Monday, November 30, 2009

Stunning Messiah at the ENO

To the ENO for an absolutely stunning production of Messiah. Many of the number brought tears to my eyes - it really is magnificent. DO go if you can.

Deborah Warner, who has a strong Quaker background, directs and there is a beautiful freshness, sincerity and contemporary relevance. The soloists are outstanding: John Mark Ainley and Catherine Wyn Rogers who are probably the best in the world for this, a bass called Brindley Sherratt and a wonderful young soprano called Sophie Bevan. At the start of Part 3 she sings "I know that my Redeemer liveth" dying in a hospital bed - followed of course by a tremendously moving mass resurrection at The Trumpet Shall Sound. When we went to see Catherine (an old friend) afterwards we met Sophie and found that she was a bit ill. If she sings like that when she is ill!!!

In the programme they have some wonderful poems including Eliot's Journey of The Magi and Donne's Hymn to God my God, in my Sicknesse which I did not know, and begins:

SINCE I am coming to that Holy room,
Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made Thy music ; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before ;

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
That this is my south-west discovery,
Per fretum febris, by these straits to die ;

I joy, that in these straits I see my west ;
For, though those currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me ? As west and east
In all flat maps—and I am one—are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

QoT reprinted, and nice email from Nobel Laureate

To round off an "interesting" week, today:
  • Got a letter from my publisher saying that they are re-printing Questions of Truth and enclosing a new comp copy. It is now in its 3rd impression. Frustratingly they have not corrected the egregious error on p103 where a stray phrase crept in to a quote from Steve Hawking. I have emailed them thanking them but asking that they will guarantee to fix it at the next impression (if there is one).
  • Received a lovely email from the Nobel Laureate I met on Monday beginning "Congratulations on the splendid page in the Friday FT that told readers about the work you and your collaborators have done. And thanks again for introducing me to this fascinating work..."and continuing with a page of deep and very interesting observations, on which I need to reflect carefully.
So to bed...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Full page article in the FT

Got back at 0500 from Boston - having spent most of Thanksgiving with Elder Daughter, her husband and in-laws. Find a full-page article in the FT, mostly about the work we are doing with Bob May. What a week!

One Nobel Laureate has already commented on the Cosmology paper - we'll see what additional feedback we get.

PS I find an interesting citation of one of my arguments from Invenio Dec 2000 Vol 3 pp45-86 "Alungnias Considerationes Sobre la Ciencia y la Fe" by Rogielo Pincon. The earliest I think I was cited on Science and Religion

Thursday, November 26, 2009

More progress, and Cosmology paper published

Further great progress with my neat idea. Seminar at the Fed to 15-20 economists went down very well. We found a small error in our calculations just before the seminar, greyed out the offending lines and fixed them on the plane to Harvard afterwards. This morning presented to a member of the top-mangemement of a major financial group who says we should get it to the lawmakers doing financial regulation reform urgently. Made further useful progress when we got back.

The two colleagues I have been working with on this - D on Tues and C on Weds - are both utterly brilliant in rather different ways and both have been interviewed to become members of the Harvard Society of Fellows. Since only 3 will be elected from Harvard it seems probable that one will and one won't - alas.

My Journal of Cosmology paper has been published online - though I have told them I don't have a PhD but I guess they'll only be able to change this after Thanksgiving. Great to know what people think of it.

Had supper with Elder Daughter, Husband and Husband's parents - and will be with them all for Thanksgiving.

PS: I see that my fellow-contributors to this volume, obviously also submitting invited papers, include Henry Stapp (who studied under Segrè , Chamberlain, Pauli and Heisenberg!) and Roger Penrose.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A v neat idea, but aargh!

Breakfast yesterday with a Nobel Laureate to discuss our latest work. Had a nice extra twist and wrote it up very early that morning. Discussion went really well, and N.L. seemed very impressed. Later that day he invited me to a major conference he is organising in mid Dec to present the idea and be part of a panel discussion, in Berlin, all expenses paid. But I can't go due to an unbreakable set of family commitments. Aargh!

