Saturday, October 31, 2009

Science, theatre, chess & lovely email

Son & family came to stay on Thurs night. I went down with an annoying cold. In the morning played chess with 10-year-old Elder Grandson, got an overwhelming lead, blundered it away and had to resign! A few months ago EG would have resigned when I got my lead, but he clawed back and beat me - bravo. I gather that the Cambridge U11 team, of which he is a member, played Churchill College 2nd team and won 4-1.

The May & Arimpathy paper in JRSoc Interface is now pre-published on the web: as always when he discusses this topic he scrupulously credits my key idea, and references Beale & Rand (in preparation) and Beale & al (in preparation). We're making good progress on these, but there is a lot of ITRW engagement needed as well. A private dinner discussion at the RS on Tues should advance this. Curiously my mother will be at a different dinner that evening at the RS after having presented the Beale Medal.

Went with some american friends to Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce at the Rose Theatre, directed by Peter Hall. Peter persuaded Ayckbourn to give this play for the National Theatre in 1976 with the brilliantly seductive line "No doubt you can do very well without the National Theatre, but can the National Theatre do without you?" A very strong cast including Jane Asher, Nicholas le Prevost, Lucy Briers, Finty Williams and Rachel Pickup each keeping the flame of their family acting tradition very much burning.

While laid up with cold read a bit of Sir James Jeans's Through Space and Time (1937) - fascinating to see a snapshot of what popular science looked like then. He has an inkling of Hubble's Law but not really of Big Bang. Einsten, Relativity and Quantum don't make the index. But his conclusion: "who shall say what strange surprises the next tick of the clock may have in store for us" is of course spot on.

PS Lovely email from someone in Romania: I have just finished reading "Questions of Truth". Reading it along with "Belief in God in an Age of Science" has turned me from a person in doubt, into a person who rather believes than doubts the existence of God. I also realized how little I knew about science and about religion. It also makes Dawkins' "The God Delusion" look childish, which it actually is.
"Questions of Truth" really changed my worldview and I think it should be widely read.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lovely Cosi, and Charles Handy

To a lovely production of Cosi Fan Tutte directed by our friend Sally Burgess, given in a subtantial private house in advance of their UK Tour. It was great having such a wonderful opera in pretty intimate surroundings (about 150 people) and Sally's direction was brilliant, really getting to the humour and emotional depth.

The founders of the company played Fiordiligi and Despina (surely one of the best parts in all opera) with up and coming young singers as Dorabella, Gugliemo and Ferrando and a splendidly worldly Robert Presley as Don Alfonso.

Great to see our friends Charles & Liz Handy, and to meet their son Scott and his wife. Charles is off to LA and then Vienna to be part of the celebrations of the centennary of Peter Drucker's birth. Mutually resolved to get together soon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Think, Cosmology Bob May, friends old & new

Quite a busy day yesterday, in addition to work.
We also had a delightful mixture of friends old and new for dinner last night. I relayed the striking comment in HBR article by Jeff Immelt & others Ten years ago, when GE senior managers discused the global marketplace, they talked about "the US, Europe, Japan and the rest of the world." Now they talk about "resource-rich regions," such as the Middle East, Canada, Australia and Russia, and "people-rice regions" such as China and India. The "rest of the world" means the US, Europe and Japan.

PS: Very nice dictum reported in an elegant paper by Andrew Liddle: "95% of 95% con dence results do not turn out to be right; if anything 95% of them turn out to be wrong"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cambridge Festival of Ideas

John and I did our session at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas yesterday. It was a dauntingly large lecture theatre and when I arrived quite empty apart from the very efficient Zoe Binns. As she had warned me, we could either have the screen down or the panellists on the stage, so we decided on the latter. People began arriving at 1pm and I had to think what I would say: this gave me a chance to adjust in the light of the audience an have a quick discussion with John.

