90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
David Deutsch And The Beginning of Infinity

We’re talking about the scientific revolution and humanity’s place in the universe with David Deutsch, Oxford don who’s been called the founding father of quantum computing.

This composite image provided by NASA, shows a galaxy where a recent supernova probably resulted in a black hole in the bright white dot near the bottom middle of the picture. (AP)

This composite image provided by NASA, shows a galaxy where a recent supernova probably resulted in a black hole in the bright white dot near the bottom middle of the picture. (AP)

Quantum computing genius and Oxford don David Deutsch is a thinker of such scale and audaciousness he can take your breath away. His bottom line is simple and breathtaking all at once.

It’s this: human beings are the most important entities in the universe. Or as Deutsch might have it, in the “multiverse.” For eons, little changed on this planet, he says. Progress was a joke. But once we got the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution, our powers of inquiry and discovery became infinite. Without limit.

This hour On Point: David Deutsch and the beginning of infinity.

-Tom Ashbrook


David Deutsch, quantum physicist and philosopher and author of The Beginning of Infinity.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Scientist “One of the most remarkable features of science is the contrast between the enormous power of its explanations and the parochial means by which we create them. No human has ever visited a star, yet we look at dots in the sky and know they are distant white-hot nuclear furnaces. Physically, that experience consists of nothing more than brains responding to electrical impulses from our eyes –; which can detect light only when it is inside them. That it was emitted far away and long ago are not things we experience. We know them only from theory.”

The New York Times “David Deutsch’s “Beginning of Infinity” is a brilliant and exhilarating and profoundly eccentric book. It’s about everything: art, science, philosophy, history, politics, evil, death, the future, infinity, bugs, thumbs, what have you. And the business of giving it anything like the attention it deserves, in the small space allotted here, is out of the question. But I will do what I can.”

TED Talk “People have always been “yearning to know” – what the stars are; cavemen probably wanted to know how to draw better. But for the better part of human experience, we were in a “protracted stagnation” – we wished for, and failed, in progress. ”


Excerpt From The Beginning of Infinity


Progress that is both rapid enough to be noticed and stable enough to continue over many generations has been achieved only once in the history of our species. It began at approximately the time of the scientific revolution, and is still under way. It has included improvements not only in scientific understanding, but also in technology, political institutions, moral values, art, and every aspect of human welfare.

Whenever there has been progress, there have been influential thinkers who denied that it was genuine, that it was desirable, or even that the concept was meaningful. They should have known better. There is indeed an objective difference between a false explanation and a true one, between chronic failure to solve a problem and solving it, and also between wrong and right, ugly and beautiful, suffering and its alleviation – and thus between stagnation and progress in the fullest sense.

In this book I argue that all progress, both theoretical and practical, has resulted from a single human activity: the quest for what I call good explanations. Though this quest is uniquely human, its effectiveness is also a fundamental fact about reality at the most impersonal, cosmic level – namely that it conforms to universal laws of nature that are indeed good explanations. This simple relationship between the cosmic and the human is a hint of a central role of people in the cosmic scheme of things.

Must progress come to an end – either in catastrophe or in some sort of completion – or is it unbounded? The answer is the latter. That unboundedness is the ‘infinity’ referred to in the title of this book. Explaining it, and the conditions under which progress can and cannot happen, entails a journey through virtually every fundamental field of science and philosophy. From each such field we learn that, although progress has no necessary end, it does have a necessary beginning: a cause, or an event with which it starts, or a necessary condition for it to take off and to thrive. Each of these beginnings is ‘the beginning of infinity’ as viewed from the perspective of that field. Many seem, superficially, to be unconnected. But they are all facets of a single attribute of reality, which I call the beginning of infinity.


The Reach of Explanations


Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it — in a decade, a century, or a millennium — we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise?

John Archibald Wheeler, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 480 (1986)

To unaided human eyes, the universe beyond our solar system looks like a few thousand glowing dots in the night sky, plus the faint, hazy streaks of the Milky Way. But if you ask an astronomer what is out there in reality, you will be told not about dots or streaks, but about stars: spheres of incandescent gas millions of kilometres in diameter and light years away from us. You will be told that the sun is a typical star, and looks different from the others only because we are much closer to it — though still some 150 million kilometres away. Yet, even at those unimaginable distances, we are confident that we know what makes stars shine: you will be told that they are powered by the nuclear energy released by transmutation — the conversion of one chemical element into another (mainly hydrogen into helium).

Some types of transmutation happen spontaneously on Earth, in the decay of radioactive elements. This was first demonstrated in 1901, by the physicists Frederick Soddy and Ernest Rutherford, but the concept of transmutation was ancient. Alchemists had dreamed for centuries of transmuting ‘base metals’, such as iron or lead, into gold. They never came close to understanding what it would take to achieve that, so they never did so. But scientists in the twentieth century did. And so do stars, when they explode as supernovae. Base metals can be transmuted into gold by stars, and by intelligent beings who understand the processes that power stars, but by nothing else in the universe.

As for the Milky Way, you will be told that, despite its insubstantial appearance, it is the most massive object that we can see with the naked eye: a galaxy that includes stars by the hundreds of billions, bound by their mutual gravitation across tens of thousands of light years. We are seeing it from the inside, because we are part of it. You will be told that, although our night sky appears serene and largely changeless, the universe is seething with violent activity. Even a typical star converts millions of tonnes of mass into energy every second, with each gram releasing as much energy as an atom bomb. You will be told that within the range of our best telescopes, which can see more galaxies than there are stars in our galaxy, there are several supernova explosions per second, each briefly brighter than all the other stars in its galaxy put together. We do not know where life and intelligence exist, if at all, outside our solar system, so we do not know how many of those explosions are horrendous tragedies. But we do know that a supernova devastates all the planets that may be orbiting it, wiping out all life that may exist there — including any intelligent beings, unless they have technology far superior to ours. Its neutrino radiation alone would kill a human at a range of billions of kilometres, even if that entire distance were filled with lead shielding. Yet we owe our existence to supernovae: they are the source, through transmutation, of most of the elements of which our bodies, and our planet, are composed.

There are phenomena that outshine supernovae. In March 2008 an X-ray telescope in Earth orbit detected an explosion of a type known as a ‘gamma-ray burst’, 7.5 billion light years away. That is halfway across the known universe. It was probably a single star collapsing to form a black hole — an object whose gravity is so intense that not even light can escape from its interior. The explosion was intrinsically brighter than a million supernovae, and would have been visible with the naked eye from Earth — though only faintly and for only a few seconds, so it is unlikely that anyone here saw it. Supernovae last longer, typically fading on a timescale of months, which allowed astronomers to see a few in our galaxy even before the invention of telescopes.

Another class of cosmic monsters, the intensely luminous objects known as quasars, are in a different league. Too distant to be seen with the naked eye, they can outshine a supernova for millions of years at a time. They are powered by massive black holes at the centres of galaxies, into which entire stars are falling — up to several per day for a large quasar — shredded by tidal effects as they spiral in. Intense magnetic fields channel some of the gravitational energy back out in the form of jets of high-energy particles, which illuminate the surrounding gas with the power of a trillion suns.

Conditions are still more extreme in the black hole’s interior (within the surface of no return known as the ‘event horizon’), where the very fabric of space and time may be being ripped apart. All this is happening in a relentlessly expanding universe that began about fourteen billion years ago with an all-encompassing explosion, the Big Bang, that makes all the other phenomena I have described seem mild and inconsequential by comparison. And that whole universe is just a sliver of an enormously larger entity, the multiverse, which includes vast numbers of such universes.

The physical world is not only much bigger and more violent than it once seemed, it is also immensely richer in detail, diversity and incident. Yet it all proceeds according to elegant laws of physics that we understand in some depth. I do not know which is more awesome: the phenomena themselves or the fact that we know so much about them.

How do we know? One of the most remarkable things about science is the contrast between the enormous reach and power of our best theories and the precarious, local means by which we create them. No human has ever been at the surface of a star, let alone visited the core where the transmutation happens and the energy is produced. Yet we see those cold dots in our sky and know that we are looking at the white-hot surfaces of distant nuclear furnaces. Physically, that experience consists of nothing other than our brains responding to electrical impulses from our eyes. And eyes can detect only light that is inside them at the time. The fact that the light was emitted very far away and long ago, and that much more was happening there than just the emission of light — those are not things that we see. We know them only from theory.

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:


For example, the philosopher John Locke wrote in 1689 that the mind is like ‘white paper’ on to which sensory experience writes, and that that is where all our knowledge of the physical world comes from. Another empiricist metaphor was that one could read knowledge from the ‘Book of Nature’ by making observations. Either way, the discoverer of knowledge is its passive recipient, not its creator.

But, in reality, scientific theories are not ‘derived’ from anything. We do not read them in nature, nor does nature write them into us. They are guesses — bold conjectures. Human minds create them by rearranging, combining, altering and adding to existing ideas with the intention of improving upon them. We do not begin with ‘white paper’ at birth, but with inborn expectations and intentions and an innate ability to improve upon them using thought and experience. Experience is indeed essential to science, but its role is different from that supposed by empiricism. It is not the source from which theories are derived. Its main use is to choose between theories that have already been guessed. That is what ‘learning from experience’ is.

However, that was not properly understood until the mid twentieth century with the work of the philosopher Karl Popper. So historically it was empiricism that first provided a plausible defence for experimental science as we now know it. Empiricist philosophers criticized and rejected traditional approaches to knowledge such as deference to the authority of holy books and other ancient writings, as well as human authorities such as priests and academics, and belief in traditional lore, rules of thumb and hearsay. Empiricism also contradicted the opposing and surprisingly persistent idea that the senses are little more than sources of error to be ignored. And it was optimistic, being all about obtaining new knowledge, in contrast with the medieval fatalism that had expected everything important to be known already. Thus, despite being quite wrong about where scientific knowledge comes from, empiricism was a great step forward in both the philosophy and the history of science. Nevertheless, the question that sceptics (friendly and unfriendly) raised from the outset always remained: how can knowledge of what has not been experienced possibly be ‘derived’ from what has? What sort of thinking could possibly constitute a valid derivation of the one from the other? No one would expect to deduce the geography of Mars from a map of Earth, so why should we expect to be able to learn about physics on Mars from experiments done on Earth? Evidently, logical deduction alone would not do, because there is a logical gap: no amount of deduction applied to statements describing a set of experiences can reach a conclusion about anything other than those experiences.

The conventional wisdom was that the key is repetition: if one repeatedly has similar experiences under similar circumstances, then one is supposed to ‘extrapolate’ or ‘generalize’ that pattern and predict that it will continue. For instance, why do we expect the sun to rise tomorrow morning? Because in the past (so the argument goes) we have seen it do so whenever we have looked at the morning sky. From this we supposedly ‘derive’ the theory that under similar circumstances we shall always have that experience, or that we probably shall. On each occasion when that prediction comes true, and provided that it never fails, the probability that it will always come true is supposed to increase. Thus one supposedly obtains ever more reliable knowledge of the future from the past, and of the general from the particular. That alleged process was called ‘inductive inference’ or ‘induction’, and the doctrine that scientific theories are obtained in that way is called inductivism. To bridge the logical gap, some inductivists imagine that there is a principle of nature — the ‘principle of induction’ — that makes inductive inferences likely to be true. ‘The future will resemble the past’ is one popular version of this, and one could add ‘the distant resembles the near,’ ‘the unseen resembles the seen’ and so on.

