This book is about nature of Progress and the main idea is that it is unstoppable and unbounded because it is based on human intrinsic need to find explanations and to build such model of environment that it would be good enough to facilitate survival.
- The Reach of Explanations:
The first chapter lays out foundation for the book. It reviews process of building explanation as sequence of Sensory experience – Derivations (Extrapolation, Generalization or Induction). The point is made that empiricism, which makes sensory experience the main source of knowledge is not correct because building of real model of reality require much more sophisticated critical analysis to overcome false impressions such as flat earth. In short: appearances are deceptive and so is blind following to authority. The main achievement of Enlightenment – development of philosophy of science is not just experimental testing, but understanding of need for criticism of authority not based on another authority, but on different explanation of existing facts and discovery of new facts based on the prediction provided by new explanation.
- Closer to Reality
Scientific instruments are bringing us close to reality because they provide new and expanded option for theory-laded collection of facts.
- The Spark
This chapter starts with review of the fact that most non-scientific explanations are anthropocentric. These explanations so often were wrong that they cause creation of “Principle of Mediocrity”, which states: “there is nothing significant about humans in the cosmic scheme of things”. Another influential idea is “Spaceship Earth”, which states: “Earth is like spaceship designed to support human live and civilization”. Author believes that both these ideas are mistaken. Humans are not a trivial occurrence in the universe and there is no special accommodation created for humans. It is rather human existence based on ability to acquire knowledge and accommodate to reality even if it is hostile and inhospitable because people are universal constructors and the most significant part of their construction activity is construction of explanations. The most important take out from this chapter are two statements:
Problems are inevitable
Problems are soluble
These chapter reviews different explanations of creation from creationism to evolution. The most interesting part is look at the knowledge acquisition as Lamarckian process with memes being developed with view of adaptation and optimization versus genes being developed by process of random change and selection.
- The Reality of Abstraction
This chapter reviews two misconceptions: Reductionism – the idea that science always must reduce phenomenon to components in order to explain it; and Holism the idea that all significant explanations are of components in term of wholes.
Author position is that there is no necessity for hierarchical structure of explanations; they could be at the any level and of any complexity as needed. The important point is that abstractions are real.
- The Jump to Universality
All knowledge growth is incremental, but at some point it usually lead to qualitative change when reach of knowledge become universal. One of examples provided is switch from Roman numerical to Arabic. Roman numerals being dependent on new symbols with number increase are inherently limited, while Arabic being algorithmically built with just 10 symbols provides notation for infinite numbers.
- Artificial Creativity.
This is review of attempts of creation of AI starting with Turing; all consistently failing. Author infers that the issue is unresolved philosophical problem of not understanding how creativity works.
- A Window on Infinity
This is review of mathematical and philosophical view of infinity and multiple infinities imbedded in each other. It is illustrated by Hilbert’s experiment with Infinity Hotel. The inference is that development of new knowledge is infinite and its content is unpredictable.
This is about unpredictability of the future, but at the same time possibility to predict direction of the future. This comes from the Principle of Optimism: All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge. So logically since amount of accumulated knowledge grows, the evils should decline.
- A Dream of Socrates
This is a phantasy flight related to the problem of complexity of communications. It is also called “Socratic problem” because Socrates did not leave anything in writing, everything from his dialogs came second hand from Plato. Overall communication problem does not really relate that much to form and/or technology, but rather to process of ideas movement from the mind of one person to mind of another. This process is very complicated because both transmission and reception of ideas based on huge amounts of preset ideas so “A” in one mind even if communicated as “a” could easily be processed into “B” in another mind. An interesting example is provided for information transfer during learning process of high physics. Teaching and learning is never ever conducted using original works of discoverers. It is conducted using specially developed training materials that considerably decrease difference between mental database of original author and contemporary student.
- The Multiverse
This is a small deviation into area of quantum physics designed to demonstrate that physical world is a multiverse, and its structure is determined by information flows in it.
- A Physicist’s History of bad Philosophy
This charter explores philosophical meaning of Quantum theory and why this meaning was actively ignored and even resisted by physicists. The reason provided: the bad philosophy that is philosophy, which actively prevents growth of knowledge. Most damage causes by bad philosophy came from idea of separating a scientific theory into explanationless predictions and arbitrary interpretations.
This chapter starts with review of apportionment problem: how provide fair proportional representation in democracy. It turns out that it is mathematically impossible to do within a quota. Therefore idea of “will of society” is pretty much meaningless, leading to Popper’s criterion: Good political institutions are those that make it as easy as possible to detect whether a ruler or policy is a mistake, and to remove rulers or policies without violence when they are. A wider philosophical interpretation: it is mistake to conceive of choice and decision-making as a process of selecting from existing options according to fixed formula, it is missing the most important part: creating new options.
- Why are flowers Beautiful?
This chapter is about aesthetics and its meaning. Contrary to usual approach that it is subjective, author is trying to prove that there is objective truth in it that comes from its evolutionary function of attractions, but also from its function of helping communication between people.
- The Evolution of Culture
This chapter about change in culture that occurs via evolution of memes as ideas that causes behavior. They could benefit people, or they could hurt people, but what relevant is how good they are in causing people pass them on and making people to act on them. Author differentiates rational and anti-rational memes. The rational survive by helping their holders while anti-rational by suppressing critical abilities of holders. Western civilization is now unstable because it is switching from static society consisting of anti-rational memes to stable dynamic society consisting of rational.
- The Evolution of Creativity
This chapter is about human ability to replicate memes and creativity as outflow from this process. In other words human existence depends on belonging to the group, communication between members of the group and even incorporation of individual into the group requires individual to possess effective mechanism of memes’ acquisition, which is acquisition of knowledge. The same mechanism is used to create new knowledge and therefore is source of creativity. The other important point is that memes are not copied, but rather developed by each individual in his own mind under influence of environment and communications with other individuals therefore assuring uniqueness of mind of every individual.
This chapter is about static society discussed using example of Easter Island and documentaries made about it. It shows that society could become static and stop solving problems leading to complete destruction. It follows by critic of ideologues who cannot conceive complexity of future changes in knowledge and therefore try to build strategies of violent actions to conserve whatever current level of technology and wealth exists and prevent future disasters that are more often then not are just work of imagination. The real progress is in ability of society to constantly change by developing new knowledge and expanding its wealth making it possible to meet future challenges that are not possible to predict anyway.
- The Beginning
This is final discussion about many cases of people declaring that all discoveries either already made or about to be made and that the knowledge is finite. Author’s inference is that all these statements either simplistic or overcomplicated are plainly false and we are at the beginning of infinite process of knowledge acquisition and that there is only one way of making real progress, it is to seek good explanations with creativity and criticism.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is another book that promotes ideas I am pretty much agreed with. I think that our historical experience shows that humanity makes a great progress when creativity of individuals is not restricted by narrow-mindedness of other individuals, usually those in power. The creativity and criticism always come together and help resolve new and newer problems that inevitably occur all the time. There is really no option to freeze present whether it is current natural environment, or human relations, or structure of society, or whatever. The only choice we really have is freedom when unlimited creativity and criticism would produce resolution of problems, if we want to achieve progress, meaning improvement in human lives. The alternative – lack of freedom, restriction on creativity and criticism would not maintain current status of society and environment, but rather lead to regresses meaning decrease in quality of human lives and even complete destruction.