Saturday, April 26, 2008

Will anyone dare debate with Denis Noble - + ENO and Hands up for Darfur

Just back from Merry Widow at the ENO - a real triumph. Roy Hudd pretty well stole the show (he's been on the stage over 50 years!) but Amanda Roocroft, Alfie Boe and John Graham Hall were great. A stunning production, pity it's only on for 12 nights.

Yesterday went to Oxford and had lunch with Denis Noble - a great guy as I suspected. He says that he can't find anyone to debate against him on his basic anti-reductionist stance from The Music of Life. Dawkins is reluctant - understandably since Denis was his PhD examiner and has made a whole series of major contributions to science. Dan Dennet might but of course he isn't a scientist. So if anyone knows a serious working scientist of real stature who disagrees with Denis's ideas, and would like to debate, do get in touch. He was encouraging about our anti-determinst work as well. pm and early evening worked on the project with Nowak including a useful telecon with the team in Harvard. Then to the Hands Up for Darfur fashion show which we have helped to sponsor because it is in aid of Kids for Kids. Daughter and a friend came up and enjoyed it considerably - I'm not into fashion but it was a commendable effort and the last one raised over £50k for K4K and Medicins Sans Frontiers for their work in Darfur. Also continued to raise the consciousness in Oxford which is helpful in itself.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

China, Conservative Leads, Book and Beale & al

Back from the UK launch of Operation China: From Strategy to Execution at McKinsey's London office. Fascinating to hear directly from someone who has been working for McKinsey in China for over 20 years, about the pace of development there.

Latest YouGov poll gives the Conservaties an 18 point lead - the Weighted Moving Average shows 11.3 and it seems clear that the net-literate are now much more anti-Labour than the population as a whole. But even so, it may be time for Labour to stop worrying about "winning the next election" and focusing on doing the right thing. In my view they have about the same chance of winning (10%) as being wiped out and becoming the 3rd party. Brown insists that he will go full steam ahead for the 42 days detention which no-one thinks is remotely sensible. And let's see after May 1st what the situation is.

Just getting back into running - ran 8 miles in last 3 days - plenty of time until the 2009 Marathon but it's great to start running again.

Have sent "almost-final" drafts of Chapters 1-7 to John Polkinghorne, and of Appendix C on Evolution. Making great progress on Appendix B and have sent what I hope is an almost-final draft but it has forward references to "Beale & al" on which progress continues. Will see a world expert on Systems Biology tomorrow who may well be able to advise - I've sent him the preliminary sketch of the paper.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Great recital by Cathy Wyn-Rogers

Lovely concert by Catherine Wyn-Rogers at the Wigmore Hall last night. The first half was settings of poems by Ruckert, first by Robert and Clara Schumann and then by Mahler. She sung both Clara and Mahler's settings of Liebst du um Schonheit and although I cannot agree with the programme note that Clara's is "more than a match for" Mahler's the former is very fine. All her performances were excellent, though I did find the Mahler high-points, esp Liebst du and Um Mitternacht.

The second half began with Joseph Horovitz's Lady Macbeth - A Scena performed, as always with Cathy, with verve, musicality, conviction, intelligence and dramatic flair. Then Elgar's Speak Music which is a setting of a poem by A.C. Benson - a distinguished academic who became Master of Magdalene College but is now best known for writing the words of Land of Hope And Glory (to order, to fit the tune of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance No 1) and was also the brother of E.F. Benson the creator of Mapp and Lucia. Striking that the Elgar is only 1 year later than the Mahler, but the Mahler is so much more "advanced".

Ivor Gurney, like Robert Schumann, spent his last years in a mental hospital. Cathy sung his 1921 setting of Robert Bridge's Thou dost delight my eyes and his 1917 setting of Walter Raleigh's Even such is time which he apparently wrote on the eve of his death (he was beheaded in 1618). Cathy communicated the ringing confidence of "my God shall raise me up, I trust" with great beauty and power. Then 3 composers I had, to my shame, never heard of: Rebecca Clarke in a remarkable setting of GK Chesterton's The donkey, Havelock Nelson's Dirty Work and Lee Hoiby's Jabberwoky - the last two sung with increasing theatricality. The audience loved their performances and was rewarded with an encore, a setting of Yeat's Had I the Heavn's Embroiderd Cloths. Cathy told me the composer afterwards but I forget the name I'm afraid.

