Friday, October 31, 2008

Ivanov, Bob May and the NYAS

Went last night to Ivanov with Kenneth Branagh, in a new version by Tom Stoppard. Excellent performances all round - Branagh, Gina McGee and Andrea Riseborough very good but also Lorcan Cranitch as Borkin, Malcolm Sinclair as Count Shabelsky and Kevin McNally as Lebedev.

Amazing developments today which I can't blog about in full detail, but it looks as if we will be collaborating with Bob May and also there is the prospect of having initiated something amazing at the NYAS. Interestingly Darwin was (according to their CEO, who should know) a member, although this is not recorded in his biography.

Son, Daughter in Law and Grandchildren came to stay on Weds and we went to the Aquarium and the London Eye. Always amazingly inspiring to see them, but tiring!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Intelligence and Integration

Fascinating discussions on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday a former very senior intelligence officer talked about the role of intelligence services and set out some of the principles he thought should apply, to combine the necessary functions with appropriate oversight. Though I think he conflates, in "Reasonable prospects of success" two very different issues: how likely is the proposed intervention to work and what are the likely consequences of error, in both directions.

On Tuesday John Polkinghorne, Denis Noble, Keith Ward and Neva Haites addressed a group of over 800 at St Paul's Cathedral in a public debate on "Body and Soul". It was great that John and Denis finally met. Much striking comment (the transcript will be available here soon): for me the most interesting was Denis' concluding remarks that we stand at a very interesting time in relation to Biological Science. If the 20th C was about how to break Humpty Dumpty down, then the 21st C is putting it back together again.

Really good discussions about a NY discussion meeting on Feb 17th associated with our book launch, and we've also got 140 copies of the uncorrected proofs being printed up in England for our UK publicist. This will have the index - unlike the US versions.

One of Hava's students managed to prove my conjecture that Neural Delay Amplification would explain the statistical distribution of noise in neuron firing patterns. A great result and we now need to write the paper. But "secular" work is very busy at the moment as well. Ah well...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Harvard, Princeton, QoT and Sasha Siem

Back from an intense week at Harvard, including a day trip to Princeton on Fri (first visit there since I was three). Made a lot of progress, worked v hard so no time to blog.

I was able to meet our US publicist and also speak to a very senior official at the AAAS who says he will find someone to chair our US launch so it's definitely on. We've printed up 100 uncorrected proofs of QoT and they will go out to US contacts early next week. Two more Nobel Laureates have agreed to read it with a view to endorsing. It's an interesting moment when you actually get a "perfect bound" book in your hand - it all seems very real. It's quite a slim volume and I hope will go down well.

Had some time with Elder Daughter and Son-in-law which was great, including visiting an offshoot of their church which meets in the basement of a Synagogue in Brookline! Very good sermon on prayer - decidedly actionable. Dinner with John Cambpell and family but sadly didn't see various other Boston friends: was going to touch base with Sasha Siem but we were both too busy - she is doing really well and def rates her own Wikipedia article I think.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thank God for Evolution - indeed

Reading with interest Thank God for Evolution. Of course it is clear that Evolution is part of the wonderful ways in which God's creation works - a statement which is uncontroversial anywhere except in the US (and perhaps parts of the Muslim world). Much of his language is very compatible with highly "liberal" sets of interpretations, and it is unclear (so far) whether this is because he wants to be inclusive or because he really doesn't get some of the fundamental realities - but I hope it is the former.

We're getting bound versions of the uncorrected proofs of QoT but Fedex Kinkos who are doing it want a permission form from the publisher, and I think the rights manager may be in Frankfurt. We'll have to see - it would be annoying if thus delays it.

Very good sermon on Sunday about making time for prayer... I need to do more of this.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sentamu on Faith Schools + QoT on sale in 8 stores

I rarely read the Mail but I've come across this by John Sentamu fighting back against the pernicious attacks on "Faith schools" by much of the commentariat, which is esp virulent amongst Labour activists. Of course faith schools should encourage appopriate tolerance and respect of other religions (without denying the truths of their own faith) but to abolish them would destroy most of the few remaining beacons of quality in the state system in England.

QoT is now on sale online from 8 bookstores as far as I can see from Google:
One of my colleagues is going to a retirement dinner for Richard Dawkins this week - I wonder who they will appoint in his place?

There was also a brief mention of it as a forthcoming book in Publishers Weekly - and I know our publisher has sent them the galleys.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

There is no view from nowhere

Frantically busy, but we did get a final sail of the season in on Sunday. The weather was amazingly sunny although the "promised" Force 3-4 winds became 1-2 which doesn't suit our Catamaran at all. Nevertheless it was a great finish to the sailing season for us.

Final marked up proofs of QoT off to the publishers - now all we have to focus on is promoting it. I hope there are not too many errors remaining, but we just have to go. They have agreed to change the sub-title from "Answers" to "Responses" - we are very clear that we are not in any sense "laying down the law" but giving personal perspectives. We've also added a bit to explain why we aren't trying to cover all kinds of other religious stances (as a very eminent scientist thought we should). The trouble is, of course, that there is no "view from nowhere" in these matters - religion is closely related to love and a personal commitment.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Books and Forums - and Eusociality of Religion

Things have been frantically busy. Spent most of last week in Harvard - a fascinating time working with Martin and colleagues but also was able to see Jim McCarthy to discuss our book launch at the AAAS and to see the publicist suggested by the people at Harvard U Press. Also had some excellent discussions with Hava and one of her students seems to have verified an important conjecture we had about Neural Delay Amplification.

On Friday night and Sat was able to see Elder Daughter who had been at Yale helping to organise a forum with Francis Collins. Flew back to sail on Sun but there were gales so relaxed at home instead. This week has been v busy with work but also some important progress on the book - we should get endorsements from Francis Collins and Martin Nowak to add to those of Alister McGrath and Bill Phillips, and Francis thinks he can come to the NY launch discussion on the 17th Feb.

Society of Authors AGM which was a forum chaired by Tracy Chevalier on how to get the best out of your publisher. Tracy had her agent, the Editorial Director of Bloomsbury and the Chairman of the Booksellers Association. The fellow-authors with whom I discussed QoT all thought it would be timely and do very well. Nina Killem has written a satirical novel on Science and Religion which is coming out about the same time, and Tracy is writing about the pioneer fossil-hunter Mary Anning. Must have her meet Simon Conway Morris.

Very interesting review paper in Science on The Origin and Evolution of Religious Prosociality - just too late to ref in the book I fear. Also making good progress with McGrath's Dangerous Idea book which is full of gems.