Summary of ‘The beginning of infinity’ podcast by Naval Ravikant
A treat in science, beliefs, explanations and philosophy
The podcast by Naval Ravikant and Brett Hall titled The beginning of infinity is a sumptuous treat in science, beliefs, explanations and philosophy. The podcast is based on a book by the same name by David Deutsch and is divided into 2 parts which you can refer to below:
The core premise of David’s book is that everything in the world can be understood by 4 basic theories:
1. Quantum theory
2. Theory of computation
3. Theory of knowledge (epistemology)
4. Theory of evolution
David emphasizes that humans are universal explainers and everything is knowable by humans. So We are at the beginning of an infinity of knowledge.
The entire podcast delves into these areas: what constitutes knowledge, what is a good explanation in science, what is a probability, how the multiverse interacts with the double-slit experiment and so on. The more you listen to it, the more energized and intrigued you would be. In the following article, I have noted down some things that I found interesting!
Knowledge is in the observer, not the observed
I loved how Naval explained the difference between knowledge and information. Oil in its most basic form is useless unless it is refined and used in the combustion process. Language is useless unless someone knows how to interpret it. e.g. we can keep sending English language messages in outer space but unless someone out there knows how to interpret it, that information is useless.
We, humans, are creators of knowledge from information by observing the world around us and interpreting it differently every day. And that is why predicting the future is very hard. since we do not know what sort of interpretation or knowledge would get created tomorrow.
What is a good explanation in science?.
We understand things around us using good explanations and constantly replace old theories with better ones. Our knowledge about anything is conjectural or a best guess. What you know today is based on the facts that you observed today and how you produced a good explanation for it. That explanation should be testable and falsifiable. It is not set in stone or permanent forever but the best possible explanation then.
Brett gives a few interesting examples in the history of science to emphasize this:
- The first example is related to the theory of general relativity. It is the best explanation so far and nothing else could be proven. When experiments were done to disprove it, eventually it was found that those experiments had flaws. So our best explanation today is Einstein’s theory of relativity. It does not mean that it can’t be disproved. The effort to extend the quantum theory to accommodate both macro (theory of general relativity) and micro (quantum mechanics) matter behaviour — has been going on for a century. The day someone finds and proves the alternate theory, general relativity may get completely discarded or extended.
- The same is true with particle physics. Almost a century back, the atom was thought to be the fundamental particle of matter. Then the internal structure of an atom i.e. electron and nucleus were found. The next step was the discovery of protons and neutrons inside the nucleus. These particles are further made up of quarks. The next explanation on this line is string theory. So this keeps on evolving. What we know today is far more advanced than what we knew a century back. New knowledge gets created by humans every day and we should have a scientific temperament toward the testability of this evolving knowledge.
The famous double-slit experiment and multiverse
The double-slit experiment is based on the premise that matter can exhibit both particle and wave nature. How matter at the subatomic level behaves in the presence of an observer is the most intriguing phenomenon of quantum physics. Let’s start with an example at the macro level, a paintball. If we keep shooting the paintballs towards a wall with 2 vertical slits in it — the balls that can get through the slits will form a pattern of 2 vertical lines on the second wall behind it. This is fairly straightforward and a no-brainer…!
Now, apply this experiment at the micro-level. Use an electron gun instead of a paintball gun and observe the behaviour. You will see an interference pattern on the canvas behind (when no observer is observing how the electrons pass through the slits). It is possible when an electron passes in its waveform through the slits and creates a wave-like interference pattern on the canvas. But when you add an observer to the experiments, the electrons behave like a paintball i.e. like a particle, it passes through one slit and forms a vertical pattern behind!
It is hard to wrap your head around this wave-particle duality of the subatomic world and the scientific world struggled to explain this. There is no good explanation for this behaviour yet only some conjectures. And one of the conjectures that Naval and Brett talk about is the multiverse.
Multiverse theory was postulated by Hugh Everett in the 1950s to devise a simple, realistic way of understanding quantum theory. Naval and Brett debate about the only explanation that can generate an interference pattern: when a subatomic particle like an electron or photon is fired from a gun, there is a particle that we see in our universe and also another particle from other universes (or multiverses) that we can’t see but it passes through the slits. This causes the interference pattern since particles from the multiverse interfere with particles from our world! This is a mind-bending explanation and I had one of those aha moments of my life after listening to this!
Have you seen dinosaurs?
Even though we can’t prove that the multiverse exists, it may still be the best possible or good explanation for a double-slit experiment. This is analogous to the existence of dinosaurs! Yes, no one has observed them and yet we believe that those giants existed on the earth based on fossils evidence. We have not seen the big bang yet we have theories about how the universe came to exist!
Science expands our vision of reality
In a nutshell, science is not just about things we observe; it is a lot about things we can’t observe and yet postulate about their existence based on a good explanation. The history of science is the history of broadening our vision of reality as we learn things.
Good explanations rely on creativity
Einstein was curious and had the imagination to think about how things may be happening. Another example that I can think of is the famous Italian astronomer, physicist, and polymath Galileo. He drew the first realistic drawings of the Moon. He was trained in the art of chiaroscuro (a technique for shading light and dark). It helped him understand that the shadows he was seeing on the moon were mountains and craters. His ability to understand things was widened due to his art and creativity where he could come up with a good explanation about shadows on the moon!
It is impossible to summarize this discussion entirely and do justice to the stupendous intellect of Naval and Brett. In a follow-up article, I will attempt to summarize part 2 of the podcast. Meanwhile, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘thumbs up’ and do check out the original podcast.