In the end the lecture was pretty full - not bad for a drizzly Saturday afternoon - with people of all ages from 10 to 80: a few undergraduates and one Nobel Laureate. My talk was based on the Conclusions section of QoT, but also making the point that in some respects Christian faith can also provide a useful heuristic for scientific enquiry. We each spoke for 10 mins and so the Q&A which was the main point lasted for over an hour, ably chaired by Simon Conway Morris. Apart from one rather ranty intervention by a supporter of Falung Gong the questions were pretty good, though none widly unexpected. Interesting brief discussion afterwards with a Chinese lady now teaching in Cambridge. Thanks everyone for coming.

John took us to tea in Queens and it was good to see his portrait and that of Ron Oxburgh (in shirtsleeves) as well as a nice one of the Queen Mother and a formidable linguist dressed in the traditional costume of Ossetia complete with dagger! Then went to see Son, Daughter in Law and Grandchildren after which C took them out to dinner and I had dinner with John to discuss my Cosmology paper. The key idea has survived Jhn's scruitiny, though he has given me really useful hints on how to explain it better and more clearly. When I have done this, we'll send the next draft to John Barrow and Jeremy Butterfield and if it survives their scrutiny it will be in good shape indeed! We shall see.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Great screening of In Search of the Messiah

Wonderful UK premiere at Bafta of Tim Meara's brilliant film In Search of the Messiah. The screening was packed with quite an international crowd - people from Italy and Japan and elsewhere. It's really compelling and should definitely be shown on TV where it would attract great interest. The reaction in New York was also apparently very enthusiastic.

Rosamund Pike narrates beautifully and the star is of course Ruth Palmer who is shown playing the most amazing instruments including Menuhin's Lord Wilton Del Gesu which is perhaps the finest violin in the world that is ever played (the Messiah cannot be played by the terms of its bequest to the Ashmolean).

The producer invited us to supper with Tim and Ruth and some of the other attendees, at the Thai Square in Trafalgar Square. Sat next to a film maker who read Selfish Gene many years ago, felt intuitively that it was all wrong or at least far from the whole story, and was most interested to understand a bit more why.

Festival of Ideas tomorrow so must get some sleep.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

PED on a Roll, and some smaller progress here

My friends at PED are really on a roll. In the 4 Sept issue of Science Dave and Anna had Positive Interactions Promote Public Cooperation, a beautifully elegant demonstration of the greater value of reward rather than punishment in promoting cooperation. And I've just seen the paper they were excited about when I was over there, Comprehensive Mapping of Long-Range Interactions Reveals Folding Principles of the Human Genome which made the front cover of Science. This was led by Erez Liebermann whose last major paper, on the evolution of language, made the front cover of Nature.

On a much lower level, I have had what seems to me a really good idea for the Journal of Cosmology paper, which I have sent to John Polkinghorne and we'll discuss over dinner on Sat after our Cambridge Festival of Ideas talk (13:30-15:00 Mill Lane Lecture Rooms). Two of my friends from church will be in Cambridge at the time so may come. And the host of Unbelievable emailed to say that my debate with Julian Baggini has made the top 10 of downloads.

Charming email from Ellis Rubenstein inviting me to an amazing NYAS Gala Dinner on 16 Nov where the honorees are Martin Chalfie, Indra K. Nooyi and Rajendra K. Pachauri also to be attended by 4 other Nobel Laureates. Alas it clashes with a business event we are hosting in London so I had to decline regretfully (and got charming email back - aren't Americans polite) but if anyone attends this do let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dark Matter and the Dark Lord

Frantically busy with secular work, preparation for Cambridge Festival of Ideas talk, and invited paper for the Journal of Cosmology. We have an updated word limit will will need some interesting cutting.

Had a good run on Sat then worked hard on secular work. On Sun last sail of the season - sadly the wind dropped to nothing and all but 2 boats had to abandon and Did Not Finish, but it was a wonderful sunny day. Had a great idea about cosmology and the Anthropic Principle which will be a major feature of the Cosmology paper, provided it survives discussion with Polkinghorne on Sat.

On Mon went to the RAEng Hinton Lecture given by Lord Mandelson - interesting guy and I had an interesting chat with him.

