Monthly Archives: April 2015

David Deutsch – The Beginning of Infinity

David Deutsch is an Oxford University Physicist who specialises in quantum computation and wrote a totally brilliant book in the late 90s called The Fabric of Reality.

I’ve just started to re-read a recent book of his which was given to me as a present and which I absolutely hated, hated, hated first time round. And so I only got about a third of the way through it before I gave up. This time, however, I decided to start from the back. I’ve now done three chapters from the back and I’ve decided that while his style is, as ever, difficult (too many repetitions/verbal-illustrations, making the same point in slightly different ways – but you have to be careful because sometimes he slips something new into one of the apparent repetitions…) he actually has a very interesting take on human development – particularly the development of thought and creativity – which culminated in ‘The Enlightenment’ and its aftermath and which he believes is going (in some form or another…) to infinity.

But at the back of the book is a paean to Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man.  Deutsch uses this as a jumping off point to contrast ‘static’ societies – which inevitably disintegrate – with ‘dynamic’ ones which have a chance to survive and grow and develop further. Both types of society inevitably display the ‘creativity’ with which evolution has endowed the species, but the creativity of static societies is mainly aimed at finding more creative ways of remaining static – not rocking the boat. You can think of the creativity that goes into the way people find ways of not being different from each other, or hiding their differences, especially of ideas.

I, personally, used to think in terms of ‘culture bound’ versus ‘free thinking’. And it is clear that even in our relatively dynamic allegedly ‘post-enlightenment’ societies, many, and maybe even the majority, of individual people are ‘culture bound’ and frown on differences. Try not to stand out – except maybe as holier than the Pope. This is so obvious in recent American Tea-Party and now mainstream Republicanism – but you find it everywhere – including among good friends. And any religion tends that way.

David Deutsch is an avowed libertarian, as well as a brilliant Oxford theoretical quantum physicist. And it shows. Particularly over the issue of climate change, which he does not deny is happening and which human beings are causing. Simple school-level physics, he points out, clearly demonstrates that carbon gases gases like CO2 (and methane, etc) must exert a powerful greenhouse effect. But he believes that we should be making no efforts which would lead to a cessation of ‘growth’ and general (energy-dependent) development. He feels that avoiding the use of fossil fuels is not the way to go. (And, anyway, I think he thinks what I think – that it is just not going to happen… so…).  He says that irrespective of the causes of climate change and global warming, what we have urgently to do is deal with its reality.  By which he means find ways to ameliorate the effects (eg on agriculture, sea level rise, oceanic acidification (carbonic acid) extinction of sea creatures, etc, etc,) and mainly, but mainly, find ways to survive it.

He points out that humankind spends hardly any money and research efforts into doing those things which will help us survive climate change – and that is where we should be concentrating our money and effort, rather than aiming to do things (but not actually doing them) that would lead us back to pre-industrial-type living and a (much smaller – come back Malthus, all is forgiven) static society. Actually he didn’t quite say all of that.  I’ve embellished.

So I’m going to continue reading this recent second book of David Deutsch. From the back. I know from my initial attempts at reading it from the front that this quirky book is not at all about climate change. It goes well beyond that. It is called The Beginning of Infinity. It is now available as a cheapish paperback. One of the difficulties I have had in reading it is due to my own copy being a bloody hardback. Less easy in bed. It is also available in Kindle – but I wouldn’t recommend that for this as you may need to go backwards and forwards.


I gave up again…