• The Beginning of Infinity

  • Explanations That Transform the World
  • By: David Deutsch
  • Narrated by: Walter Dixon
  • Length: 20 hrs
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (1,523 ratings)

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The Beginning of Infinity

By: David Deutsch
Narrated by: Walter Dixon
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Publisher's Summary

A bold and all-embracing exploration of the nature and progress of knowledge from one of today's great thinkers. Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand life's mysteries, from the mundane to the seemingly miraculous. In this important new book, David Deutsch, an award-winning pioneer in the field of quantum computation, argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe. They have unlimited scope and power to cause change, and the quest to improve them is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach, according to Deutsch: we are subject only to the laws of physics, and they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve. In his previous book, The Fabric of Reality, Deutsch describe the four deepest strands of existing knowledge-the theories of evolution, quantum physics, knowledge, and computation-arguing jointly they reveal a unified fabric of reality. In this new book, he applies that worldview to a wide range of issues and unsolved problems, from creativity and free will to the origin and future of the human species.

Filled with startling new conclusions about human choice, optimism, scientific explanation, and the evolution of culture, The Beginning of Infinity is a groundbreaking audio book that will become a classic of its kind.

©2011 David Deutsch (P)2011 Gildan Media Corp
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“Provocative and persuasive…Mr. Deutsch’s previous tome, The Fabric of Reality, took a broad-ranging sweep… The Beginning of Infinity is equally bold, addressing subjects from artificial intelligence to the evolution of culture and of creativity; its conclusions are just as profound." ( The Economist)

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Worthwhile if you have the patience

Listening to this book was one of those "good/bad" experiences for me. I'm going to start with the bad, so hang around if you want to hear the good. The first seven chapters were a monumental waste of my time, primarily because they are spent delivering a critique of many various schools of philosophical thought that Deutsch doesn't like. This is a clever approach, since it allows Deutsch to casually dismiss concepts with which he disagrees later in the book as instrumentalist, reductionist, empiricist, or whatever label he can most easily apply at the moment to get you to not consider counter-ideas very closely (there are lots of them). Where no such labels apply, he casually pronounces things "good" or "bad," or perhaps "parochial," which is a simple stand-in for "bad" and is dramatically overused throughout the book. He never, at least that I noticed, communicates the least uncertainty with words like "I think" or "my idea is this," even when discussing fairly controversial topics. This is a book of pronouncements from a truly gigantic ego. Though I frequently agreed with his positions on things, it was also common for me to think of objections that I would have liked to discuss, but the author had simply moved on. Things get better in chapters 8-12 and then meander around from one topic to the next with very little tying them together other than possibly the theme of evolution. That would have been fine, but some interesting topics were covered in a rather cursory way. Deutsch seems to accept, for example, the popular sci-fi saw that we will be able to upload our minds into computers, without any discussion at all of the difficulties this might pose when we don't currently understand either memory or consciousness very well. Indeed, it seems precisely like the kind of "prophesy" that the author dismisses elsewhere in the book, and yet the idea doesn't receive the same disrespect. When discussing climate change, his perspective is more or less to expect the problem to be solved, since that's what humans are good at doing - solving problems. He fails to examine the possibility that humans will invent excellent solutions, and perhaps already have, but that those solutions will never be implemented due to political and social forces that favor inaction whenever preventive, rather than reactive, measures are called for.
The heart of the book is in chapters 8-11, which is where Deutsch is most in his element. He attacks the topics of quantum theory and the multiverse in a way that I found to be quite thought-provoking, and any book that provokes thought is, in my opinion, worth reading (or listening to). This should come as no surprise, since Deutsch has made his name in the field of quantum computing, but what really helps is the very clear voice that he uses throughout the book. He does have a talent for explanation, even when the subject matter is complex, so I would recommend the book for that reason alone. I think he managed to nudge my understanding of quantum theory forward a bit, and for that I'm grateful.
So the book gets three stars from me, which means that I found it a valuable listen, but it's far from perfect. Skip the first 7 chapters. Really. Once you get to the end of chapter 11, keep going as long as it holds your interest, but don't be afraid you'll miss something great if you don't finish.

65 people found this helpful

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A Perspective Shifter

This book has flaws. Dr. Deutsch makes a few generalizations that I found a bit unfair -- related to physiological research and sustainability as it relates to environmentalism.

BUT!

It's a perspective shifter.
I think about progress and humanity and our place in the universe differently.
I think about science and the scientific method differently.
It gave me glue to connect concepts I've found and liked from other books.

