Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review: The Beginning of Infinity

In the new title by David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity, the question “will human progress ever come to an end?” is posed in an overtly contemplative way. Deutsch provides an ardent “No” in response and sets the stage for this extraordinary book. The noted visionary claims that human progress is unbounded, and to enforce his claim, takes the reader through a rousing romp through virtually every fundamental field of science and philosophy. 

According to Deutsch, all human progress results from a solitary activity – the pursuit of good explanations. After a Tour de force analyzing the nature of explanation itself, the reader takes an excursion of what Deutsch sees as the four strongest types of explanation: evolution, quantum physics, knowledge, and computation. Although controversial, his conclusions are markedly original. He believes, for example, that the growth of knowledge bears deep similarities to biological adaptation, with genes and ideas both serving as replicators. He suggests that the field of artificial intelligence has reached an impasse not because of some absolute roadblock, but because we do not yet understand how creativity works. (“Once that has been solved, programming [AI] will not be difficult,” he writes.)

Perhaps even more controversial is Deutsch’s argument that the physical world is a multiverse whose structure is determined by how information flows within it. He is a strong proponent of the “Many Worlds” interpretation of quantum physics, in which all possible quantum states (i.e. physical realities) are actually realized, contradicting the mainstream Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. 

Whether or not you agree with Deutsch on each topic, The Beginning of Infinity offers an intellectual survey of nearly unparalleled scope, with a strikingly fresh spin on the power of inquiry. Anybody here on the Science Lifestyle Blog will find this new title a refreshing detour into the philosophy of science.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sing about Science

As I’m always trying to educate the general public about all that is science, I recently encountered a fantastic little website called Sing About Science & Math. The site was developed in part by an NSF grant. The goal of the team and contributors is to build a community of researchers to study the usefulness of music in science and math education. A worthy and noble pursuit, I decided to use their searchable database to find some examples. I entered the search term “black hole” and found a long list of qualifying titles complete with lyrics, links to the music, and in some cases  links to buy the music.

The music database offered by this site seems quite extensive, and I’d recommend it to any parent seeking new ways to encourage interest in science and math topics. If music helps cultivate an appreciation for science and math in young people then this site may represent a path in the right direction. Check it out!