David Deutsch's "The Beginning of Infinity" is one of the more thought-provoking books I've read in the past few years. Its scope is incredibly broad - from epistemology and quantum fungibility to environmental ethics and societal evolution. Deutsch is a physicist (of self-admittedly fringe beliefs in regards to some quantum theory) and I'm always a bit skeptical when subject-matter experts try to extrapolate outside of their areas of speciality - particularly when they do so on as massive a scale as Deutsch does in this book. And "quantum" anything always puts me on high alert.
Yet I found much of the book to be very compelling. Deutsch takes a deep dive into the nature of knowledge and human understanding, raising a profound question: is there a limit to what can be understood? Deutsch claims that no, our understanding is always at the "beginning of infinity" and there will always be an infinite amount more left to understand. If true, this has deep implications for how we organize society and how we think about life. I'm reminded of Shelly Kagan's claim in his "Death" Open Yale Course that we should hope there is no life after death because there is a finite amount of stuff to do and infinite heaven is actually infinite repetitive hell. Deutsch would disagree. I need to go back and re-read this book to really follow his reasoning though - it was a bit subtle.
Another important claim Deutsch makes is that there is only one type of knowledge (that defined by rationality). Again, I'd have to re-read to really understand his logic, but the implications are equally profound. For example, Deutsch says that we should not fear the Singularity because an Artificial Intelligence is no different than human intelligence. We are both "universal explainers" and there is nothing that an AI could understand that humans could not. This position rings much truer to me than Bostrom's in his Superintelligence book.
One of the major distinctions that Deutsch draws is that between "static"/"sustainable"/"precautionary" and "dynamic" societies. Static societies are those which adhere rigidly to traditional values and suppress creativity to maintain the status quo. On the other hand, dynamic societies encourage an atmosphere of creativity and criticism which leads to ongoing scientific progress and represents a "beginning of infinity." Deutsch is very pro-Westernization and is unabashedly critical of what he views as the repressive and miserable conditions of life in non-Western "static" societies.
In that vein - Deutsch makes some very interesting comments about his environmental ethic. He sets up Jared Diamond (the Guns, Germs, and Steel guy) as his opposition. Diamond claims that the Easter Island civilization collapsed because of poor environmental management and the deforestation of their island. Deutsch agrees that that may have been the proximate cause of their demise, but that's like saying that "Caesar died because of improper iron management" when he got stabbed. Deutsch says that the real reason that Easter Island collapsed was because they were a static society that was unable to solve existential problems when they came up. Had they simply had the knowledge needed to reforest their island or make ocean-going voyages to relocate, their society would have survived. I've always had a tough time stomaching Diamond, and Deutsch puts his finger on the exact reason why. One of Deutsch's observations that I really liked was that with the correct knowledge, anything is possible unless it is prohibited by the laws of physics. In our own time, Deutsch recommends that we realize that there is no such thing as "sustainability." Things are sustainable until they're not. There will always be problems and we will always need to come up with new solutions.
Incidentally, Deutsch also claims that we shouldn't worry about alien invasions either. If an alien civilization was advanced enough to build spaceships to reach our planet, we would likely understand each other very well because we would share much of the same knowledge (because there is only one type of knowledge). Furthermore, they would clearly be smart enough to teach us how to understand them and their technology (after all, they educate their own young). And there would be no need to mine the Earth for resources or any other classic sci-fi trope - the universe is so large that they could easily afford to leave us alone.
Overall, this book forced me to think about a lot of different areas of life and the universe from a highly rational and integrating perspective. Still trying to figure out what I actually believe from this book... probably worth a re-read at some point in the future.
I included some of my favorite quotes below.
The Reach of Explanations
In this book I argue that all progress, both theoretical and practical, has resulted from a single human activity: the quest for what I call good explanations. Though this quest is uniquely human, its effectiveness is also a fundamental fact about reality at the most impersonal, cosmic level - namely that it conforms to universal laws of nature that are indeed good explanations. This simple relationship between the cosmic and the human is a hint of a central role of people in the cosmic scheme of things.
But, in reality, scientific theories are not "derived" from anything. We do not read them in nature, nor does nature write them into us. They are guesses - bold conjectures… Experience is indeed essential to science, but its role is different from that supposed by empiricism. It is not the source from which theories are derived. Its main use is to choose between theories that have already been guessed.
As the ancient philosopher Heraclitus remarked, "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man."
