Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Fascinating tea with JCP

With John at the QoT launch 2009
Last night to Cambridge mainly for Grandson's Confirmation but also to see John Polkinghorne. He's back home after a spell in hospital and although his mind remains super-smart he is by no means as mobile as he once was.

We discussed many things including Denis Noble's special issue of Journal of Physiology, Mary Midgley's wonderful Are you an illusion? and had some preliminary thoughts on a second edition of Questions of Truth. We don't think much needs to change in the body of the book (other than correcting the strange typo) - though we haven't looked in detail at the questions and responses. But there have been significant advances in Cosmology, Neuroscience and Evolution so it would be nice to bring the Appendices up to date.  We discussed my MaxHELP hypothesis. We both think it is probably going to be falsified but which would be very interesting if true and leads to a large number of testable-in-principle predictions, even if they are currently beyond the scope of even the most powerful computational models.

Has atheism reached a high-water mark? It is hard to say. The cultural influence of people like Dawkins is clearly dwindling and places like the Veritas Forum are identifying the next generations of first rate Christian academics, whereas there are very few first rate scientists prepared to speak out for atheism.  What is completely clear is that the atheist tide has not swept all before it.

There was an interesting discussion of levels of explanation as being a bit like a concertina. Sometimes you play it with one end up, sometimes the other, and often with the two ends at much the same level. But if you want to understand what is happening you have to recognise that the parts only make sense, for most purposes, in the context of the concertina as a whole. To some extent the ideas that Denis is encouraging represent a fleshing out of what Polkinghorne talked about as "active information" and he has always recognised that there was a lot of fascinating science to be done to turn what he described as 'pre-Socratic hand-waving' into a more detailed understanding.

It was wonderful to spend time with him again - a truly great man and a great inspiration.

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