High signal digest #17
Summary of "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch + interesting links from this week
Today at a glance:
Interesting links from this week that you might enjoy: AI, econ, TikTok
Why did I read this?
Someone recommended Deutsch last year so I read it this winter. This book is dense (for me). Deutsch covers complex ideas. In the context of AI, a friend brought it up this week so I thought I’d try to summarize it now.
What is this book about and how will you summarize it?
Deutsche attacks empiricism, inductivism, reductionism, and holism. He lays out several proofs for infinity. He shares his POV on progress and politics. Explains the multiverse, breaks down quantum mechanics, has an imaginary dialogue with Socrates, makes a claim that aesthetics are objective, and does a lot more. Flipping through my notes on the book I realize that I am still processing.
Some of his ideas may seem like tangents at first, but they are not.
So this summary will be just a few key ideas that stood out to me. There will be no quotes. He is a good writer, but I worry that the quotes are not going to do justice to his larger ideas without quoting half a page (too long for our email). Bottom line is if this is interesting - check out the book and form your own POV.
Ideas that stood out:
knowledge is derived from theories, not just from our senses (empiricism)
progress is a result of humans searching for good explanations
knowledge grows because we correct errors in our theories over time
problems are inevitable. All problems can be solved. Anything that is not forbidden by nature can be solved
people are universal constructors. We are capable of understanding and building anything that obeys the laws of nature. People are capable of creating unlimited progress
Universality is the tendency of some systems to improve to such a degree that they become universal in some domain
AI field made no progress so far because we do not understand how creativity works. Once we do, we can program it
Deutsche proposes a test for AI to just feed it random #s (no human input/knowledge) and if AI can self-generate knowledge - we have arrived1
Principle of optimism: all evil is caused by insufficient knowledge
Good decision and policy making isn’t a process of picking from a fixed set of choices. It is also the creation of new options.
Rational and democratic decision making in groups is impossible
Good political institutions are those that make it easy to detect whether a ruler/policy is a mistake and to remove ruler/policy without violence when it is a mistake
tldr: focus on firing bad leaders, not searching for good ones
Culture consists of memes (ideas). Biological evolution is a preface to the idea evolution. memes have a replication mechanics and exist in mental/physical form. Creativity is a mechanism to download memes and thereby create knowledge