Monday, June 30, 2008

Lovely result about the evolution of freewill

Lovely result yesterday about the evolution of freewill. It seems that the evolutionary incentives for freewill depend on:
  1. Significant evolutionary pressure from members of your own species.
  2. The evolution of second-order Social Intelligence, where 1st order Social Intelligence is the ability to anticipate what simple strategy a competitor will use, and 2nd order is than ability to anticipate what strategy a competitor with 1st order Social Intelligence will use.

I've sent this to Hava to look at, (Martin will be interested as well, but let's send him the next draft) but must get back to secular work and the other parts of our freewill paper.

There is also an interesting paper in Science about the active role of Astrocytes. I have long suspected that glial cells and much more important than people have supposed, and this is further evidence.

On Sat had farewell party for Elder Daughter at Oakhill - great to see so many of her friends. The freewill of children is, in many respects, the most delightful of all. And their love.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Brown's 1st anniversary

ED and Son-in-law and his parents came to supper. Great to see them. Lovely story of a friend of theirs who worked for the DEA. He would do deals with the dealers and then colleagues would arrest. Their friend met a dealer and bought some Cocaine and then took his baseball cap off - which was the signal for his colleagues to arrest the dealer. As soon as the dealer saw the cap come off, he put his hands up. "I'm busted, aren't I.. I've seen that trick before".

Brown's 1st anniversary as PM and Labour are pushed into 5th place in Henley. Even Polly Toynbee recognises that Brown's ship is sinking. And in the Independent a round-up of verdicts includes Stephen Bayley's "Branding depends on the quality and desirability of the original product. In Brown's case that's profoundly sub-optimal. Re-branding Brown would be like chrome-plating slurry: difficult and useless."

I think he is in many ways a decent and honorable man, and will probably stand down to save Labour from annihilation. But if only he would learn basic management skills, like focus and delegation. He has far too many "initiatives", and the whole of Government seems horribly dysfunctional. On present polls Jack Straw, Alistair Darling, Jackie Smith, Ed Balls, John Hutton, Ruth Kelly and John Denham would all lose their seats.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Christian Votes and Leadership Change

My attention has been drawn to a poll MORI did for The Tablet in 2005 (details), which shows that:

  • 53% of Catholics (of the 61% who voted) voted Labour
  • 11% of the Adult population identified themselves as Catholics
  • 56% as Other Christians - who were more likely to vote than any other group.
  • 24% of adults said they had no religion, they were less likely to vote than any other group.

This means, BTW that 70% of all voters were Christians, 7% other religons and 22% no religion.

Now of course Brown has upset the Catholics (see eg debate here and article here) and it's really unlikely that they will vote for him in anything like such numbers. Indeed Rachel Sylvester quotes a Cabinet Minister as saying “I can't find anyone who champions Gordon any more,” and raises the possibility that the rich Labour Donors will finish Gordon off - which I have long suspected may be part of the end game (even blogged it here).

However bad things are here, they are of course so much worse in Zimbabwe that one hesitates to mention them in the same breath. This is clearly something the Africans need to sort out, but it must be made clear to them unequivocally that assurances on governance have no credibility unless and until this happens. The Elders have been very helpfully outspoken on this, and hats off to the admirable Mo Ibrahim. The UNSC has at last passed a resolution, but it is not strong enough. And is it really helpful that everyone assumes that there will be an amnesty and immunity for Mugable and his henchmen. Perhaps they need to understand that if they continue like this, they will be brought to justice?

Monday, June 23, 2008

tis we musicians know

Had Grandchildren for the weekend - an utter delight. But life didn't grind to a halt. On Sat an interesting conversation with a young Cambridge-educated female mathematician who had found The God Delusion impressive, and then a discussion with her and a (just-former) Officer in the services who has served in Basra. CEFM's boyfriend is in the army and has served in Iraq - seems v happy with latest equipment. Former Officer says he's probably reassuring her - Snatch Landrovers are completely vulnerable to IEDs and it's dreadful that they are being used in Afghanistan - many of the deaths there would be prevented if the troops had the right equipment.

On Sun am had a meeting with a senior official of a major funding body who is very optimistic that his body would fund a major research programme on Neural, Compuational and Evolutionary Aspects of Freewill that I hope to pull together. I also had a great chat with the great John Lucas about the project, who is happy to advise and lend moral support.

