26 December 2011

More on 'The Beginning of Infinity'

David Deutsch's book 'The Beginning of Infinity' has a fairly straightforward message when you boil it down.  He believes that a scientific worldview that looks to create and continually improve the explanations of how things work leads to an infinite chain of discovery and improvement.  The subtitle 'Explanations that Transform the World' indicates the importance he places on science as explanation - which depends both on the creative act of conjecture and the continual open-minded questioning and criticism that must test every explanation and reject those that don't hold water.  As I mention in the previous post, he is open to abstract emergence as necessary part of explanations, and in fact appears to feel that essentially everything (from laws of physics to people) are abstractions.

Deutsch makes some leaps here that I found more based on faith than on any proof of argument - such as the notion that humans are 'universal explainers' capable of understanding and explaining anything.  On page 60, he writes "if the claim is that we may be qualitatively unable to understand what some other forms of intelligence can - if our disability cannot be remedied by mere automation - then this is just another claim that the world is not explicable.  Indeed it is tantamount to an appeal to the supernatural..."  He seems to be saying that unless everything is fully explicable by humans then there's no point in explaining anything, which I find unconvincing.

I am interested in the comparison of the idea of infinity with the idea of 'universal' - as Deutsch explains Cantor's work, there are levels of infinity - countable infinities and uncountable.  It seems possible to me that an infinite part of the world could be explained by human intelligence, and yet there could be infinities more...

In any case, for this blog I like the fact that Deutsch sees human intelligence as key, and in particular the importance of the creative act.  At this point it's a mystery we don't understand - how new ideas are generated... but it does feel like the future depends on cultivating the best new explanations.

No comments: