The Beginning of Infinity

not by michael mulvey

The Beginning of Infinity is a popular science book by physicist David Deutsch that was published in 2011. Deutsch views the enlightenment of the 18th century as near the beginning of an infinite sequence of purposeful knowledge creation. Knowledge here consists of information with good explanatory function that is resistant to falsifiability. Any real process physically possible is able to be performed provided the knowledge to do so has been acquired.

The enlightenment set up the conditions for knowledge creation which disrupted the static societies that previously existed. These conditions are the valuing of creativity and the free and open debate that exposed ideas to criticism to reveal those good explanatory ideas that naturally resist being falsified due to their having basis in reality. Deutsch points to previous moments in history, such as Renaissance Florence and Plato’s Academy in Golden age Athens, where this process almost got underway before succumbing to their static societies’ resistance to change.

The source of intelligence is more complicated than brute computational power, Deutsch conjectures, and he points to the lack of progress in Turing test AI programs in the six decades since the Turing test was first proposed. What matters for knowledge creation, Deutsch says, is creativity. New ideas that provide good explanations for phenomena require out side the box thinking as the unknown is not easily predicted from past experience. To test this Deutsch suggests an AI behavioral evolution program for robot locomation should be fed random numbers to see if knowledge spontaneously arises without inadvertent contamination from a human programmer’s creative input. If it did Deutsch would concede that intelligence is not as difficult a problem as he currently thinks it is.

Deutsch sees quantum superpositions as evidence for his many worlds quantum multiverse, where everything physically possible occurs in an infinite branching of alternate histories. Deutsch argues that a great deal of fiction is close to a fact somewhere in the multiverse. Deutsch extols the usefulness of the concept of fungibility in quantum transactions, his universes and the particles they contain are fungible in their interactions across the multiverse structure. Deutsch explains that interference offers evidence for this multiverse phenomenon where alternate histories affect one another without allowing the passage of information, as they fungibly intertwine again shortly after experiencing alternate events. According to Deutsch, our perspective on any object we detect with our senses is just a single universe slice of a much larger quantum multiverse object.

Deutsch speculates on the process of human-culture development from a genetic basis through to a memetic emergence. This emergence lead to the creation of static societies where innovation occurs, but most of the time at a rate too slow for individuals to notice during their life times. It was only at the point where knowledge of how to purposefully create new knowledge through good explanations was acquired that the beginning of infinity took off during the enlightenment. His explanation for human creativity is that it evolved as a way to faithfully reproduce existing memes, as this would require creative intelligence to produce a refined rule set that would more faithfully reproduce the existing memes that happened to confer benefit (and all the other memes too). From this increased creative ability, the ability to create new memes emerged and humans thus became universal constructors and technological development accelerated.

Deutsch criticizes Jared Diamond’s resource luck theories as to why the West came to dominate the other continents outlined in his book ‘Guns Germs & Steel.’ For Deutsch the sustained creation of knowledge could have arisen anywhere and lead to a beginning of infinity, it just happened to arise in Europe first. Deutsch extols the philosophical concept of optimism where although problems are inevitable, solutions will always exist provided the right knowledge is sought out and acquired.

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