Saturday, February 27, 2010

Selves, virtual selves and the Dawkins cult

Lots of work progress: preparing some ideas for a session with two outstanding scientists next week.

Someone is worried about the "virtual self model" ideas of Metzinger. Scientifically it may well be that our idea of our selves is composed through a number of complex and disparate mechanisms, indeed it is hard to see how it could be otherwise. But philosophically it makes no sense at all to describe this as an illusion:

  1. The conclusion “the self is an illusion” cannot possibly follow from an observation like “the self arises through the interaction of a number of complex and disparate mechanisms”. With the possible exception of elementary particles, everything arises through such interactions. Metzinger might as well say “the body is an illusion” or “the brain is an illusion”.
  2. To have an illusion presupposes that there is a conscious self which holds the false belief. If there were no conscious selves there could be no illusions.

Each of these objections is in my view catastrophic for Metzinger’s philosophical position. And I note that "virtual self model" hasn't made it into the scientific literature yet.

The meltdown on Dawkins' website doesn't suprise me. His cult of personality is absurd and dangerous. Very few scientists take him seriously, and after this, even less so.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Celebration, Beethoven & Running


Delightful celebration last night. Ruth Palmer came round with her Strad and we played Beethoven's 10th Violin Sonata to a few friends: one I was at school with, one I met at Cambridge, and Charles & Liz Handy. Son and Daughter also joined us. Followed by a celebratory supper. Liz has very kindly invited me to do one of her Still Lives - where I pick 5 objects and a flower and she photographs them. I gave Charles an inscribed copy of Questions of Truth.


Legs a little sore from the Half Marathon on Sunday: which started in drizzle but then became nice running conditions. I was paced round by a charming young lady who normally runs very fast but had a cold, so was happy to act as my trainer, and ran accurately to plan - otherwise I think I would have fallen off the pace. Sadly she disappeared after the finish and I was unable to thank her. But after the celebration last night no running today.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Engaging and disengaging music

Final lesson yesterday before Beethoven 10 tomorrow. All coming together nicely. To help me with phrasing I've put words to some of the themes: Kathron says that's fine - even Rostropovich did so. She also told the wonderful story of an american viola player friend of hers, Emanuel Vardi, now in his 80s (who played at the White House when Churchill met Rosevelt during WW2). He and his colleagues were giving a Four Seasons in a church in NY and the promoter had borrowed Strads for everyone as something of a gimmick. Her friend bought a really cheap 2nd had viola, went up to the gallery during a break in rehersals, called out "hey, fellers, catch!" and threw it down.

She also says that the idea of not doing repeats in the da capo sections of trios dates from the 1850s so does not apply to Beethoven or earlier. It certainly seems to me that when there is a written out 1-2 section not doing a repeat is simply vandalism.

In the early evening we went to a Wigmore Hall concert by the Nash Ensemble. The Durufle Op 3 was note perfect but very disengaged - everyone seemed to be reading it. A fine cellist, Paul Watkins, then played some Faure and Ravel: he also won the Leeds International Conducting Competition and his rather extreme facial emoting might be more effective on the rostrum: best listened to with eyes closed (and with grunts ignored) but (otherwise) very musical. Finally the Debussy Violin Sonata played by a sturdy Norwegian: pretty good but again clearly reading it and ultimately a very disengaging performance I'm afraid.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Green Energy and Three Sisters

Fascinating talk at the Ri by a Vice-Chairman on Deutsche Bank on the whole green energy situation and what they are doing about it. Really encouraging to see their level of commitment. He is also convinced, based on detailed conversations with the leadership, that the Chinese really do "get it".

To the Lyric, Hammersmith last night for the Three Sisters done by a company called Filter, with Romola Garai as Marsha. A good and interesting production, though not without its quirks. Garai acts well - though not outstandingly - and moves beautifully. The young actress who plays Irena has an annoying and pointless accent, and is at best OK. But many of the men are superb, esp Ferdy Roberts who plays Vershinin: indeed it turns out that he is one of the two leaders of Filter.

Seems to me that Three Sisters should be played as a comedy - a tragi-comedy admittedly but a comedy nevertheless - but people in the UK at least persist in trying to play it seriously and thus miss the point. The absurd speeches about living for the future are surely meant to be absurd, and later events would show just how cruelly deluded these hopes were.