Empiricism never did achieve its aim of liberating science from authority. It denied the legitimacy of traditional authorities, and that was salutary. But unfortunately it did this by setting up two other false authorities: sensory experience and whatever fictitious process of "derivation", such as induction, one imagines is used to extract theories from experience.
But one thing that all conceptions of the Enlightenment agree on is that it was a rebellion, and specifically a rebellion against authority in regard to knowledge.
And therefore progress depended on learning how to reject their authority. This is why the Royal Society (one of the earliest scientific academies, founded in London in 1660) took as its motto "Nullius in verba", which means something like ‘Take no one’s word for it.’
However, rebellion against authority cannot by itself be what made the difference... what was needed for sustained, rapid growth of knowledge was a tradition of criticism.
The quest for good explanations is, I believe, the basic regulating principle not only of science, but of the Enlightenment generally... it trivially implies that prediction alone is insufficient.
But the sea change in the values and patterns of thinking of a whole community of thinkers, which brought about a sustained and accelerating creation of knowledge, happened only once in history, with the Enlightenment and its scientific revolution. An entire political, moral, economic and intellectual culture - roughly what is now called "the West" - grew around the values entailed by the quest for good explanations, such as tolerance of dissent, openness to change, distrust of dogmatism and authority, and the aspiration to progress both by individuals and for the culture as a whole.
Closer to Reality
The universe is not there to overwhelm us; it is our home, and our resource. The bigger the better.
Both oppose arrogance: the Principle of Mediocrity opposes the pre-Enlightenment arrogance of believing ourselves significant in the world; the Spaceship Earth metaphor opposes the Enlightenment arrogance of aspiring to control the world. Both have a moral element: we should not consider ourselves significant, they assert; we should not expect the world to submit indefinitely to our depredations. Thus the two ideas generate a rich conceptual framework that can inform an entire worldview. Yet, as I shall explain, the are both false… the truth is that: People are significant in the cosmic scheme of things; and The Earth’s biosphere is incapable of supporting human life.
Few individuals live comfortably or die of old age in the supposedly beneficent biosphere.
Today, almost the entire capacity of the Earth’s "life-support system for humans" has been provided not for us but by us, using our ability to create new knowledge.
To the extent that we are on a "spaceship", we have never been merely its passengers, nor (as is often said) its stewards, nor even its maintenance crew: we are its designers and builders.
That is to say, every putative physical transformation, to be performed in a given time with given resources or under any other conditions is either:
Impossible because it is forbidden by the laws of nature; or Achievable, given the right knowledge
All technological knowledge can eventually be implemented in automated devices. This is another reason that "one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration" is a misleading description of how progress happens: the "perspiration" phase can be automated.
The difference between humans and other species is in what kind of knowledge they can use (explanatory instead of rule-of-thumb) and in how they create it (conjecture and criticism of ideas, rather than the variation and selection of genes).
As Einstein remarked, "My pencil and I are more clever than I." In terms of computational repertoire, our computers - and brains - are already universal. But if the claim is that we may be qualitatively unable to understand what some other forms of intelligence can - if our disability cannot be remedied by mere automation - then this is just another claim that the world is not explicable. Indeed, it is tantamount to an appeal to the supernatural.
In the universe at large, knowledge-friendliness is the rule, not the exception. That is to say, the rule is person-friendliness to people who have the relevant knowledge. Death is the rule for those who do not. These are the same rules that prevailed in the Great Rift Valley from whence we came, and have prevailed ever since.
Note also the the SETI instrument is exquisitely adapted to detecting something that has never yet been detected. Biological evolution could never produce such an adaptation. Only scientific knowledge can. This illustrates why non-explanatory knowledge cannot be universal.
The Jump to Universality
It seems to be a recurring theme in the early history of many fields that universality, when it was achieved, was not the primary objective, if it was an objective at all. A small change in a system to meet a parochial purpose just happened to make the system universal as well. This is the jump to universality.
Qualia are currently neither describable nor predictable - a unique property that should make them deeply problematic to anyone with a scientific worldview.
I have settled on a simple test for judging claims to have explained the nature of consciousness (or any other computational task): if you can’t program it, you haven’t understood it.
My guess is that every AI is a person: a general-purpose explainer.
The field of artificial (general) intelligence has made no progress because there is an unsolved philosophical problem at its heart: we do not understand how creativity works. Once that has been solved, programming it will not be difficult.