But no one has ever managed to formulate a ‘principle of induction’ that is usable in practice for obtaining scientific theories from experiences. Historically, criticism of inductivism has focused on that failure, and on the logical gap that cannot be bridged. But that lets inductivism off far too lightly. For it concedes inductivism’s two most serious misconceptions.

First, inductivism purports to explain how science obtains predictions about experiences. But most of our theoretical knowledge simply does not take that form. Scientific explanations are about reality, most of which does not consist of anyone’s experiences. Astrophysics is not primarily about us (what we shall see if we look at the sky), but about what stars are: their composition and what makes them shine, and how they formed, and the universal laws of physics under which that happened. Most of that has never been observed: no one has experienced a billion years, or a light year; no one could have been present at the Big Bang; no one will ever touch a law of physics — except in their minds, through theory. All our predictions of how things will look are deduced from such explanations of how things are. So inductivism fails even to address how we can know about stars and the universe, as distinct from just dots in the sky.

The second fundamental misconception in inductivism is that scientific theories predict that ‘the future will resemble the past’, and that ‘the unseen resembles the seen’ and so on. (Or that it ‘probably’ will.) But in reality the future is unlike the past, the unseen very different from the seen. Science often predicts — and brings about — phenomena spectacularly different from anything that has been experienced before. For millennia people dreamed about flying, but they experienced only falling. Then they discovered good explanatory theories about flying, and then they flew — in that order. Before 1945, no human being had ever observed a nuclear-fission (atomic-bomb) explosion; there may never have been one in the history of the universe. Yet the first such explosion, and the conditions under which it would occur, had been accurately predicted — but not from the assumption that the future would be like the past. Even sunrise — that favourite example of inductivists — is not always observed every twenty-four hours: when viewed from orbit it may happen every ninety minutes, or not at all. And that was known from theory long before anyone had ever orbited the Earth.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • IzaB

    Tom please ask him about the use of the term multiverse. To me this is the stupidest term ever invented. Again the cosmologist mistook the size of the universe by several orders of magnitude, but instead of just saying that what we thought of as the universe is just one of a number of such systems, just like they not too long ago thought that the milky way was the entire universe, they say well there are a huge number of other universes. Universe means one thing, everything taken as one thing, there is nothing else. It is so stupid to use a term like multiverse. They have no idea how big the universe is because they can only see the part of it that is close enough for light to have reached us, and if you go far enough away, space is expanding faster than the speed of light so they just cannot see it. Not to mention that the totality of everything they can detect, in any way, is now assumed to comprise four percent of the universe.

    • TrentFoster44fbNAL

      Clearly a case of “The more we know, the less we know.” lol 

      • Gerald Fnord

        Not so:  the more we know, the better we know what we don’t know…understanding the Higgs boson would be nice, but not understanding it will mean less to us than (for a tired but real example) not knowing how atoms were made on a grosser level, if only to tell our watch-painters not to twirl their brushes in their lips.

        • B4Dbegin

          I guess it never occurred to you that saying “The more we know, the less we know.” Is just a ironic way of saying “the more we know, the better we know what we don’t know.” I mean the lol could have given you a hint.
          For now at least we can disagree to agree. (note to Gerald and other humor impaired: this is a quip, no need to correct it, the author was aware of it’s self-contradictory nature.)

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Multiverse means the idea of multiple universes, each with its own physical laws and properties.

      • IzaB

        Yeh, I know that Greg. Nevertheless it is just semantic slight of hand. These other “universes” if they exist, are just part of the universe, just like the milky way is just a part of the universe like all other galaxies. The universe is everything, that includes everything, even the places you can’t get from here, and that may have different local conditions. The word universe means everything turned into one.

         here is the etymology:
        1580s, “the whole world, cosmos,” from O.Fr. univers (12c.), from L. universum “the universe,” noun use of neut. of adj. universus “all together,” lit. “turned into one,” from unus “one” (see one) + versus, pp. of vertere “to turn” (see versus). Properly a loan-translation of Gk. to holon “the universe,” noun use of neut. of adj. holos “whole” (see safe (adj.)).

        The universe is a concept. The concept does no change. It is everything taken as one thing. The fact that there is much more to everything than we supposed at any particular point does not alter the fact that the universe is everything. That includes everything.

  • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

    Deutsch’s book sound absolutely fascinating.  I can’t wait to read it.

    I would ask our guest to speak of where current quantum physics stands on the notion of the big bang having arisen from a slightly asymmetrical fluctuation in the vacuum.   People speak of the impossibility of something coming from nothing, but I recall Heinz Pagels in his book THE QUANTUM CODE saying that the vacuum is seen by modern physics as a “plenum” of particles constantly being simultaneously created and destroyed.  Could an infinitesimally rare case of such creation surviving be responsible for the big bang?

    • Freefillbill

      Is it not possible that the “Big Bang” is just the myth of our time? It does come off like a colossal coping mechanism — to me. It’s like an example of minds that cannot deal with a universe that does not follow their schemes of cause and effect on a cosmic or subquantum level, attempting to deal with the limitations of their POV by making preposterous assumptions that take these same limitations and project them onto the rorschach-like ambiguity represented by our ideas about a universe.

      Every generation believed that it had the ultimate answers to what may in the end turn out to be incorrect questions about the cosmos, or that they were just around the corner from them.  I do not share this belief. I predict that eventually the “Big Bang” will be seen for what it is: a formulation of our own present limitations of insight and perception.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        The evidence for the Big Bang is that distant objects appear to be receeding from us.  The velocity of pulling away is greater in proportion to the distance.  That implies an expanding universe.  There may be a better explanation, but mere denial isn’t it.

        • Gerald Fnord

           However, mere denial is a great way of throwing the question away from the field of testable hypotheses and into the world of words, where loudness of voice or ability to hack the primate brain tends to decide things.  Some would prefer that all questions were in that realm, both because they believe that to be a more “fundamental” or “real” one than mere observations and modelling and because it is in the interest of those who are better in that realm.

          Or, more simply, if you’re not interested in what science does, science isn’t relevant to you and you don’t feel it a fit instrument for understanding.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Too true…

        • IzaB

          I don’t see denial in that statement. I just see the recognition of a patten that has played itself out over and over in the history of science. If it were possible to bet on the outcome of a few more centuries of research I would bet on those future scientist looking back on the Big Bang theory as more myth than fact. Of course this could not be proven, for now. 

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Actually, as Isaac Asimov pointed out in “The Relativity of Wrong,” our present scientific ideas may be wrong, but they are closer to right than past ideas.  Einstein isn’t a rejection of Newton; he’s a refinement.

          • at

            Which, correct as it is, has nothing to do with what was stated.

        • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

          There is also the evidence of the background radiation.  This was theorized by proponents of the Big Bang and discovered independently by astronomers who weren’t actually looking for such evidence.

      • Gerald Fnord

         Uhh…no.  No generation of physicists since Maxwell’s equations questioned Galilean invariance has believed that it had the answer to everything.

        What does “beyond our comprehension” mean?  If you mean some gnostic insight into some notional essential nature of things, sure…but that’s not what we’re on about.  We’re after making predictions and observations and constructing models.  Admittedly, there is an æsthetic bias toward theories that seem more “elegant”, but that’s not enough to make them stick if they’re not valid for the régime in which they’re believed to have validity.

        As for cause-and-effect, it seems to work very well on a macroscopic level, but we’d be happy to see where it doesn’t.  That’s the thing about physics:  it’s done by humans and gives us human rewards when we can punch holes in what other humans have decided were true.

        • Conner44

          There is obviously a big difference between what AT wrote and what you read. he wrote “Every generation believed that it had the ultimate answers to what may
          in the end turn out to be incorrect questions about the cosmos, or that
          they were just around the corner from them.” With which I neither agree or disagree personally. He probably would have been more correct if he had written that “many people” believed they had such answers or were close to them. But he didn’t write anything close to what you ascribe to him with your own phrase “the question of everything”
          Also you quote him as saying “beyond our comprehension” I looked and looked and was unable to find this phrase in his post.
          I think that for some reason you are just reacting to AT though I have never found him to be that provocative. I have noticed however that people frequently misunderstand his posts, despite the fact that he uses language quite well to explain his views.
          In fact I would say that over the years here, AT has demonstrated a rather unique view which may in fact incorporate a different form of understanding of many things. As to whether or not this as resulted in “human rewards” for him, I don’t know him personally, why don’t you ask him, instead of assuming that he is only rearranging words.

    • MC5

      Joshua don’t you think the whole, “nothing isn’t really nothing, it is a dynamic fabric of teensey almost-things that are in-the-closest existence-wise”, is really just begging the question? It’s like when a child asks. “Where did all this stuff come from?” and the parent answers, “God created it.” Then the as yet not dead child-mind says, “Where did God come from.” The adult then responds, “There are some mysteries that men are not meant to know.” or “All will be revealed when we are with God in heaven.” or some such diversion, rather than saying, “I don’t know. Nobody knows. It may be that no one every comes to know the answer to such questions and ultimately we may find all such questions incorrect in themselves in that they actually apply only to the conception of illusory assumptions. In other words: The concept that something bypasses the something-from-nothing-problem, by coming form something that is not quite something and not quite nothing just substitutes something (in the form of the “plenum of particles”) for nothing (a concept that may be valid only in relation to something else and in mathematics, being that nothing is nowhere to be found as an absolute. Even the eastern concept of a void is entirely relative and those who believe in an objective or absolute nothingness are teetering under the weight of hyperreafication. Which is to say, the as yet not dead child-mind turns to Heinz and says, “Where did the plenum of particles come from?”

      • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

        I have no objection whatsoever to this–certainly the “where did God come from?” question is a perfect example of endless-justification-by-believers-without-a-clue.  But I doubt if Heinz Pagels was that kind of thinker (he’s long dead, so we can’t ask him).  I do doubt that the modern view of the vacuum itself emerged from a vacuum, so to speak, any more than other ideas about quantum theory did so.  That said, the infinite regression of questions is something that I, unlike, say, Evangelical Christians, am quite comfortable with.  Endless enigmas appeal to a thinking mind much more than assertions of faith.  In fact, if the universe has a human symbol to “define” it, I think it would be this:


        And question and question and question …

  • Sm

    This is bullshit.

    • Cory

      What’s the matter with you?

      • Gerald Fnord

        Newton’s Fourth Law:  Don’t feed the troll.

        • http://perfectclonecomclone.blogspot.com/ comclone

          but i think it feed quickly.

    • TinTimMoney

      (irony alert) Thank you for sharing

  • Sm

    This is bullshit.

  • Sm

    you have no right \.SM

  • Sm

    you are out of ideas \.SM

  • Sm

    give up, find a new line of work \.SM

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Would you care to explain your objection?

  • Sm

    I apologize but you fail (fail{fail[fail]}) as a scientist – you are in fact no scientist at all, but you seem to have no agenda (and yet you very well do) so go to hell and read more (dumbass{dumbass[dumbass]}) \.SM

  • at

    I have a familiarity with the latest popularized concepts in cosmology, yet the only place I have ever come across the following idea is in the epigraph to a chapter of my all time favorite SciFi novel

    The Unwritten Book: Xellex — by Carlos Dwa.