Sun evening the Bishop of London came to our local church for the concluding service of their Music Festival. This included premieres of 3 new works and the 2nd performance of an excellent setting of Scrificium Deo by the vicar (who had been doing a PhD in music at Cambridge before he became ordained). Richard began by quoting St Augustine that the beauty of God is ancient but always fresh, and one of his main points is that the denial of the harmonic relationships at the heart of creation causes immense harm: we are created to participate with every fibre of our being in the divine harmony. He ends by quoting Browning: "the rest may reason and welcome, 'tis we musicians know."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Everything is Spiritual - but...

On Tues in our life group we watched Everything is Spiritual. Although this is an impressive presentation and Rob Bell's heart is clearly in the right place, it is full of egregious scientific errors that make one weep. He clearly has no idea what he is talking about in most of the scientific passages (It's not Leptons that go about in 3s and 2s, it's Quarks - his remarks about electrons orbiting atoms are bizarre to say the least, he grossly overstates, and mis-exemplifies, the Anthropic Coincidences etc.. etc..) and what's worse, he hasn't taken the trouble to get his facts checked by anyone who does know.

Weds to the Lorcano Rooms at the Foreign Office for a reception organised by the RSA, with an interesting talk from, and later with, the Perm Sec.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

May Ball Thoughts

To Trinity May Ball last night with Son, Daughter, Daughter-in-law and Son-in-law. Great to be back and the College looking exceptionally beautiful. After the drinks reception we made a bee-line for the hot air baloon - not quite quickly enough cos there was a long queue. In which I met Joseph Conlon a brilliant young String Theorist, currently a JRF at Trinity who is about to take a RS Research Fellowship at Oxford. He is adamant that String Theory is real physics - after all if we had a Plank Scale Accelerator we'd be able to test it directly and see the String Harmonics. Though he does accept that the history of science is not encouraging about attempts to second-guess nature many orders of magnitude above observations.
Because the balloon only took 3 people I ended up going up with Joseph and his wife, just as the fireworks were on. An interesting view - Son and Daughter-in-Law had abandoned the queue and gone with another friend and Fellow to watch from the roof of Neville's Court which would have been an even better vantage point.

Got a very nice email from Martin Rees about our draft Appendix A - he says it is fair and clear and he has no substantive comments. Thoughts continue to develop on the paper with Hava and the research programme that might follow on from it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sun U-turn

Spent much of yesterday getting our little boat ready to sail - rigging her up, cleaning her, cutting weeds. All we need now is some time. And some more sun.

I don't normally read The Sun but as I suspected there are strong signs of a U-turn from them on the 42 days nonsense. First Lorraine Kelley and now Trevor Kavanagh saying "Davis is right" (using the lost data scandals as a peg to justify their U-Turn) although they still try to maintain their earlier line that Davis was wrong as well. I suspect that Murdoch realises Brown is a lost cause and has only been playing along in the hope that he could persuade him to drop the Lisbon Treaty.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

MSM waking up to Davis

The Mainstream Media (MSM) is beginning to "get" what is happening re David Davis. While Jane Merrick in the Independent follows the MSM line and "reports on the damage done to his party and his own ambitions" and tries to spin their poll (showing an 18 point C-Lead) as 'David Davis effect' cuts into Tories Poll Lead' based on a flawed analysis and statistical illiteracy, their Editor-at-Large has noticed that "The maverick Tory is more in tune with popular feeling than 'insiders' think", and the Observer has 3 articles in praise of him. The fact that 2 Labour Rebels have said they would campaign for him is also creating a serious headache for Brown.

I remain of the view that this is a tactical masterstroke by Davis, and although Cameron was quite right to remove him from the Shadow Cabinet (it broke collective responsibility, took an un-necessary risk, it's good to demonstrate that this isn't a "wily scheme" by Cameron but a genuine individual effort that transcends party lines, and there was an outstanding replacement in Dominic whom Davis is gracious enough to say "He's better than I am. He will probably do it better than me.") events will show that it is a further disaster for Brown.

In the Polls the WMA is 45:26:18 - when YouGov gave a 44:26:17 on 23 April it was a big outlier but as I think I said at the time it may have been just ahead of the trend. The WMA C and L figues are at an all time high and low respectively. The trend in Lab v LibDem continues, and the "projected equality date" is now 13th Oct.