A Window on Infinity
The whole of the above discussion assumes the universality of reason. The reach of science has inherent limitations; so does mathematics; so does every branch of philosophy. But if you believe that there are bounds on the domain in which reason is the proper arbiter of ideas, then you believe in unreason or the supernatural. Similarly, if you reject the infinite, you are stuck with the finite, and the finite is parochial. So there is no way of stopping there. The best explanation of anything eventually involves universality, and therefore infinity. The reach of explanations cannot be limited by fiat.
There is something wrong with the anthropic explanation of the fine-tuning problem: we can make fine-tuning go away just by relabeling the universes.
Zeno presumed that the mathematical notion that happens to be called "infinity" faithfully captures the distinction between finite and infinite that is relevant to that physical situation. That is simply false.
There is no such thing as abstractly proving something, just as there is no such thing as abstractly knowing something. Mathematical truth is absolutely necessary and transcendent, but all knowledge is generated by physical processes, and its scope and limitations are conditioned by the laws of nature.
Consequently, the reliability of our knowledge of mathematics remains for ever subsidiary to that of our knowledge of physical reality… Proof theory is a science: specifically it is computer science.
So there is something special - infinitely special, it seems - about the laws of physics as we actually find them, something exceptionally computation-friendly, prediction-friendly and explanation-friendly. The physicist Eugene Wigner called this "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences".
Conversely the economist Thomas Malthus, a notorious prophet of doom, is said to have been a serene and happy fellow, who often had his companions at the dinner table in gales of laughter.
Our Final Century makes the case that the period since the mid twentieth century has been the first in which technology has been capable of destroying civilization. But that is not so. Many civilizations in history were destroyed by the simple technologies of fire and the sword. Indeed, of all civilizations in history, the overwhelming majority have been destroyed, some intentionally, some as a result of plague or natural disaster. Virtually all of them could have avoided the catastrophes that destroyed them if only they had possessed a little additional knowledge… Very few, if any, could have been saved by greater caution about innovation. In fact most had enthusiastically implemented the precautionary principle.
[Regarding alien invaders] Would we seem like insects to it? This can seem plausible only if one forgets that there can be only one type of person: universal explainers and constructors. The idea that there could be beings that are to us as we are to animals is a belief in the supernatural.
Neither Malthus nor Rees intended to prophesy. They were warning that unless we solve certain problems in time, we are doomed. But that has always been true, and always will be. Problems are inevitable.
Thus the very question "Who should rule?" Begs for violent, authoritarian tyranny, and to the entrenchment of bad rulers and bad policies; it leads their opponents to violent destructiveness and revolution.
The Principle of Optimism: All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.
A Dream of Socrates
Now, let us consider what would happen if, instead of legalizing thievery, their error had been to ban debate. And to ban philosophy and politics and elections and that whole constellation of activities, and to consider them shameful…. That would have the effect of banning persuasion. And hence it would block off that path to salvation that we have discussed. This is a rare and deadly sort of error: it prevents itself from being undone.
Could it be that the moral imperative not to destroy the means of correcting mistakes is the only moral imperative?
By the way, we ourselves should be at least as wary of democracy as I think the Spartans are of bloodlust and battle rage, for it is intrinsically as dangerous… just as they have moderated the destructiveness of bloodlust through their traditions of discipline and caution, we have moderated the destructiveness of democracy through our traditions of virtue, tolerance, and liberty. We are utterly dependent on those traditions to keep our monster under control and on our side.
Courses in philosophy place great weight on reading original texts, and commentaries on them, in order to understand the theories that were in the minds of various great philosophers. This focus on history is odd, and is in marked contrast to all other academic disciplines (except perhaps history itself)... the immediate reason is that the original sources of scientific theories are almost never good sources… all subsequent expositions are intended to be improvements on them, and some succeed, and improvements are cumulative.
The way to converge with each other is to converge upon the truth.
It is a rather counter-intuitive fact that if objects are merely identical (in the sense of being exact copies), and obey deterministic laws that make no distinction between them, then they can never become different; but fungible objects, which on the face of it are even more alike, can. This is the first of those weird properties of fungibility that Leibniz never thought of, and which I consider to be at the heart of the phenomena of quantum physics.
There is only one known phenomenon which, if it ever occurred, would have effects that did not fall off with distance, and that is the creation of a certain type of knowledge, namely a beginning of infinity. Indeed, knowledge can aim itself at a target, travel vast distances having scarcely any effect, and then utterly transform the destination.
All fiction that does not violate the laws of physics is fact.