    And I quote:

    “. . . The blinding flash of the obvious that seemed to escape the “greatest minds” for centuries, is the reality that a system cannot comprehend itself on its own level. Thus all their theorizing about the so called universe was, if not exactly futile, quite idiotic in its approach. No uncovered relationships about the properties of the universe, no matter how accurate or profound even if they become encyclopedic, can ever reveal anything about the objective nature of the universe as a whole. Quite simply: since there is no outside of the universe, it has no objective nature.
    Now you may be wondering, quite rightly, what this all means to you. I suggest to you that there is an example of self-similarity to be found in just this quality of the universe and a similar quality of the human mind’s assumption that it can take an objective view of anything. . . .”

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      I’m not sure what the point here is, beyond claiming that knowledge is impossible.

      • CongaMalone

        It doesn’t say that knowledge is impossible. It says that objective knowledge about the universe as a whole is impossible. The point is that the universe does not have an objective nature because there is nothing outside of it. It’s right there in plain language. I really don’t see what you problem in comprehending this is. It’s another blinding flash of the obvious that just never occurred to anyone.

    • JJJimmanyC

      AT, this is off-topic for sure, but I recently viewed a “play” by Carlos on youtube. You have probably seen it, but if you haven’t here it is.


      this is just the first part, there are six parts on youtube.

      It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen. It was like an old video of community theater from another dimension, and the audience must have at least been from Neptune. At first I thought it was some kind of historical polemic against the pope, but that’s not what it turned out to be at all.  A lot of it was funny as hell, but I had no idea what they were laughing about half the time, though I had the impression that they had some kind of inside joke going on.

      • Canadave

        That was kewl.

  • Jasoturner

    AKA, the Information Bomb.

  • Anonymous

    This may be a relevant question for Professor Deutsch:

    IF the elusive Higgs/scalar boson is detected, how would
    lingering questions regarding collapse of wave function be resolved? Does he account in his work for the arguably tentative nature of human inquiry that this question’s irresolution raises?

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Quantum uncertainties go away on our scale.  What question do you see?

      • Anonymous

        Greg: thanks for asking this untalented amateur. My pedestrian understanding is that the measurement problem of quantum mechanics remains unresolved (I’m relying almost entirely on Wikipedia representation of the issue, which feel free to dispute; see the entries for wave function collapse, quantum decoherence, and measurement problem). The issue’s resolution apparently could have profound significance for epistemology and the further practice of the scientific enterprise, no?

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          Quantum mechanics is a statistical science of the very small.  On our level, the uncertainties wash out to a Newtonian (or Einsteinian) certainty.  Quantum questions are relevant in extremes–Big Bang, etc.–but not in our ordinary lives.

          • Anonymous

            –but isn’t this the whole issue regarding the questions that persist about the nature (or existence) of wave function collapse? It seems to me that physicists need to account for quantum phenomena at the very level of “our ordinary lives”: the whole matter of how we know, or whether we know, remains unresolved, is my reading of the dispute. Id est, how do we know, or how can we reliably say, that living life at the level of our ordinary human lives is immune to quantum effects? Do you dispute the existence of the measurement problem?

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            No, what I’m saying is that on our level, we don’t experience that uncertainty.  It may be that the other possible outcomes are expressed in other universes, and that resolves the uncertainty.

          • Anonymous

            Not trying to be more stubborn or skeptical or perverse than I am already, but the continued existence of the measurement problem for quantum mechanics suggests that the uncertainty persists at our human level and that “removing” the uncertainty and parking it in some alternating or parallel universe provides no actual resolution to the problem, unless the means of that transference is itself explicated to the satisfaction of our mathematical models.

    • Jack Sarfatti

       I don’t see how the existence of any particular particle can resolve the more fundamental question of how collapse proceeds—that is, what constitutes an “observer” (it has nothing to do with consciousness as far as any physicist I’ve met or been is concerned).

  • Lark

    Does Professor Deutsch see that mankind has sufficient wisdom and self-control, self-knowlege, to make our potentially infinite influence on the universe positive rather than destructive?

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      He’s talking about ability, not morality.  Morality is the realm in which stories remain the relevant method of figuring things out.

      • TFRX

        I don’t know that humanity has that kind of power.

        Not to get all hippie on us, but I’m gonna go back to George Carlin (paraphrased): “We shouldn’t worry about destroying the environment, the earth, for its sake, but for our sake. At some point this planet’s gonna shake mankind off like a bad case of fleas.”

        I just don’t want to be there when it happens!

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          I don’t know if we do have the power, but that appears to be his argument.  We certainly do have a good deal of power.

  • AC

    infinity+1…… :)

  • Anonymous

    Fascinating </spock> … Haven’t read the book but surely will. However, right off it seems odd that focus would beam so strongly on the Enlightenment and not, for instance, on the Socratic ignorance played out in the Apology. There an infinite spark of inquiry flashes into the stage of history; and yet, it’s connected to limit, ethics and self knowledge.  ….. yes, the cultivation of a state of mind where we are always already “just beginning to scratch the surface”.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Plato’s primary concern was the moral value of reality, not its physical properties.  The questions may look similar, but they operate in different domains.

      • Anonymous

        Indeed, as can be seen at the end of the Phaedo. But still, the influence of the “I know only that I do not know” was a strong influence in the eventual emergence of modern science. It’s an astonishing moment. And it’s worth looking back at this, even in keeping focus on Plato’s supreme focus on ethics…. because we have good reasons to ask about the ethics and character by which scientific consciousness (even the natural scientific kind) is maintained. … again, the ironic place of limit in the opening of the unlimited. We must struggle to remain in the question here.

  • Ed

    See the book ‘The view from the center of the universe’, an argument that we are at the center of things, though for new reasons.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      For our benefit, would you give a brief summary?

  • Vince Murfreesboro TN

    Tom I was briefly annoyed by your question “…but, what does it mean?” Within the context “meaning” is irrelevant, and assumes that life has to assume a place in a Universal encyclopedia. This harkens backwards and just bugs me beyond measure. Where we go, is where we go. There is nothing else but the reality of our knowledge, and hopefully a joy as we delve deeper and deeper into this wonderfully chaotic environment our ‘verse is. Thank you for your show, your determined stance, and your obvious love of sharing with people.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    He’s telling us what is possible, not what we ought to do within that ability.  This is a new expression of humanism, the idea that we are meaningful and powerful.

  • Ed

    The knowledge he speaks of is given to us in Genesis: God set man over the world over it to rule it and to participate, though in a limited way, in God’s own creativity by ordering the world through his work. But the knowledge he speaks of is indeed limited, because it refers to the physical world only.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Genesis presents us with a flat earth, covered by a hard dome of the sky.  If Genesis were a textbook of physics, the Apollo program would have been impossible.

  • vg

    Prof. Deustch’s thesis is based on the idea that everything is accessible to reason. Prof. Deustch should know that there are many impossibility theorems have been proven in the last century that prove that many questions are unanswerable through reason alone.

  • Me


    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Such a penetrating and insightful remark…

      • Me

        Someone needs to take the temperature of Microsoft, as I think the
        evil corporation is suffering a fever. I no longer have to unclick the
        “Remember Me” box when I sign in to my Hotmail account. Now there’s
        just a “Keep me signed in” box, and the default position is unchecked.

        Is Microsoft worrying about protecting my privacy? (I always thought
        that they spelled the word, “piracy.”) They need Bill Gates and a
        bottle of aspirin, stat!

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          Thanks for the quotation, but I was discussing relevance to the present topic.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I heard Hawking saying our survival genes for aggression are now holding us back, and I heard Deutsch say that is an artificial limitation, however he phrased it.
        I would zero in on that.  What is square one for that?  Re-evolving ourselves into something that does not destroy one another for survival purposes?  I think we need to know that ASAP.
        The idea of the “infinite,” to me is kind of ho-hum.  I think it takes a astrophysicist to conceive of being boxed in.  

  • John

    could it be we are looking in the wrong places, i have always thought that we should research the power of the magnetic field for energy and use as a natrual resource but our worldwide economy and the beneficiaries of perpetuating the old methods seem to prevent our ability to look towards such technology use,

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Again, he’s not talking about morality, and he doesn’t deal with mundane matters.

  • Jackacme

    Very charming and all. I’d hold off on the moon colony until we can provide clean water, enough food, a hope for a decent life for the billions who currently lack all three.

  • MMoore

    It seems to me that physics has done much less to explain our world than the 19th century writings of Marx and Nietzche. We are constantly enveloped in struggles over class and resources (Marx) and conflicting values (Nietzche).  The Scientism your guest is promoting never seems to make it out off the academic reservation.

  • Steve

    Man-made, breathable oxygen on the moon? Does any sensible person take for granted that clean water will forever flow from the tap, as Mr Deutsch suggested? I’m enjoying the talk, but I’m not sure what the good Doctor means by “infinity.” There seems to be a bit of the old I-say-it-so-it-must-be-true going on here. But I’m still listening.

  • Lark

    Interesting answer to my question–to say that wisdom is a sort of pride, an assumption that nothing changes.  So perhaps we need an infinite humility?? If that is indeed a truly scientific attitude, how can that be encouraged more widely??

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      His point is that there’s nothing that is fundamentally hidden.  There’s just knowledge that we don’t yet have.

  • Bob

    what a snooze — do another hour on the NLRB without Richard Epstein! 

  • Michiganjf

    I wish I shared some of Mr. Deutsch’s optimism, but unfortunately, what I see is that some 97% of humans are irrational, violent, selfish, greedy, and short-sighted

    … I believe the odds are therefore stacked to highly against the long-term success of humans as a species. 

    The fact that we’ve done most of the harm to the planet and used up such a vast percentage of the *easily retrievable resources in so few generations further proves we don’t have the sense or long-term perspective necessary to survive (*easily retrievable means ever more drastic and harmful methods will be needed to retrieve what remains, as we are seeing with fracking and mountain-top removal mining).

  • Ed

    Einstein wasn’t an atheist in the sense implied. Science doesn’t rule out God, and atheist scientists seem to make metaphysical statements that are outside their realm of knowledge.

    • Anonymous

      He most certainly was:


      This is like when the Republicans try to claim JFK and Truman. 

    • JJ66

      I never thought I would agree with you Ed but in this case I do. As for the Einstein thing, I’d say it’s debatable, but the rest I can go with.

    • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

      Einstein said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God.”  And there is nothing in Spinoza about creation, sin, salvation, or worship.  It is not monotheism.  It is monism, or pantheism–the universe itself is God.  And I’ll bet that is not your God.

  • Art in Bowling Green Ky

    Our ability to collect data as social unit might be infinite.  Our limits as a social creature are defined by the limits of our physical brain, which is finite. 

  • Anonymous

    I would like to know what the author thinks of the types of things that hinder progress such as the fact that 4 out of the 5 leading GOP picks for President dont even believe evolution is true. How can the lack of scientific understanding by the majority of common people be overcame?

    • CrEDulity

      You should study Ed and his posts. He is a case study of the human capacity to attribute truth to nebulous feelings that have been associated with explanations that take advantage of the inherent credulity of our species.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        And a case study in how to keep fuzzy what we’re doing.  Telling stories is a different field from doing science.

  • AC

    isn’t it a universal law of physics that everything tends towards chaos? does that mean there is limitless energy to contain order too? isn’t that….perpetual motion? and impossible?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp


    Can we recognize that asking how much is possible is a different question from what we ought to do?  Deutsch is discussing the former question.

  • vg

    Deustch’s thesis is deeply deeply mis-guided and badly reasoned. There are the following big problems:

    1) There are limits placed not only by physics, and there are limits placed by computation. In other words, there are many things we cannot compute (or reason about). This are well-known theorems. Hence, reason is limited and there are many things that we cannot know.

