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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars oh yeah this is it
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...
Published on 29 Mar 2011 by Popinjay

34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating and Dissatisfying!
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...
Published on 8 Aug 2011 by David E. Perkins

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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts off great but disappointing in the end, 12 May 2011
ChrisF (Colorado, USA) - See all my reviews
I ran across "The Fabric of Reality" a few months ago and found that book profoundly influencing. The last book I read with that impact was 12 years ago. So when I discovered the "sequel" available from the UK I immediately ordered it.

The first half was near the same level as "Fabric" and I cherished the time reading it. Then somewhere in the middle (around the Star Trek episode) it seemed to go astray. Perhaps it was the non-traditional presentation (parable-like, then a Plato dialogue). The content didn't seem up to snuff either (or perhaps it was just the presentation that spoiled it).

Anyhow, I'd heartily recommend the original, "The Fabric of Reality" and suggest a bit of caution with this new one.
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14 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I Feel Like a Heretic But... This Book Isn't That Great, 17 July 2011
I like everything that David Deutsch likes: Popper, Epistemology, Evolution, Multiverse Theory etc. (although I don't particularly like Dawkins [or dislike him either]).

If you check out my other reviews, you'll see I like science writers like Ridley, Pinker etc. - I read their books and gave them five stars. I was fully prepared to do the same with Deutsch but I found I couldn't. Why?

The main reason would be, that Deutsch is not at all as nimble a prosecrafter as Ridley or Pinker. Nor does he appear to be particularly accustomed to anticipating what his audience will want to read, or why. With other science writers, the craft their prose so that the science that they narrate will fit effortlessly with their prose.

Not so with Deutsch: The prose is bland, drawn-out and full of immediate observations that are either not concluded upon or turn out to be only marginally relevant to the point. This book reads more like Deutsch is throwing us random tidbits of science expecting us to be interested simply because it is science. For tips on how to improve, he could look to other science writers who define a concept and them cram a lot of material in there *as long as it fits with the concept*. For example, in Ridley's 'The Rational Optimist' the concept is, that it is rational to be an optimist. Ridley then fits the following themes in there:

- Evolution (things get better)
- History (things get better)
- Economics (the pie grows)
- Global warming (it won't be the end of the world)

All in a neat package. Not so with Deutsch: His chapters bear little continuity or common themes. At the end of some chapters, it is almost as if Deutsch himself is a little quizzical as to how this chapter is going to fit into the book. Which is kind of a let-down after you've just been through the strained prose.

PS: And on the topic of other reviews, what's up with the many users on here whoose ONLY amazon review is a five-star review of this book?
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book may change the world, 30 Jun 2011
David Deutsch's explanation of the transforming power of knowledge to change not only ourselves, but everything around us, has the potential to challenge and eliminate multiple parochial beliefs that hinder humanity's pursuit of its highest moral purposes.

Our current understanding of the laws of physics is that they describe a world, the structure of which can be modeled by general purpose (universal) computers as long as they have sufficient memory and processing speed. This was explained in David Deutsch's first book, The Fabric of Reality: Towards a Theory of Everything, and in this new masterpiece, The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform The World (Allen Lane Science).

What logically follows is that with the aid of computers that increase our own effective memory capacity and speed, human beings can become increasingly powerful universal computers, thereby gaining the ability to model and understand, with ever increasing accuracy, all aspects of reality.

But current laptops are also universal computers and their speed and memory capacity can be increased, as well. So what is the difference between us and them?

According to David Deutsch, it is our ability to explain things. We do not yet understand how to design this ability to explain things, otherwise we would be able to create computers that are intelligent, though David Deutsch has no doubt that one day we will.

Our ability to explain is a precious evolutionary advance with far-reaching consequences. This is so because the ability to explain one aspect of reality can have universal reach (apply not just to the circumstances that the explanation was designed for, but to the rest of the universe, as well, if the explanation correctly incorporates aspects of the universal laws of physics).

For example, understanding that the seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth relative to the sun allows us not only to understand the change of seasons on the planet earth, but also the universal idea that planets orbiting distant stars throughout the universe have changing seasons, even if we never experience any of their different seasons. David Deutsch points out that physicists in a laboratory have created temperatures so low that there is no natural state of the universe in which these temperatures are found. Though we may have initially wanted to learn about refrigeration and heating to be able to protect our food, regulate climate in our homes, and other reasons specific to survival: As far as we know it is possible that these extremely cold temperatures have never existed before in the history of the universe.

So the extent of our past experience or the details of our evolutionary history do not limit what we can know or do, because our ideas can correctly incorporate aspects of the universal laws of physics, which then give these same ideas unlimited reach to apply whenever and wherever a particular law of physics is relevant, throughout the universe. And this idea has immense consequences.