A Physicist’s History of Bad Philosophy
Bad philosophy has always existed too. For instance, children have always been told "Because I say so." Although that is not always intended as a philosophical position, it is worth analysing it as one, for in four simple words it contains remarkably many themes of false and bad philosophy.
- First, it is a perfect example of bad explanation: it could be used to ‘explain’ anything.
- Second, one way it achieves that status is by address only the form of the question and not the substance: it is about who said something, not what they said. That is the opposite of truth-seeking.
- Third, it reinterprets a request for true explanation (why should something-or-other be as it is?) as a request for justification (what entitles you to assert that it is so?), which is the justified-true-belief chimera.
- Fourth, it confuses the nonexistent authority for ideas with human authority (power) - a much-travelled path in bad political philosophy.
- And, fifth, it claims by this means to stand outside the jurisdiction of normal criticism.
Our currently influential philosophical movement goes under various names such as postmodernism, deconstructionism and structuralism depending on historical details that are unimportant here. It claims that because all ideas, including scientific theories, are conjectural and impossible to justify, they are essentially arbitrary: they are no more than stories, known in this context as "narratives". Mixing extreme cultural relativism with other forms of anti-realism, it regards objective truth and falsity, as well as reality and knowledge of reality, as mere conventional forms of words that stand for an idea’s being endorsed by a designated group of people such as en elite or consensus, or by a fashion or other arbitrary authority. And it regards science and the Enlightenment as no more than one such fashion and the objective knowledge claimed by science as an arrogant cultural conceit. Perhaps inevitably, these charges are true of postmodernism itself: it is a narrative that resists rational criticism or improvement, precisely because it rejects all criticism as mere narrative… but the method of seeking good explanations creates an engagement with reality, not only in science, but in good philosophy too - which is why it works, and why it is the antithesis of concocting stories to meet made-up criteria.
Bad philosophy is philosophy that denies the possibility, desirability or existence of progress. And progress is the only effective way of opposing bad philosophy. If progress cannot continue indefinitely, bad philosophy will inevitably come again into the ascendancy - for it will be true.
One of the first of the no-go theorems was proved in 1951 by the economist Kenneth Arrow, and it contributed to him winning the Nobel prize for economics in 1972. Arrow’s theorem appears to deny the very existence of social choice - and to strike at the principle of representative government, and apportionment, and democracy itself, and a lot more besides. This is what Arrow did. He first laid down five elementary axioms that any rule defining the ‘will of the people’ - the preferences of a group - should satisfy, and these axioms seem, at first sight, so reasonable as to be hardly worth stating... Arrow proved that the axioms that I have just listed are, despite their reasonable appearance, logically inconsistent with each other.
It seems to follow that a group of people jointly making decisions is necessarily irrational in one way or another... So it will make perverse choices, no matter how wise and benevolent the people who interpret and enforce its preferences may be... So there is no such thing as "the will of the people".
There is something very wrong with that entire conventional model of decision-making, both within single minds and for groups as assumed in social-choice theory. It conceives of decision-making as a process of selecting from existing options according to a fixed formula… But in fact that is what happens only at the end of decision-making - the phase that does not require creative thought... at the heart of decision-making is the creation of new options and the abandonment or modification of existing ones.
So it is not true that decision-making necessarily suffers from those crude irrationalities - not because there is anything wrong with Arrow’s theorem or any of the other no-go theorems, but because social-choice theory is itself based on false assumptions about what thinking and deciding consist of. It is Zeno’s mistake. It is mistaking an abstract process that it has named decision-making for the real-life process of the same name.
The essence of democratic decision-making is not the choice made by the system at elections, but the ideas created between elections. And elections are merely one of the many institutions whose function is to allow such ideas to be created, tested, modified and rejected. The voters are not a fount of wisdom from which the right policies can be empirically "derived". They are attempting, fallible, to explain the world and thereby to improve it. They are, both individually and collectively, seeking the truth - or should be, if they are rational. And there is an objective truth of the matter. Problems are soluble. Society is not a zero-sum game: the civilization of the Enlightenment did not get where it is today by cleverly sharing out the wealth, votes or anything else that was in dispute when it began. It got here by creating ex nihilo. In particular, what voters are doing in elections is not synthesizing a decision of a superhuman being, "Society". They are choosing which experiments are to be attempted next, and (principally) which are to be abandoned because there is no longer a good explanation for why they are best. The politicians, and their policies, are those experiments.