It's deep. It's complex. It's not "easy".

But certainly valuable.

Kudos.

43 people found this helpful

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Deutsch is a master of sophistry.

Would you try another book from David Deutsch and/or Walter Dixon?

Deutsch no. Dixon yes.

Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

Not that hard.

Have you listened to any of Walter Dixon’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

never before

What character would you cut from The Beginning of Infinity?

Deutsch

Any additional comments?

David Albert wrote an excellent and friendly review of this book in The New York Times Sunday Book Review of 08/12/2011. Despite it’s positive tone, it reassured me that I made the correct decision to stop listening to it. Sadly, it took me about 12 hours to decide that. Deutsch is smart and eloquent, but he's a master sophist. He writes clearly and skillfully, but treats his conjectures as facts. A term I once heard for this is “lying the truth”. He convinces himself that things are actually the way he thinks they are, and then he writes as if that is the case, which in his created mindset, it is. He covers many topics. For those where you have some knowledge, the holes in his certainty are obvious. For those where you don’t have some knowledge, you’re in danger of accepting some ideas as truths that are no more than pure speculation on his part.

35 people found this helpful

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Breathtaking

If you could sum up The Beginning of Infinity in three words, what would they be?

Formidable
Intellectual
Virtuosity

Any additional comments?

The Beginning of Infinity delivers a wonderfully dizzying display of intellectual virtuosity. I find it hard to conceive of the depth of preparation that must have gone into preparing the amazing synthesis that is provided by Deutsch in this light hearted, weightily significant masterpiece. At many points in the book, its depth of insight, its level of surprise, its ability to reach for the important in phenomena from sub-sub-sub-microscopic through to ultra-cold of deep space, from the soul-crushing impact of static societies through to the freewheeling exploration of world-views and universes had me exclaiming (sometimes to the surprise of others as I lived the book between my ear buds over several days). Deutsch tackles giants (Dawkins, Hofstadter and Dennet and many many more) without perceptible fear of authority - addressing the magic of their insights and the folly of their oversights with candid and calculated precision. I loved his portrayal of people as universal explainers / makers of meaning. I loved the picture he creates of the acceleration of possibility now that evolution is released from the constraints of the biological. I loved his firm hold on the possibility for repeatedly stepping beyond gloom that is available only to participants in dynamic society. I loved the brightly lit lobby of Infinity Hotel and its implications for metaphor in learning. And I was frustrated to all hell that Deutsch still failed to convince me on multiverses despite clearly thinking in the spaces where I always find objections (over the blithe extrapolations over orders of magnitude between observed phenomena in the quantum world to make proclamations about implications in the world of emergent phenomena we inhabit in our macroscopic lives) - perhaps I just need to listen to that section three more times ....

Dixon's consistently fresh presentation throughout this gargantuan task is a credit to him - a really great read.

My strong impression is that this is an audiobook that no English-speaking person anywhere should fail to listen to and luxuriate in - in this case, "life changing" is for real. Thank you both for slipping its explosive reality into my unsuspecting June 2015.

30 people found this helpful

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Covers nothing to everything

One of my favorite books and provided me with many insights into our place in the universe and how we know the things we know. Deutsch explains the very small to the very large. He provides a reasonable explanation of the measurement problem in physics and a consistent theory on multiple universes. His survey of different schools of philosophies is one of the best I've read. He even has a detailed chapter on developing the most efficient election process which doesn't fully fit the theme of the book, but he explains it so well it becomes an intriguing chapter.

After reading the book, you will have an appreciation for the infinity and understand what is meant by 'everything possible will happen with certainty".

27 people found this helpful

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You have to take the bad with the good

I am not sure if this book is an optimistic anti-dogmatic prescription for unlimited progress or anti-religious liberal ravings about how people should think. Maybe it is a bit of both.

Some nits: The author describes Good Explanations and criticism as the key to progress. Near the end of the book he suggests calling Good Explanations, instead, misconceptions (which I find better, but still not quite right). I would instead use the less loaded term of Story. With a Good Explanation being a Falsifiable Predictive Story. The author also uses Testable which is not quite right. I like Falsifiable as being more to the point.

I was quite unimpressed by the dialog and the description of the multi-worlds interpretation as a Good Explanation.

This book has some of the same undercurrents as The Singularity is Near, but is more rambling, less focused, and more philosophical. Although there were a lot of interesting ideas in this book, there was also quite a lot missing. It seems to me there is much more to a really Good Explanation than is implied, and there is more yin-and-yang to conservative verses progressive than the author presents.