I met an old friend whom I've known since Cambridge in the audience, and I took her backstage to meet Cathy. Horovitz was there as well. But I'm very busy and have a slight cold, so no time to socialise. We'll get together later in the year.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The NEURON simulations work - neurodeterminism is dead

Got it!! The NEURON simulations work and the results are even better than I anticipated. This is a stunning result that definitely nails "neurodeterminism." I've sent the preliminary results to my colleagues and await their comments. I would like the Statistical Mechanics results though - that will be enough to write Appendix B and then we should work on publishing a serious scientific paper. I wonder if Prof Rusakov would agree to be a co-author?

Communion this evening at Church, always a high point, and inspiring stuff from people working/going to work in Islamic countries.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Intense 2 days with Nowak

Very intense couple of days, with Martin Nowak came over to work together on our project. On Thurs we had a really productive working session including a Swiss economist and a Romanan mathematician: delighted to find I could make some useful contributions, indeed we started with 2 different models and I was able to make a unified model that blended between 1 and 2 but still had the nice analytic properties. In the evening we had dinner with Bob May - we went to The Ritz both for fun and to thank Bob for introducing me to Martin. Much fascinating but non-bloggable discussion, and it was great to see Bob again. Friday an intense series of meetings with Martin and various others - all went very well and we had the delight of seeing an old friend and collaborator in one of them with whom we will be working again soon we hope.

My (left) foot is still hurting post Marathon so no running yet, and getting a slight cold I fear. Also frustrating IT problems. I've sent final drafts of half the chapters of QoT to John and I need to process and send the rest. The Appendix on Evolution is fine (I've given it to Martin to comment on as well) but the critical work on Appendix B still needs to be finished - I must try to get the NEURON simulations working over the weekend but also I wish I could get the Statistical Mechanics calculations back. I might have to try them myself, I don't think they are difficult but I'm very rusty on this indeed. And there is a tiny bit to do on Appendix A. Martin has told me about a very deep (as yet unpublished result) from one of his most brilliant colleagues that confirms one of my conjectures about the brain. He's going to send me the paper and we can refer to it in the book, but I don't think I should blog it here.

Delighted to see that Colin Howson is coming to the Faraday Institute to give a lecture/debate with Richard Swinburne on June 5th. It will be great to catch up with him. I must chase David Goodhart about that article.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Will Labour do the decent thing?

Is it possible that Labour will do the decent thing and force a change of PM?
I ask because not only have commentators in the Times and the FT turned against Gordon Brown, but the Guardian, both in comment and editorial is now pretty vituperative. I spoke recently to someone who knew him well and who is well plugged in to the views of top civil servants and industrialists, and who was of the view is that Gordon is simply not cut out to be PM. Meanwhile we get laughable performances such as this. Does he really think people are that stupid?

PS The LA Times has an interesting take on his US visit.

Monday, April 14, 2008


London Marathon was in many ways good fun. I was running in aid of the RNLI and they encouraged me to wear/carry a model inflatable lifeboat (about 1M long) which was held on by shoulder straps. Since I knew I'd have a slow time I thought it would be fun and OK to run in something different. My plan was to hand it in at the RNLI Cheering Station at mile 14, so that I 'd be unencumbered during the slog around docklands, and then pick it up when I got back at Mile 21. A friend from my running club kindly agreed to bring a Serpie hat so that I could at least have some Serpie ID - and we arranged to meet up at the Elite women's start. About 10 Serpies were in this start, as well as a friend who was running for the Navy.

Lifeboat brought much favourable comment from fellow-runners and cheers from spectators, and I found it quite easy to run in - indeed I was going at 9mm rather than my target 9.5 and had to keep trying to slow down. One reason I didn't hold back too much was that I could see it was going to rain, and wanted to get some progress under good running conditions. Sure enough around mile 11 there was a short sharp burst of rain with a bit of hail - I was very glad of my hat. Reached half-way in 2h02 feeling v comfortable - and confident that with proper training and w/o encumbrances I could break 4h again on another occasion. However when I reached the RNLI cheering post (which was across the track on the loop-back, so it would have been tricky to get there) there was no sign of C and despite waiting for a couple of minutes and ringing on her mobile (no reply) I couldn't make contact. So filled the remaining 1/4 of my bottle with water and slogged Canary Wharf with the lifeboat and depleted drinks. Unsurprisingly my performance fell off. Tried to ring C again - phone unavailable. However she had v kindly waited and at Mile 21 she squirted me with drink to get my attention and handed me my back-up bottle. The lifeboat had become rather deflated - v hard to run with - she tried to blow it up but no lock so I abandoned it. (depressing pace graph here)

Last 5 miles were a slog with lots of walk-run but I managed a decent finish and came in at 4:28 - a Personal Worst, but a PB with a lifeboat. Great atmosphere with the crowds, fellow-runners. Went to the pub arranged for the Serpies and it was fun seeing friends. Then back for a bath and a massage. Next year, DV, I'll have a proper training and run a good run.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lifeboats and NEURONs

Back from family lunch in Banbury - not everyone was there but it was fun. A quick hailstorm seemed ominous for tomorrow but it now looks clear. I'm running the London Marathon in a lifeboat (just a plastic one) in aid of the RNLI.

