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Worthwhile and Challenging but not without Flaws
on 22 October 2011
The book is worthwhile and challenging, but not without flaws. The main premise is that human progress has been driven by the quest for good explanations, and the author makes his case by looking across a very wide range of endeavours and pursuits. Where he sticks to this task, many of the arguments are very powerful, and I found myself convinced, for example by chapters on `the evolution of creativity' and `sustainability'. I should confess at this point that I had been hoping to read an update and broadening of the author's earlier book, `The Fabric of Reality', and the few chapters which might have fitted into such a work, I also found satisfying.
However, the author ranges very broadly, and the chapters, hardly related to the main premise, had a generally negative impact on me. For example, he includes a chapter on choice concerning voting systems, which I thought irrelevant to the main thrust of the book, and uniquely for the author, it did not seem to have been thought through; he appears to put forward the argument prevalent before the Great Reform Act that it did not matter how MPs were chosen as long as they formed a body capable of weighing the matters before them. In addition, Professor Deutsch has given space to attacks on those who hold to different beliefs and philosophies to himself, such as empiricists, instrumentalists, and those of religious belief. I would be on his side in at least some of these cases, but the problem is that he is only able to make his views known forcefully, but cannot possibly present the fully developed arguments that characterise the rest of the book. The effect of what I have to call digressions, together with the 25 page dialogue with Socrates, is to make the book significantly longer than it might have been. To do justice to it, I found myself reading one or two chapters at a time so I read it over a time span of 3 weeks. As a result of this and what I found a slightly haphazard ordering of the chapters, I found myself referring back far more often than normal. I think that with tighter editing, the book could have been shortened by close to a third, reducing my problems significantly, and I really hope that this is done for some future edition.