David Deutsch 2011. The Beginning of Infinity. Explanations that transform the World. London: Allen Lane. 485 pp.

The Beginning of Infinity is a long essay setting out our pursuit of good explanations through an exposition of the growth of our knowledge, and the mathematical and physical conditions of our universe. A short summary of might be: Are the limits of our understanding infinite? If so, literally anything is not just possible, but inevitable.

David Deutsch charts our progress from the ancient Greek philosophers and Galileo Galilei as a continual Enlightenment (the pursuit of good explanations through a tradition of critical thinking, not reliance on authority). Good explanations are those that are hard to vary while still accounting for the phenomenon in question. Others would call The Enlightenment “science” but David Deutsch gives a fiercely logical exposition of what science is all about while rarely using the word. I’ve been chewing away at this since Skip Woolley gave it to me in December 2014. Each time I return to a chapter of The Beginning of Infinity I understand a bit more. These notes have been in continual revision. Each chapter concludes with a short summary - very useful for return visits.

If an explanation could easily explain anything in the given field, then it usually explains nothing. (p. 22)

An early chapter, The Reach of Explanations is important in establishing the ground rules: the establishment of a tradition of criticism (not authority) is transformative and is a crucial element of The Beginning of Infinity. Induction is put to rest in a way that I had not fully grasped earlier.

A chapter on Choices puts modern politics in it’s appropriately petty place. Among other insights it is a logical outcome that proportional voting systems inevitably result in the third most popular party having a greater say than the more popular parties, since they have the final say in forming government. (The shrill anti-Greens commentary from conservative parties and the right wing press in Australia and elsewhere should read and think a little more widely. Never mind, as David Deutsch convincingly explains, that way of thinking, being reliant on authority and eschewing self-criticism, will ultimately fall by the wayside.)