Fascinating work on indeterminacy in the brain. Prof Rusakov has kindly send the NEURON model he used in his Science paper so that I can test my conjecture. I think we may be on the track of a proper scientific justification of the inherent unpredictability of the brain. To a computer scientist this seems obvious, but it seems not to be obvious at all to neurologists. It all comes from Appendix B in Questions of Truth, but there could well be a paper first.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Child of our Time, Book, Politics

On Sunday went to see our friend Catherine Wyn-Rogers doing Sea Pictures and Child of Our Time at the Albert Hall. She was wonderful in both - and Nicole Cabell was also super in Child - met her afterwards and she is very nice as well, we must see her in La Boheme. We'll see Cathy at her Wigmore later this month.

I didn't realise that Tippett asked his friend TS Eliot to write the libretto, he agreed but asked for a detailed outline and "which Eliot ultimately declared was a libretto in embryo, which Tippett himself should finish." I've always thought that Child is let down by the words (said this to my composition teacher at Winchester Angus Watson who replied that T. was a personal friend who had dedicated a concerto to his wife) and hearing it again confirmed by view: at its best Child is wonderful but what a shame that it didn't have Eliot.

Work and book very busy - detailed feedback from a Prof in Lausanne and from Simon Conway Morris on 2 of the technical appendices. Lots to do and under a month to do it.

Went to interesting talk by Archdeacon of Southwark on the Archbishop and Sharia Law, for the WCIT.

Sue Cameron in the FT quotes a mandarin: "If you set aside the welfare of the nation, the infighting in Downing Street is a riveting spectator sport." The non-denial denial from Jack Straw's department is a classic: An official first described it as "complete speculation", then said she could not discuss what went on at cabinet meetings, before adding that it "highly unlikely" that Straw would act in that way.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Dawkins and Brown - in denial

Caught a bit of Richard Dawkins on the BBC. He was saying how much he admired Jesus, whilst denying the divine bits. Well there is some hope for RD yet.

It is weird that Dawkins and his like claim there is no evidence for the existence of God. This is so obviously false that it undermines everything else they say. It is not irrational to say that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of God, it is logically possible that there are other explanations for anthropic fine-tuning, the life and resurrection of Jesus, the weight of religious experience etc... But there is self-evidently a prima facie case to answer.

Meanwhile Gordon Brown's government continues to un-ravel. Labour's Deputy Chief Whip in the Lords has gone public on his criticism of the insane scrapping of the 10p tax band. When I read the headline that GB was planning to hire Mark Penn to be his polling guru I laughed out loud. This is on the assumption that Hillary fails to get the Democratic nomination. Clearly someone who is part of the team that takes Hillary from shoo-in for next President to a discredited has-been would be ideal for Gordon Brown at the moment.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Onegin, and 1 Timothy

To wonderful production of Eugene Onegin last night. It is, I think, my favourite opera apart from Mozart's great four. Gerald Finley excellent in the title role, the other singers all fine, great to hear John Leggate who did an excellent M Trichet, and Hans-Peter Konig gave a wonderful performance as Prince Gremin - a magnificent voice and a big ovation for his aria. Lyubvi vsye (love can occur at any age). I have, alas, never read the original poem/novel but finding a translation here I see that the text of the aria seems to be Tchaikovsky's own (I should have deduced this from the rhyming scheme which is aabbccddeeefgfgfgg etc.. Apparently Pushkin developed "Onegin Stanzas" which are ababccddeffegg). I was also struck by the fact that there is a Nabokov translation and that Pushkin's maternal great-grandfather, the splendidly-named Abram Petrovich Hannibal was of Abyssinian descent.