    2) This whole idea of multiverse is an untestable idea.

    3) Everything else is possible is essentially a truism. There is nothing new here.

    So, what exactly is NEW in what David Deustch saying? Nothing new.

  • Me


    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Why do feel the need to “contribute”?

      • Me

        Because of my dislike of pompous windbags who make sweeping statements like the current speaker and like you.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          If you wish to deflate a windbag, you need to show where he’s wrong, rather than making schoolyard taunts.

          • Me

            typical ‘republican”. Opine when no opinion is sought. Make personal attacks to reject a point and then force the know-nothing republican world view on others.

          • JayB

            Yet you are the one who opened this little digression with a one word post: “nutcase.”

          • Me

            and who asked you?

        • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

          So refute him–show us just how far beyond, intellectually, you are than this “pompous windbag.”

          • Me

            can’t do any worst that this:

            Zo sees the hulking figure of Olendron silhouetted in the nursery’s
            doorway. Aeon turns her head to look back at him, gives him a wave, and
            turns back to Zo. “And that’s all I have to say, I suppose. Heed me,
            little sister. If you and Sol don’t stand against Hex when the time
            comes, you won’t live to see me become the Kaleidoscope Queen.”

  • Johnhue

    How does Deutsch know the laws of nature are universal? Is that supposed to be a scientific discovery?

    What does he mean by “progress”? Does he think progress is objective or subjective? If it’s subjective, then a change in what people want will make for a change in what counts as progress.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      The laws are universal because everywhere we look, we see things operating under the same principles.  As for progress, in his terms, it’s a measure of what we can do.

      • Johnhue

        Have we looked everywhere? In all of our universe or all the universes of the multiverse? No? Then how do we know the laws of nature are the same everywhere?

        So progress is what we can do? That’s the naturalistic fallacy. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we ought to. “Progress” is a normative term. With Deutsch’s optimism, we have a taste of positivistic arrogance and scientism. I prefer Lovecraftian pessimism and mysterianism.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          If you claim that the laws are different somewhere, show me.  The absence of evidence is just absence.  As for optimism, if I tell you that a car has 300 horsepower, that’s a statement of what it can do.  It doesn’t address what it ought to do.

          • Johnhue

            I didn’t make any claim. I questioned Deutsch’s bald assertion that the laws of nature are universal. He’s got the burden of proof, not me.

            It’s fine to say what humans can do. It’s not fine to identify our capacity with “progress.” If you say a car has 300 horsepower, that’s fine, but that’s different from saying that the more horsepower, the better. Science doesn’t address normative questions, such as the question of progress. And speaking of progress, as Deutsch did numerous times in this interview, does indeed address what we ought to do. This is an instance of scientistic overreach on Deutsch’s part.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            You’re correct:  Science addresses the possible, not the desirable.  Trying to shoehorn morals into science is damaging to both.

            The idea that laws are universal is the operative principle of science.  Rejecting it means rejecting science itself.

          • Johnhue

            You’ve conceded to the one point and you’re about to concede to the other one too.

            An operative principle is a pragmatic one. We assume the laws of nature are uniform, because it’s useful to do so, but just because an assumption is useful doesn’t mean it’s metaphysically correct. Deutsch says the laws are the same everywhere, which is different from saying merely that it’s useful to assume as much.

            Now science itself isn’t the same as methodological naturalism, the set of pragmatic assumptions that underlie the practice of science. Just because someone’s skeptical about whether one of those pragmatic assumptions is in fact correct doesn’t mean the person has to doubt any actual scientific finding. Questioning the use of science and also positivistic and scientistic philosophizing about science isn’t the same as questioning itself. On the contrary, it’s only positivism or scientism that steals the authority of science to lend credibility to arrogant philosophical speculations about science, as though science can answer all philosophical questions, such as the normative one of what’s useful to us.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            In Euclidean geometry, parallel lines do not intersect.  Doubting that or denying it is possible, but it takes one outside of the Euclidean system.

            We can question the idea that the laws are universal, but what do we gain from that?  What aspect of reality do we understand now that we didn’t before?

          • Johnhue

            One thing we gain is humility. It’s amusing how Deutsch belittles the backward ancients for their anthropocentrism, while optimists like him are just as anthropocentric. To project what we’re familiar with in our limited exploration of the universe onto everything that exists is precisely to look at everything from a human-centered viewpoint.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Humility is a deficiency in pride, just as hubris is an excess.

          • Johnhue

            You’re resorting now to sophistry. Is it an excess to think that everything that exists might not, and indeed likely doesn’t, work like things do in our corner of the universe?

            And by the way, what are the laws of nature such that they could be universal? Assuming they’re not literally written down in God’s Big Book, what could they even be such that everything would be forced to follow them? Deutsch’s realist notion of the laws of nature is a vestige of theism’s influence on scientists. Many philosophers of scientists (like Nancy Cartwright) now prefer to talk about models rather than theories and laws, and there’s much reason to think that a model has universal scope.

          • Johnhue

            Sorry, I meant to ask whether it’s a *deficiency* to think that everything…

          • Johnhue

            And I meant to say there’s much *less* reason to think that a model has universal scope.

          • Johnhue

            I know what you were referring to: virtue and vice. My point is that this isn’t an example of a vice (or a character deficiency). On the contrary, Deutsch’s anthropocentric optimism that the known laws of nature apply absolutely everywhere is the vice (excess pride, called hubris).

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            I was referring to the ancient Greek idea of the Golden Mean.

        • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

          Lovecraft replaced curiousity with fear–he embraced the primitive terror of mankind in the face of a world that was beginning to actually get a grip on reality. I suppose that is as valid a reaction to the world as any other, and it made for some interesting and imaginative (if poorly written) stories. But in a way it is just as “arrogant” as the positivism and scientism you decry, for it asserts that our primitive fear–our ignorance–is the Truth. Curiousity may have killed the cat, but by no means does satisfaction bring him back–nothing does. And cowering in the darkness doesn’t keep you safe from real dangers–it just keeps you from experiencing the equally real wonders of the world.

          • JayB

            I think you both malign Lovecraft, who was both an athiest and someone coming very distictly from a veiwpoint of “scientism.”  His writing was more a reaction to the idea of humanity as being in any way special or favored.  He presents us as being beneath the notice of the cosmos; in part his horrifying things are horrifying for their indifference to our existence.

  • Vital Esource

    The age of enlightment was not the beging of infintinty . In the east (India) thousands of years prior to Enlightment the veadic tradition understood the Nature of our conciouness to be the source of Infinity. They understood that the limtlessness of our nature and the universe within onself as the source of infinity.
    Where as the Science is rooted in the understanding of that which is observable and quantifiable. But it fails to account for all the infinty that affects a patiucar Scientific quirey. Hence in trying  to control or mainpulated one aspect of nature it unleashes infinite reaction in all the other directions that it fails to account for.

  • Anonymous

    Much of Deutsch’s vision of the future enabled by technological progress enraptures me, but when he speaks about “creating resources that people don’t have to think about,” we as a species haven’t even solved that problem for the majority of people here on Earth yet.

    How can we as a species ethically exploit technology and control of resources to explore the universe and human intellect, if some of our species cannot yet explore the world since their opportunities to do so are being curtailed by other members of humanity controlling the technology and resources that do exist?

    How can we use technology to solve the problem of unequality of technology that already exists here on earth, so the exploration of space, the universe and the human intellect is available to all members of humanity?

    • JJJimmanyC

      In the same way that you can own a functioning cell phone in an Indian village, formerly without phone service.

    • Steve

      Yes, he’s being very optimistic-true. We have enormous problems we need to fix, and it often seems we are going in the wrong direction. I think we can draw from Deutsch the enormous potential of the scientific method as a tool to get us where we need to go. It doesn’t mean we are any where near where we need to be. But we should start using that tool to fix things. The leaders of certain countries in Africa claim that AIDs isn’t a problem–throw some science on that. Certain influential religiously inspired politicians (and fossil fuel executives) insist that global warming issues are nonsense–throw some science on that. Children in some African countries are labelled as witches (by unscrupulous preachers praying on the ignorance and of their paritioners) and separated from their families (or worse)–throw a lot of science on that. Knowledge and rational thought makes things better in the long run.

      As we learn more about the world and how it works, how it really works, and what affects our machinations have on nature and ourselves, we will be less likely to damage the environment and negatively impact those other species. Logical scientifically-based courses of action will dictate sound practices. Oceanographers loath drift-net fishing. Field biologists loath development projects that impinge on protected lands. Climate scientists loath coal-fire power plants. Good science leads us to the right actions. We, in actual fact, realize that these species are threatened because of the science that’s been done to study them and their environments.

  • Ward Cheney

    I will hear the discussion out, now or this evening. I’ll give David Deutsch the benefit of the doubt and assume that the marketing department at the publisher had something to do with the title of his book. One last qualifier: I’m sure there is much subtlety to how infinity itself is defined.

    Now my skepticism and frustration: Why is it that modern man (in many of her or his manifestations) so frequently assumes her/his superiority? I’m interested in prehistory, in first peoples and the settlement of North American. I have no doubt that these people knew and experienced infinity. Why do we so often assume these people suffered in their ignorance? That they had a narrow understanding of great concepts and forces?  I’m also want to add that I’m a farmer. Each day, by the nature and context of farmwork, I experience firsthand infinity. In ways both ordinary and profound. It does not require I have a graduate degree, only that I keep senses open and pay attention.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      The point is that such people were much more limited in their ability and understanding.

      • Ward Cheney

        Greg, I think it depends on how you, how one, defines “limited.” I believe that the brain of Homo sapiens, her/his native intelligence (another tricky term that needs discussion and clarifying) has been quite stable over the past hundred- to hundred-fifty-thousand years. Their brain is our brain. Our brain is their brain.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          To be sure, but they saw themselves as living in a world of spirits on a flat earth.  They didn’t understand the mechanical laws of the world around them.  They certainly did extraordinary things with what they had, and here I disagree with Deutsch in that the ancients laid the groundwork without which our present progress would be impossible.

        • Steve

          Did our ancient ancestors possess all of our cognitive abilities? Did they possess some abilities that we don’t have? Are we exactly the same cognitively and intellectually? At what point in the fossil record to we see real changes, and how could we possibly tell from fossils? Interesting questions. I’ve read that some scientists believe certain genes affecting brain biology, in rather subtle ways I think, appeared as recently as just a few thousand years ago and are responsible for the development and spread of writing, which most certainly changed everything. Honestly, that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I like the idea that the people who painted the cave walls and hunted the mammoths were our equals, and all the developments of history are a result of passion, elbow grease and luck. And I respect the achievements of those ancient people. Survival alone was an amazing feat. But they invented and developed art, music, most likely story-telling, and trade-networks to name a few. Hats off to the paleolithic, though I’m not ready to give up my Kindle just yet.

    • Steve

      But farming was a great technological innovation developed by ancient peoples. They were experiencing, and you are now experiencing, the world differently because of a bold and innovative step taken in ancient times when all tools were still made from wood, bone and stone. These ancient peoples were formidable and skilled. The were primitive because that word means “early” and they did come before us. We shouldn’t look down on them. Even though our material culture is arguable more sophisticated now, they did amazing things in their day and should be respected for these achievements, even though they came slower than they do today.

  • john

    Oh c’mon! The Tao Te Ching rings as true today as it did 2,000 years ago. True wisdom is the “perrennial philosophy” which remains relevant and true just as the laws of science. One of the universal principles is that which exalts itself will be thrown down. Humble-up Mr. Deutsch! Man is expendable. Evolution will provide another “platform of complexity” should our own hubris destroy us.

