ABOUT THIS EPISODE

It can be easy to believe that humans are insignificant. We’re specks of dust on a random planet in a vast universe. Less powerful than elephants. Fewer than ants. But David Deutsch believes that’s all beside the point, because humans possess one unique skill: attaining knowledge. David Deutsch – Oxford professor, father of quantum computing, recluse – convinced Chris years ago to take over leadership of TED with his ideas about knowledge. In this mind-bending conversation, the two dive into his theory that the potential reach of knowledge is infinite. They explore how knowledge first developed, why it sets us apart and what all of these heady concepts really mean for our present and future. To find out more about TED, please visit TED.com.

English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

00:00:03welcome to the Ted into view I'm Chris Anderson this is the podcast series where I sit down with the Ted speaker and we get to talk much deeper into their ideas and was possible during that Ted talk today's guest is something of a personal hero David Deutsch he's
00:00:23physicist and author he has a reputation of being something of our exclusive genius he lives by himself in a home in Oxford working late into the night trying to unpack with the deepest mysteries of the cosmos his thinking has really had a dramatic impact on how I see
00:00:40the well here's the thing most scientists would tell you that human beings are just that significant we %HESITATION just this little speck of dust in a random planet and it skill part of the end of this David Deutsch says that's wrong yes she says people NASA and the
00:01:00reason the mass it is that they are incubating something knowledge in David's view knowledge as a force of almost unlimited power in the universe and also force that will determine our future we can survive and we can fail to survive but it depends not on chunks but on
00:01:23whether we create the relevant knowledge in time the overwhelming majority of all species and all civilizations that have ever existed on now history and if we want to be the exception to that then logically our only hope is to make use of the one feature that distinguishes our
00:01:43species and our civilization from all the office namely our ability to create new explanations new knowledge to be a hub of existence David's thinking about knowledge has a huge impact on me pass late in a book called the fabric of reality David argued that the way in which
00:02:04we think of knowledge is broken up into all these different fields is misguided actually all of knowledge is connected and if we spent a bit more time understanding those connections understand the context of what we know that is where real understanding comes from what the real breakthroughs come
00:02:20from believe it or not I honestly think it was reading that book that finally gave me the courage eighteen years ago to leave my company and take over the leadership off tat which back then was an annual conference in California devoted to bringing together technology entertainment and design
00:02:38you see if Deutsche was right the sharing of accessible knowledge between different disciplines wasn't just a short term fat and wasn't just limited to those three subjects was something the world would always need some inspired me to take the leap and here we are and honestly David it's
00:02:56an honor to be speaking with you today welcome well it's very nice to be here and thanks for the for the dramatic introduction very glad to hear it for David in the first Ted talk you gave you had this phrase that you quoted ready from Stephen Hawking Stephen
00:03:14Hawking referred to humans as basically chemical scum on the surface of an upscale planet and that's actually quite a common view of how science is thought of as treating humans you know we started thinking we are the center of everything and then we gradually discovered that now which
00:03:33is the planet revolving around a star in that store is just one of a hundred billion in a galaxy that galaxy is one of hundreds of billions of other galaxies and goodness knows we become very quickly completely insignificant eat you I think disagree with that characterization explained why
00:03:51and you write the that's the prevailing view because that's the view this kind of forced on us by a narrow conception of what science is according to that view you classify things in the universe in a sort of hierarchy of the more massive and powerful versus less massive
00:04:13and so on and so we used to the fact that the big objects like the supermassive black holes in in the center of the galaxy affect us darkened Ripper started pieces but the strong being ripped to pieces hardly affects the supermassive black hole and it's it's the same
00:04:33with the sun in the solar system you know the the sun affects the US but the US barely effects and so on and so on but the funny thing is own us on the surface of the US everything's the other way around everywhere you look you see the
00:04:51effects of life on us and life every living thing that you see is is the result of the action of a single molecule %HESITATION two molecules or something depending on what kind of %HESITATION organise images so this sub microscopic entity Oman's Vaast resources now he humans take this
00:05:16to a wholly different level where we are capable of becoming close Makley significant not just dominating the surface of a planet but dominating the galaxy and further out well has a mean by it by kind of Star Trek like exploration or or something else yes Star Trek overall
00:05:38the colonization it's it's what we do %HESITATION humans involved unlike all other existing organisms to find new environments which are initially lethal to them and to change the environment such that they can live comfortably that here I am sitting in Oxford and if it weren't for technology I
00:06:06would die within hours because without clothes without shelter without medical attention without sources of food from far away I would be very hard put to it to forage and the the terror tree here supported only a tiny number of people in the early days of our species whereas
00:06:28now it supports tens of millions and so the difference between your survival and otherwise is human knowledge turned into technology which has built it out of the house the central heating the clothes and so forth that that keep you alive yes fundamentally it's knowledge and I mean when
00:06:48you talk about it out like that humans can have indefinite impact on the eight of us through Star Trek like expansion out like a first glance of people since that will say well already that sounding a little silly that science fiction anyway and and how can that possibly
