The Beginning of Infinity

Have you ever read something that squashes and stretches your mind, forcing it to work and grow in ways you weren’t expecting? Not every book is capable of this, but when you find it you want more. It’s a bit like a mental workout and when you’re used to cruising through most books, it’s a welcome change.

Reading David Deutsch’s Beginning of Infinity was an important part of my summer. I first tried reading it early in 2021 with a reading group but quickly fell off. It’s a challenging read to begin with, and I found it hard to follow along on my Kindle. Something about not being able to point, highlight, and annotate the page lowered my comprehension. So I gave it up.

After listening to David Deutsch’s interview on The Tim Ferriss Show twice, I decided to give the book another go. I needed to try it in paperback this time, but it’s one of those books that’s also always out of stock on Amazon and that I never come across at used (or any) bookstores. I have no idea why given how good it is. Maybe nobody wants to get rid of their copy. But finally in late July I bought myself a copy and set out to read it.

I was reading it slowly in chunks as part of a daily routine, sometimes only 10 pages at a time to let the ideas simmer. After finally finishing it, I was struck by a few things.

  1. There are a lot of really interesting ideas in here that I need to digest more, which is why I’m writing this piece.
  2. There are a lot of ideas that I still don’t understand (hello Hotel Infinity) and I’ll need to re-read to absorb. Sure enough, this is a book I plan to re-read many times during my lifetime.
  3. Reading the book raised my bar for difficulty and the quality that I expect from a book. It was so thoughtful and interesting that I almost didn’t want to waste any more time with some of the “shallow” books I had on my shelves. I even donated a handful after finishing this book. Sorry The Startup Way.
  4. Being exposed to such foundational ideas about the world developed an interest to learn more about physics and quantum computing. I bought a few other books and started some online courses along with David’s other book.

In this post I am to do my best to explain some of David’s core ideas in some of my own words. This will be a test to see if I really understand what he wrote.

There is no reason not to be optimistic.

David presents a worldview, one which I have since adopted, of optimism. Optimism in this context is not the belief that the future will be better, but the understanding that it will be. All problems that humans face are solvable. If they weren’t solvable, they wouldn’t be problems. They would be laws of nature. 

From the understanding that all problems are solvable, it means that every problem we face today would be solvable given the right knowledge. Unless the laws of physics state otherwise, every problem is solvable; otherwise the laws of physics would reflect that. Of course the laws of physics continue to change, but not in such ways to expand the scope of unsolvable problems.

The issue of “sustainability” and today’s climate problems are the result of us not having the right knowledge yet. If tomorrow we had a way to create energy with no more emissions and distribute it around the world, we wouldn’t have a problem anymore. I’m not saying it’s easy, cheap, or about to happen. But if you understand that it’s possible to create more knowledge, we can solve the problem. We can solve any problem. Knowing this is a reason to be optimistic about everything – there’s nothing stopping us except knowledge right now. It gets me jazzed up because it means we can work on any problem. And it’s easy to find big problems worth trying to solve.

I have seen countless potential solutions to these problems that just aren’t scalable yet. From projects at TKS to real-life moonshots that professionals are pursuing, it’s often the cost and resources required that have become the problem, not to science. And as with nearly everything else, cost and resource efficiency improves over time.

So even though we don’t know how to solve it today doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution. A helpful thought experiment to solve really complex problems is to ask what would need to be true/figured out to no longer make this a problem? 

Knowledge is wealth

“You see a piece of wood, I see an intricate throne.”

my made up quote

Knowledge has the power to transform the environment around us into something more. You can generate wealth from what many would consider to be nothing. Think about the sun’s energy. Early on it’s only value was in the light and heat it provided to the Earth. Once we had the knowledge of how to capture some of that light and turn it into usable energy, we transformed a once under-appreciated asset (we used the light from the sun but not in the same way) into a revolutionary new power source.

We used knowledge to turn rocks and fossils into fuels for civilization. For turning metals into transistors. And turning electrical signals into intelligent computer systems that power all of civilization.

All of this happened through knowledge. We could have had all of the same natural resources without any of the progress, if we didn’t have knowledge.

The saying “knowledge is power” is true. The biggest wealth unlocks are about transforming existing resources into something more valuable. If you want to generate wealth, your ability to create knowledge that will transform the world is your biggest edge. So if you’re looking to get rich, figure out what you’re able to transform.

I can’t explicitly remember reading about this in the book, but I know Naval mentions it in his conversation on the Tim Ferriss show. It’s one of those ideas that sounds a little woo-woo in passing but the more you think about it the more exciting it becomes. Even on a less grand scale, individuals are able to turn words or code into immense value if they have the right knowledge of how to do so. It’s a simple framework that empowers you to hopefully pursue specific types of knowledge that help you change the world.

I started reading Fabric of Reality and listening to more podcasts on the topics from the book. As I continue to learn and improve my own understanding, I will expand on my ideas in this post.

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