For example, we can explain phenomena well beyond the evolutionary environment that led to the design of our brain. Although our genes influence us, we are not ultimately limited by them because, for example, we can learn about the universal properties of self-reproducing objects (like DNA) and so learn to understand the mechanisms of genes, increasingly giving us the ability to change them if we do not like their effect. Evolution therefore puts no arbitrary restriction on what we can know or do, because human explanations can include truth-content about Nature itself, and so can reach beyond the parochial experiences that motivated us to create an understanding of them.

I am reminded of an art historian who told me that no brilliant artist fully understands his own work of art. Good knowledge, like good art, reaches beyond its creator or its appearance. As David Deutsch indirectly points out, my teacher was quite right because works of art contain knowledge, not only about the physical world but about beauty itself, which he argues is as real as prime numbers and many other abstractions. Hence they can influence us well-beyond the intention of the artist, just as the explanation of the seasons applies universally to planets throughout the universe, though we developed it to understand only our own.

To the extent that our explanations correctly utilize aspects of the laws of physics, they contain the truth that makes them apply always and everywhere in relevant circumstances. This is so because truth is invariant with respect to time and space -- it never changes. Therefore, explanations with truth-content also have aspects that are invariant. They are impossible to change without making them less true; that is, ruining their explanatory content. So, for example, good explanations are well-adapted to surviving criticism in minds that think about them, regardless of the person who does the thinking.

Because of this timeless, unvarying quality, good explanations become an essential accumulating part of the reality that they also explain, as bad ideas are eliminated and good ideas survive the criticism that they are subjected to within minds. This implies that there can be evolutionary advances in ideas and subsequent problems that we can consider and solve.

But where do new ideas come from? David Deutsch explains that they come from previous knowledge subjected to random variation (essentially evolutionary mutations in ideas) and recombination, so there is really no limit on our ability to come up with new possible explanations for things -- no limit on our ability to guess an explanation for something -- ultimately because random variations are also limitless.

This is so even though most guesses are not improvements. The crucial part in this rational process is "error-correction". After trying (and letting others try) to refute a new theory -- that is, criticize it by finding a logical or experimental contradiction in it -- if it survives criticism then it becomes the best explanation that we can think of -- the one we use, once other rival explanations are refuted. David Deutsch argues that new knowledge comes from random variations applied to previous knowledge -- what the philosopher of science Karl Popper (and David Deutsch borrowing from him) call "conjectures".

David Deutsch points out some profound consequences of the above worldview. If our ability to explain things with ever-increasing accuracy is true, then our ability to use that knowledge to make things better is limitless as well. Not only are we universal computers (that can potentially explain any phenomena in the universe), we are then also universal constructors of material objects. We can make use of our explanations to create anything that is not forbidden by the laws of physics. That includes societies with more physical resources, subject only to the limitations imposed by the fixed laws of physics, not biological or ecological limitations or other seeming barriers to improvement.

So "spaceship earth" (the idea that the earth has precious resources specifically needed by human beings) is a myth. David Deutsch points out that it would be entirely feasible to survive in the darkest places in the universe once we have developed the correct knowledge. And we currently survive where we do now not because of a particular accident of available resources but rather because of our ability to transform poor resources to make an environment that is hospitable to humans. We survive because of what our knowledge has done, when before us our evolutionary ancestors lived a horrid, meager, Malthusian existence, where any improvement in resource availability was soon taken away by a consequent population increase.

There are nonetheless multiple threats to us. But if David Deutsch is correct, then all of these threats, moral or otherwise, come from a lack of knowledge, not from any foundational evil that must ultimately cause us to fail. He points out that the great leap forward of the West occurred during the Western Enlightenment, not because of resource availability in Europe, as some have claimed, but rather because of a change in mind-set in which people stopped seeking truth from authority (or other supposedly justified sources), but instead adopted an attitude of correcting errors in ideas, regardless of their source.

David Deutsch points out that a good political system has certain similar characteristics to a scientific research program, ultimately because both derive from Enlightenment ideas. Using our democracies, if a politician makes decisions that are not good (just like if a scientist comes up with an explanation that does not work) the important thing is that we can non-violently vote the politician out of office (or in the case of the scientist, non-violently challenge a scientifically bad idea.) Non-violent error correction (not justification of ideas by some other authoritative idea or by some authority, David Deutsch explains) is the key part of any moral, political, or scientific process that can grow knowledge.

David Deutsch's brilliant book, The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform The World (Allen Lane Science), is a tour de force and is essential reading for those who recognize the ennobling aspects of rational thinking and for those who are tired of hearing ultimately irrational explanations of inherent limitations on what we can imagine or do. David Deutsch reminds us that the cause of suffering is actually stagnation and ignorance rather than progress and knowledge growth. If we reach beyond the mistaken parochial thinking that threatens the growth of knowledge, we humans can have a bright and exciting future as intelligent moral beings in the world -- and in the universe.

