Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Science, music and celebration

A lovely Christmas. Celebrated with son & his family on Christmas Eve and then in-laws and some wonderful actor friends Dorrit and Alan Haines on Christmas Day. Also working to finalise draft of Nature paper (sent to Martin Nowak yesterday).

My most interesting presents were A Nobel Fellow on Every Floor - the history of the LMB - and The Oxford History of Western Music - a veritable tour-de-force in 3,858 pages by a single author!

QoT still just in the top 100 in Science and Religion amazon.com and .co.uk - I've been trying to catch up on the backlog of Q&A and some time need to update the website which is about 50 Q&A behind.

Reading A Man Born to be King - fascinating. And working on learning Beethoven's Violin Sonata #10.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas, Nature & Wikipedia

Quick visit to my mother in Cornwall. Amazingly lovely weather for 23 Dec, including a beautiful rainbow. Took a quick walk to the local coves. Skyped Elder Daughter, great to see her and her grandmother chatting so happily face-to-face.

We've made further good progress on our Nature paper although there is a complication about co-authorship which we'll need to resolve (now done I think).

Then yesterday to Son's for his birthday - took grandchildren tobogganing in the snow-draped park and along the ice-covered pavements.

Someone has kindly re-started the Wikipedia article about me in their userspace, so that people can get it into suitable shape to be placed in the main encyclopedia. I'm not planning to change the words but make suggestions on the talk page. If you're into Wikipedia, do have a go.


Saturday, December 19, 2009


To The Misanthrope which was very good. A biting modern version by Martin Kemp, with Damian Lewis and Kiera Knightley, Tara Fitzgerald, Kelly Price and Nicholas Le Prevost all excellent. It's directed by Peter Hall's colleague Thea Sharrock. We saw Le Prevost in Peter's production of Bedroom Farce at the Rose, and Kelly Price was Countess Charlotte Malcolm in the excellent Little Night Music we saw last year. Afterwards we went to a restaurant and coming out we were accosted by our friend Janie Dee - who we have not yet seen in Calendar Girls and must before the cast changes in early Jan.

I've been keeping off anything political in this blog, but I can't help observing that whatever our PM's skills may be diplomacy isn't one of them, and having him take over from the hosts at Copenhagen may not have been an entirely fortunate move. It's symptomatic of the new world order that the actual declaration came from US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, with Europe completely sidelined.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nature - Miranda - Harvard

ED back to the US with husband.

Great news about our projected Nature paper from Bob May, and really interesting new results.

Watched final episode of 1st series of Miranda - brilliant! Delighted that BBC have commissioned a 2nd series - though with 3M viewers and 1M on the repeat and who knows how many on i-Player it must have been a shoo-in.

Interesting article on the value of marriage in The Times.

One of my collaborators has been elected to the Harvard Society of Fellows. Another narrowly missed it, but with only 4 people from Harvard elected each year the SoF felt they couldn't elect all 3 of the nominees from PED - so the have elected 2!

Back to work...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Psalm 119

Lovely family supper in Cambridge on Friday, tea party for E.D's friends on Sat and family lunch today.

One of E.D.'s friends - who taught her Hebrew - was being ordained today by the wonderful Bishop of London. I asked him about whether he knew of an english version of Psalm 119 that preserves the form in which all the lines of each verse begin with the same letter, going through the alphabet. He did not, so I have posted mine on a userpage in Wikipedia so that others much more expert than I can improve it. I do quite like some of it, eg the U's (145-152) and..

175: Year after year may my soul live and praise you: and may your laws sustain me.
176: Yet zealously seek your servant, wandering astray like a lost sheep: for I have not forgotten your commandments.

On the other hand some of it is clumsy and I'd love to find a better way, for example:
158: Viewing these renegades disgusts me: for they do not obey your word.
159: View, O Lord, my love of your precepts: in your never-ending love give me life.

Maybe "Visions of these renegades..." The Hebrew seems to say something like "I looked at the faithless and was disgusted, becasue they did not keep your command."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Kids for Kids in Westminster and Darfur

Last night to the Kids for Kids Christmas Concert, which we have the honour of sponsoring, at St Margaret's Westminster. The church was pretty well packed, and looked wonderful. Alastair Stewart did a great job as compere, four trumpeters from the Grenadier Guards were amazingly stirring, and the musical high point was Ruth Palmer playing Bach's Sarabande in G. Ruth Rendell read from Ulysses - not Joyce but Tennyson - ending with the stiring final lines: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". Very moving and hard-hitting talks from Patricia Parker and from the Vicar of St Margarets about the continued urgency of the situation in Darfur.

The reception afterwards was in Cheyneygates - another amazing historic venue. Elizabeth Woodville spent some time there during her sanctuary in the Abbey.