It is great that Garai is prepared to do this though: shows that Movie Stars are prepared to act not for money, and to learn.

Preparations for the QoT event in NY move forward. A Nobel Laureate sends "Thanks for asking but I am simply unavailable that evening. Best wishes." but we have 3 such invitations still outstanding, let's hope one or more accept.

PS: Interesting paper in Nature about gravitational redshift - 3rd author is Stephen Chu, surely the first time a serving Cabinet Minister has co-authored a major scientific paper.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lent, Luke and Dawkins' "new clothes"

Went to parish church for Ash Weds. Very good to see old friends. Hoping to get deeper into Lent this year.

Luke 11:14-23 was the bible reading on Tues evening. In the Greek there is a fascinating set of poetic and alliterative resonances. V 14:
Ekballwn daimonion, kai auto een kwphon...
daimoniou exelthontos,
elaleesen ho kwphos,
kai ethaumasan hoi ochloi

V 17, they say he expels diamoniwn by Beezeboul. He, knowing their thoughts (dianoeemata) says every kingdom (basileia) that is divided (diameristheisa) against itself is made desolate... etc...

Very good article in Think debunkind the "emperor's new clothes" of Dawkins.

Monday, February 15, 2010

QoT event planned for NY May 17th + Nicole & Ruth

Tremendously busy week but went very well. Got to NY by train mostly for secular work, but also met the Dean of the GTS where John Polkinghorne will be receiving an honorary degree in May and we are planning a Questions of Truth event at the GTS on the evening of Monday May 17th. Working now on getting the Panel together - sadly the Nobel Laureate who agreed in principle to chair the NY event planned for last year is not around on that day.

Was also able to have dinner with our delightful friend Nicole Cabell who is appearing in La Boheme at the Met with Anna Netrebko. I think it's now completly sold out but catch it if you can. They also recorded it together a couple of years ago, and made a DVD.

Then to Harvard for more fascinating discussions: we are making good progress on the scientfic collaboration and have developed some new and elegant approaches to a deeper understanding of the problems. Elder Daughter was away on business so I stayed Sat to see them - and also managed to prove something that had been eluding us on Sat am.

Flew back overnight and on Sunday had a rehersal with Ruth Palmer - we're playing Beethoven's 10th Violin Sonata together for a few friends next week. It's an amazing privelege to rehearse with her and such a wonderful piece. It will be great to have Ruth and Nicole meet.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Snow, Shostakovich, The Trumpet Shall Sound

Still a great deal happening I can't blog about, including a short trip to the mountains in Switzerland. Lake Geneva and Alps certainly very beautiful. Also got great view of Paris at night from the air on the way back.

Last Mon to a concert of the Leopold String Trio playing an arrangement of the Goldberg Variations. This is a piece I know very well and play quite a lot, so to see it in this perspective is fascinating. They decided, quite rightly in my view, to play some of the variations in ways that make perfect sense as a trio but wouldn't at all on the harpsichord. A fascinating and enjoyable evening and they are an excellent ensemble.

The father of a friend died in his sleep and it was his memorial on Tues. Packed church and a very moving tribute read by his three children antiphonally "My father was a X man...." followed by a short anecdote, perhaps 12 in all. They had a wonderful trumpeter (Crisipan Steele-Perkins) and as we went out "The Trumpet Shall Sound". Father John Henley conducted the service superbly.

To church on Sat with C - sermon from a (Catholic) Bishop about the miraculous catch of fishes and call of Peter in Luke. Apparently there are now 35 young men training for the priesthood in the RC Diocese of Westminster. Not sure what the comparable figure for the Dioceses of London and Southwark is - I'd guess at least 350. He was very good about the need for the Church to reach out into the wider community and spread God's love. Also moved to speak from the pulipt that Newman used when he came to consecrate the church. He mentioned that Newman was to be beatified later this year, but did not hesitate to refer to him as "a great saint".

Had to get to Washington for meeting this morning, but all flights to DC and area were cancelled. So flew to JFK, had train booked but this was cancelled and eventually was driven down. Listened to Ruth Palmer's wonderful Shostakovich (Concerto and then, after a pause, the Sonata) which was especially haunting in these snow covered landscapes. Going got pretty tough in the last 50 miles and esp the last 30 and was very pleased to arrive at hotel - about 15 hours after I had left home.