00:07:04mean much but your whole second book this idea of the beginning of infinity is arguing that knowledge in principle has infinite reach and therefore if you don't include the annual world view you are missing out on something fundamentally important to talk a bit more about how we could
00:07:24think of that reach of knowledge preps it's %HESITATION more illuminating to think of this the other way around so suppose there was some extraterrestrial beings intelligent beings looking around at the styles from let's say a hundred light years away or something in the galaxy and they would see
00:07:43various styles and they they might use astrophysics to predict what the stars will do but on us they would detect some sing for example the fact that there's oxygen in the atmosphere which tells them that there's life here and then they would detective if they kept watching the
00:08:03us for a while I mean I I'm kind of imagining them with technology similar to ours they could detect more said better technology but if if they watch the us for a couple of decades they would see that the mean temperature of the planet is changing faster than
00:08:19it possibly could only artificial intervention can change the temperature of the US as fast as it has been changing this is inexplicable without the presence of intelligent beings and if they then aus themselves will this influence the influence that affected the atmosphere of the planet could it possibly
00:08:41affect us and the answer is yes because the issue of whether a spaceship and get the is a matter of what we decide to do and it's also a matter of the laws of physics for David I think it's important to have this conversation to you know their
00:09:02mind that the way you think you but by thinking in so the theoretical terms about what knowledge might in principle one day do that has implications for how we should think of human beings and %HESITATION %HESITATION saw role in the world and so when we talk about aliens
00:09:22so we talk about %HESITATION it upset for exploration you're not saying that Hey this is going to happen anytime soon what you're saying is it is in principle possible for this species that has evolved on earth to have a future that is a modular may not happen but
00:09:40it just imaginable where it can become indefinitely more influential in our solar system eventually maybe our galaxy in may be be on that and so it's it's the fact that that is possible in principle which creates this anchor this fundamental idea that knowledge there's no limits to how
00:10:01powerful and influence it can it eventually have starting with Oxford in central heating and moving out in theory indefinitely beyond that that is a remarkable fact that needs explaining yes admit me eat you honest about the cosmic significance so the on to the to give to explain it
00:10:20in some sense must involve things beyond everyday life but everyday life as we see it would have been regarded as completely magical even a few centuries ago let alone for the most of the period of the human species for some you know I eat I can sit in
00:10:37Oxman look a bit beyond my house and look up in the sky and I see an airplane that now the fact that the %HESITATION metallic object weighing a hundred tons is flying there five hundred miles an hour and is come from another continent that is as much of
00:10:53a jump from natural human beings as what we're discussing this kind of space travel space exploration these from where we are now in in fact I think comparing those two I I I I guess we have already come further in terms of knowledge than what lies between us
00:11:13and space exploration I'm not saying exploring the galaxy that would require more knowledge but that's all it requires you if if you're a scientist and you honest is seven so possible you have to use the laws of nature you can't say well my intuition is that that will
00:11:30never happen is on knowledge of the laws of nature is far superior to our intuition which off to rule was formed in the past and was formed in a very narrow set of circumstances and so this is really a radical counter views to what I would say is
00:11:52even a traditional biologists view which is that %HESITATION we should be more humble as a species you know yes we have our extraordinary skills but frankly every species has its extraordinary skills wet wet good at language and %HESITATION we can build these amazing things but you know an
00:12:11elephant has thousands of muscles and it's trunk and %HESITATION the exquisite way in which it can manipulate that that's like nothing else we can do ants and bees have these extraordinary social lies every species is actually in a very real sense equally involved as we are because it's
00:12:29been evolving for exactly as long from the original source of life or death so there is no special status in biology to humans and %HESITATION how we should we should come off a high horse now the implication of what you're saying is actually that's not quite right that
00:12:48knowledge which somehow became part of the human evolution restore at some point is special and allows this particular species to do things that are not just a different kind of thing from others but differ in principle yes %HESITATION first of all what gives living things that miraculous power
00:13:09compared with non living things compared with most of the things the universe is likewise just knowledge knowledge is included in what is really a computer program in the DNA molecule asi in Utah articulation of it knowledge is something much broader than a world view that is that is
00:13:28encoded in the human mind does much more that's right now knowledge isn't just a measure of relief and it's it's not just a matter of human psychology it is information that has coastal power knowledge is information that has a coastal power that's that's against fleet crest definition and
00:13:48it goes out about three or four definition of knowledge in in in my thinking about this and and that's my present one I get this more general concept of knowledge from the philosopher call Papa who spoke of knowledge without a knowing subject and the two main types of
00:14:07knowledge that he was interested in was scientific knowledge in human minds on the one hand and knowledge in the form of adaptations in genes of living organisms on the other hand now that second type of knowledge is not knowledge in a knowing subject but nevertheless it's information that
