by David Deutsch
The thesis of The Fabric of Reality is that four of our best scientific theories, taken seriously and together, are not a bad description of the fundamental nature of reality and may actually constitute a first cut at a Theory of Everything: an explanation of all interesting phenomena in the universe. The theories are evolution, theory of computation, epistemology, and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics. Deutsch doesn't explain the theories in any amount of detail, but rather discusses the intricate dependencies and relationships between them. Of the four theories, the many-worlds interpretation is far and away the most mind-boggling (for me, at least): if it's true, then the universe is a radically different place than most of us assume.
There is a subtle difference between this book and most of what we call "pop science", even though both are characterized by science books without equations. While pop science is designed to impart the flavor or the basic intuition of a scientific theory to the interested layperson, with The Fabric of Reality Deutsch is attempting to tread new ground. This book appears to be primarily aimed at scientists and philosophers, and it alludes to so much other work that it may be a difficult read for people lacking a strong scientific background.
During the course of the book Deutsch makes many sweeping assertions, and I found something minor or major to quibble with on just about every page. However, I feel that overall his reasoning is sound and that when a Theory of Everything becomes generally accepted, it will be a refinement or variant of the one he outlines here rather than a fundamentally different one. The Fabric of Reality is one of those rare books that contains so many engaging ideas that it caused me to have only about half of my usual brainpower to devote to everyday tasks (like finishing my dissertation) for several days. Highly recommended.
copyright © 2000 John Regehr