We went with daughters and son-in-law. It was their first opera. E.D. is completing her theology dissertation and has made some interesting discoveries amongst the Aramaic targumim that contradict a "fact" much repeated in all commentaries. They kindly suggest that, in addition to getting expert scientists to check the technical appendices, I should get an expert theologian to check the theology - helpfully suggested Wayne Grudem, of whom I had never heard. However I think Polkinghorne is just about eminent enough to not require his opinions vetted :-).

Grudem seems to think that anyone who doesn't agree with his theory of the atonement is not a proper Christian and thinks 1 Tim 2:11 is a blanket prohibition on women doing Bible teaching before the church(!) Worth re-reading Tom Wright on this who points out that Paul speaks of women as apostles and deacons (Romans 16), expects them to be praying and prophesying in the assembly (1 Cor 11) etc.. So he has "[Women] should be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I'm not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather they should be left undisturbed" and explains that the 2nd part was to avoid the impression that this was endorsing practices like the cult of Artemis. He also makes the interesting point that the reference to Eve should be read as an argument for educating women - "look what happened when Eve was deceived".

Friday, April 04, 2008

Brown clunks, but nice feedback on 1 Tim 2

Finished Appendix B and sent off to expert reviewers. Appendix E also to C for proof-reading.

The wheels continue to fall off the Brown government. I sympathise with the "technocrats" who have been asked to fix No 10 (running NTL as it fell into bankruptcy with vast numbers of dis-satisfied customers is highly relevant experience) but the fundamental problem is Brown. The great and utterly courageous Frank Field says as much with Clunking Fist Indeed in the Guardian. Meanwhile a minister openly disagrees with the budget, other ministers brief against Carter, etc etc.. Polls show a stable C Lead of about 10 points, and Denis McShane is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying "The good ship Gordon has been hit by a lot of waves but it's ploughing on. I think we will get a majority of Labour MPs back in." So he's expecting a good 49% of them to be wiped out. This would leave 176 labour MPs and 369 Conservatives, a C Majority of 84 (assuming no change in the Lib Dem vote). Which isn't far out from the latest YouGov. Meanwhile The Economist makes clear what economically literate have known for a while but ministers try to deny, that Taxpayers seem unlikely to get all of the £27 billion ($53.5 billion) that Northern Rock owed them at the end of 2007. The FT headlines "Backbenchers' despair with Brown" and quotes "a loyal Labour MP" by name describing Brown's abolition of the 10p tax band as a "kick in the teeth" for the poor.

An e-correspondent who asked about Genesis being taken literally and it's application to 1 Timothey 2 writes: "That is an extremely cogent and altogether helpful reply. Thank you very much indeed; a light bulb has just been switched on in my head. Wonderful." Such responses make the work of replying to polkinghorne questions a lot more rewarding. I very much follow Tom Wright's line on this, which is also what William Barclay thought before such sentiments were de rigeur. My interpretation is:

Paul is talking in a context where (i)in Judaism women were not permitted to become disciples at all - this was a major change that Jesus introduced and a source of scandal and (ii) in places like Corinth priestesses ruled the roost, often with associations of Temple Prostitutions. What he is saying is:
  • A woman should be allowed to learn undisturbed and as a full pupil
  • But I'm not saying that women should (suddenly) take over the teaching role (and that we should act like the pagans) - just that she should be an undisturbed learner.
  • It's like Genesis, first we form the men, then the women
  • and look what problems uninstructed female leadership can cause
  • but even though humanity fell away through this transgression (since in Adam all die) she will be saved (and so will Adam of course) through the birth of the child (even so in Christ shall all be made alive) provided they remain in faith, and love and sanctification with sobriety.
It is one of the serious problems that we tend to look at texts in isolation. There were of course many well-instructed women who taught in the early church, not least Prisca who with her husband instructed Paul's colleague Apollos (Acts 18:24).

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem - and also for Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dennis Noble Brilliant Article, Book and Life Group

Denis Noble sent me his latest, brilliant, paper on his 10 Principles of Systems Biology. I'm just finishing the Appendices to Questions of Truth and will certainly reference it. I've got dinner with Martin Nowak & Bob May in Oxford in a couple of weeks time - should invite Dennis as well.

Still working on the Appendices, should have finishing touches to Appendix B this evening (C has proof-read it) then E and A. Need to have final text by end of the month and want to send the Appendices to technical reviewers first - v soon now.

Last Life Group meeting for a few weeks - just a time of fellowship, worship and prayer. It's great to have so many spiritual friends and to walk an pray together on life's journey. Prayers seem to be answered in amazingly specific ways.

Let us continue to pray that Mugabe really is on the way out.