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Book Title: The Fabric of Reality|
The author of the book: David Deutsch
Loaded: 2471 times
Reader ratings: 3.3
Date of issue: March 26th 1998
ISBN 13: 9780140146905
The size of the: 23.36 MB
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Format files: PDF
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In 1619, Johannes Kepler, a theoretical astronomer who earned the greater part of his income from casting horoscopes, published the Harmonices Mundi, the "Harmony of the World". It contained a statement of the Third Law, relating the period of a planet's rotation around the sun to the radius of its orbit; this was the fruit of years of diligent work, and a first-order scientific breakthrough. The book also contained hundreds of pages of the most ridiculous pseudo-scientific nonsense, where Kepler used the shapes of the regular geometric solids to explain the distances of the various planets from the Sun. He later considered the notes of the musical scale and inferred the heavenly harmonies produced by the celestial choir. The serious-minded Laplace, writing his brief history of astronomy a couple of centuries later, is shocked. How could someone as smart as Kepler do this? What was he thinking?
If things work out well for David Deutsch, it's possible that an as yet unborn historian will write similar things about him in the twenty-third century. Some parts of his modestly-titled The Fabric of Reality are interesting and insightful. In particular, he makes a rather good case for the reality of the quantum multiverse, which already seems to have had a considerable effect: I didn't realize it at the time, but I've seen him quoted more than once. Deutsch's presentation combines themes from two of his heroes, Hugh Everett (the inventor of the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics) and Karl Popper. Deutsch starts by asking, with Popper, about the nature of the scientific process. He claims that it is primarily about using evidence-based argument to weigh the merits of rival explanations; the best scientific theory is the one that is currently winning the arguments. He persuasively suggests that, on these reasonable-sounding criteria, Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation is in fact the best way to think about quantum mechanics. In particular, it is by far the most intuitive way to think about quantum computers, a subject where Deutsch has played a pioneering role. If you are at all interested in these matters, I strongly recommend reading his clear, lucid exposition.
And then... oh dear. From its logical, eminently sane beginnings, the book gradually descends into more and more bizarre territory. Deutsch introduces his eccentric personal take on the Church-Turing thesis, and uses it to derive all manner of odd consequences. He tells us that everyone who has ever worked on the philosophy of mathematics has got it wrong: mathematical proof is part of the physical world, and thus essentially bound by the laws of physics. He spends thirty pages discussing time-travel, and concludes that it is perfectly feasible in the quantum multiverse. In the last chapter, he throws aside all his inhibitions and outlines an extended fantasy, based on the work of Frank Tipler, which forecasts the future evolution of the cosmos. Intelligent life, we read, will inevitably learn to control first the Sun, then the galaxy, then the whole universe. As we head for the Big Crunch, the future civilization will take control of the gigantic gravitational energies released to create a godlike cosmic consciousness. This will exponentially slow down time, so that our distant descendents will subjectively never die, living forever in the final moments of the universal collapse. All of this, if I understood correctly, is mandated by the extended Turing Principle: the results, startling as they seem, just follow from the laws of physics. The only thing that's not quite clear is whether the godlike future being will resurrect the dead and put them in a Heaven-like environment. Tipler, a Christian, thinks it will, but Deutsch is inclined to disagree.
It must have been disappointing when dark energy was discovered the year after, implying that there wouldn't be a Big Crunch after all. But Deutsch doesn't come across as the kind of guy who sits around and mopes over his setbacks. My guess is that his new theory is even better, and when he and Kepler are resurrected together some time in the infinite future I'm sure they'll have no end of fun comparing notes.
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Read information about the authorDavid Deutsch, FRS is a British physicist at the University of Oxford. He is a non-stipendiary Visiting Professor in the Department of Atomic and Laser Physics at the Centre for Quantum Computation (CQC) in the Clarendon Laboratory of the University of Oxford. He pioneered the field of quantum computation by being the first person to formulate a description for a quantum Turing machine, as well as specifying an algorithm designed to run on a quantum computer. He is also a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
In his books, he also made philosophical contributions. In epistemology, he stressed the importance of explanation, and proposed 'hard to vary' as a criterion for good explanations. In memetics, he gave an account of how memes work, separating them into 'dynamic' or rational memes and 'static' or anti-rational memes. He also advocates optimism, potentially boundless progress, objective beauty in aesthetics, and reason.
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