00:14:30is spectacularly honed for its ability to cause physical effects so the genes for the all my can cause physical effects of focusing which can then a change the trajectory of the animal which can then make it kill another animal or escape from another animal and so on and
00:14:52the program in DNA has punched above its weight by Vaast factor now humans can transcend that in at least two ways one is that the amount of information in our brains is vastly more than the amount in our DNA so the DNA is built up knowledge by evolution
00:15:17and so on but we have added to that both by a culture and by individual thinking and the brain simply holds more bits of information than DNA does and the other thing is which is more important that humans have a different kind of knowledge namely human self explanatory
00:15:38knowledge humans have understanding and I argue in my second book that explanatory knowledge is the stuff that has infinite reach its seems unlikely that biological evolution could ever let's say a move animal to the moon and back but we knows that eight human technology explanatory knowledge can do
00:16:04that so that's really powerful so what happened at some point along the evolutionary chain these mines were created that we're capable of a different more powerful kind of knowledge expansion of it so this this seems to me to come right then to the heart of why you believe
00:16:20we are not just chemicals come and and I I to me it's a profoundly inspiring view in many ways of how we can think of who we are which is that for whatever reason we have found ourselves in this moment in history where we have embarked on a
00:16:36journey that has potentially unlimited reach it could lead us to let Charlie anywhere that there is no treatment that in principle humans couldn't dream of being part of an it may it may be it's not us in the end it some successes species or yeah but we are
00:16:57part of a lift off that has no limit in principle well it has the limits of the laws of physics other than the laws of physics I think it's very striking view humans involve the ability to do what you've just said at least a hundred thousand years ago
00:17:16right out but for various reasons didn't use it now in much the same way the whole universe starting fourteen point something billion years ago I am for the first billion years or so all sorts of new things were happening a supermassive black holes are forming galaxies reforming hydrogen
00:17:39was on eyes and deline eyes and then new elements of form and so on off to about a billion the I think it's about a billion years I could I could be wrong some something like that nothing new happened in the cosmos stone stows with whom today exploded
00:17:58a planetary systems of formed new element is that the same new elements were was spewed into the into the into plan for gas again and again and again and it was just boring for about thirteen billion years and then creativity happened and we are at the phase change
00:18:18where things on from now on and that is if we play our cards right if it is not might not happen or someone else might do it but this phase change changes the whole nature of the cosmos for example in the first fourteen billion years the rule was
00:18:38that big things affect small things and small things do not affect big things March off to the phase change everything is determined by small things small things affect large things and and what is the determining factor is not mass or power or energy dot information and is is
00:18:59scientifically the kind of information that has physical effects namely knowledge what's the most thrilling a history of the universe I've I've actually never heard that you used to lead in that that I I I need you to explain that you said thirteen billion is twelve billion of those
00:19:16were boring then creativity happened was the what what was creativity and how did it happen well a human type creativity is different from the creativity of the bio sphere in that you human creativity can form models of the world that say not only what will happen but why
00:19:38so an explanation for example is something that catches an aspect of the world which is on the scene so explanations explained the scene in terms of the on the scene where I was biological knowledge it's only what works the RIAA is like a camera because it gradually move
00:20:00towards that shape because the animals that had a worse shape didn't survive as well right at a camera is shaped by the laws of optics okay so the reason for the existence of a camera is because some humans somewhere had this expansion theory based on these ideas about
00:20:22the invisible these ideas about up to see about physics about how light works and by using that patent of ideas that allowed them to build the cameras and then a lot more beyond that that's right that's is what allows human time knowledge to have this universal reach whereas
00:20:43biological knowledge alone has enormous reach as you said it can make elephants trunks and and drops necks and so on it is actually limited because of the type of knowledge which is the for example to evolve from one animal to another over let's say a thousand generations every
00:21:04single generation must be viable as an animal because the DNA strands have to be able to just replicate in every single generation and if one of them fails fun and doesn't work then the species will go extinct where as humans as the philosopher Karl Popper said we can
00:21:24let our ideas die in our place and that means that we can go through a whole bunch of the sequence of ideas that aren't viable all the way from one viable idea to the next we don't have to die when they're wrong what was the key thing that
00:21:43happen though in human history or in human evolution that allow this type of expansion alleged to take off almost certainly this dates back to our ancestors species species before humans also had the capacity for expungement knowledge I believe and also a cousin species like like a neon cells
00:22:06and I have a rather heterodox theory of why we have this ability namely it's needed to pass on cultural knowledge is what Richard Dawkins goals means we are involved cultural knowledge which is means instead of jeans and they can involve thousands of times faster so what happened at
00:22:29some point hundreds of thousands of years ago was that %HESITATION hominid minds if all the ability to mimic each other you would see a pastor and of the mind and you would you would cop yes and that and that created a replication process that was massively faster than