    • JJJimmanyC

      A true return to the reasoning of the dark ages. “That which exalts itself will be thrown down.” Along with that which doesn’t exalt itself. Because humans are the only thing that can exalt themselves, and humans all die and are therefore “thrown down.” So thank you for this useless information which is misleading and meaningless at the same time.

  • Bill Fischer5

    We need a nother program to explor the comment that This viw is a sord for fundementalists.  We must explor this issue. 

  • miro

    Deutsche is horribly mis-characterizing the Bohr-Einstein dispute. Although Einstein was not a deist, he was a realist, and thought that there is an objective reality that is knowable independent of our measurements and models. Bohr did not advocate giving up on explanations or the search for order in the behavior of the material world — only that all explanations are based on a particular set of observables and that these do not always yield readily intelligible pictures of what is happening (we draw heavily on our own experiences in the macroscopic world, where objects appear to have definite boundaries and locations and do not disappear and reappear. Our experiences of everyday life do not prepare us well for microscopic quantum realms). Bohr was a pragmatist and an operationalist, very careful about how we know what we know, whereas Einstein was a realist who had his own particular images about the ultimate nature of things.

    Deutsch is similarly naive when he thinks that because we can emulate “universal” computers (formal systems), that gives us access to all possible concepts. This is the Platonic computational fallacy — that all knowledge is simply some sort of computation. It leaves out the necessity for measurements and concepts — computations alone do not yield alternative ways of viewing the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Hammond/527582649 Ryan Hammond

    The idea that the universe is knowable in principle is a central theme of science, though I believe we ought to accept that it may not be practically knowable in totality. This was once commonly held as a central belief of logical positivism, but was undercut about a century ago, via Carl Popper and his work in falsification. Popper showed that scientific knowledge expands more by proving ideas incorrect, than by proving them to be true.  This is, of course, to say nothing of the fact that while the universe is unbounded, the human mind is not.

  • Anonymous

    The Universe is not “all rushing away from us”. The gravitational anomaly presented by the Alpha Concentration (Norma Cluster + Great Attractor + Shapley Supercluster) has only been noted for a scant few decades, and that awareness has not yet been able to retard or divert the 600 km/s velocity of the entire Virgo Supercluster, et cetera, towards this gravitational anomaly. Does Professor Deutsch think we stand a chance of overcoming dark flow for the entire galaxy? the entire supercluster? and if so, why?

  • Ken

    Me thinks Professor Deutsch vastly over rates the human capacity to rationally utilize the scientific knowledge they are uncovering.  Unless he lives in a cave he must have observed the exponential rate of increase of humans on the Earth.  His contention that the Earth has been killing the humans with pollution since the beginning of human occupation and that humans have been combating the Earths’ pollution strikes me as the musings of a delusional man.

    Fortunately for the Earth, and unfortunately for the professor, we are racing toward the extinction cliff as rapidly as we can.  Hopefully the intelligent cockroaches that reclaim the Earth will learn how to keep their egos in check; something the professor never learned how to do.

  • Ed

    Scientists seem to think that science has progress and replaces theological knowledge. But the other model would be that our knowledge is advancing with time in all areas – scientific, theological, etc. These are different areas of knowledge, though these scientists are materialists.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I heard Deutsch answer my question, and I’m thinking no subtle shift in morality — such as from the idea slavery is fine — would uproot our genetic survival instincts.  No religion could keep me from doing certain things, to protect an infant in my care, to eat especially if people depended on me, to mate if I could see the loneliness of my selfhood in the world.  All sorts of things, I think humans revert to animal survivalism.  Morality be damned.  No idea would dominate if we were up against it.  I have read about communities that die out because they won’t shift from some religious commitment  to eating their own seed corn, but I think there’s more to it.
       It takes only ONE uninhibited individual to unleash all sorts of bacteria or massive atomic explosions…

  • Vince Murfreesboro TN

    Nothing more irritating and able to promote huge gales of laughter than a religious fundamentalist joining a conversation on science, while waving a manuscript written by peoples who died hundreds of years ago. Superstition belongs in the fiction rack, pls keep it there. They’re trying to kill NPR for pete’s sake, so stop pandering to those bullies.

  • miro

    Deutsch is now making unsupported assertions about mathematical truths, referring we assume to Goedel’s theorems. But these theorems only apply to potentially-infinite systems (e.g. arithmetic on the natural numbers, n = 1, 2,3, 4 ….). If mathematical systems are constrained only to deal with finite sets of well-defined elements, then Goedel’s theorems do not apply. This is why we can rely on the consistency of finite mathematics we use in everyday life, and why Goedel has no implications whatsoever for practical computing.

    The general public needs to realize that, while these pop-physicists may be fine physicists and mathematicians, they are generally pretty mediocre philosophers.

  • Me

    no wonder why republicans don’t believe in science.

    • Vince Murfreesboro TN

      That is the most illogical partial statement I”ve heard since a few minutes ago. Thou art but a troll.

      • Me


        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          Since the word is a proper noun, “Republican.”

          • Me

            nothing proper about a republican (like you)

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            I’m not a Republican.  I’m arguing here that a discussion requires the exchange of ideas, not taunts.

          • Me

            “republicans” like you make Rick Perry look like Mother Theresa

          • Me

            and apparently a gun to-ting republican  to boot

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Why do you think that I’m a Republican?  It isn’t enough that you’re a Democrat and disagree with me.

            Because you’ve raised the subject, I’m actually sympathetic with the Green Party, though I have strong Libertarian leanings.

          • Me

            Greg Camp is first Republican to join race to replace Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau
            BY MICHAEL SAUL
            Thursday, May 14, 2009The race to replace Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is getting its first Republican.Greg Camp, a former Manhattan prosecutor with a background in the financial industry, says he’s ready to jump into the campaign.”I’m running,” Camp announced in an exclusive interview with the News Wednesday.Camp,
            who won Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement in an unsuccessful bid for state
            Assembly in 2007, is expected to get the backing of the New York County
            Republican Committee Thursday.He faces an uphill battle in a race
            that has become intensely competitive. Democrats outnumber Republicans
            in Manhattan nearly 7 to 1. On the Democratic side, Leslie Crocker
            Snyder, Cy Vance Jr. and Richard Aborn are vying for their party’s

            turmoil on the Democratic side will only help,” Camp, 47, said. “I will
            be able to speak to a great many Democrats whose candidate is
            ultimately not the Democratic nominee in September.”
            portrayed himself as a moderate Republican, saying he supports abortion
            rights, gay marriage, gun control and stem-cell research. He said he’s a
            longtime opponent of the death penalty and voted for John Kerry in 2004
            and Barack Obama in 2008.
            Before working at the Manhattan DA’s
            office from 1999 through 2006, Camp spent more than a decade working for
            financial firms. He now works for an investment banking firm and said
            this experience separates him from the pack.
            “That kind of
            real-world experience, particularly in business and finance, is
            important in terms of the insight it gives you and the perspective in
            pursuing white-collar and financial crime,” he said.
            Camp said he’s not expecting Bloomberg’s endorsement but he’s “honored” to run on the same line as the mayor.
            “I’m a strong supporter of Mayor Bloomberg,” he said.
            grew up in a rent-regulated apartment in Stuyvesant Town, where his
            parents lived for more than 50 years. He lives on the upper East Side
            with his partner, Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization
            for Women in New York City. He has one child with Ossorio and two from a
            previous relationship.
            Camp met with Morgenthau in March to
            discuss the possibility of running, a source familiar with the visit
            said. Morgenthau is expected to endorse Vance.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Oy vey schmeer!  I’ve heard of that guy, but I live in northwest Arkansas, and I’m a college English instructor.  You quoted from my weblog earlier, but you didn’t look too deeply into it.

            This is an example of the hilarious crossing of wires that’s possible today on the Internet…

          • Me

            first entry in your blog was far enough.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            The article was about Microsoft, a company that I despise.  I don’t see how that defines my in toto.  Do you at least recognize now that I’m not who you thought I was?

          • Me

            lost in New York…carpet bagged to “Northwest Arkansas”

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Look, I was born in North Carolina (not a carpetbagger!); I’ve never been to New York (except for changing planes in JFK), and I’m not a lawyer or a finance type.

            Since you insist on conflating me with others, why not the former guitarist for Smashmouth?

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            If I may be permitted a bit of shameless promotion:


          • Me

            did everybody see the gun? republican!

          • JJ66

            This is hilarious. Thanks for the laughs.

          • Me

            because he is cool and NOT a “republican”

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            I’ve identified myself.  Who are you?

          • Me

            I’m “me”. can’t you read? I thought you were an english teacher in a community college in Arkansas.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            I do believe in an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, but that hardly defines me as belonging to one or another current American political party.

  • Steve

    Here’s what I get from this, I think:

    The things that limit us today will not necessarily limit us in years and generations to come. In fact, you can argue that all of our present limitations will–given enough time–inevitably be overcome. And, of course, those will be replaced by new ones, which, in time, will fall, and so forth forever.

    • Mork

      Yeah. As George Harrison sang, “All things must pass. . . . ”  Doesn’t take a degree in physics to figure that out. Present limitations may be overcome someday but we may reach a tipping point (like now?) in future limitations where we technologize ourselves out of existence. Simultaneous cell-phone revolutions/rioting worldwide, the militants and criminals running amok, destroying physics labs and whatnot.

      Ho hum. Time to tend the garden.

  • Sheryl K.

    Just as ALWAYS…NPR invites guests on that don’t align with their crystal clear views just to argue and make a fool of them on the air. Is it to appear balanced in some way? It’s very clear. NPR “hearts” Mr. Hawking, atheists, ants (bugs are always a happy topic!).

    I realize the point of playing devil’s advocate to explore and push the guest for more…but it’s a style of BEGINNING the interview with an air of tearing the ideas down right from the get go that gets me.

    It’s just constant and as a listener who supports this station and it’s the one thing I’d change.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      What’s wrong with the interviewer giving a bit of pushback to explore the ideas?

      • Sheryl K.

        If you see in my above explanation: there is only PUSHBACK when it’s very clear the interviewee is presenting a topic or viewpoint not usually championed by NPR. The pushback always starts right from the beginning too. Leaves a bad taste.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          Perhaps I’m naive, but I didn’t realize that NPR had an official position on cosmology.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Other than the educated position that it’s good to be aware of cosmology.

  • Artlew

    Tom Ashbrook, you are infuriating with your constant interrupting a guest’s thoughts during their reply to questions. Also, must you go on with your continuous sound bytes of “H-m-m-huh! H-m-m-huh! H-m-m-huh!”

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think the Enlightenment was a countermovement to the way of moving the world by religion, by orthodoxy, by commanding people through fear, ignorance, and “ideas” which were really “talking points,” articles of faith, without “explanatory knowledge,” however Deutsch phrased it.  It seems to me “power” to the extent it wasn’t the police-state variety, where you keep rolling over any upstarts, nonstop reinvasions, to the extent “power” actually “kept the peace,” without force, it was done by religion.  Religion was awfully good at that.  And it was a threat to good order to get out of line.
        HOWEVER, the Enlightenment does not, to my mind, require the absence of religion.  That’s where I think an American perspective might be different from a European one.  It seems to me plenty of American concepts of faith integrate without the “talking points,” without the fear, ignorance, and articles of faith.
       If he means that shedding religion lets us step onto the first steps of the Infinite, which like the universe are ever slipping farther into the eternal/external, then he dismisses the parts of religion that are NOT organized to block “explanatory knowledge.”  What would that be?  (Another topic, for sure.)