Making further progress on the idea which is really rather beautiful. Bob May also likes it and has been working on analytic understandings of it. I'm presenting it at a seminar later today - let's see how it goes.

With additional revisions the Journal of Cosmology paper is now off. Each time the referee came back with comments I was able to find interesting ways to strengthen the argument. I now have a good argument as to why abundance functions in evolution should be differentiable and have learned more about parameter estimation in cosmology from this outstanding paper, and about VC Dimensions. All fascinating stuff!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Much Maths and some Music

Been working intesively with Bob May and Dave Rand - the initial result I found last Fri looks really promising. Dave has a massive cluster but I have to do things on my workstation. Figured out how to make Matlab work in parallel so now goes 4x faster and will be getting another 4 cores next week for a further x2 speed-up.

Managed to pop out to lunchtime concert on Fri given by the wonderful Kathron Sturrock and Ann Mackay. They first met when Kathron was accompanying for Schwartzkopf's masterclasses and were working together again after 30 years. A programme of Schubert (incl Die Forelle and Gretchen, which I first heard given by Schwarzkopf in her final Wigmore Hall recital - she became a 17-year old girl though this must have been in 1975/6 so she was 60) Strauss (Ich schwebe and Standchen were particularly memorable, and they had great fun with Schlagende Herzen which for understadable reasons they call "Klangf Klang") and Rachmaninov (Ann was toaght to pronouce the Russian by Chad Varah). Tremendous songs wonderfully performed, and Kathron is such an amazing accompanyist, very self-effacing and it's all in the music.

Thurs evening had some neighbours round for drinks including Carolyn Dobbin - whom I would love to hear sing but have only heard (wonderful) from her window.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Defence, stability and cosmology

Frantic few days.
  • Thurs evening to the RCDS for a dinner with the Members. A distinguished diplomat who works directly for the PM gave a fascinating talk and then we were told to go down to the dining room where we were placed on 3 tables and at each course we could rotate tables to get a chance to be sitting with the "distinguished guests". I was looking forward to meeting the other distinguished guests, but found I was one. Still this gave me a good chance to talk to some interesting members from around the world.
  • Fri I had a breakthrough on financial system stability, discovering a beautiful mathematical result so much emailing with colleagues at Harvard. We had people coming to dinner including the very impressive George Lee who is now standing against Frank Dobson for parliament, and if elected would become the first ethnic Chinese MP in the UK.
  • Sat required more work on this Financial Stability result, and then a reception and dinner aboard HMS President, given by the President of the City Livery Club. I met a Past President who is also Chinese and had met George with the Chinese Ambassador on Thursday. At dinner sat next to a charming couple: he's a recently elected Alderman and now that their children are grown up she is studying painting.
  • Sun was a beautiful Autumn day perfect for a 10-mile run by the river. Then I had to revise my Cosmology paper, punctuated with tea with an old friend in the shadow cabinet and his wife. The other couple there I knew from a McKinsey connection - small world. I think the Cosmology paper is now in good shape, easier to read, with some extraneous material pruned, and a quite interesting new argument added: maximisation principles are unlikely to account for fine-tuning because if f(x) is differentiable at a maximum x1 then f(x1+dx) will be roughly f(x1) - a|dx|2.
Back to work - it's a busy week.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Religion, Evolution, Missing Mass and Policemen

Lots of interest in the 6-Nov issue of Science.
  • NewsFocus article on the Origin of Religion. Of course atheists will tend to read it as "explaining away" and be astonished that Justin Barrett - heavily quoted - is a Christian. But it is perfectly clear that belief in God is pretty well universal, innate and natural and has to be "educated out" of people. (BTW Sam Harris' fMRI "discovery" was pretty well scooped by a PNAS paper in March, that Harris & al curiously don't reference)
  • Book Review "Darwin is Dead - Long Live Evolution" of Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution which rightly laments the "ultra-Darwinists" and their "simplistic, reductionistic, ahistorical" views.
  • Review Article "Einstein’s Theory of Gravity and the Problem of Missing Mass" which sets out the stall for various modifications of GR (and Newtonian gravity) that might do away with the paradox of 97% of the Universe not being ordinary matter. Far to early to see if any of them are right, but an interesting conspectus.
Heard a talk last night by Damian Green on Civil Liberties. He worries about the quality and judgement of top policemen, and indeed notes that on the day of the Mumbai bombings the anti-terrorist branch had 25 of its policemen arresting him, 5 of whom surrounded the wrong house. I was able to tell him that the one top policeman I had met - Mike Bowron of the City of London Police -seems to me an exception.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Strategy, Geopolitics and a Hippopotamus