The splendid Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali continues to insist that "If the effects of years of misguided multicultural policies are to be rolled back, the Government will have to work with social housing trusts (for instance), including church ones, to promote integrated communities. It will have to encourage schools to reflect the diversity of the community, instead of being religious or ethnic enclaves. Britain is not and never has been a wholly secular democracy. Its national life and institutions are based on Christian principles." Hazel Blears doesn't get this, but Cameron certainly does.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Harvard and Freewill

L to R Anna Dreber, NB, Karen Croxson, Martin Nowak,
Corina Tarnita, Dave Rand
Back from another really enjoyable and productive visit to Harvard, working with Martin Nowak and colleagues on Evolutionary Dynamics and with Hava Siegelmann on Neural Networks. The weather was amazingly hot and when I arrived on Tues two of our colleagues in PED had been out doing an ingenious experiment with passers-by in Harvard, looking at differences between Obama and Clinton supporters {subsequently published in PNAS!}. I had come out a day early to work with Hava which was great.

On Weds am we went to Harvard Medical School to try our ideas out on some "wet" neurologists who actually do experiments, which was great. We now know which Prof there we really want to collaborate with (and he's a friend of Pam Silver's - of course) so Hava will go and see him. Apparently Francis Crick kept trying to get Hava to work on freewill but she declined because she didn't see a suitable rigorous approach on offer - until now.

The work with Martin and his team was great as always, and we had another fascinating session with John Campbell. On Fri evening there was a leaving party for one of the PED people which gave us a chance to catch up with Sarah Coakley and try out some of the freewill ideas on her. I think we have a good argument about the difference between freewill and a robot with a random number generator, but there is more to be done of course on the "philosophical" end. In our paper we'll focus on the scientific aspects.

Friday, June 13, 2008

David Davis - for Speaker

I am incredulous on how wrong the MSM commentariat has been about David Davis. It's a tactical masterstoke and a disaster for Gordon Brown.

I haven't spoken to or communicated with any Tories about this (Dominic Greive is an old friend and will be a superb shadow Home Secretary) and I can see that strategically it was questionable - after all why rock the boat when you are ahead - and clearly Davis had to step down from the Shadow Cabinet. But if Brown doesn't field a pro-42-days candidate then he looks utterly weak and pathetic, and if he does and the candidate is trounced then the "popular support" argument evaporates.

Even though Davis may not be appointed to the Shadow Cabinet he could well become the next Speaker - a job which is in many ways prefeable to Home Secretary. You read it here first :-)

Wonderful news about the Irish Referendum!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sailing, Family History and the Brown Car Crash

Sunday was a delicious day, Daughter agreed to go sailing with me for an hour in the early afternoon. It was very sunny and winds 6-12 knots so great for a first sail of the season for us both. On the way we passed Horton churchyard where my grandparents are buried and visited their grave, a stone table with a cross engraved that points to the points of the compass. I fear that my grandfather was an agnostic at best – we never discussed religion and I don’t think he ever went to Church. However my father became deeply religious and my grandmother a regular churchgoer, preferring (of course) the 1662 Communion service. Her mother, who was born around 1880, was a Bahai and I think knew Abdul Baha. I think my mother still has some of her Bahai memorabilia.

I had not considered, until now, whether this slightly exotic family background has increased my willingness to accept John’s quasi-universalism. I knew by great-grandmother reasonably well and loved my grandfather deeply, he was a huge influence on my life giving me my early love of science and engineering – I remember when I passed my Winchester Scholarship he gave me a Chemical Lab. He was a consultant in engineering physics, having read NatSci and worked a bit with the Braggs, and on the top floor of his house there was his office, his secretary’s office, the workshop (with lathe, pillar drill, grinding machine etc..) and the Electrical Lab with some wonderful old oscilloscopes, all using thermionic valves. My chemical lab was originally, I think, a butler’s pantry, on the ground floor. There was a gratifying selection of glassware (the fractionating columns were of particular fascination) and a considerable collection of chemicals, organic and inorganic, including (of course) concentrated hydrochloric and sulphuric acids, ethanol and heaven knows what else that you would now never allow a 13-year old to play with unsupervised. I was fascinated by chemical analysis and also enjoyed making gun cotton. Never did develop as much of a chemist alas, I found maths easier.