00:22:45traditional reproduction and and allowed multiple things to be explored essentially in some of the stuff to work the first thing that happened even before that that there are some species still today like chimpanzees and so on that have memes and they replicate the meme from one individual to
00:23:03another by literally by blind replication they they have a mirror neurons and that kind of infrastructure in the brain which allows them to mimic what another chimpanzees doing now our ancestors somehow latched on to the evolutionary advantage of having memes but they both vastly increased the memory but
00:23:27then they also involved creativity because humans copy other humans by completely different methods to what's used by say chimpanzees humans don't copy the behavior they copied the meaning of the behavior so you you can watch someone doing something let's say opening you know your your %HESITATION safe cracker
00:23:52on yo yo secretly watching someone opening that safe and you you look at the combination that they enter and then they turn on one wheel in another we'll now you might go that and do the same thing all you might open the safe by different message yeah you
00:24:09know you might be low it in like in some of those films you might be low it in from the skylight and have to turn the knobs with your feet now a chimpanzee could not do that because that's not copying the behavior that's just copying the meaning of
00:24:25the behavior to humans it's second nature to copy the meaning in in fact if you go to a lecture and you understand what's in the lecture you might go until someone else but almost certainly not in the same words that the lecturer used you would explain in your
00:24:45own words if you understood it and if you didn't understand it then you might explain it in the same was lecture use you might say well actually said sensor but I don't know what the hell he was talking about can you tell me got it so so so
00:24:59let me put this together and see if I have I got this right so some of our ancestors species develop this ability to copy memes memes by the way but the term is now used often just a means of internet images %HESITATION animations that take off in a
00:25:13spread Farley which is a very narrow interpretation of Dawkins original intention which is I mean is is and the thing that can be copied from brand to brand whether it's it's a nice ride idea phrase oppo Emma a piece of music and the thing that can be copied
00:25:27is a meme and so this took off as a sort of biological ability in our ancestors and then at some point it shifted to hope get wet wet it wasn't direct copy of a behavior that meaning of what was underlies some of these activities started a hobbit land
00:25:44that's the moment when I guess you would say the understanding comes into the equation that someone is understanding someone else's intent or action yes and doing something based on the understanding and understanding is is I think everything almost any of your view of the the one that said
00:26:00that more about what it is to understand something I use the term understanding an explanation almost interchangeably an explanation is something that explains what you see in terms of what you don't see it explains what might happen in terms of general ideas about what can happen so understanding
00:26:23transcends the initial application of what it's for let's say you you initially learn how to throw a bowl from one person to another for fun or you throw it as a weapon or something like that but then later someone can I ask what possible take and then that
00:26:42may allow them to construct a better weapon or back to defense or a million other things in future generations which all depend on the meaning and may have nothing to do with the original application but I should add that this initial burst of understanding %HESITATION creativity into the
00:27:05world was delighted by the fact that memes tend to involve like jeans memes tend to involve two breeds true that is memes which can get themselves faithfully copied are preferred to ones which con so regardless of whether that's true or not regardless right at that that's a tendency
00:27:30not that the what they tend to do and so initially creativity was used only for copying ideas faithfully which is almost the opposite use of what we consider creativity to be used for today which is to improve upon ideas this is why our ancestors spent on a thousand
00:27:53years basically doing nothing before very very slowly they change their lifestyle first better tools and so on and then agriculture and civilizations on but still improvements were extremely rare so that most people most humans did not experience any improvement in their lifetime and so what's an example of
00:28:22a meme that could be reproduced but is basically not true does not conform with in it doesn't it doesn't give any value to helping someone understand the world better well I I mean the the Richard Dawkins favorite example of this in him if he the reason why he
00:28:37introduced the concept is religions I mean you you you don't have to be an asus to understand that most religions all memes and that they are fools so it could be that there's really no let me concede that they could be one religion that's true but that would
00:28:54mean that the others are files but also it much more presente Klay and I guess importantly we don't expect any of our knowledge to be completely true I have a %HESITATION Newton's laws was thought to be the last word in mechanics and gravity and dynamics and so on
00:29:13for hundreds of years and then they were overturned in quick succession by Einstein's relativity and by quantum theory and now we know that their foals not that they'll still knowledge knowledge doesn't have to be true it just has to contain some truth enough to be useful and so
00:29:31the key one of the key contributors than to this takeoff was the development of processes that could distinguish between memes that would just reproducing and memes the actually what closer to the truth in other words there was this era correcting mechanism started to take off yes so that
00:29:52we have we have to jump forward like a hundred thousand years or some hundreds of thousands of years to the scientific revolution it is rather arbitrary way you dated to some some people might say the renaissance with the beginning of it and and I think that this a
00:30:09renaissance %HESITATION revolution or enlightenment as I call it tried to happen several times in human history right back to antiquity and in each case the static type memes which event innovation one the battle and sometimes it lasted one generation sometimes it lasted two generations like in ancient Athens