Fascinating discusssions today with various people including Ian Davis and George Robertson. Also caught up with Ruth Palmer - we'll be seeing her for the UK premiere of the brilliant film In Search of The Messiah.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

RIP paper out - and others in pipeline

My article in Think has apparently come out, and can be cited as:
Think (2009), 8:115-124 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2009

All I have to do now is read it and see exactly what was published ;-) From the Abstract it looks as though there may have been a slight glitch in the lead-in :-(.

Our talk at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas is in less than 2 weeks (do come if you are able to get to Cambridge - England - on Sat 24th) and I also have to do an invited paper for the Journal of Cosmology so I'm working on that and hope to try out some of the material in the talk.

Some useful progress on the Beale, Rand, Pathy & May paper as well - lots going on so back to work...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bob May's Harvard Lecture etc..

Back from a great 3 day trip to Harvard. Bob May was over to give a public lecture about the topics we are working on together, and it was an excellent chance to get together with the team and develop some of the thinking. I had made a bit of progress on the plane and Bob had done some elegant new calculations which actually strengthen our earlier results. Dave and I also made some useful progress together so there is plenty to write up. Bob BTW did a back of the envelop estimate of a certain cacluation as 14,000 - I did the exact solution on the computer and it was ... 14,036.

There was also plenty of chance for some of the young brilliant researchers at PED to listen to some of Bob’s war stories, and it is wonderful to think that in 50 years time (2059!!) when they are eminent “elder statespersons” of science, laden with various prizes and honours, they will be able to tell similar inspiring war stories to young post-docs. Martin says that Bob’s PhD supervisor in Sydney was Pauli’s last assistant, so the chain goes back and back.

Bob’s lecture went down well, and at the dinner afterwards I met David Haig, Naomi Pierce (who had worked for Bob at Princeton) and a very interesting Board Member of the Templeton Foundation. Much to discuss. (The picture shows Corina Tarnita, Martin Nowak, Bob May, me and Naomi Pierce. )

Breakfast on Sat am with him and other Templeton-related people including Andrew Briggs and Russell Stannard. We were discussing interpretations of QM and the limits to knowledge and whether there would ever be a time when no new fundamental science will be discovered. Russell thinks so, I think not.

We both agree of course that humans will never know everything – Gödel and the inherent impossibility of verifying all your axioms guarantee this. But to my mind this suggests that the advance of knowledge will never cease: after all there will always be new mathematics to be discovered, and at least some fraction of this will have “real world” implications. As John P and I say in QoT, we think knowledge has a fractal character: the more you know, the more questions you can formulate. At some level this is a question of scaling: the interval [0-1) and [0-infinity) are in many respects isomorphic, and I guess it depends on whether you are temperamentally a “half-full” or “half-empty” person.

Bob and I went to hear John Campbell’s Presidential Address to the IAES as John’s guest. Although they are both friends of mine and John has been advising on our work they had never met, and it was great to be able to effect an introduction – although since Bob arrived before I did when I got there they were both chatting happily. John was introduced by the Vice-President who said “It was hard to imagine a more giving soul, or a more talented economist.” Bob had to leave before the end of the Q&A but was very impressed with John’s talk, and asked me to tell him.

It was also great to be able to catch up with Elder Daughter and, briefly, her Husband who arrived at Logan shortly before I had to fly back.

Arrived this mornig, caught up with family and went sailing at club. A bit rough and breezy, so we have added a slight modification to the boat and tested it. Hard work - great fun.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Malice in Wikiland

Dinner on Monday included the Chairman of a major media group, who was bemoaning the decline in the reputation of Wikipedia due to the antics of editors manipulating articles about living people.

Somewhat amusingly I found an illustration of this yesterday. Someone had created a short article about me and one of the wily editors who for some reason has a running feud with me (and others I believe – she is alleged to be a disgruntled former MI5 agent) got it deleted within 5 minutes. The first I knew of it was when a US publisher (not mine BTW) emailed me remarking on this extraordinary behaviour and suggesting that this kind of thing merited a journalistic investigation.