  • Rogercramer6

    Hi Tom;  Listen to your show often, – and was struck today with David Deutsch, – and what I would call “the god of reason.”  What came to me is that there are different levels of knowing, – e.g. the knowledge that reasson can give you, and the knowledge that intuition can give.  Or for that matter the self-knowledge of our inner struggle as we search for meaning in our personal lives and in the world, where poets often wander and yield to language.

    Today I came across Mary Oliver’s poem, Daisies, as an example.  WHy not a poem with this Mass. poet who “knows” in ways David Deutsch did not touch.



    It is possible, I suppose that sometime

    we will learn everything

    there is to learn: what the world is, for

    and what it means. I think this as I am crossing

    from one field to another, in summer, and the

    mockingbird is mocking me, as one who either

    knows enough already or knows enough to be

    perfectly content not knowing. Song being born

    of quest he knows this: he must turn silent

    were he suddenly assaulted with answers. Instead


    oh hear his wild, caustic, tender warbling

    unanswered. At my feet the white-petalled
    daisies display

    the small suns of their center piece, their –
    if you don’t

    mind my saying so — their hearts. Of course

    I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale

    narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know?

    But this: it is heaven itself to take what is

    to see what is plain; what the sun lights up

    for example — I think this

    as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch

    the suitability of the field for the daisies,
    and the

    daisies for the field.


     ~ Mary Oliver ~


    I Wake Early)

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      “It is heaven to take what is given. . .”  I prefer to understand.  This poem doesn’t challenge the argument today.  Perhaps you ought to read Mark Twain’s essay about two ways of seeing a river.  There are the simple awe that the uninformed person has and the detailed understanding that the riverboat pilot has.

  • miro

    The cosmological perspective is always breath-taking and mind-expanding, but it should not cause us to lose our common sense, nor to put ourselves under the spell of fast-talking physics preachers.

    The parallel-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is inherently untestable by empirical means. It may nonetheless be a useful heuristic metaphor (and this is the spirit of William James’ multiverse — there is more to the world than you imagine), but in Popper’s terms, it is unfalsifiable. It has the same status as a theological postulate.

    Quantum computing is also a mirage. Dissipation-less, energy-free quantum computing is the perpetual motion machine of the information sciences.

    In order to make a physical computation you need to be able to prepare the physical system (put it into a particular state, i.e. program the computer). This preparation requires at least one kt of energy per bit. You then let the system run (this can be reversible and dissipationless). Then you need to read the result, expending one kt of energy. You can’t get a computation for nothing. It is only by not considering the practical requirements of being able to program and read off the computational system that one can argue that is is dissipation-less (expends no energy). 

    We are not saying that the NSF should not fund this work (other useful spinoffs may accrue), but in pursuing it, we should go into it with eyes wide open, and not necessarily believe all the claims that are made by its proponents.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      The parallel worlds interpretatiom is currently untestable, but does that mean that it’s fundamentally untestable?  At the moment, it’s a suggestion for future enquiry.

      • miro

        It’s fundamentally untestable. No possible measurement outcome can falsify it. 

        It’s an ontological postulate (I called it theological).

        • miro

          Apparently I am not alone in this opinion. I just looked at the Wikipedia page under “Multiverse” and similar criticisms are listed there:

          Non-scientific claimsSome cosmologists, such as Paul Davies[17] and George Ellis[18], argue that many Multiverse theories lack empirical testability and are unfalsifiable; they are thus outside the methodology of scientific investigation to confirm or disprove. Reasons why such claims lack empirical evidence or testability according to most Multiverse theories is that other universes are in a different spacetime framework, so in principle they cannot be observed.

          • miro

            The assumption is that the universe is ever branching and that the branches don’t affect each other. In the construction of the ontological framework, by definition there is no way to determine, from one branch, whether any others exist. 

            All questions of ultimate existence are ontological, metaphysical questions, and are not as such amenable to empirical test. 

            Platonists love to proliferate imaginary entities (infinite sets, infinite sets of sets, infinite sets of sets of sets, etc.), and the possible worlds interpretation/worldview is a manifestation of this intellectual impulse. I think that this is a species of magical thinking in physics (not always a bad thing, but it does need to be recognized for what it is).

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          The idea is that at each moment of possibility, worlds split off, realizing each possible outcome.  That’s one explanation of experiments in which particles seem to come from nowhere.

          Testing it would require a way to cross boundaries between universes or to cause an event in one that affects another.

      • miro

        I wouldn’t be so critical of it if there were some shred of testability — that it could in some way facilitate future investigation. I actually agree with Feyerabend that all ideas, no matter what their truth, are useful as heuristics for future experiments and theories. Even this idea is useful, so we should not suppress it. But we should be clear about what it means and where it usefully applies (in our general thinking but not in our theories of physics).

        What drives me crazy is the matter-of-fact way that these pop-physics gurus present this theory as simply another competing alternative, when what they are doing is somewhat underhandedly slipping in their platonic metaphysical assumptions. It’s false advertising to use the prestige of physics to advance a metaphysical agenda.

  • Al B

    That interview was incredible !  As far as the discussion, particulars about quantum mechanics are generally above my head, though I am fine as a dabbler.  That being said, I detect alot of frustration at the difficulty with which our minds attempt to comprehend infiinity…the criticism of explaining it away with creation and the “where did God come from” question, vs, how cold the big bang come from nothing…..so we cannot accept that infinity means that ultamately there is no start or finish. Also, I would propose that, really, a belief in a divine creator, spirit or intelligence is a philosophical question, and its existence and the validity of science are not mutually exclusive, unless one cannot except the allegorical nature of various “holy writ”. In that case, yes, just discard all of science and quantitative methods. It is scary how many painters, carpenters, technicians (my field), truck drivers and the like have figured out how scientists have no “common scence” and really don’t know much. I’m sorry but dumb is not the new smart. Peace and love.  

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      are you suggesting that scientists know nothing or that there are different fields of knowing?

      • Al B

        I am concerned about the popularity of the idea that science doesn’t know much because it has a habit of breaking popular current paradigms.  For example, the person that tells me they have not defiinitively proven cigarette smoking causes cancer because ….his grand pappy smoked 4 packs a day and lived to be 105 or whatever or that the earth is only 6,000 years old and carbon dating is a fallacy…sure it is..I don’t wanna get political but it goes on and on…being overweight is not a threat to my health….yeah right…Extreme examples, I admit, but generally (IMO) there are several interest groups cultivating their own self serving  and or self perpetuating reality,(global warming is a hoax, sure it is) regardless of what scientific scrutiny reveals. Also, I think that the seeming contradictions of science and “religion” could co-exist if people could accept how much we currently do not know, rather than clinging to dogmatic assumptions about things in holy writ that were said to certain people thousands of years ago. So, no, scientists have learned so much and the rate of knowledege continues to expand exponentially and yes, for the forseeable future we  seem to have a need to view these area as seperate fields of knowing, or at least not impose philisophical demands on the gathering and analysis of empirical data.  

  • David_lee

    Another great Show / Topic…Infinity…Lets put human health and medicine at the front of the line!

  • Lrduffsb

    From what I’ve heard so far I find his views really disturbing as we are not learning the lessons before us, so we are doomed to more and greater disasters because of our hubris in thinking we can control and dominate nature without the necessary humility and respect for higher moral and spiritual laws that are necessary to guide our actions and avoid those disasters. He is wrong that wisdom is not possible without taking actions that are mistakes. Some mistakes are not reversible, so we, and those who are creating things like nano technology, genetic engineering must be willing to listen to the still small voice (that is easily overshadowed by greed and arrogance) that may be telling us not to go forward with implementing a particular technology that our puny intellects, and intellect created computers haven’t seen all the potential dangers. At minimum we must move forward with great care.

    The notion that we can trash this planet and then move to another is despicable.

    The only unlimited realm for growth is in the spiritual realm. In all else we can feel free to grow and act but only with acceptance of moral/spiritual principles and seeking the internal guidance that may mean wisely accepting limitations and not acting. The belief that our limited human intelligence/reason/intellect can solve all problems we can create for ourselves is folly.

    Gandhi said something to the effect that our wisdom has not come close to catching up with our ability to create destructive technology, and this is the problem we face, the frontier to explore, not willingness to rush forward with using technologies we don’t have the understanding of to see their possible destructive effects.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Where in this discussion did political parties show up?  This is a scientific and philosophical topic, and politics is irrelevant.

  • Alfredo Roldan-Flores

    I would like to raise a particular issue to the attention of Mr. Tom Ashbrook.  During your fascinating discussion about the scientific revolution and humanity’s place in the universe with David Deutsch, you used the following Spanish term: “Cojones”.   For those those who speak the language fluently and also are familiar with the cultural connotations of the term find it extremely vulgar and offensive.  As you can see on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cojones), the term has a very strong vulgar connotation.  In the future, I would highly advice you to use terms that are more compatible with the wonderful quality of your show.  Sincerely,  Alfredo

    • Hunter Johnson

      That Wikipedia article also points out its less-vulgar usage as an English loanword. Since the discussion was in English, I’m assuming that’s the usage.

    • Steve

      Tom has big balls. He’s just that kind of guy.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Another approach is to say that science and religion do different and valid activities.  As long as we’re clear about which we’re doing, it’s all good.

    • Heaviest Cat

      not really ,Greg. It’s not about science vs religion here, it’s about Deutsch’s championing of human arrogance in the face of the cosmos and nature.

      • Umomma

        Heaviest Cat — really? Sinbad begs to differ.
        900lb cat


      • Steve

        How is learning arrogant? Deutsch is championing the scientific method as a process to learn about our planet and the universe. Eventually we develop enough knowledge to affect change, but we can regulate the speed and degree of that change, and it’s scope. Our challenge is to affect positive change where necessary, and leave things alone that already work well. With science we have an important tool for making such decisions and proceeding in a sane, logical manner, with all due caution. For example, we may treat or cure cancer by developing new life-saving technologies, but as we learn more about ecology and earth science we learn not to destroy the rain forests or pump up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for short term reasons, like energy production or corporate profits. Not only does science give us the tools to make changes, but as we learn from the scientific method we develop the wisdom to handle this new knowledge. Deutch’s world-view works if we focus more on basic scientific research (a lot more) and less on technology and practical applications: really learn how the world works and then cautiously implement that knowledge, testing for ill-effects and constantly adjusting as we go along.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    What Deutsch is doing here is giving us a restatement of humanism, the belief that we are capable of knowing and acting on our own.  He’s not telling what to do with that power.

