The Beginning of Infinity

David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity is such an important book.

For a start it’s unashamedly optimistic (which is heretical these days).

Indeed, it defends optimism as not only being rational (after all, if we project the likelihood of tomorrows’s problems with today;’s technology and understanding, we are bound to err on the side of pessimism – hi Malthus!); but also essential to future survival. This is because it is only by being optimistic (optimism here, being describes as the understanding that problems are a result of a lack of knowledge) that we can find the courage to progress. And progress is essential for survival. The alternative is stagnation – and eventual death, because without movement and momentum long-shot catastrophic tail risk disasters are bound to catch up with us eventually.

Much like “cake or death” the choice is “optimism or death”. (I know which one I’d prefer.)

Indeed, in this view, sustainability – which can be defined as prevention of change in addition to what is provide with what one needs – can be viewed, when taken alone, as a rather pessimistic, anti-progress (and therefore, ironically, unsustainable) ideal.

Sustainability is, as such a poor goal in and of itself. It needs to be tempered with the optimistic pursuit of the new ideas and advances we can and will yet discover to solve tomorrow challenges (and repeat).

Sustainability and growth? Why not? Why pick just one?

“progress is sustainable, indefinitely. But only by people you engage in a particular kind of thinking behaviour – the problem solving and problem creating kind…
~ The Beginning of Infinity

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