Superb talk yesterday by Ian Davis on strategic leadership - the best talk on management I have ever heard. Just his thoughts, with Q&A, he had a couple of notes on 1 sheet of paper which he glanced at about twice. A great guy -tremendous wisdom. I was priveleged to have instigated it. One of Ian's key themes was that strategic leadership involves decisions with a much longer timescale than the tactical.

Followed by another superb talk by the King of Jordan - very impressive in his analysis and description of the situation in the Middle East. It is a serious problem that elected politicians tend to think in the very short term, especially when they depend on unstable coalitions. We must all hope and pray that peace prevails, but the next couple of months are somewhat critical. It was great to meet him afterwards.

A friend has been having a trying time at work, prompting me to coin an apocryphal saying of Confucius: “being told your assumptions are wrong by the ignorant is like being taught to fly by a hippopotamus”

PS Just watched the first episode of Miranda. Brilliant! We nearly died of laughter. 2.5M viewers, and I bet it will grow over the next few weeks.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Wisdom from Chief Rabbi, and Cosmology paper ready

Just saw excellent Theos Lecture by the Chief Rabbi. Many good points, including an expansion of the point we make in QoT that Neo-Darwinism as a value system is self-refuting in its own terms. He also has a nice phrase: "Science takes things apart to try to see how they work, religon puts things together to try to see what they mean"

Also quite interesting article in the Sunday Times Magazine about the "Darwinian" "jutsification" claimed by some high-school killers for their actions. The writer still seems to think that Darwinism in some sense refutes God and Morality, and gets various other details wrong, but certainly some very bad and misguided people claim "darwinian" justification for ther actions. But then some people justify bad actions on religious grounds.

Have got Cosmology paper into final form ready to submit: needs to be in by the 15th but best I think to do it a few days before.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Andy Haldane cites us, and Bright Star

Andy Haldane in an excellent paper based on his speech to the Fed cites Beale, Rand, Pathy & May (forthcoming). We really need to get this published, though I am making further progress which is quite exciting.

Just returned from seeing Bright Star, a film by Jane Campion about Keats. A very anti-movie movie but a masterpiece of its kind. We remember seeing Ben Whishaw doing the Young Vic Hamlet many years ago. Edie Martin is very good as the younger sister Toots - I was a bit less convinced by Abbie Cornish - a well known Aussie who did another doomed poet relationship with Heath Ledger.

Martin Rees is of course quite right about independent scientific advisers. Ministers can over-rule them but not muzzle them.

QoT still hanging in there in the top 100 S&R on Amazon.co.uk and .com - and the latest sales figures show an increase on the previous month. It will be interesting to see how and where and whether it stabilises.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

RS Meeting Great, and Ruse on Dawkins

Meeting at RS on Tues evening went very well. Bob was on terrific form, and we had Darwin looking down on us at one end (a 1912 copy of an 1882 painting) and Faraday (from the celebrated painting of a deputation from the RS asking him to take the presidency, which he declined. I arrived early as host, so was able to see my mother who had presented the Beale Medal - curiously in the room where Bob's portrait was hanging. Lots to do following the dinner, including a trip to the US which will begin with a breakfast with a Nobel Laureate to discuss our work.

Interesting article in the Guardian by the Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse about why Dawkins & al bring atheists into disrepute. Lots of comment by Guardian readers - mostly Dawkins Defenders I'd guess. But most leading scientists think Dawkins brings Science into disrepute, and certainly the atmosphere in the UK has improved greatly since Marcus du Sautoy took over - he actually wants people to understand mathematics and not just budgeon them with his views.