Proportional representation is often defended on the grounds that it leads to coalition governments and compromise policies. But compromises - amalgams of the policies of the contributors - have an undeservedly high reputation… If a policy is no one’s idea of what will work, then why should it work? But that is not the worst of it. The key defect of compromise policies is that when one of them is implemented and fails, no one learns anything because no one ever agreed to it.
… In the advanced political cultures of the Enlightenment tradition the creation of knowledge can and should be paramount, and the idea that representative government depends on proportionate representation in the legislature is unequivocally a mistake.
The Evolution of Culture
The main danger in the biosphere-culture analogy is that it encourages one to conceive of the human condition in a reductionist way that obliterates the high-level distinctions that are essential for understanding it - such as those between mindless and creative, determinism and choice, right and wrong. Such distinctions are meaningless at the level of biology.
The whole of biological evolution was but a preface to the main story of evolution, the evolution of memes.
The post-Enlightenment West is the only society in history that for more than a couple of lifetimes has ever undergone change rapid enough for people to notice.
... Therefore no society could remain static solely by suppressing new ideas once they have been created. That is why the enforcement of the status quo is only ever a secondary method of preventing change - a mopping-up operation. The primary method is always - and can only be - to disable the source of new ideas, namely human creativity. So static societies always have traditions of bringing up children in ways that disable their creativity and critical faculties. That ensures that most of the new ideas that would have been capable of changing the society are never thought of in the first place... Not only do such societies enforce qualities such as obedience, piety and devotion to duty, their members’ sense of their own selves is invested in the same standards. People know no others. So they feel pride and shame, and form all their aspirations and opinions, by the criterion of how thoroughly they subordinate themselves to the society’s memes.
In any case, following Newton, there was no way of missing the fact that rapid progress was under way... There was such an avalanche of further improvements - scientific, philosophical and political - that the possibility of resuming stasis was swept away. Western society would become the beginning of infinity or be destroyed. Nations beyond the West today are also changing rapidly, sometimes through the exigencies of warfare with their neighbors, but more often and even more powerfully by the peaceful transmission of Western memes. Their cultures, too, cannot become static again. They must either become ‘Western’ in their mode of operation or lose all their knowledge and thus cease to exist - a dilemma which is becoming increasingly significant in world politics.
But in a dynamic society, scientific and technological innovations are generally made creatively. That is to say, they emerge from individual minds as novel ideas, having acquired significant adaptations inside those minds. Of course, in both cases, ideas are built from previous ideas by a process of variation and selection, which constitutes evolution. But when evolution takes place largely within an individual mind, it is not meme evolution. It is creativity by a heroic inventor.
Another thing that should make us suspicious is the presence of the conditions for anti-rational meme evolution, such as deference to authority, static subcultures and so on. Anything that says "Because I say so"... suggests static-society thinking.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, primitive societies are unimaginably unpleasant to live in. Either they are static, and survive only by extinguishing their members’ creativity and breaking their spirits, or they quickly lose their knowledge and disintegrate, and violence takes over. Existing accounts of memes fail to recognize the significance of the rational/anti-rational distinction and hence tend to be implicitly anti-meme. This is tantamount to mistaking Western civilization for a static society, and its citizens for the crushed, pessimistic victims of memes that the members of static societies are.
The Evolution of Creativity
... what replicates human memes is creativity; and creativity was used, while it was evolving, to replicate memes. In other words, it was used to acquire existing knowledge, not to create new knowledge. But the mechanism to do both things is identical, and so in acquiring the ability to do the former, we automatically became able to do the latter. It was a momentous example of reach, which made possible everything that is uniquely human.
[Re. Easter Island] Attenborough regards the culture as having been very valuable and its fall as a tragedy. Bronowski’s view was closer to mine, which is that since the culture never improved, its survival for many centuries was a tragedy, like that of all static societies.
To understand such events and their wider significance, one has to understand the politics of the situation, the psychology, the philosophy, sometimes the theology. Not the cutlery. [re. "The ancient Roman ruler Julius Caesar was stabbed to death, so one could summarize his mistake as 'imprudent iron management, resulting in an excessive build-up of iron in his body'"] The Easter Islanders may or may not have suffered a forest-management fiasco. But, if they did, the explanation would not be about why they made mistakes - problems are inevitable - but why they failed to correct them.
The conditions for a beginning of infinity exist in almost every human habitation on Earth.
