Beginning an infinity

Created at: 15 Jul 2022 Last updated: 20 Nov 2023

Sometime in 2009 or so I made a short found footage film named Conatus using audio from open source record labels, clips from old video in the public domain on, and inspirational quotes taken from TED talks. Before I published it I wanted the blessing from one of the TED Talk speakers whose ideas I copy and pasted in the film, and who I found particularly inspiring. That speaker was David Deutsch.

To my surprise, he actually emailed me back! He offered two very important criticisms. First, I took clips from his talk that suggested the exact opposite of what he had been arguing for decades. LOL. Second, I slowed down his voice and couldn't explain why. In retrospect, I think the slowing down was to make him sound more God-like. Which is pretty ironic, again, given his message. These were nearly intractable mistakes, though I got his tentative approval for stealing just the (now I realize as tongue-in-cheek) declaration: 'Problems are Inevitable, Problems are Soluble'.

I spent quite a bit of time on the video and decided to just go with it and publish what I had, minus the bits that David requested I change or remove. You can view the video here, the password is the name of this site (no caps no spaces).

This interaction started something flowing in my mind. I also used quotes from Jill Tarter, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and John F Kennedy. But, none of the ideas expressed by these voices in the video struck me as deeply. Something about his talk really stuck with me. Despite this I didn't read either of his books: The Beginning of Infinity, or The Fabric of Reality.

Over 10 years later I watched the TV show devs, Happy Death Day and Palm Springs around the same time (the latter two related to my love for the movie Groundhog's Day). These all have a similar theme, and got me interested in Quantum Computing from a philosophical standpoint. Ideas like Determinism, Everett's 'Many Worlds Theory', and the problem of the Discrete vs Continuous come up in the show. I'm not sure exactly how I went from these films/videos to David Deutsch, but it may be related to a tangential interest in podcasts by Sam Harris through a friend of mine. Perhaps it was around the time of this tweet. I decided it was time to actually read David's books. I started in order with the Fabric of Reality, which was originally released in the 90s. This was a beginning of infinity for me, these books contain truly life changing words. Since then, I have purchased many copies of the book in Japanese and English to try and share that change.

It took me over a year to truly digest and enjoy both books. I still return to them. David often says that he considers his work to be footnotes on Popper's work. So, I went on to read, or listen to, three of Popper's books at the time of writing. That said, I'm was wary of conceding too much to David if I was to take Popper's warning from the beginning of The Open Society and Its Enemies seriously:

"If our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men.

I would not have made this blog had I not re-discovered Deutsch, and subsequently all the Critical Rationalist and Popperian content out there (Popperian Podcast, Do Explain Podcast, TokCast with Brett Hall, the work of Vivek Patel, Lulie Tanett's work (see also: The Fun Criterion, which has been particularly influential on me). But of all those things, of all the ways I've grown in the last 2 years (which has felt more like 5), I think it's Taking Children Seriously that has inspired me the most.

In trying to branch out from The Beginning of Infinity and see where it could take me I discovered David Deutsch's affiliation with Sarah Fitz-Claridge and the Taking Children Seriously project, through Wikipedia. But, after reading just a little bit about it, something still didn't feel right. Somehow, intuitively, I decided to put it on the back-burner. But, after seeing interaction between our first child and surrounding adults, the ideas I had gleaned from TCS started to get louder and louder in my head. I can't remember the exact hook, but it was certainly related to this line from Popper:

“[…] we are all equal in our infinite ignorance.”
– Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 2: On knowledge and ignorance, XI, p. 40

With that, I'll try to restate some of the most important ideas that stuck with me.

Our minds are not buckets (also called the Bucket Theory of the Mind). They cannot be filled up with facts and information. In fact, nothing is copied directly from one mind to another with any form of communication. Or, as quoted from Popper:

"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood."

Thus, nothing is "obvious." What anyone learns, can be wrong. And, every time someone learn's something, even if it's nearly the same as someone else, it's like an entirely different species has learned the same thing. So, it's important to iterate and see where things don't quite line up even if it's nearly the same. And, sometimes in trying to straighten out contradictions, solving some short-term problem, we stumble upon solutions that have much broader impact.
So, wanting to contribute and have fun in the Critical Rationalist and adjacent community and give back, and decided to email Sarah Fitz-Claridge with some personal problems. LOL. Somehow I got from problems in Japan, to much more abstract problems about stoicism and inexplicit knowledge. You can read that piece here: Taking ourselves seriously.

I'm usually spinning more than a few plates, but I'm also hoping to translate my piece and some of my favorite pieces from TCS to Japanese. If you'd like to help out with that, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can track the progress with that at this Google Drive link.