00:30:35or something then it with the scientific revolution it took hold and it is now being around for depending on how you count it it's been around for three hundred years four hundred years something like that and I just been exponentially improving ever since so this is really interesting
00:30:54to me I think it's easy to see just how big a deal this says that in a way you had a species that for hundreds of thousands of years had developed this extraordinary ability to have a mental life but it was effectively running around in random directions not
00:31:09making real progress because there was no way of saying this is actually the way forward and what you're describing is what what science did was it said it found a way of gradually cutting out the negative signals wet with someone was running into a brick wall running backwards
00:31:27and say no could cut that out move and so that that creates this process whereby we gradually starts to get closer to an understanding of quote reality and quote I mean even without the quotes even without the quick really his under really really is a reality out that
00:31:45and and it now says that we slowly starts to model it in some ways in in in a and I'm I as error correction is extremely simple concept %HESITATION willow very profound to me absolutely everything depends on it since everything depends on knowledge and knowledge doesn't come to
00:32:05us on a silver platter so everything depends on error correction but all those that's the simple fact arranging for that to happen is not a tool simple it's incredibly sophisticated we do not understand it so we don't understand it either on the level of how creativity works in
00:32:24a single human mind and we also don't understand what it takes in a culture for the culture to support error correction because it's almost paradoxical what we want is a system for correcting traditional knowledge but tradition by definition is something that stays the same over generations and so
00:32:49called public coined the phrase a tradition of criticism this is an extremely unusual form of tradition it's happen very rarely in human history and the one we call the scientific revolution is the is the ancestor of everything good we have today but we don't know what it takes
00:33:10for a culture to have a tradition of criticism in it now we are very lucky and we take for granted that we have things like the scientific community the scientific tradition we we take for granted that if a professor is ours to question in a seminar and says
00:33:31you're not allowed to ask that just trust me I'm the professor he will be laughed at hello that the %HESITATION many areas of life where he wouldn't be laughed at but science is one where it's taken for granted that criticism is part of the culture it's part of
00:33:51the tradition that's passed on and so it is in many ways it it's it's it's a miracle that this ever happened and that there's a set of fragility to it and I think I think it's our view that this type of knowledge left off almost happened all started
00:34:05to happen other times any minutes history perhaps yes during the Greek civilization and %HESITATION and then we we lost it %HESITATION how fragile oil is what we have right now in we count no because our enlightenment is the first one that's lasted for more than two or three
00:34:24generations I don't think it go to where it is by accident I think there's some stability to it it didn't get to where he is today by not being stable on the other hand there definitely is no guarantee we could choose to end it we could do the
00:34:41wrong thing repeatedly and and it just one thing though I would like to say that when people compare how civilization to other civilizations that have lasted for centuries or whatever and then collapsed and they compact hours with that as like you know it was caused by losing self
00:35:02confidence and then the barbarians at the gates and that kind of thing I think that's wrong because none of the other long lived civilizations in history has had a tradition of criticism so it's obvious that they were fragile while they were fragile precisely because they couldn't create the
00:35:22knowledge to cope with unforeseen challenges but when you look at the world today David this people like you and many others in the scientific and other communities who I'd really driven by respect the science aspect the knowledge that many others ending to the people in power who are
00:35:40not and %HESITATION it can seem that we may forget the importance of a knowledge and ignore it and %HESITATION let go a blow up or destroy much of the preciousness of what we've built is that a lens that you have what what would you what you must consent
00:35:57about as you look out to the world right now well I think it is always been true since the renaissance since the scientific revolution where we count the beginning of our enlightenment to be it's it's always been true that most people haven't appreciated it most people have values
00:36:12the kind of contradicted most people resented a bit so it has survived by being stable in its own terms and when you started referring to the political side of it that is the equivalent of the scientific revolution is liberal democracy or whatever you want to cool the values
00:36:34that underlie the western political system and this does seem especially the Anglosphere part of it does seem to be incredibly stable if you look at the early to mid twentieth century the age of the great dictator is totalitarian ideologies was sweeping the world all the intellectuals in the
00:36:57world well I the fascists and communists well I'm exaggerating but many of them were and in many countries fascists and communists took over the government and caused also some damage and if they had one they could easily have ended civilization but it's I think it's extremely significant that
00:37:20not one of the Anglosphere countries fell to a dictatorship and when you say that democracy is the kind of %HESITATION the political equivalent of the sun to live revolution he ever at liberty boxes yes the I guess the key point in making there's you can think of a
00:37:38democracy liberty Moxy as an error correcting system that is actually the most fundamental way to think of it it's not that it ultimately what it is yeah it it doesn't automatically create good what it does is it weeds it eventually eventually weeds out the bad and so if
00:37:56you imagine human political endeavor human endeavor generally is the set of a thousand flowers flourishing trying to grow in different directions when some of them start to grow in the wrong direction a democratic system will read the insight sorry you've had your to and you're out that's put
