The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch: A book review

Book Review: The Beginning of Infinity

Pound-for-pound The Beginning of Infinity has to be the densest collection of batshit-crazy ideas I’ve ever come across.

Never mind the bit about how there are trillions of copies of you constantly branching throughout the multiverse. Deutsch also claims there is nothing in principle stopping us from colonising the stars, transmuting matter like the alchemists of old, bringing an end to death, reversing global warming, and solving any other problem that arises. But that’s not ambitious enough: we also need to casually dismantle the central problem of metaethics, and toss in an argument for objective beauty while we’re at it.

For a maximally disorientating reading experience, Deustch delivers these ideas without the slightest hint of deference towards the multiple fields he bulldozes through—not so much as a deliberate flex, but with the airy detachment of the Don Draper meme: “I don’t think about you at all.”

At first I was annoyed. Then I was amused. Then I was intrigued…

Fuck-You Money Part II

If you ever need a refresher on the importance of fuck-you frugality, go peel off a $100 bill, and subject yourself to the silent, brooding judgment of Benjamin Franklin.

The side-eye is so doleful it traverses time and space. It’s almost as if Franklin knows his face is about to be a) rolled into a tube and stuck up some degenerate’s nostril, or b) used to purchase another superfluous piece of junk that will, in short order, be discarded upon a mountain of previously purchased superfluous junk.

Franklin’s not mad; he’s just disappointed. He wants us to be better…

The Brave New World of Wireheading

The rat’s paw moves constantly, sometimes becoming a blur as it depresses the lever over and over. Once, twice, ten times, a hundred times, five thousand times in the space of an hour. With each push, an electrode sends a jolt of electricity coursing through its tiny rodent brain. The rat will push the lever for as long as 24 hours without stopping. It won’t eat, or sleep, or make any effort to leave the confines of its stainless steel cage. Unless the men in white lab coats cut off the current, it will stimulate itself to death.

It’s 1954, and science has just stumbled upon the brain’s pleasure center. Heady days! The excited researchers repeat the experiment on monkeys, and find, again, they can reach right into the hypothalamus and light it up like a Christmas tree, transforming their subjects into blissed-out automatons. The seminal paper concludes that these results could “very likely be generalized eventually to human beings—with modifications, of course”.

Of course…