Science is Only Human #2

I mentioned I’m reading David Deutsch “The Beginning of Infinity and as it happens I’m reading it in that way where I can’t decide whether to crash on through or to pause and annotate, and as a result am doing neither. If I were to make a note of every point where his words resonate with my own thoughts, it would be longer than the book – a book I could have written myself. Yet at the same time, even though there is a temptation to skim across stuff that seems familiar, it nevertheless feels significant that it is so familiar. Having felt that, I am instantly regretting not making notes of each specific.

He said something significant about X, now where was that exactly? Lose-lose, except for the fact each chapter has its own summary.

Neither the title nor the subtitle “Explanations that Transform the World” convey the wealth of content – until you feel you understand his point. This is particularly disconcerting since, as I already noted in Science is only Human, I was really only intending to read one chapter – the one on cultural evolution. It’s not the book I was expecting from a quantum physicist, despite how much I identified with his explanations in The Fabric of Reality.

I find he has no qualms whatsoever talking the language of memes, and in pointing out that many criticisms of their misconceived objectivity and definitiveness apply equally to misconceptions about genes. He’s only the third person after myself and Dennett I’ve heard express such opinions.

Also, the powers and dangers of abstraction and the perils of reductionism. Causal relations really do exist between different higher-evolved levels of entity, that do not benefit from further “atomic” explanation. Not only that, they disbenefit since such attempted explanations are literally intractable. Information and knowledge processing are key.

The point of memes (and genes) is to maximise their spread relative to their alternatives throughout a population not to optimise the benefit of either individuals or population. Bad (easy) memes really do spread further and faster than good (optimal) information from our perspective. Rules of thumb can be “better” that objectively accurate information when it comes to humans optimising our objectives.

He ultimately debunks the reasoning of anthropic principles, as misconceived non-explanations. Good explanations are characterised by their reach in the sense that the more they hold for more variable conditions, including unpredicted ones, the better they are, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Things that can conveniently explain anything, explain nothing. Physics did it, is no more an explanation than God did it.Despite this he takes the significance of anthropic perspectives pointed out by Brandon Carter to be worth serious explanation. Fine tuning explains nothing other than to serve as a reminder that our physics really does have an anthropic perspective, one that so many scientists deny for political reasons. Rick Ryals is the only other person I’ve seen push that point after Brandon Carter. (Must check – I know Sabine Hossenfelder has written something on this recently).

Science is only human.

[And, surely Deutsch’s work must fit the EES (Extended Evolutionary Synthesis) and IIT (Integrated Information Theory) agendas?]

 I’m only just starting Chapter 6 of 18 – Reading on.


Also published on Medium.

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