00:38:12someone else and trying grow differently yes peacefully that's the thing because if it's not done peacefully than knowledge is destroyed in the war %HESITATION into civil war or whatever and when the coup that overturns a previous regime the political tradition is judged by whether it can remove bad
00:38:33policies and bad leaders peacefully so when people worry today about arise and demagoguery for example yeah you'll you'll reasonably confident that the that the system yes Eric para correction can isms will kick in to get yes I am ABS it yes I mean this is this is this
00:38:51is I mean I can't say how little I am concerned about that change if if if civilization is going to be destroyed it's not going to be destroyed by some government taking power and then not relinquishing that's not gonna happen well that's definitely a encouraging and I think
00:39:10a lot of people will be sitting across the figures hope you arrive on that one I mean I think you think of the realm of the total amount of knowledge and understanding out that is essentially infinite right it's not like there is we will discover the grand equation
00:39:26suddenly will no all of science that we should yes rather think of knowledge almost as this growing sphere against the unknown and the more we know the more we know we don't know is is that the right way to think of it yes yes so well as again
00:39:41culpable push it solving problems creates new problems and therefore you know infinite ignorance we are we are all alike so and the maybe V. reason wine knowledge of the human type has this infinite scope and could take a sea of cross the galaxy or whatever and also you
00:40:01know down to nanotechnology and all that is because of the special relationship that human minds have with the laws of physics it's this explanatory knowledge that human minds are capable of that can see beyond the visible so we can look up in the sky and see a cold
00:40:25tiny dot of what looks like cold white light and we know that that is actually a star which means it's actually a million miles across and it's at twenty five million degrees in its interior and six thousand degrees on the surface and if we went there we'd be
00:40:45fried to a crisp so we can never experience it at least not without special tech technology and yet we can know about it we can sit here know about it in enormous detail and in ever increasing detail the reason that this is possible as I said is because
00:41:05human minds and explain the tree knowledge has a special relationship with the laws of nature so so this seems impossible talk to be about a lot of people would say look every speech is not something a dog knows that about and his delicious but it doesn't know who
00:41:23scientific theory yeah we we know a set amount of scientific theory but it's ridiculous to imagine that we could now so %HESITATION you know that there must be a whole lot of things that that that we are never even in principle capable of understanding yet and %HESITATION you
00:41:38just you dispute that white why yes why is that they're two sides that comparison in first you compare the dog with the human and then you compare with human to the fugitive on noble things that that might be out that says that two steps that I've already explained
00:41:57why the dog is in here and be different from us it's because the dog knows the bone taste good because in some of its ancestors who didn't know that died and the dog doesn't actually know anything it's it's it's jeans knows that and there are certain types of
00:42:12things that can become known that way but the vast majority of things in the world in the universe cannot become known that way because the dog cannot try to eat the son to be burned and you know that kind of thing no one could gain knowledge of the
00:42:27son by that same message now the other thing what if there was knowledge out there with the things out there that we couldn't possibly understand well as a logical possibility of course it's always possible that there are incomprehensible things in the universe but I have argued that taking
00:42:46that seriously is exactly the same as a belief in the supernatural because you could never have an explanation of the form this thing that can have an effect on us never be understood because it can have an effect we can theorize about what causes the effect and we
00:43:06can do an experiment to test the theory and it's still believe that the type of extraction eight knowledge that we have can wrap around any imaginable explanation that could be out that it's not like there is there is sort of human knowledge and then there might be some
00:43:24knowledge that god so fairies old yeah whatever have that is fundamentally different and more profound or other aliens could have so this makes we wonder whether in your world view there are similar left office happening on other planets out that %HESITATION what we don't know %HESITATION as you
00:43:44know this this this problem of if that is intelligent life on other planets in the galaxy their many arguments to say we should have seen them by now this is called the Fermi paradox hello I would rather call it the phone me problem because I didn't see anything
00:44:01paradoxical about it I'm supposed to they're just to explain a tree species in the galaxy then having reach the explain for take off like the scientific revolution in the twinkling of an eye on cosmic scale we will have settled the whole galaxy and of the galaxy exists on
00:44:24times because of billions of years so compared with the age of the galaxy the moment from when humans first involved too when humans to settle the whole galaxy is just a blink of an eye and therefore the chances that to civilizations emerges the same time is infinitesimal so
00:44:49that means that if they exist they must be millions of years ahead of us and if the music is ahead of us while they here ready because the the argument said that they would be here already now why would they not be here well there are lots of
00:45:03reasons first of all one solution to the Fermi problem might be that we are the first okay the PMP will kind of reject that because it's kind of boring you know and why should we be so special well someone had to be and and we kind of reject
00:45:20that as a possibility because there's no structure in that idea the there's there's nothing further to say but it could be true like a lot of other things so the next possibility is yes the the galaxy is full of a civilization and they're gonna be here soon but
