Sunday, September 30, 2012

Beijing Global Book Launch

Back from Beijing where we did the world's first simultaneous book launch in Beijing, London and Washington. I was at the UK Ambassador's Residence, linked up to the RCDS and the Heritage Foundation where my two co-editors were respectively. The whole event is on the Heritage website here. The comments from Lord Robertson are enormously generous.

On the way out I met the charming Laura Wright and her agent, also charming. She was singing at the BMW 7 Series launch there. She'll be singing for a ballet in Coventry Garden in Nov.

Yundi was unfortunately not in Beijing but we had dinner with his Dad who kindly gave me a copy of his latest CD of Beethoven sonatas.

 I also had other very interesting meetings which are not bloggable.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

IBAB, and fascinating new Brain research

Another celebration of Daughter's birthday, this time for her friends. Masses of work especially for the launch of In Business and Battle.

Fascinating articles in Nature further emphasising the sheer wondrous complexity of the brain. A discussion of what might be happening when the brain is in "idle" state, and also a large report of a major study to start to map gene expression in different areas in the brain.

Fig 1 from Hawrylycz et al: Data generation and analysis pipeline
It's great that we are continuing to learn more and more, but it's essential to remember that all of this is pretty well at its infancy. Recall the Complexity Principle.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Joy, Beauty, Love

Joyful family celebration of Daughter's 21st birthday yesterday - with guests' ages ranging from 3 to 84.

An e-correspondent asks about whether the scientific insights about the role of mirror neurons undermines the idea the objective existence of beauty.

Certainly anything that we perceive or think has some implication in our brains. But the fact that a whole load of neurons are involved doesn’t mean that the underlying phenomena are not objective.  It is not reasonable to (seriously) doubt the existence of the things we see, even though undoubtedly we perceive things with the optic nerve, the visual cortex (and numerous other systems). Similarly the fact that mirror neurons are involved in our perceptions of beauty (and many other things besides) doesn't imply at all that beauty doesn't exist.

Similarly the fact that we can sometimes be misled by our brains, or that our perceptions can be distorted by injury, chemicals or other interference with the 'proper function' of our nervous system doesn't mean that what we perceive is unreal.

The emerging understanding of mirror neurons is certainly fascinating (I very much enjoy VS Ramachandran's writing on this subject) but it's worth remembering that this field is still in its infancy and there is LOTS LOTS more to learn. In no way do they show that anything is "really just" anything.

What is pretty clear is that if you want to follow the "New Atheists" down their path then you have to abandon, not only God, but beauty, free will, love, meaning and much else besides. Including, of course, the idea that our brains are capable of finding truth - Plantinga's famous Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. It is a "path that leads to destruction" in more ways than one.

Interestingly the Dawkins Defenders on Wikipedia, having failed to get the Argument from Love and Argument from Beauty deleted, proceeded to eviscerate the articles (original forms here and here). Anyone would think they were afraid of these arguments. I wonder why?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Ruth, Proms, Dalrymple skewers Harris, and Timon of Athens

What a week.  Lots of very productive (though un-bloggable) work. But in addition:
  • Ruth Palmer came round and we played Beethoven's 6th Violin and Piano sonata. What a wonderful artist she is. I'm not remotely good enough to play with her, but playing with her "raises my game" so much that I'd be happy to play this with her to anyone. And isn't middle Beethoven absolutely wonderful!
  • On Weds I was able to present copies of my latest book to Stephen Green and to Sir David Brewer.  We will launch it in London, Beijing and Washington simultaneously on the 27th - the first such simultaneous launch as far as we know in history.
  • Then in the evening I caught parts of the Nixon in China Prom on the radio. I do wish I had been there - it sounded extraordinary.  And amazingly the librettist, Alice Goodman, converted to Christianity and was until last year a Chaplain at Trinity College, Cambridge.
  • Thurs I heard the Haitink, Perahia, Vienna Phil Beethoven 4 - a completely wonderful performance, full of intelligence, beauty, emotional depth. I had hoped to prom for it but couldn't leave work in time.
  • Friday I also heard (on the radio) Haitink and the Vienna Phil in the London Symphony, again an astonishing insight into a masterwork.  Listened to much of The Alpine Symphony until C arrived back from the US.
  • Today I've been somewhat ill but came across a brilliant take-down of some of the "New Atheists" by Theodore Dalrymple aka Anthony Daniels. He exposes many of the absurdities of Dennett and the former atheist Hitchens, but draws attention to the utterly appalling aspects of that fraud Sam Harris. He speaks of:
"quite possibly the most disgraceful that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist: “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.” Let us leave aside the metaphysical problems that these three sentences raise. For Harris, the most important question about genocide would seem to be: “Who is genociding whom?” 
  • And we've just come back from an excellent production of Timon of Athens starring the ever-brilliant Simon Russell Beale (no kin BTW!) which tellingly and effectively does it in modern dress, the opening scene being a party celebrating the opening of The Timon Room at something like the National Gallery, and Lucullus being asked for money by Timon's servant in the offices of Lucullus Capital.

    PS: There is a fascinating extended essay by Simon Russell Beale on acting Shakespeare in the NT programme - full of great insights. He says that acting is 3D literary criticism and gives some really interesting observations, amongst which I single out: 
    • "There is, deep in the grain of [Iago's] soul, a rooted lovelessness. If hell is, in theological terms, a state of being cut off from the love of God, then Iago is, and perhaps has always been, in hell."
    • "The declaration of love between Beatrice and Benedick, which I think can lay claim to being the best love-scene Shakespeare ever wrote, works so well because, as so often in real life, it's at the wrong time and in the wrong place...The set ... included a large, deep pool...We knew that it had comic potential, not that it would come to have a deeper significance...Benedick jumped into it at the moment when he desperately needed to hide from his friends, who are discussing both Beatrice's love for him and his own flaws. He remained under water for some time and emerged a new man, baptised, born again."

    Sunday, September 02, 2012

    Back from Boston, Ned Phelps, Mark and Mahler 6

    Just back from some very productive and enjoyable days in Boston, working but also seeing Elder Daughter and her two children.  One of the many highlights was taking the elder, Miranda, on a Duck Tour and watching her drive the Duck (while in the water, under supervision of course!)

    Lots of very productive and un-bloggable work, including liaising with Ned Phelps about my seminar next month at Columbia which he is chairing.

    I'm reading through Mark at the moment, which is fascinating.  It is so condensed and you really get a sweeping feeling for the whole.  I think he probably was the young man who ran away naked (why else include this incident?) 

    Just finished listening to a superb Proms performance of Mahler 6 - well worth catching if you can.