On Monday Son came for supper after a conference at the RS – great to have some time together and to enjoy some fine wine. He was explaining to us how there was a many-to-many mapping between the symptoms of a viral infection (which are largely due to the immune system fighting the virus) and the actual virus involved, so that short of sequencing the virus it was pretty well impossible even for a virologist to tell what kind of common viral infection people had, unless it was influenza or one of the particularly nasty ones.

The car crash that is the Brown government continues – with a ghastly fascination. Yet another poll shows the continued downtrend in his support, although it also apparently shows that the insane 42 days proposal has public support. However Ed Balls has been denying that it would be a vote of no-confidence in Brown – presumably to remove the temptation for people to put him out of his misery. Cameron in the Mail actually comes across as feeling sorry for him, which is understandable. He says he wants to tell him: “take a holiday”. Which of course is both human and wise, and politically twisting the knife because Brown is far too proud to be seen to be taking advice from Cameron.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Clinton and Brown


Well Hilary finally concedes. Interesting parallels with Brown - if he had faced an election he might have lost as well, when he does he (almost) certainly will.

Amusingly, the latest poll puts the Tories on 42, Labour 16 points behind. It broadly agrees with the Weighted Moving Average which is 43:27:19. As I have noted earlier, the gap between Labour and LibDems continues to fall - it was 26 in Oct 07, 16 at the beginning of the year and is now 8. At this rate (1.8% per month) they would be level pegging by Oct 08. Of course trends are rarely linear for this long, but the possibility of Labour being eclipsed by the Lib Dems as the principal opposition is by no means unthinkable. Esp if the Labour Party goes bust.


But the question in that poll on the "42 days" issue, which purports to show public support, is seriously flawed. The issue is holding terrorist suspects for up to 42 days without charge where there is not enough evidence, even after 28 days, to show a reasonable suspicion that they have committed an offence. If that were the question the responses would be very different.Whether or not Brown "wins" this vote by bribing MPs who know better to vote for him, he is totally discredited in the eyes of everyone with any knowledge of English law. Every serious commentator knows that there is no valid argument for this nonsense. It is politically suicidal. If he "loses" he is weak, if he "wins" he is illiberal.

There were excellent articles by John Major and Shami Chakrabarti on this recently. The appalling Tony McNulty, he of the utterly dodgy statistics, urged people not to listen to Major but to "people like Peter Clark" - the retired policeman who is the only person who has come out publicly in favour of this absurd scheme. I wonder what reward he will get from NuLab?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Swinburne & Howson

Fascinating lecture/discussion last night organised by the Faraday Centre, with Richard Swinburne and Colin Howson on the existence of God. Swinburne was putting forward his argument that God is the best explanation for the anthropic universe because it is the simplest - Colin suggested that there may be unknown other explanations, and that to assess objective probabilities you need to consider all the other explanations. He conceded however that this was nothing to do with God (his objection would apply equally to any other "hypothesis") and Swinburne in the dinner discussion developed the line that the only alternative of equal simplicity to [a single person with no parts or physical extent, infinite power and benevolence] would have to be [a single thing with no parts or physical extent] and which would have to have some arbitrary powers such as producing the particular set of particles that we observe.

Colin also lambasted Dawkins's terrible "747 Gambit" - I'll send Colin the relevant section of QoT to see what he has to add.

Great to meet John Cornwell - I reminded him that he needs to correct his mistake about Rosalind Frankin in Darwin's Angel when it comes out in paperback, which he says he will do. It would also be good to add a footnote to clarify that he doesn't claim that Dawkins supports Social Darwinism

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Justice, love and 80th birthday celebration

Very interesting article in Science about the Neurobiology of different ideas of justice. The 3rd author Steven Quartz is partly funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Though I do worry about the small sample sizes (26 participants and the P values are 0.05 and in one case 0.1). It's great that JTF is funding world-class science, and Quartz's work looks very interesting.

Party to celebrate Uncle's 80th birthday was something of an extended family reunion, although none of our descendants was present.

Lovely sermon this morning which consisted mainly in the curate reading about 3 inspiring stories of putting the Sermon on the Mount into practice: the forgiveness of the mother of a boy stabbed to death, a Prison Governor in Louisiana who has turned the prison round, and a woman who saved babies in the Warsaw Ghetto.