Nevertheless it is a good listen for anyone interested in thinking about how the scientific method really works. Unfortunately some parts are pretty boring or just tedius.

24 people found this helpful

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Three books in one, but not necessarily a value

When writing a review, I like to wait a few weeks after listening to a book. I find, when I look back, that my memory is able to distill some of salient points and I am better able to reflect on the essence of a particular book. As far as this work is concerned, here are the reflections that come to mind:

1. In my opinion, there seems to be a theme, perspective, tone, whatever one wishes to call it, by physics/hard science authors that their particular field entitles them to comment on or critique general issues or questions with a greater weight or authority than others. This also tends to create hyperbolic and grandiose titles like "The Begining of Infinity: Explanations that Transformed the World.No doubt this is related to the rigorous standards of their discipline. One may have heard such statements like " there is nothing else but physics" (I am heavily paraphrasing). In particular, one section of this book asks us to believe that even beauty is objective, can be given criteria and scientifically explained. That's right, beauty is no longer in the eye of the beholder but is subject to the laws of physics too. Thus, following these suggestions to their conclusions, all art curriculums should be replaced by science courses and legitimate beholders will have first interned at Fermilab.

Very often however, they neglect to point that their positions, postulations and conclusions are based on a particular interpretation and not necessarily on proven fact, though they would have us think otherwise. In this case, the author is known for espousing ideas based on the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics, hardly a widely accepted view. Listening to this book, one would never know that.

2. I liked the beginning of the book. It started well and I felt it had some promise, but about mid-way through it seemed to go off the rails a bit. Beginning about the time the author is imagining dialogs with Socrates, I began to lose the thread of the material. By the time it was finished, some 12 hours later, I felt and still feel like there were a couple of different books buried in the contents. It was as if the author had gone back and picked out particular essays or short works over his career and tried to stitch them together into some sort of coherent framework. Perhaps in one of the many alternate quantum worlds this and similar techniques are more successful.

3. One of the books' main arguments, as I found some 18 hours in, is that in the authors view, mankind has potential limited only by the laws of physics. Given time, anything that is possible will be achieved (more or less - again I am paraphrasing). In my opinion, the gentleman is far too sanguine with regard to humans and human nature. The last couple of hours seemed almost pollyanna-ish. Perhaps I am being too hard, it was after all very close to a listening marathon, but I seriously doubt anyone would suggest that this book is an example of the objective beauty it suggests. It did, in fact, infinitely transform me in a being 20 hours older than I was before.

19 people found this helpful

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Brilliant but difficult to understand

Would you listen to The Beginning of Infinity again? Why?

I'd HAVE to listen to it again if I want to understand some of the many highly abstract intellectual concepts introduced by Deutsch. I think this is a compelling read anyway. I will listen again.

Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

No. I wouldn't say they were too technical, just above my intellectual and cognitive "pay grade" in some areas. I suspect most listeners will feel the same way. Though I personally have a PhD in an admittedly unrelated-to-physics but nonetheless a very analytical and technical field, I simply could not follow certain discussions, such as the one relating to Quantum Mechanics.

What does Walter Dixon bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He was competent and a clear enunciator. However, I think actually READING a physical book would be better in this case: It would enable one to go back to prior sentences or pages to reread them. The nature of his book is such that if you didn't understand the initial paragraphs of a topic he introduces, the odds are good that you won't understand the rest of the discussion. His arguments are like building blocks.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Yes, "Infinity Hotel" was one. Another was a discussion of his views, which I share, on how mankind should deal with the prospects of global warming.

Any additional comments?

Deutsch is absolutely a genius. I am not convinced he is necessarily right when he tries to extend his scientific reasoning to completely unrelated fields, but he definitely makes you think in a completely new light. I'd say "Bravo". This is a very important book.

18 people found this helpful

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This book is a wild ride!

Wow. I do not pretend to understand even the 20th part of the ideas in this book. Who would have thought that a physicist and mathematician could express himself so eloquently on so many disparate subjects? This book is all over the map; it's a wild romp through an amazing mind. David Deutsch's ego must be at least the size of the Milky Way Galaxy--no, wait, that's too "parochial", too provincial by N orders of magnitude! Well, I guess it does take some bravado to take on evolution, quantum mechanics, history, universality, even knowledge itself, and still find time for politics, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and a conversation with Socrates. Along the way, as Deutsch manages to drop an amazing idea you never heard before into just about every paragraph, his major theses boils down to two things: first, good explanations lead to an infinity of knowledge, while bad explanations have only the power to fool us; and secondly, there will always be problems, but they can be solved if we can separate the good explanations from the bad ones.

