding and interpretation of other disciplines, such as biology and paleontology was not convincing. Again a whole chapter was on memes, presented as if they are an absolutely 'cut and dried' physical reality, when even their creator Richard Dawkins, seemed to see them more as a mental analogy to help understand his argument (unless he's got more dogmatic as well!). Not to mention (but I am) page upon page about computer-simulated realities.

I can't be sure his assertions are false, as he is a very clever person, but neither can I be confident that he is telling me anything I can confidently relay in my pub! An overblown book with an overblown and misleading title - I was expecting a real physical science exposition but seemed to get one that meandered over all sorts of areas he had taken a fancy to - and the 'pseudo textbook' structure of a chapter summary + definition of terms + a never-ending series of 'meaning of the beginning of infinity used in this chapter' got quite tedious.

And the chapter and a bit he devoted to personal (apparently fictitious) Plato-type discussions between protagonists to try and highlight his points was too much for me - maybe I missed something crucial, but I just HAD to skip over them!

This review may of course say more about me than David Deutsch, who I do admire, but I have to speak as I find. Maybe other cleverer people will find gems in there that I am not up to spotting - good luck to them!

Adding (later) to my thoughts, so as not to appear too negative, I would say that some very interesting ideas ARE put forward. I did like the discussion of static versus dynamic societies - something to worry about with all the fundamentalists around nowadays (both in the US and elsewhere) trying their damnedest by fair means or (mostly) foul to take us back there. Also his emphasis on good and bad explanations (though even this was not really original, coming some years after Steven Pinker's same discussion re 'cranes' and 'sky-hooks'), and on the need to accept that problems will occur but that solutions will be found (eg by new, 'unexpected' technology), so not to assume that even serious issues are beyond our long-term ingenuity, and not to adopt a doomsday 'nothing can be done except STOP' philosophy. Plus the argument that progress is dependent upon the interconnected societies, and is much less likely in isolated ones.

Yet I still feel his central tenet is somewhat flawed. He disagrees, rightly, with John Horgan's argument a decade ago that we have reached 'the end of science', exactly as was assumed by some at the turn of the 19th century. But he seems to go to the opposite extreme that there is NO limit However, looking 'upwards' (at the great, but relatively few, 'geniuses'), 'downwards' (at those sadly mentally compromised in one way or another), and 'sideways' at the vast majority of people like myself (IMHO!) who rely on the relatively few for our technological, etc., environment and progress, it seems clear that one simply cannot ASSUME a limitless human capacity to understand, but can only HOPE for it and keep trying. Clearly there IS much extra scope in the human brain, as evidenced by many 'savants'. Over evolutionary time, will more of us develop indefinitely superior powers? Who Knows? (BTW 'upwards, downwards and sideways' are certainly not meant in any perjorative way at all - couldn't think of an alternative way of expressing it just now!) .
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on 8 June 2015
A truly challenging and wide ranging book,accessible for the general reader.
It is well written-grammatically sound-a rare pleasure nowadays! and leavened with dashes of dry humour.
Some topics are hard to grasp -the multiverse for example-but perseverence pays off.
Finding myself with a head full of questions, I decided to aim for the top and email Professor Deutsch to seek some answers : bingo! A prompt,friendly and comprehensive reply soon followed.
This writer,despite being one of our foremost physicists,is approachable and obliging.
Other readers might wish to follow suit.
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on 23 December 2014
Tried to read it and found it tough going, but then (a year later) tried the audiobook and really enjoyed it. The material is complex and sitting in traffic while someone reads Deutsch to you gives you important time to think about it. Sure beats drivetime radio!
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on 1 June 2011
David Deutsch's excellent (2011) book: The Beginning of Infinity has been a major influence on my recent work in the field of dysology.

Deutsch's clear writing helped me to see more clearly how the philosophy of science allows us to know what makes an explanation good or bad. I used his book as a framework to criticise the current notion of so called 'crime science' that is being propagated within the Jill Dando Institute for Security and Crime Science at the University College London.

Deutsch's explanation of Karl Popper's philosophy made clear for me several things that I already knew before reading it. What Deutsch did was to enable me to understand those ideas better, and to appreciate the magnitude of their importance in helping us tell good explanations from bad.

Deutsch is an expert universal explainer of existing knowledge and adds to what we know with more than a few new and important explanations of his own. For example, he has reversed my opinion regarding the hypothesis (that has become orthodoxy) that underpins Jared Diamond's award winning book Guns Germs and Steel.

If you are seriously interested in knowing what makes a good or bad explanation for anything then I suggest you buy Deutsch's book today. I bought mine from Amazon and saved money since it is retailing at my local book shop in Nottingham England for £25.