I complained to the administrator who deleted it – since this was blatantly against the agreed policy on deletions. He seems to be some kind of “student politician” so after refusing for a while he quickly restored the article, immediately listed it for deletion, contacted all the people who had voted for a previous article about me to be deleted and – hey presto – got it deleted in 1h15m (for those who don’t know, the policy on Wikipedia is to allow deletion debates to run for at least 5 days so that you get a cross-section of opinion and to allow time for an article to be improved). FWIW the article was this editor’s first attempt and he or she did not understand how to do references or “notability” but these would have been easy to fix give a little time. For good measure this malicious administrator has placed a permanent lock so that no ordinary user can ever create an article about me without permission from another admin.

One of the amusing “catch 22s” in the situation is that an otherwise fair-minded editor has suggested that no article can be created unless it is better than the original article that was deleted – but since no editor who is not an admin can access that article this effectively debars anyone from achieving this. (If anyone does want to write an article they may have to prototype it in their user space first).

This kind of behaviour shows Wikipedia in a poor light and I suspect it may be more widespread than this apparently isolated incident - although you have to look hard because the kind of people who do this can cover their tracks. Perhaps there should be a journalistic investigation if it does prove to be more widespread.

Meanwhile I’m in Harvard working with Bob May on our revised paper – and with Martin Nowak. Hilarious!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Lovely party at the Dance Attic

V busy weekend as it was Daughter's 18th birthday party. This was one of the most enjoyable parties we have ever seen - we were sent to a nearby restaurant but I must put in a plug for the location which was delightful - the Dance Attic in Fulham. The staff could not have been more charming or helpful.

Interesting speech by Sayeeda Warsi saying that the Government has launched a state-sponsored attack on religion. It's not of course quite as simple as that - it's more the quangocracy than the government, but it is great that she is speaking out.

Work v busy so must get back to it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Living Free - week one

Started a v interesting course at church last night, called Living Free which is about helping us to grow in the spiritual life and to escape from bad behaviour patterns that are holding us back.

It is given by a former US pastor and although he has made a great effort to adapt it to the UK it seems to me that there is still more work to do on the underlying theology. For example:
  1. He starts with the Garden of Eden and "God's original design". The rhetoric is then that we need to go back to what God originally designed. He knows of course that what we are really talking about in Christianity is "The Kingdom of Heaven" and "New Creation" but it would be much more helpful and biblically accurate to use this language, and to avoid all the confusions about exactly what is meant in the creation accounts in Genesis.
  2. He thinks that before the fall Satan was subject to Man, relying as far as I can see exclusively on translating Psalm 8:5-6 as "Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority". Of course the normal translation is "you made him a little lower than the angels..." It's true (and I didn't realise this) that the word is elohim which of course in Genesis 1 means God, but not for nothing does the Septuagint and all traditional translations go for angels - elohim literally means "gods" and is quite often used to mean "heavenly beings" but not God. For example Ps 82:1 & 6, 95:3, 96:4, 97:7&9, 138:1 in the Psalms alone. The NIV has "a little lower than the heavenly beings" (with a footnote giving "than God" as an alternative) - the JB has "little lower than a god". I can't yet find any translation that has "only a little lower than God", so to hang an important theological point on this specific rendering is, to say the least, unfortunate.

    PS: It begins and ends O LORD our Lord (Yaweh Adonai) and only uses Elohim in that context. By contrast many other psalms speak of LORD God. Psalm 7 BTW uses LORD - 7 times. Of course.

    PPS: And this very verse is quoted in Hebrews 2:7 as "You made him a little lower than the angels". (Admittedly Hebrews then goes in for some pilpul and applies this to Jesus, reading it as "for a little while lower than the angels", but that is beside the present point. As far as the NT is concerned the word means "angels" here. )

The people with us on the course are great and I'm sure I will learn from it, but I do wish it didn't rely - un-necessarily IMHO - on such contentious theology.