Work continues to be very busy, great progress on the scientific results working intensly with Bob May and Dave Rand. And Elder Daughter is here on flying pre-Christmas visit with son-in-law. So probably not much blogging until they have gone.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Feedback on Cosmology, and QoT.

(L*,X*) are the ultimate Laws and initial conditions
(Lt,Xt) are the ones we think we know at time t
Dt(L,X) is the set of laws discoverable at time t
Based on (Beale 2009)
A physics FRS has sent some comments on the Journal of Cosmology article. {my article which noted that discoverability of physical laws was a stronger constraint on the laws and initial conditions than simply allowing the emergence of intelligent life.I'd forgotten about it but its a very interesting idea}*

I think we are in complete agreement that there is a narrow window between a species having the technology to self-destruct and the necessary levels of "cooperation" not to. Since I work a lot with Martin Nowak I am perhaps more sensitised to the possibilities of cooperation within the evolutionary framework, and they are of course much greater than is generally supposed. The conditions implicit in my observation O4 in that paper are certainly quite tight.

He also suggests that science might be developed by a series of single individuals. I don't see how we can have a single instance of a species continuing for very long (that really is an event with probability 0) so the scenario of science being done by a series of individuals seems implausible. If there were a species with only 1 scientist at any one time I doubt whether there would be enough time to innovate. But we'd still need enough cooperation for the other members of the species not to tear themselves to pieces. And it would be fascinating to get order-of-magnitude estimates for how many "effective scientist years" it takes to develop a given level of theoretical understanding.

He also says that my description of the "fashionable consensus" that one can use anthropic selection to eliminate "bad" theories is only a consensus in a fairly specific section of the physics community. Interesting..

What I hope is interesting about this "Discoverabilty Postulate" is how much work it does in terms of "explaining" things about the universe and suggesting research questions. If anyone has a student who is interested in any of the issues raised it would be great to see if they'd like to explore some of them, For example, what does a universe with a present-day spectral index of 1 - rather than 0.96 - or indeed 0.8 - look like from the PoV of discoverability?

A brilliant young friend with an international reputation emails: “My copy of Questions of Truth arrived some time ago but I only managed to get started on it the other evening. I am so enjoying it! It’s a relief and a treat to read such intelligent/unfussy responses to challenging questions that are too-often dismissed, ignored or over-simplified. It’s such an impressive book; I’m thinking of giving quite a few as Christmas presents!" How kind.

Had a second piano lesson from the brilliant Kathron Sturrock. I learned so much. She was taught by Brendel and worked with Schwartkopf and Rostropovich amongst others.

* Note and picture added Feb 2017.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

House of Lords and Harvard

V hectic few days. Needed a "project meeting" with Bob May and his most convenient venue was ... the House of Lords. So we met in the Royal Gallery - a fascinating venue for academic work! Bob is brilliant in many many ways including on the need to simplify and make things clear. By re-scaling our distance measure we can get rid of the √2 factors and get our basic equation even more beautifully simple.

Also needed meeting with Martin Nowak and some other experts which had to be on Fri so did a day trip, leaving Fri am back this morning. Saw Dave Rand and Corina as well as Martin. Corina and Martin are working with EO Wilson on a major review article for Nature that will lead to a significant paradigm shift in evolutionary biology.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Royal Society 350

To the Royal Society for their Founders Day celebrations - exactly 350 years ago today the RS started!

Saw amongst others Martin Rees (who kindly agreed to glance at my Cosmology paper) Peter Williams, Ross Anderson, Marcus du Sautoy, Andrew Huxley, Keith Peters, Julian Hunt (my former tutor) and Bob & Judith May. Bob had just come from giving a lecture at UCL and several people had congratulated him on the FT article.

It's great that in Marcus we have a Prof for Public Understanding of Science who actually wants to do this, rather than use it as a platform for (a)theological views. I see no reason why a University should not have a "Professor of Atheology" but they should call it that.

Very interesting to chat to Sir Andrew - he is a tremendous link to the history of biology. His original work with Hodgkin was done before the war - but he then studied medicine for 2 years and joined the Operations Research department at the Ministry of Aviation. He never got a PhD. He also told me about KS Cole, and how Trinity had played a pioneering role in the 1870s when they consulted his grandfather (TH Huxley) about how they could help advance science and he suggested they appoint a lecturer, later professor, of physiology. The 3rd holder of that post was Lord Adrian, whom I met as an undergraduate because he used to have the Trinity Scholars in to lunch in 3s or 4s over the first year. Lord Adrian must have been about 83 at the time (Andrew is 92!) I told him about my work on delay amplification which, as Denis Noble told me and he confirmed, was implicity in his original equation although overlooked by most commentators. He'll have a look at the paper when we produce it.