Doing that in the real world we live in every day is hard, way harder than I think Deutsch realizes. We are fallible human beings who more often than not ignore even the most elegant of explanations with impunity. That said, being inside his head for the last couple of days was a privilege indeed.

By the way, the reader did a great job of not being in the way!

18 people found this helpful

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Perhaps the most important book written so far.

Accessible language, a joy to listen to across the multitude of fascinating subjects. A complete software upgrade for your brain.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Jim Vaughan
  • 10-11-12

Interesting, complex and sometimes flawed!

David Deutsch is a genius. As the father of modern quantum computing, he has an exceptional mind, and I found this book full of stimulating ideas and arguments going well beyond the reach of Physics.



His thesis, based on a synthesis of Popper, Dawkins and Hilbert, as well as his own interpretation of the Many Worlds theory of QM, is that through creativity, and the continuous search for "good explanation", we are able to shape our environment in ways no other force of nature is capable, and the reach of that ability is infinite.



At times his arguments are really hard to follow, and I suspected he may be slipping in some slightly dubious logic. For instance, his argument against the "Anthropic Principle" explanation for the "fine tuning problem". However, his early chapters e.g. on Hilberts "Infinity Hotel" and on "fungible" universes in QM are exhilarating.



However, as the book went on, I became increasingly irritated. Having persuaded us of the power and reach of "good explanations", he betrays these very values. In his chapter on aesthetics, he specifically rejects the explanation that we find flowers beautiful for biological reasons (e.g. bright colours as a super stimulus for a species once adapted to seek brightly coloured ripe fruits), and instead opts for an "objective beauty" explanation, which explains nothing.



To add insult to injury he follows this by a lengthy explanation of cultural evolution based on Dawkins "meme" theory, (which itself is a poor explanation, which even Dawkins has not bothered to develop). Deutsch's conclusion that in the past creativity was used to suppress innovation is bizarre. "Dual Inheritance Theory" (which includes memes), provides a better explanation, contrasting vertical (traditional) and horizontal (progressive) modes of cultural information transmission, each of which carries benefits and dangers. His final chapters on ecology, were therefore unconvincing.



Overall, very interesting, often complex, sometimes flawed.

19 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Nigel Warburton
  • 08-07-20

Could be better narration

Why do publishers inflict this in audio? Especially on an audience like the UK, why not Jonathan Kebble, Simon Vance, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Irons, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson or any actor able to emote and speak in a clear variable intonation about a clearly interesting topic? So many books it's the same bottom line thought that it's cheaper to have one narrator so UK can just be shelled out the American one! But it makes it like getting through mud to me. The author speaking would be better even because normal people vary their voice which would be more interesting. That said, this narrator is better than most, say, Mel Forster narrating.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Matthew
  • 04-21-16

Stuff David Deutsch Was Interested In At The Time

This is a weird grab-bag of ideas all jumbled into a book and tenuously brought under a single title.

It starts badly. After listening to the first couple of chapters I was close to abandoning it. Firstly it seemed like this was going to be Yet Another Neo-Atheism book. That's fine, but it's covered better elsewhere and it isn't why I bought this book. I got the impression his publisher had told him to put in concepts X, Y and Z liberally to appeal to a particular book-purchasing audience. Yawn.

One of his foundational concepts is nonsense on its face: he argues that to say there is a limit to human understanding is to invoke the supernatural. But any concept which can't be expressed in the number of particles in a brain can't be understood by it, so a limit obviously exists. You might have an interesting discussion about what it is, but he denies the possibility. He even comes back to it many times, which is disappointing.

Also, the multiverse. Don't get me wrong, this chapter was actually pretty interesting, but what's it doing in this book? I think it's his pet theory or something. He tries to argue to reject the multiverse explanation is bad philosophy. This just comes across as sour grapes.

There were many good things in this book, and on balance I'm glad I finished it. His theory of explanations is interesting and well expressed. The chapter involving the discussion between Socrates and Hermes was initially weird, but I ultimately really enjoyed where he went with it and appreciated the style. Also, despite having nothing to do with the rest of the book his exposition on the multiverse is worth a listen.

Narrator was excellent, very easy to listen to.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Gharper
  • 12-29-15

Very worthwhile. Fantastically narrated

Like some other reviewers I wasn't convinced by the author's interpretation of a few issues such as the description of objective beauty and arguments leading on from it. However, for the most part this is fantastic with some very thought inducing analogies, including Startrek teleporters in parallel dimensions. The bit about political systems and fair political representation was also incite full.