00:45:38the I mean you you believe that human creativity is a fundamental part of the whole of knowledge left off and %HESITATION the aesthetic expression of that is that a big part of who we ought to be one of the houses is not that we don't see spaceships coming
00:45:53is that we don't see any evidence of the galaxy having been engine it you know if dolphins were to make a break through and start developing periscopes that could %HESITATION look up an exam in the world around them and they put them up and looked at the surface
00:46:09of the S. there they would see buildings an astonishing structures that the seem to cry out for an an explanation that looked like they were they were the objects of intentional construction we look out to the galaxy and and and see nothing you think at the very least
00:46:24you see some sort of %HESITATION you know some stars have been conventions is spectacular artistic displays of all that there be some evidence of of engineering the fact this yes evidence of engineering suggests that the main game in town out that is still the same old physical processes
00:46:42that filled the processing billion boring yes so so first will we haven't looked very carefully yet I mean that this kind of thing looking out for for evidence of technology in other star systems is only just beginning now and we can only detect very powerful things and I
00:47:00I don't think we should take for granted that these type one the old %HESITATION I think we should take for granted that if innings intelligent species exist it will colonize the galaxy very quickly I don't think we should take for granted that it will enter this phase of
00:47:16type one type two type three civilizations for the simple reason that once your type three civilization what you gonna do next and certainly they will be capable of doing that but again like us they will have to decide what to do that would have to be a reason
00:47:35why they go for for example enormously increased power consumption they might not want that I think the chances are they won't want it because they will be information based they will be entirely in virtual reality except when they want to go out and into the physical world for
00:47:52some purpose and they may not want to go very far from each other because of the communication difficulty unless again unless there's a strong reason for it so that strikes me as a really compelling a solution to the problem if you like because based based on your view
00:48:09what masses when you have a knowledge left off is knowledge and knowledge can be encapsulated in many forms often which can be vastly smaller even than the biological forms in which we are now and yes %HESITATION I'd like to me it's it's possible to imagine %HESITATION %HESITATION an
00:48:27alien species developing ever more rich forms of creativity in of a smaller spaces that the whole notion of physical conquest would become just an absurdly old fashioned notion of what made life interesting cycle what why bother to do that when you have infinite control over a much smaller
00:48:48structure of of information space that you can pass it in any way you want and so there's that sort of almost that conversion of the material into the virtual that allows infinite possibilities right right that yes as Feynman said there's plenty of room at the bottom there they're
00:49:05more like orders of magnitude to explore in on the microscopic world than there are in the macroscopic will say across the galaxy and once you have a civilization that is capable of interstellar travel island extending downs microscopic it's not obvious what they will think best from that point
00:49:28of view the great disadvantage of living in the galaxy is not the size of it it's the time it's it's the fact that you can't have a coherent culture where the parts of it are hundred light years from each other right right that that's a good reason to
00:49:48theorize why growing intelligence would want to actually go smaller not bigger set so it's possible that your system so taken with the all your %HESITATION history of the universe told but any as a boring presume it's it's compact with what you just said that it might turn out
00:50:04not to be twelve billion is a born that might be or these spectacular takeoffs of intelligence understanding knowledge in different pockets of the galaxy of the universe but just that %HESITATION we don't yet see that we were not yes as to any of that of that history so
00:50:20yes there might be a I mean I'm myself hope that part of the morality of any advanced civilization would be that they would come and rescue us as soon as I found out we exist but here here's another narrative that is compatible with what we see which is
00:50:35that as a species takes off and start some developing knowledge that inevitably things go wrong at some point that take you know we have to be create the technology is capable of destroying us and %HESITATION it's either in the nature of the dynamics of power or that just
00:50:54in the nature of the dynamics of complexity that something horrifying eventually goes wrong and %HESITATION these attempts at liftoff get wiped out so I'm sure that's not inevitable and that's for exactly the same reason why unlimited progress is not inevitable if it were inevitable that means if it
00:51:19were true that everywhere in the universe where this %HESITATION explained free knowledge starts taking off it will destroy itself within you know save a thousand years that would be a lower physics so if you're gonna postulated does this low just in order to make your nightmares come true
00:51:37you may as well just as talk with with believing in in in goblins and demons although there is a sort of plausible way think about it just on F. level which is that as technologies get more powerful the stakes get have a higher you know we have already
00:51:52invented technologies that in principle you could imagine it's not that long before a single deranged student and a lab I might be able to engineer a virus that could really quickly spread and and %HESITATION yes you know take out the human race by after staying you know invisible
00:52:07to people what it cultures and spreads for thirty days and then suddenly boom it's possible to imagine that knowledge brings with it the potential for unlimited destructive power and that %HESITATION as the sort of Humpty Dumpty theory of you know it's it's %HESITATION it's easier to break things
00:52:23and to make things yes I'm of course that's a possibility because if it wasn't a possibility then then continued progress will be inevitable which it isn't but the knowledge of how to defend civilization against existential threats is also a form of knowledge which is unlimited so if we
