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The Beginning of Infinity

Explanations That Transform the World

By David Deutsch
16-minute read
Audio available
The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch

Everyday, we benefit from huge advances in both scientific theory and practice. What triggered this progress? In The Beginning of Infinity (2011) – a journey through the fundamental fields of science and philosophy – physicist David Deutsch argues that all progress results from one single human activity: the quest for explanations. Human creativity opens up limitless opportunities for progress, making knowledge the “beginning of infinity.”

  • Fans of science and philosophy
  • Anyone fascinated by the power of knowledge and creativity
  • Readers interested in the future of our species

David Deutsch is a highly influential researcher in the field of quantum physics. He lives and works in Oxford where he has been a visiting professor of physics since 1999. In 1998, Deutsch was awarded the Institute of Physics’ Paul Dirac Prize and Medal, one of the top awards for theoretical physics.

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The Beginning of Infinity

Explanations That Transform the World

By David Deutsch
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch
Synopsis

Everyday, we benefit from huge advances in both scientific theory and practice. What triggered this progress? In The Beginning of Infinity (2011) – a journey through the fundamental fields of science and philosophy – physicist David Deutsch argues that all progress results from one single human activity: the quest for explanations. Human creativity opens up limitless opportunities for progress, making knowledge the “beginning of infinity.”

Key idea 1 of 10

Knowledge is not only derived from experience, but also from theories.

No human has ever stepped on the surface of a star, let alone visited its core. And yet scientists know a lot about what’s happening deep inside stars, light years away.

How come?

Because experiencing is not the only way of knowing.

Empiricism is a theory that claims we derive all our knowledge from sensory experience – but as you’ll see, this is wrong.

Empiricists imagine that our mind is like a blank piece of paper on which sensory experiences are written. This would mean that we are the passive recipients of knowledge, not its creators.

But contrary to the empiricist view, our knowledge can’t be based on individual observations alone.

For instance, even though you’ve seen the sun rise repeatedly, you don’t base your knowledge that it will rise tomorrow solely on these observations. If you did, on a cloudy day you’d assume the sun was not rising because you couldn’t see it!

Moreover, appearances can be deceptive. For example, the Earth looks and feels as if it is immobile, even though it is really rotating.

So although experience is essential to science, it is not the source from which knowledge is derived. If it was, our knowledge of the stars, for example, would be limited to what we learn from gazing at the night skies.

Instead, the real source of our knowledge is theory and conjecture.

Consider the stars again: the fact that at their core is an energy source equivalent to billions of power plants is something we can’t see. We know it only from theory.

Such scientific theories are derived from conjectures – guesswork and speculation – which can be tested by experience in the form of observations and experiments.

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