The book is also very well narrated, one of the best I've heard. I listened to it in 1.25x speed.

2 people found this helpful

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  • John
  • 04-11-22

Knowing you know very little is the first step.

It's a great book to revisit maths and science to show you how little we know when we know so much.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-17-22

A book for repeated consumption

Took me quite a while and a lot of relistening to chapters, but it's truly a mind expanding book!

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  • Edwin
  • 01-10-22

One of the best

Knowledge is best for those who have understanding, I feel grateful for money well spent.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-17-21

It expanded my mind for sure.

I think everyone who want to have a rational mind should listen to this book to develop a better mental model. A valuable book. One of a kind.

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  • David Fletcher
  • 10-16-21

Lacks structure

There are some interesting insights buried within this audio. Unfortunately the meandering stream in unstructured statements, often repeating, make it too much hard work to bother.

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  • Hooman
  • 10-11-21

What an eye openner!

If you are interested in a new way to look at the world this book is something that you may consider. It is closer to a philosophy book [as it should be not a typical joyless philosophy booked filled with things that don't matter] than to a general physics book so be prepared. Mamy ideas are not mainstream but they are laid out clearly and motivated sufficiently. Yes, there are holes in some arguments but the author does not try to hide them.

The audio presentation is clear enough and can be followed most of the time. The narrator, however, has a rather monotonous voice that puts you to sleep quite fast but it was not an obstacle in conveying the concepts.

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  • Dirk Bertels
  • 03-21-17

Inspiring

Any additional comments?

I came to this book after listening to D. in conversation with another great communicator, Sam Harris. This book brings nuance to certain words and concepts, enriching your language and hence your thinking. I find myself using 'having reach' for example instead of the more cumbersome 'has extent to universalise'. I like his observation that good science needs to be 'explanatory' and how creativity has the capacity to create new 'explanations'.

Excellent book, I had to listen to it twice, the second time much easier since I had become accustomed to the new language.

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  • Netwin Waldro
  • 11-07-16

Mind-blowing tour de force

What made the experience of listening to The Beginning of Infinity the most enjoyable?

The sheer force of Deutsch's arguments.

What did you like best about this story?

The number of times the author produced a brilliant, original, and convincing explanation for some important physical / human phenomenon.

Which character – as performed by Walter Dixon – was your favourite?

David Deutsch

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes. Although I skipped some chapters that weren't as important as others.

Any additional comments?

This book is breathtaking in its scope, originality and humanist spirit. It was fantastic to listen to so many ground-breaking ideas that I, already an scientifically-minded atheist, had never conceived before.

The underlying message — that there IS an objective reality and that modern society is fortunate enough to find itself at the "beginning of infinity" towards exploring it — is beautifully optimistic and highly convincing. There is no shortage of rebellious but rigorous thinking in this book and Deutsch explains most of his ideas deeply and openly. Each chapter has a "gotcha" moment (although some chapters have several and some only have one or two).

A perfectly understated narrator, as well. An essential read for all intelligent agents.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Tim Lehmann
  • 03-16-16

Fascinating

Incredibly broad in scope but still (mostly) accessible and easy to follow. That said, I never thought I'd hear the word "parochial" so many times in one lifetime.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 08-27-22

May be the most profound and insightful book I have ever read

May be the most profound and insightful book I have ever read… highly recommended. Read slowly, pause and think a lot…

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  • Christine Riley
  • 12-12-21

Good maybe even Excellent - I’m not smart enough to know.

Had to listen twice - still terms and “isms” I did not fully understand.
Will listen 3 times I think - it is very much a revolution of conventional thought - one unbounded by constraints of present day knowledge or imagination.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-03-21

Pretty meh

I enjoy a good philosophical, physics based book. However, I don’t feel like this book drove home it’s point very well and I was left wondering how he’d come to the conclusions he had. A lot of the time he’d give one or two examples of bad explanations and then say “therefore this one must be it” and I don’t feel like all his theories were incredibly backed up within the book.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Nathan Daly
  • 08-26-21

Scattered

I thought it was going to be about physics. was a mix of physics and weird philosophical ramblings. some interesting points but a real mishmash of stuff.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • David Clark
  • 07-03-21

Insightful

Amazing book that changed the way I view the world. Covers many topics in great depth, presenting a new take on human knowledge.

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  • Justin
  • 12-15-16

Deep and Insightful

A bit slow to get started but soon sucks you into a deep world of thinking that can't pull away from. Highly recommended!