April 12, 2016
Why does INFINITY INSTITUTE carry "infinity" in its name? In this article Christopher Kabakis, the institute's founder, explains the reasoning behind the choice.
It all began when I read David Deutsch's book "The Beginning of Infinity" (published in 2011). It was an exhilarating read and, together with its predecessor "The Fabric of Reality" has truly transformed my understanding of the world and our - human's - place in it.
Humanity's deepest theories - quantum theory, computer theory, epistemology and the theory of evolution - are inextricably intertwined and together form a unified "fabric of reality" that makes reality comprehensible. What is fundamental about life on earth and humans especially is that we are a hub of knowledge. With humans evolution takes place (at an accelerating pace) not anymore (just) in biological form but mostly at the level of ideas ("memes"). Our growth of knowledge via science and art is what makes humans special in the cosmic scheme of things, and this growth of knowledge is in principle unbounded. Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of physics is in fact possible - we just need to know how to do it. This is a deeply optimistic world view that can give us hope to be able to - in principle - solve any of our problems.
Now, how can we solve our problems? The first answer is a methodological one.
In order to learn "how" to make progress we need to apply the only method that can generate "real" (less wrong) knowledge: creating hypotheses ("conjectures") and criticize them (via argument and experimental testing). This is the scientific method if properly understood. What makes a good hypothesis or explanation is that it is hard to vary - many of its elements play a functional role and are linked to other "good" theories (theories that have been extensively criticized and tested). Only when we come up with good explanations that are hard to vary they are worth being tested. The growth of knowledge consists of superseding existing "false" theories - always limited & fallible - with better "false" theories that explain more or with less contradictions to other good theories.
The other side of the coin of the growth of knowledge is technology. When we humans have understood something correctly about reality we can build technology that makes use of this sufficiently correct explanation (space ships, satellites & GPS-enabled mobile phones, nuclear reactors, electric cars, drugs to treat diseases etc.). Technology is the ultimate evidence for us that we actually accumulate "true" knowledge about reality.
Now, the second way in which the question "how can we solve our problems and make progress?" in all matters that matter to us is not a methodological one but one that relates to our values and institutions. The quest for good explanations can only happen in an open society where ideas can freely be created and then be subjected to scrutiniy. Progress in the growth of knowledge in all domains necessitates an open society with tolerance for dissent, a tradition of criticism, an active appreciation of creativity and discussion. Not authority can decide what is true; only a process of striving for better explanations via conjecture and criticism. And for this we need the appropriate institutions to support such a process of knowledge creation: a strong division of powers, an education that fosters a "scientific" mindset and that helps people understand the importance of knowledge creation in the cosmic scheme of things, funding for science and technology, independent media, an appreciation of diversity etc.
Our institutions and our individual actions matter enormously. If we are to survive as a species we need to become better at understanding that problems are inevitable but soluble and that we can be optimistic if we adopt the right mindset: our ability to improve, to become better, to create progress is infinite.
With this deep truth in mind INFINITY INSTITUTE was founded and the intention to help people improve, acquire skills, and develop their potential is what animates us in our daily work.