Deutsch's Dog's Dilemma

Personally, I struggled with the explanation of infinity in this book regarding a thought experiment in a hotel with an infinite number of rooms. In the explanation a dog that is moved from room to room ceases - at some point - to exist. The dog is (or becomes) nowhere. That explanation was lost on me and seems to contradict later quantum mechanics arguments in the book that I understand are claiming that things will always exist once they have existed. But then I'm no quantum physicist. I'd like to know more about that dog and why it is no more and nowhere, just in case I end up interfering with photons and atoms in the multiverse to influence a distant - or very close - world where just such a hotel exists and where I am a dog being passed from room to room. Should I bite someone in the hotel, perhaps a version of David Deutsch, before it's too late? Would that act save me from non-existence and if so at what point must I bite before it's too late? If I do bite one of those hotel guests, making them drop me before they can pass me on, in what direction should I run so as not to cease to exist? If I run along the corridor in the same direction and at the same rate as I was being passed from room to room by the guests would I still cease to exist at some point? Would I never find my way out of the corridor of Infinity Hotel, and if so should I keep shifting my running directions so as not to cease to exist? Would the safest option be to remain static and chase my tail for amusement and exercise? But if that is the safest option then what is the difference between dogs existing in Infinity Hotel and human civilizations ceasing to exist due to their static thinking? In short, please tell me more about the poor darn dog so that the written explanation for the theory makes more sense and so that I can try to square it with other knowledge in this book about successful and unsuccessful societies.

Let me explain further what I meant by that last sentence and why the question about the dog troubles me. Deutsch makes a compellingly rational argument that good ideas have infinite reach. He goes on to make a brilliant contribution - through the clarity of his explanation of Richard Dawkins' theory and his own ideas on the subject - to our understanding of memes. To digress, it was this part of his book that sparked my own idea, as a criminologist, that perhaps crime is the ultimately selfish meme. For those unfamiliar with the concept, memes are ideas that survive in human culture in the same way as genes in do in living matter by 'selfishly' passing themselves on. Many religions, for example, are memes that contain a great deal of exhortation on the benefits of being selfless - yet take on a cultural 'life of their own' in the way they supplant other ideas in order to survive and thrive in our societies.

Ok back to my confusion, so what I can't understand from reading Deutsch's written explanation of infinity is what would happen in Infinity Hotel if it was an idea, that was so complex it had to be written down to be understood, that was passed along from room to room rather than a dog? If that idea was a good explanation for infinity, according to Deutsch's explanation it could not have infinite reach because at some point along the infinite corridor of knowledge in Infinity Hotel the idea (meme) and the paper it was written on would cease to exist if the person who thought of it died very shortly after passing it on. Would it still have the capacity for infinite reach in a universe with different physical laws? Or would it always cease to exist somewhere further along the infinite corridor of knowledge? If the meme is nowhere in Infinity Hotel and can no longer be found, and if all the guests who passed it on from room to room also passed on a deadly virus then Infinity Hotel, which can always accommodate more guests even when it is full may not always accommodate memes.

This leads me to ask the following question: Does the fact that good explanations do not have a fundamental place and are not unlimited in their scope and power within the brilliant mathematical world of Hilbert's Grand Infinity Hotel have any significance for Deutsch's paradigm shifting claim that 'explanations' have a fundamental place in the universe?

I am not so self-deluded as to suppose that the above questions pose any kind of paradox that Deutsch will now have to deal with. Rather, I suspect (I think that I know) I've made some kind of naive mistake in asking these questions - perhaps something close to Zeno's mistake (which Deutsch explains well). But that is my point, the book is written as much for non-quantum physicists as it is for them. Indeed, all the explanations are written in text, which is good because I hate equations and can't make head nor tail of most of them. But that leaves me with this Dog Dilemma, so that I'm now, in my ignorance as a social scientist, left awake at night to wonder whether there is a dog.

Infinity Hotel is obviously an analogy, but unless the analogy can tell us more about these obvious 'what happens if and why' questions about Deutsch's dog then as Deutsch himself teaches us in this book: "Arguments by analogy are fallacies. Almost any analogy between any two things contains some grain of truth, but one cannot tell what that is until one has an independent explanation for what is analogous to what and why." (p.371)

Another criticism that I do have is that when he first begins to write about abstractions Deutsch assumes the reader knows both what an abstraction is and what type of abstraction he is thinking of.

Once you read Deutsch's remarkable book, those past few paragraphs might not read anything like as crazy as you may think they are.

If you can think then I think that this book should change the way you think about thinking forever.

I did find the imagined ancient Greece philosopher's dream chapter very boring and so I skipped it because it seemed to have nothing new to add to what Deutsch had already explained in his careful and elegant explanatory prose.

But that's it for personal negative criticisms and my personal confusion. Because overall, this is - as so many others are saying - going to be a classic book. But wait. No! That's a prophecy and not a scientific prediction. So, I'm being irrational now and I could easily be very wrong. Why? Well, you'll have to read the book to find out.

I would willingly place a large wager on Professor David Deutsch - with this remarkable explanatory text - going on to inspire and guide an infinity of future thinking and knowledge progression. Deutsch is today the man to beat as the world's greatest living universal explainer. One day I would like to know his thoughts on Lovelock's Gaia Theory and on the whole notion of self-regulating complex systems - be they physical or social.

Besides the Kindle edition, I bought my hard copy of this book only three weeks ago and it's a first edition. Do you know what a first edition of Darwin's Origin of Species fetches today?

I feel like going out and snapping up another 100 of the printed version for my pension fund.
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on 26 March 2016
This is one of my favourite books. Deutsch is an engaging writer and anyone who likes this book should also read his first book, The Fabric of Reality. David Deutsch made me a Popperian!
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on 22 June 2013
Problems are inevitable. But humans can always choose to tackle those problems. To do so, we need wealth and knowledge. In brief, it's a profoundly reassuring read.
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