    • Al B

      or the belief that man has been given the ability to think, be self aware and to solve all his problems by employing his abilities and capabilities…..the matter of whether or not those capabilities are God given , as I believe, or just developed, independent of any unseen creator or intelligence, does not alter the validity that man must employ his abilities rather than givig up in a pile of self defeating futility. Me oh my …..the spacemen must save us from ourselves because we are so bad, does not make one righteous,, just defeated….IMO….so yes, one may classify this as humanism, but please remember that this does not exclude the individual from being a “believer”.  Just want to clarify, as I find people often assume that “humanism” is a substitite “religion” and is by definition Godless….to some it is but, again, doesn’t really have to be at all…..many of us belive that the creation power is what makes us “in his image”

    • Me

      hey CBGTR (carpet bagging gun toting “republican”),

      I think somebody is spoofing you…

      I apologize to one and all for my compulsive commentary on any and all
      subjects, most of which I have very little actual knowledge and
      experience of.  I have reviewed my involvement here in this group over
      the last several weeks and it is obvious that I am completely out of
      hand and over my head, but I just can’t stop: this is despite the fact
      that on several occasions people who actually have no interest in my
      knee-jerk compulsion to throw one ill-considered comment after another
      into the mix here, like a pre-tween pool-pisser, have gone out of their
      way to point out the dubious conclusions and positions that I take on
      any and everything that catches my attention. Please don’t take anything
      I say seriously it is to the phenome but stuff and nonsense. Thank you
      for your indulgence. I will try in the future to realize how silly a
      figure I cut before just blathering on and on. I now realize that even
      on those rare occasions when I am not totally in error, my opinions are
      of such a trite and obvious nature that is is actually painful for
      anyone with half a brain to read them. I beg one and all to simply not
      read my incessant ramblings and quips — I don’t. When you see my name
      associated with a post, in the future please ignore me and just skip to
      the next item. It’s for my own good, please don’t encourage me by
      arguing. I am out of control and need your help to learn how to ignore
      my compulsion to open my mouth every time my bowels move. Thanks.

  • Zoe

    Deutsch argues that the role of hubris and humility in human action, in the face of a moral code or Codegiver, held back “progress” for thousands of years. On the contrary, it (morality, a moral code) furthered progress. The rise of the modern university, in which ideas about personal experience could be shared and tested, came about precisely because of “Moral Decoders.” Those clergy who ran schools and educated people [ok, men] in reading and writing, philosophy and mathematics, founded, instituted, and studied in the classrooms of the universities. All “progress” requires a mutual sharing of consciousness. Only when people agree on what they perceive can they construct and deconstruct the cosmos. Perception is an individual act, and can be faulty, as we all know. Groups of scientists tell each other what is “true” based on what they have been taught by other scientists and about what they agree may be acceptable ways to test or measure experiments to prove or disprove one of their theories. Science, like religion, is a self-limited circle of inquiry. No better, no worse.  The priesthood of physicists, who believe they “know” better than everyone else on the planet, are just that, another group of believers in one system of interpretation.

    We may all–as a kind of super-consciousness–be co-creating the universe, moment to moment through the power of our minds and thoughts. The Alpha-Omega, no beginning and no end, worlds without end. There are thoughts without words, there can be worlds without measure. Clearly we can think ourselves out of existence. We need only to have a series of nuclear wars, or a holocaust of massive forest fires and drought and flooding worlwide, before the microbes win at last. Worlds without human minds are still worlds. Without hubris and humility, a moral code, though, there may be no hope and no more “progress.” The code must be compassion for all living things. If not

    And with no point to the universe/multiverse, with no “reason to be,” there is no role for hope. Only curiosity, until it kills us. Like Shroedinger’s cat. Ancient saying meets modern physics.

    • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

      The point, the reason to be, is ours to make, not to be given to us by an outside force. What matters is whether the reason to be that we choose/create leaves room for a role for hope.

  • Daverohr7

    Dr. Deutsh overlooks a centuries old discussion about the moral ambiguity of technological power.  All technologies we develop are put to both good and evil uses, and the contemporary high-tech world is no less ambiguous than any other age.  At this very moment, we are in the midst of a truly epic ecological crisis.  Short of developing radically new life pathways, we are poised to destroy the material and ecological basis of human existence.  It is precisely human grasping for technological power and the unthinking use of that power to dominate nature that has precipitated our current crisis.  Yet Dr. Deutsch has the nerve, in the midst of this crisis, to proclaim a gospel of technological salvation.  He urges us to cast our hopes on new technologies – and the scientists who develop them – that will usher in a New Heaven and a New Earth.  His message is as untimely as it is irresponsible.  It should be received with as much skepticism as we would receive a charismatic religious figure claiming he/she will perfect the world.  This increasingly common blend of science, eschatology, and priestcraft should be recognized for what it really is: a potentially deadly delusion.

  • Heaviest Cat

    This show was so disappointing but I thank Tom and the staff for allowing me on the show. Dr. Deutsch ,to me, turned out to be an intellectualized comic book frontier cowboy. I’m no Luddite but his vision would empower technocrats at the expense of the rest of us. It shows contempt for all non-human life and, his view of nature reflects that. Okay , maybe certain strains of bacteria were a limiting factor to our early ancestors. But does that justify hubris-fueled human plunder of the planet which continues to this day? May his “vision” perish with him. 

    • Steve

      I’m not sure he showed such contempt. Did he actually say we should destroy nature and non-human life? Would, for example, a society that values the study of the natural world extensively through science and constantly analyzes agricultural and industrial policies through an ever improving understanding of nature be ultimately destructive or healing to the environment? I envision such a society moving in a positive direction, recognizing the intrinsic value of environmental and biological diversity. I suggest that a better understanding of the natural world through science will lead us to policies and choices that improve the natural environment. I strongly suspect that if you poled scientists the majority would maintain that global warming is happening and approve of seeking out greener alternatives. In that case going with science would be a positive step for the environment. 

      • Heaviest Cat

        HI Slib. Actually I love science and one reason ,I was disappointed is that I was hoping to hear abouthow advances in quantum physics, stingtheory et al would raise more questions about the universe or multiverse. No, he didn’t spell out his contempt and he didn’t actually say we should destroy nature and non-human life but drunk with his anthropocentric view, he didn’t acknowledge our record of plunder either. For a” visionary”, he has a rather dated 19th cent. view of “progress”.  I wish I could agree with you about a better understanding of the natural world via science. But as long as there are profits to be made, such valuable knowledge will be ignored.

  • Elliot Temple

    For more information on David Deutsch and _The Beginning of Infinity_, see my website:


    It includes my own interview with David Deutsch and links to a lot more David Deutsch content, plus an internet discussion group.

  • JJ66

    Enjoyed the show. Interesting how Deutch comes to many of the same conclusions, strangely similar conclusions, that Jan Cox expressed more than forty years ago, in regard to the present retro eco utopian ideas about the environment etc.
    Like Terrance Mckena said, we have been living in a virtual environment since the first city was built, and thank the gods for it.

  • Zoe

    ” If it is one of the goals of religions to liberate mankind as far as possible from the bondage of egocentric cravings, desires, and fears, scientific reasoning can aid religion in another sense. Although it is true that it is the goal of science to discover (the) rules which permit the association and foretelling of facts, this is not its only aim. It also seeks to reduce the connections discovered to the smallest possible number of mutually independent conceptual elements. It is in this striving after the rational unification of the manifold that it encounters its greatest successes, even though it is precisely this attempt which causes it to run the greatest risk of falling a prey to illusion. But whoever has undergone the intense experience of successful advances made in this domain, is moved by the profound reverence for the rationality made manifest in existence. By way of the understanding he achieves a far reaching emancipation from the shackles of personal hopes and desires, and thereby attains that humble attitude of mind toward the grandeur of reason, incarnate in existence, and which, in its profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man. This attitude, however, appears to me to be religious in the highest sense of the word. And so it seems to me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualisation of our understanding of life.” Albert Einstein.

    • IdaIdLydee

      It is not one of the goals of religions to liberate mankind from such qualities as are listed above.  Some of them may have this intent, however the portrayal of the “God” as a vein, superficial, and vehement personage that is modeled on a typical Bronze Age tyrant (from Assyria for example) goes to extremes in the opposite direction. But if it was, which it isn’t, what Al wrote would be more likely.

  • AJ North

    An eloquent and powerful examination of the limitations placed on human knowledge by nature - and what can result from a failure to acknowledge them - was the basis for episode eleven, “Knowledge or Certainty,” of the celebrated thirteen-part series “The Ascent of Man” (1973), written and presented by Dr. Jacob Bronowski and produced by the BBC and Time-Life Films.

    From the episode:

    “One aim of the physical sciences has been to give an exact picture of the material world.  One achievement of physics in the twentieth century has been to prove that that aim is unattainable.

    There is no absolute knowledge.  And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy.  All information is imperfect.  We have to treat it with humility.”


    “It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers.  That is false, tragically false.  Look for yourself.  This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz.  This is where people were turned into numbers.  Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people.  And that was not done by gas.  It was done by arrogance.  It was done by dogma.  It was done by ignorance.  When people believe that they have absolute knowledge with no test in reality, this is how they behave.  This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.”

    Those who have never seen this program are in store for an experience that may well resonate in their psyches long after the fifty-minute episode has come to a close -
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8703061764104921754 .

  • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

    Very fascinating, especially for me, because the notion that mankind may not only one day understand the universe but be able to manipulate and control it on the large scale is a major theme in the novel I am currently writing.

  • MAB

    Deutsch’s thesis is that anything that is not prevented by the rules of physics is possible.  Even if we grant him that, he leaves out the question of probability.  There is no law of physics that dictates that I cannot go to Walmart tomorrow and find the entire parking lot filled with silver Lexus sedans, line up with sequential license plate numbers. But I’m not going to plan my life around this.

    • Sliberace2000

      I think Deutsch might say that it’s not “anything is possible” but more like “we humans can DO anything (eventually) possible” meaning not limited by the laws of physics. So even though left to random processes your car example is highly unlikely, it’s actually very doable and possible, if human beings with the appropriate resources, like a few connections and lots of money, decided to treat you to this display of Lexus’s. He’s saying we can learn and achieve a highly competent understanding of natural laws, and as a result accomplish a great variety of things.

  • Ninaandbobby

    Dear Tom, Prof Deutsch’s assertion seems self-evident, but the limitation lies in our capacity or lack of capacity to love. We can find all knowledge, but we are limited by evil in how we apply this ever-expanding knowledge. Static or not, evil exists in complement w/good. Does DD think we can get rid of evil? Thanks!

  • http://bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson

    I would disagree with Deutsch that a fear of hubris has held us back. Humility in the Christian era might (might!) have been true on an individual basis, but the culture itself assumed that the universe was designed with our prejudices in mind–not to mention the notion of man having dominion over the Earth. I do think hubris is dangerous, but science certainly didn’t invent the concept.

    • Heaviest Cat

      since when has humankind , as a species ever had a fear of hubris?

    • Fallspring

      hubris has not held us back? what? hubris has stopped humans from exploring and learning for 1000s of years. We need to get over our selves and place our energy on science, or we will fail as a species.

  • O2bfree

    I really like On Point and I am sure David Deutsch is a very smart individual but conside the statement he made “It’s this: human beings are the most important entities in the universe. Or as Deutsch might have it, in the “multiverse.”  Tom better sumed it up by saying that mankind is “puny”. Considering the potential of the universe I seriously doubt if mankind is the most important entity in the universe.

    • Steve

      I think Deutsch agrees that we are physically puny and can’t do too much right now in the vast scheme of things. But compared to other critters on our planet we are way ahead of the curve, which is worthy of note. And we have the potential, with our rational minds (if we choose to use them that way) and our grasp of the scientific-method (a powerful tool for learning) we ultimately have the potential to do great things–positive, profound things He’s not really talking about us as a snap shot in 2011, but a moving picture, flowing into the future, developing, evolving, and learning for millions of years to come. That’s the great human being he’s talking about.

      Plus, as he pointed out, there may be other extraterrestrial beings out there somewhere who possess this same knack for learning and change. I believe he groups these beings into the same category as humans. He’s not saying “humans should concur the Arcturans” but rather “We have a great civilization, you have a great civilization, so we are kindred souls.” I think he’s far less arrogant than people believe. He’s open minded, but he values change and learning, and solving serious problems to alleviate misery.

