The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch

David Deutsch ( and is Visiting Professor in the Department of Atomic and Laser Physics at the Centre for Quantum Computation (CQC) in the Clarendon Laboratory of the University of Oxford. He pioneered the field of quantum computation by formulating a description for a quantum Turing machine, as well as specifying an algorithm designed to run on a quantum computer. He is a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

His 1997 book The Fabric of Reality was shortlisted for the Rhone-Poulenc science book award. In it Deutsch describes the interference pattern from a single photon passing through a single slit and infers from this experiment “the existence of a seething, prodigiously complicated, hidden world of shadow photons”. He goes on to further infer “a huge number of parallel universes, each similar in composition to the tangible one, and each obeying the same laws of physics, but differing in that the particles are in different positions in each universe.” Try to swallow that one with your first spoonful of porridge in the morning. Deutsche is suggesting a multiverse. It’s not the same as some others. In those, brand-new universes spontaneously bud off from each other, so many bubbles in the champagne fountain of eternity. Some of these bubble universes are snuffed out swiftly and some last ever such a long time, and some might even be hospitable to intelligent life. But we could never know anything about these others, only the one we happen to inhabit. Deutsch’s multiverse is co-incident with, somehow contiguous with, and weakly interacting with ours. It is a composite, a layer cake, a palimpsest of universes very similar but not quite identical to each other. The number of these shadow universes is enormous, extending to a quantum computational calculation involving 10 to the power of 500. That is, in fact, further than from Lanark to Lesmahagow.

Deutsch also addresses Darwin and Dawkins and makes a fresh case for saluting the importance of life. The mass of the human brain may be trifling but the knowledge it attempts to encompass reaches for the whole universe and the notion of at least a trillion others. Knowledge is not a simple thing, and it is not passive. The knowledge implicit in DNA, and all the environmental niches that are host to evolutionary life, has shaped the world, and will reshape it. The author plays beautifully with the Newtonian and the commonsense concepts of time and summarises that  “Time does not flow. Other times are just special cases of other universes.”

The Fabric of Reality doesn’t conclude with some solemn philosophical summation about total reality. It changes course, and makes a cheerful study of Frank Tipler’s 1995 vision of the final collapse of the universe, The Physics of Immortality. Tipler proposed the big crunch as the Omega point, a moment near the end of spacetime in which those characteristics traditionally identified with God – omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence – will fleetingly be possible, along with the resurrection of the dead. Find that plausible or not, one certainly cannot accuse Deutsch’s book for lacking ambition.  A study that brings together the multiverse of physics, mathematics, computation, epistemology, philosophy, history, evolution and time travel all between two covers – well, that’s worth reading.

Enquire at your local library. Consult  for full bibiliographic details.

400 pages in Allen Lane

First published 1997

ISBN 978-0713990614

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Professor David Deutsch

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