I will remember 2011 as the year I encountered The Beginning of Infinity. It really has changed the way I see everything, and the way
I approach the world.
On the last day of the year I finished Jerry Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True. At the end he quotes Ian McEwen:
Our secular and scientiﬁc culture has not replaced or even challenged
these mutually incompatible, supernatural thought systems. Scientiﬁc
method, skepticism, or rationality in general, has yet to ﬁnd an
overarching narrative of suﬃcient power, simplicity, and wide appeal
to compete with the old stories that give meaning to people’s lives.
Natural selection is a powerful, elegant, and economic explicator of
life on earth in all its diversity, and perhaps it contains the seeds of a
rival creation myth that would have the added power of being true—but it
awaits its inspired synthesizer, its poet, its Milton. . . . Reason
and myth remain uneasy bedfellows.
As I listened to these words (audible.com is the greatest invention in the history of mankind), I thought about The Beginning of Infinity and its
overwhelming optimism. I believe Deutsch has begun to tap into a message that might possibly resonate with a non-scientific public.
I’m not sure what the first step is. I’ve begun experimenting and I’ve found that many people are very excited about the ideas in BoI. Many
others are repulsed by what they see as the book’s pro-Western blind spots. I don’t know which parts of BoI are best suited for general
consumption and which are best saved until later. Here are some thoughts:
1) Exposing the fallacy of the Spaceship Earth metaphor. People are tired of the bleakness of the environmental movement. Deutsch gives us a way to be rational environmentalists. One of the most moving ideas in the book is the fact that life on our planet will cease – unless people decide otherwise.
2) Encouraging the idea that science moves from misconception to better misconception. Too many people still see science as arrogant,
while the philosophy espoused by Deutsch is utterly humble. Even our best ideas contain misconceptions. Misconceptions, in fact, are how we make progress.
3) Defining science as the search for good explanations built on creative guesswork. Down with the schoolbook version of the “scientific
method.” How many have been utterly disenchanted by that formulaic approach? Show that science is fundamentally, not just incidentally, creative.
4) Showing how significant people are. Why does so much modern science writing feel the need to tear down humans (“pond scum” and so on)?
We’re amazing, and it’s through science (not mysticism) that we learn how amazing – and significant – we are.
So what do you think? Can Deutsch’s philosophy become that “overarching narrative” that McEwen longs for? How?