As anyone who has seen Professor Deutsch speak will have noticed (see, for example, his TED talk on "Our place in the cosmos"), David Deutsch has an awe-inspiringly brilliant mind. The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform The World (Allen Lane Science) is not one of those quick, cute books you enjoy then forget; it's the kind of book you read and re-read, one that stays with you, informing your thinking long into the future. I myself have been profoundly influenced by David Deutsch's ideas, and I suspect that if you read this book, you will be too. Indeed, I'd go so far as to predict that this book will still be being read generations from now. It's that good.

Books cited in this review: The Fabric of Reality: Towards a Theory of Everything; The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform The World (Allen Lane Science)
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6 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I beg to differ, 3 Aug 2011
Fredrick S. Ware "Dawa Gompa" (Paris France) - See all my reviews
poorly written, poorly argued, poorly explained, illustrated,
bad explanation of the theory of explanations

This is NOT a book of philosophy about a topic of the subject of Philosophy of Science.
Moreover, the book does not argue its author's place in the history of ideas regarding this very specialized topic.

Given David's prior book, one might surmise, imagine, a sort of automated, computationally driven-justified "explanation automate" ; to take up one of his paper's musings, a universal argument "constructor".

Hélas, his work does not aspire to those lofty heights of universality.

No, it seems to be a "flirting" with important ideas that typically (based on a careful analysis-reading of David's prior book's Bibliography) suggests that he's "rehashing" while attempting to innovate on a whole BUNCH of ideas that have roots in perennial philosophical questions, while being the major contemporary "jump off points" in the physician's musings over things philosophical.

And that is just the problem.

THis book attempts to say something "philosophical", indeed, meta-physical without engaging much of any of the historical, nor contemporary, traditions of argument on those subjects.

Moreover, why not extrapolate all that out to pronounce oneself on various subjects better handled (even in terms of offering vague generalizations to "perennial" questions) by human, natural, and other physical sciences.

One is even tempted to ask David if he's read - hence factored in to his "good explanations" - the reasoning of a very famous book, Hamlet's Mill, which is written for cosmologists, by philosophers of cosmology, and positions a number of questions that - as foundational - must be "resolved", or buried via "proofs" :-) by the astronists, cosmologists, of our days.

To push it all off and hope for cogent answers by Nobel Laureates, and wannabees, in physics, relativity, quantum, won't go the route.

Ironically, David doesn't even MENTION "mind" ! Nope, the epistemological questions are not even considered - swept away by the foundational presuppositions of Popperian meanderings.

This is the point.

Good explanation is NOT speculative meandering across and into a number of subjects. That is called "glossing" and that which comes from that: glossalia.

This book needed the help of peers, others who would have added a critical eye to that which was pronounced.

David's Oracular pronouncements remind one of those of the Phythia, having inhaled a bit too much methane from the caverns at Delphi, and made some hard to defend prognostications.

Finally, if mankind should be afflicted by a 6th Extinction, will anyone be around to say, "I told you so !"

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1 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars when it comes to infinity Deutsch is out of his depth - as are we all!, 20 Dec 2012
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I looked through this book and it is a right ramble with no cohesive theme. I got bored and jumped to the Infinity chapter - the other chapters just seem to be padding to fill
out the pages to book-size.

But even that chapter was a right mess. Here is what I've said about it on a forum - no-one has yet disagreed with me:

"I think we're assuming in this discussion that mathematicians know
the rules for division by 0, multiplication by infinity etc

They don't. Or if they say they do, they are really saying: "This is
the convention we've adopted so that we can stop having
infinite-headaches and get on with our day jobs."

Galileo refused to think about infinity as he said it gave him a
headache. Galileo was no fool.

Cantor didn't create a "paradise" (as Hilbert called it) of
infinities, he created an infinite hell that sent its creator to the
lunatic asylum.

Things like "infinity hotel" (so over-relied upon in David Deutsch's
book) are basically a non-sense way for us lowly humans to imagine we
can understand such things that reach to the divine. Deutsch in that
book ("The beginnings of infinity") shows a worrying misunderstanding
of the logic of finitism. Deutsch seems to be under the illusion he is
a greater mathematician than Archimedes was."

Deutsch has recently added his finger pointing at the mystery of the 2nd law of
thermodynamics, as thousands have done before him over the centuries.
I would lay a large wager that Deutsch will come up with nothing
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0 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nick's Gift, 9 Jan 2012
Christine D. Swann "Micki205" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This was a gift bought from my son-in-law's Christmas List. I can only say that from a price and delivery point of view this was perfect. Nick was really pleased to receive this and is reading it as I write...but I am unable to comment on the book's contents as I haven't yet read it myself.
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1 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Infinity is a very long time, 18 Feb 2012
This review is from: The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform The World (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)
On the front cover of"The Beginning of Infinity" a newspaper quotation claims:'A dazzling book full of huge ideas.....'.Well, this may well be true, but I found the prose to be far from dazzling; indeed, it was turgid in the extreme!My eyes would never stay open long enough to be dazzled by anything of interest this book might contain. Very disappointing.
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