00:52:46fail to create that knowledge we doomed if we do create that knowledge when not doomed that story is the same as with all knowledge so the possibility is there for us to created for as I put it for the good guys to stay ahead of the bad guys
00:53:02but also if there is something about the bad actors that makes them progress more slowly that is that all enemies of civilization therefore they are wrong right they are and therefore they have to be in a state of mind that can tolerate being wrong and therefore they count
00:53:27tolerated tradition of criticism in fact in with the realistic ones that you you perhaps have in mind destroying the extradition of criticism is the main the main objective that's that someone that grievances so that makes them slow that makes them in here and Lee trail the good guys
00:53:48but that's just a tendency it it need not be so that they could be a breakthrough by by some of the bad guys and that's why I say we have a moral obligation to stay ahead of them I mean that's a beautifully optimistic come arguments in a way
00:54:02that there is such a thing as a covetable but not as a super comfortable because because by being a double your taking away the ability to be truly clever in the long term you right yes %HESITATION I don't see any way out of that argument it's it's it's
00:54:14got to be a well I I I love that I love the argument %HESITATION I hope that I truly hope that that one works out I just wanna see this last question of which is if you if you could implants in the minds of %HESITATION %HESITATION the good
00:54:30majority of people on this planet single idea what would the idea be I think it's got to be the idea of optimism that whole evils are due to lack of knowledge way way way way way way way way but yes you so you just give a definition of
00:54:47optimism that that is not what most people think of its up to Smith people think well yes and as a feeling of hope about the future your definitions different yes so explain well well hope that isn't based on an explanatory theory is raw that we I mean isn't
00:55:02it is not what they call a vain hope yeah the it it's it's whistling in the dark Ultimas minute as I define it has to do with knowledge it's not a prediction of the future it's an explanation of Phalia if you explain Phalia as being inevitable for due
00:55:21to some malevolent force a insuperable malevolent force or just the way things are wrong then that's a recipe for stations which is a recipe for failure and eventually deaths therefore I think that %HESITATION Phalia has to be explained in the form the reason we didn't succeed is that
00:55:42we didn't know how to and the knowledge of how to is in principle attainable we don't have it now but we could have it in the future if we do the right thing in fact it follows from this whole conception knowledge that we've been talking about all this
00:56:00time that optimism has to be true otherwise there would be a limitation which would mean the the supernatural and and all that stuff that that the argument so water tight all the way from the scientific world view to optimism in my view so his his so I would
00:56:19to still this David Deutsch will view which I have to say that I I I find quite and inspiring well view so so here we are this Homosapien you know we've we've had this %HESITATION surprising moment of left off where where able to create new knowledge new understanding
00:56:36but is a fragile thing it's full of errors full of mistake yes yes if we could inspire everyone out that to adopt the mindset that knowledge was precious and that when things go wrong on our planet it's not because there's some evil force that it needs punching in
00:56:54the gut and and %HESITATION spitting out it's it's just because with with with with the understanding something under on our job and our duty is to seek to understand to look for those errors to correct them and if we were to adopt that mind set then %HESITATION does
00:57:10this literally no limits to the journey that we couldn't go on together a journey of growing knowledge and unlimited creativity %HESITATION and %HESITATION the kind of light lives of wonder and so for me that's that's what I take from you that knowledge is not a thing for schools
00:57:29libraries whatever it's this super power that humans have developed if they're willing to look at it the right way well put I agree that we must also expect to make lots of mistakes so it it's not just you know but just just knowing that the problem is to
00:57:47create the knowledge doesn't mean there's not automatic way of creating it in fact it's conjectural we going to make many mistakes that's why we have to set up institutions that can correct them and so mistakes should be viewed as as gifts and awareness among yes I'm from the
00:58:03minute just as result of them their gift yes yes Joan Wheeler said that the whole problem is to make mistakes as fast as possible looks we all got on the look out of the water was sent me getting that part right David George has been such thought to
00:58:20speak with you and I really thank you for all those many many hours of and I pick she you in on the home just sitting there dreaming thinking puzzling someday that that the the what you have put together from that I think is really remarkable and I hope
00:58:33we can do this again David thank you thank you so much yet ups they love this nice talking big with us okay bye bye for now by then this week's show was produced by Sharon machine he associate producer is Kim native pain it is a special thanks hun
00:58:55Walters shows mixed by David Herman enough the music is by Alison legend brown in our next episode I sit down with the Sam Harris to discuss what the science can on some moral questions the most important questions in human life are questions we have to be able to
00:59:12talk about and we have a very large proportion of humanity that is saying okay these most important question how to live hello to because your children to live and what to die for these are questions that we're not willing to talk about rationally now if you enjoyed today's
00:59:34upset please rate and review on apple pie consul if you're listening find some other way of sharing with anyone you know who is curious thank you for listening all six

Transcribed by algorithms. Report Errata
Disclaimer: The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from TED, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

EDIT

Thank you for helping to keep the podcast database up to date.