  • BAS

    Isn’t meaning contingent on context?  Aren’t there levels and levels of contexts going on simultaneously?  …  powers of inquiry and discovery as infinite, without limit included.

  • Dave

    Deutsch’s insistence that nothing has happened in philosophy in general and the philosophy of science in particular since Popper is rather bizarre.

    • JJJimmanyC

      With Dave now I am even agreeing. What else can go wrong?

  • Jiminy Cricket

    Could someone please explain to me why Deutsch is simply not positioning himself as the 21st century Neitsche, or worse, Ayn Rand?

    Seems to me if this is the best that Oxford produces these days, they need to develop some sort of work-study program in order to get their students out into the real world just a bit more.

    • JJJimmanyC

      If not for the fact that views you imply are sympatico with the all pervasive White-Noise Nation and the August Stradulii Brotherhood and Malevolent Society, we would have a real problem here, Mr. Cricket.

      Shove that up your thorax and chirp on it before caressing my identity again with such  prurient and offensive mimicry, which will force me to skool uz in the distinctions between the faux knock-off Totes you carry, and an authentic filleting parasol, like the one that will illustrate the excessive redundancy between the holes at either end of your alimentary canal — Bro.

      • Lolly

        lololololol tee hee ROTFLMAO

        • Jiminy Cricket

          Mein goodness, the e-people one meets in cyberville.
          For some strange reason I understand Lolly’s response better than JJJimmanyC’s whose penchant for au courant misspellings suggest a faux hippity hoppityness rather than cool thoraxial cogitatin’ that we sorely need.

          Anyway I’ve done my due diligence of JJJ’s treatise, and googling August Stradulii (sic) Brotherhood with and without the redundant “i” Google gives me no results. As for “Malevolent Society”, well need I say that we have enough examples of this to go without further comment.

          But perhaps Mr. JJJ is simply and narcissistically troubled by the real bona fide verified and ipso facto Jiminy Cricket himself showing up and throwing him into the depths of an e-identity crisis. If that’s the case, all I can say JJJ is “always let your conscience be guide”.

    • Fallspring

      please explain why you think this way? 

      • Jiminy Cricket

        Well, unless I’ve totally misunderstood Deutsch’s ideas (which given their complexity I most certainly could) he looks out from his Oxford study and apparently sees humanity in crisis – eco in particular – and tries to make sense of it, like any good and worth intellectual should. But instead of thinking something along the lines of “we gotta clean up this mess” or something along those lines, he seems to be finding “higher” if not moral excuses for it. To suggest that it is our nature to head into the stars and master the universe as a natural outgrowth of our current plight, says (at least to me) don’t worry about our current plight, that’s just what happens to human beings as we make mistake after mistake.

        As anti-intellectual as I might sound, I admit I have a problem in general with generalists like this. They always sound good on paper, but in reality ignore so many day to day realities as to, in the end, be totally irrelavant. It has the makings of yet another ideology, and my likening it to past ideologies (either of quasi-spiritual like Niestzsche, or the efforts of Rand to explain more quotidian activities of Man) was only to suggest that there’s nothing new under the sun.

        I daresay, Republicans have found their New Man in David Deutsch.

  • Fallspring

    THis is the best show of all times. please listen!!!

  • Greg_Camp

    I apologize to one and all for my compulsive commentary on any and all subjects, most of which I have very little actual knowledge and experience of.  I have reviewed my involvement here in this group over the last several weeks and it is obvious that I am completely out of hand and over my head, but I just can’t stop: this is despite the fact that on several occasions people who actually have no interest in my knee-jerk compulsion to throw one ill-considered comment after another into the mix here, like a pre-tween pool-pisser, have gone out of their way to point out the dubious conclusions and positions that I take on any and everything that catches my attention. Please don’t take anything I say seriously it is to the phenome but stuff and nonsense. Thank you for your indulgence. I will try in the future to realize how silly a figure I cut before just blathering on and on. I now realize that even on those rare occasions when I am not totally in error, my opinions are of such a trite and obvious nature that is is actually painful for anyone with half a brain to read them. I beg one and all to simply not read my incessant ramblings and quips — I don’t. When you see my name associated with a post, in the future please ignore me and just skip to the next item. It’s for my own good, please don’t encourage me by arguing. I am out of control and need your help to learn how to ignore my compulsion to open my mouth every time my bowels move. Thanks.

    • Me

      typical ‘republican” back pedaling from extreme comments so as not to show their true colors.

  • Heaviest Cat

    for a more humane view of parallell universes and multi-verses,I recommend “The Hidden Reality” by Brian Greene.I’ve only finished chapt.1 and it is riveting.

  • Ed

    The speaker is certainly in favor of progress, but progress toward what exactly? Power? His view of the past is inadequate.

  • Pingback: The Four T’s — Tools, Techniques, Time and Tenacity | Theory to Practice

  • Judi

    I found itdifficult to listen to his ideas without the emotional connections to my previous convictions. I tried to objectively understand the information but found I was fighting my instinct to judgment. I found that toward the end of the hour as he explained his concepts with examples that I was able to relax and consider what he was sharing.
    Very interesting. I wish we could have heard more. :-)

  • Charlie mc

          Two poles of the dialectic in which we find ourselves: at one pole interior emptiness and at the other pole nothingness; when we restrict our search to the scientific method. This is perfectly acceptable to our empirical perception of “reality”.
           Shunryu Suzuki (“Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”) wrote:”I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary , to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in some thing(?) which has no form and no color- some “thing” which exists before all forms and colors appear.”
           Current astrophysical cosmology holds that 13.7 billion years ago, all energy and matter emerged from a “point of no dimensions”, a “singularity”(concerning which there was no before, no space, no time; an inconceivable reality).
           Suzuki continues:” Cultivate your own spirit. Don’t go seeking for what is outside yourself”.  Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Christian theologians totally stopped writing his Summa Theologica near the end of his life and told his assistant, “It is all so much straw compared to what I have seen” and ended his life in prayer in a contemplative monastery.
           So when we humans, hoppled as we are by the necessity of procuring sense knowledge of reality prior to accepting it as true,
    (cf. the apostle Thomas) are left with mythological structures to explain what is difficult or impossible to explain like “sun rise”, “shooting stars”,
    “string theory”, “the big bang” etc… We also are forced to use human words to define indefinable realities which cannot be conceptually grasped.
           Even those who believe in God and likewise that this God could and did choose to live for thirty years or so among us as a limited human being in order to teach us about inconceivable realities are forced to use human words to procliam the good news he brought. And what was the good news? As recorded as the keynote address of Jesus in the earliest. and thus the least developed theologically of the gospels, Mark, we read:
           “Change the way you think about reality,
             the present moment is the right time,
             the kingdom of God is WITHIN you,
             believe THIS good news!”   [Mk. 1:16]

           Jesus would have (does?) love Suzuki.

  • matters for peace

    I need to listen to this again, so I’m able to grasp the whole idea of his theory.  But all in all, some of his view is quite challenging & interesting, but troubling. 

    • matters for peace

      * some of his views are……

  • Pingback: just got my own bac! - Page 98 - My Way Out Forums

  • Slipstream

    Beyond this cat’s sunny technological optimism, I did not really garner that much from what he was saying.  I suppose he wants me to read his book.  We stand at the threshold, he seems to be saying, of a great leap forward in our knowledge and technical power, and there are no limits to what we are capable of.  It would be nice if he were right, but I must admit to having my doubts.

  • Jeff

    I just listened to this piece. It’s great. I find it amazing that there are so many negative comments. To me, as a layman, it’s very simple – if you look at the rate of technological progress from early humans to a few hundred years ago (stone tools to sailing ships) and from a few hundred years ago to now (space travel, computers, etc.), you go from very good progress to progress at an exponential rate. Now extrapolate that progress at an exponential rate a few hundred million years into the future and it’s easy to imagine the possibilities.

    I don’t beleive all the apoalyptic scenarios. People have been predicting the end of humanity for thousands of years and it never seems to happen. And the longer we survive as a species, the greater the likelihood we will continue.

    There also seems to be this blindness to the fact of human progress. I came back from Afghanistan a couple years ago. There in the remote villages you see how much of humanity lived hundreds of years ago. Believe me, it’s not pretty. Most of the people in the world now are much better off with electric light, indoor plumbing and toilet paper.

  • Joevague

    and whats the damn point of this?….

  • Criticpouncer

    Brilliant or not, his penchant for over-thinking every possible
    and impossible scenario from every conceivable angle is
    like beating a dead horse.  Perhaps in this fashion he defies
    argument simply from sheer boredom or fatigue of the reader.
    Or perhaps his thought processes border on mental illness.
    Trying to prove there is no grand design is as futile as trying
    to prove there is one. 

  • http://www.leonid-perlovsky.com/ Leonid

    Tom is great as usual. But Deutsch is disappointing. As soon as he gets out of the narrow area of science he knows into philosophy, or working of the mind, or any general discussion, he is boring, naive, and demonstrates his lack of knowledge. In his scientific publications he or any other scientist would never allow oneself to talk about things that have been explored by so many bright minds without learning first of what have been done. There are outstanding popular science writers, who popularize the science they know. Deutsch readily “popularizes”  areas in which he has never published, and one can see it. “The emperor is naked”.


  • Pingback: The Four T’s — Tools, Techniques, Time and Tenacity | Ancestral Momentum

  • Gregg Smith

    I spelled it “nucular” on purpose.

Aug 20, 2014
A man holds his hands up in the street after a standoff with police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

A deep read on Ferguson, Missouri and what we’re seeing about race, class, hope and fear in America.

Aug 20, 2014
In this Oct. 21, 2013 file photo, a monarch butterfly lands on a confetti lantana plant in San Antonio. A half-century ago Monarch butterflies, tired, hungry and bursting to lay eggs, found plenty of nourishment flying across Texas. Native white-flowering balls of antelope milkweed covered grasslands, growing alongside nectar-filled wildflowers. But now, these orange-and-black winged butterflies find mostly buildings, manicured lawns and toxic, pesticide-filled plants. (AP)

This year’s monarch butterfly migration is the smallest ever recorded. We’ll ask why. It’s a big story. Plus: how climate change is creating new hybridized species.

Aug 19, 2014
Lara Russo, left, Cally Guasti, center, and Reese Werkhoven sit on a couch in their apartment in New Paltz, N.Y. on Thursday, May 15, 2014.  While their roommate story of $40,800 found in a couch made the news, other, weirder stories of unusual roommates are far more common. (AP)

From college dorms and summer camps to RVs and retirement hotels, what it’s like to share a room. True stories of roommates.

Aug 19, 2014
Police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

“War zones” in America. Local police departments with military grade equipment – how much is too much, and what it would take to de-militarize America’s police force.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Your (Weird? Wonderful? Wacky?) Roommate Stories
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

We asked, and you delivered: some of the best roommate stories from across our many listener input channels.

More »
1 Comment
Our Week In The Web (August 15, 2014)
Friday, Aug 15, 2014

On Pinterest, Thomas the Tank Engine and surprising population trends from around the country. Also, words on why we respond to your words, tweets and Facebook posts.

More »
Nickel Creek Plays Three Songs LIVE For On Point
Wednesday, Aug 13, 2014

Nickel Creek shares three live (well, mostly) tracks from their interview with On Point Radio.

More »