Moreover, the Americas have not always lacked large quadrupeds. When the first humans arrived there, many species of megafauna were common, including wild horses, mammoths, mastodons and other members of the elephant family. According to some theories, the humans hunted them to extinction. What would have happened if one of those hunters had had a different idea: to ride the beast before killing it. Generations later, the knock-on effects of that bold conjecture might have been tribes of warriors on horses and mammoths pouring back through Alaska and re-conquering the Old World. Their descendants would now be attributing this to the geographical distribution of megafauna. But the real cause would have been that one idea in the mind of that one hunter.
Coincidentally, one of the things that was most false about the Soviet ideology was the very idea that there is an ultimate explanation of history in mechanical, non-human terms, as proposed by Marx, Engels, and Diamond. Quite generally, mechanical reinterpretations of human affairs not only lack explanatory power, they are morally wrong as well, for in effect they deny the humanity of the participants, casting them and their ideas merely as side effects of the landscape.
Diamond says that his main reason for writing Guns, Germs and Steel was that, unless people are convinced that the relative success of Europeans was caused by biogeography, they will forever be tempted by racist explanations. Diamond can look at ancient Athens, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment - all of them the quintessence of causation through the power of abstract ideas - and see now way of attributing those events to ideas and to people; he just takes it for granted that the only alternative to one reductionist, dehumanizing reinterpretation of event is another. In reality, the difference between Sparta and Athens, or between Savonarola and Lorenzo de' Medici, had nothing to do with their genes… They were all people - universal explainers and constructors. But their ideas were different... It is knowledge alone that converts landscapes into resources, and humans alone who are the authors of explanatory knowledge and hence of the uniquely human behaviour called "history".
The sustained creation of knowledge depends also on the presence of certain kinds of idea, particularly optimism, and an associated tradition of criticism. There would have to be social and political institutions that incorporated and protected such traditions: a society in which some degree of dissent and deviation from the norm was tolerated, and whose educational practices did not entirely extinguish creativity. None of that is trivially achieved. Western civilization is the current consequence of achieving it - which is why, as I said, it already has what it takes to avoid an Easter Island disaster.
In the optimistic conception - the one that was unforeseeably vindicated by events - people are problem-solvers: creators of the unsustainable solution and hence also of the next problem. In the pessimistic conception, that distinctive ability of people is a disease for which sustainability is the cure. In the optimistic one, sustainability is the disease and people are the cure.
But all triumphs are temporary. So to use this fact to reinterpret progress as "so-called progress" is bad philosophy. The fact that reliance on specific antibiotics is unsustainable is only an indictment from the point of view of someone who expects a sustainable lifestyle. But in reality there is no such thing. Only progress is sustainable.
The world is currently buzzing with plans to force reductions in gas emissions at almost any cost. But it ought to be buzzing much more with plans to reduce the temperature, or for how to thrive at a higher temperature. And not at all costs, but efficiently and cheaply… There is as yet no serious sign of retreat into a sustainable lifestyle (which would really mean achieving only the semblance of sustainability), but even the aspiration is dangerous. For what would we be aspiring to? To forcing the future world into our image, endlessly reproducing our lifestyle, our misconceptions and our mistakes. But if we choose instead to embark on an open-ended journey of creation and exploration whose every step is unsustainable until it is redeemed by the next - if this becomes the prevailing ethic and aspiration of our society -then the ascent of man, the beginning of infinity, will have become, if not secure, that at least sustainable.
"This is Earth. Not the eternal and only home of mankind, but only a starting point of an infinite adventure. All you need do is make the decision. It is yours to make. [With that decision] came the end, the final end of Eternity. - And the beginning of Infinity" - Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity (1955)
I have often thought that the nature of science would be better understood if we called theories "misconceptions" from the outset, instead of only after we have discovered their successors.
Infinite ignorance is a necessary condition for there to be infinite potential for knowledge. Rejecting the idea that we are ‘nearly there’ is a necessary condition for the avoidance of dogmatism, stagnation, and tyranny.
Most advocates of the Singularity believe that, soon after the AI breakthrough, superhuman minds will be constructed and that then, as Vinge put it, "the human era will be over." But my discussion of the universality of human minds rules out that possibility. Since humans are already universal explainers and constructors, they can already transcend their parochial origins, so there can be no such thing as a superhuman mind as such.
Nor will artificial scientists, mathematicians and philosophers ever wield concepts or arguments that humans are inherently incapable of understanding. Universality implies that, in every important sense, humans and AIs will never be other than equal.