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The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch

This is not an easy book to read. I like that it uses plain language, but the concepts take time to digest. I’m most interested in the theory of knowledge aspect, but the book goes much more than this. To be honest I only briefly skim through it. Maybe I got 5% of it. Definitely worth coming back.

Notes #

These are a combination of highlights from the book and my own notes.

  • “Scientific theories are explanations: assertions about what is out there and how it behaves. Where do these theories come from? For most of the history of science, it was mistakenly believed that we ‘derive’ them from the evidence of our senses — a philosophical doctrine known as empiricism.” (p. 4)
    • [Sensory experiences] through [‘Derivation’ such as ‘Extrapolation’, ‘Generalization’ or ‘Induction’] to [Theories / knowledge of reality]
  • “Experience is not the source from which theories are derived. Its main use is to choose between theories that have already been guesses.”
    • “Nor is nature a book: one could try to ‘read’ the dots in the sky for a lifetime — many lifetime — without learning anything about what they really are.”
  • Justificationism: justify ideas as true by reference to some authoritative sources; Fallibilism: no reliable means of justifying ideas as true — they are predisposed to try to change them for better. (p. 9)
    • Seek objective knowledge — hard but attainable. Justified belief — sought by many people — is not worth seeking.
    • Beliefs cannot be justified, except in relation to other beliefs, and even then only fallibly. (p. 226)
    • For justified belief seeker, revelation does not happen when they can explain something. But rather, when a god reassures them that is true.
  • Why is science so successfully at explaining things?
    • Rebellion — “take no one’s word for it”
    • Tradition of criticism
    • Testable
    • But the board criteria does not necessarily lead to closer to the truth. Myths can meet those criteria, but can be easily adjusted. Good explanations is the key. It implies the above criteria. (p. 22)
      • “Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.” — Richard Feynman
  • Occam’s razor — simplicity is not enough. They should also be less variable (give accurate explanations.)
  • “The best explanations are the ones that are most constrained by existing knowledge.”
  • Science is not reductive. That if you understand low-level details, you’ll be able to understand high-level ones. (p. 109)
  • “All knowledge growth is by incremental improvement.” (p. 146)
  • Optimism views depend on the creation of knowledge, but we do not yet know what we have not yet discovered. (p. 206)
  • Misunderstanding are ubiquitous. Neither intelligence nor the intention to be accurate is any guarantee against them. (p. 255)
  • The way to converge with each other is to converge upon the truth. (p. 257)
  • “Rational thinking does not consist of weighing the justification of rival theories, but of using conjecture and criticism to seek the best explanation.” (p. 352)
  • It can be only rarely, if ever, that two people hold precisely the same cultural idea in their minds. (p. 355)
  • Arguments by analogy are fallacies. Almost any analogy between any two things contains some grain of truth, but one cannot tell what that is until one has an independent explanation for what is analogous to what, and why. (p. 371)
  • We do not know how creativity works. We do know it evolves within individual brains. It depends on conjecture and criticism. (p. 373)
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