A phrase coined by Feynman apparently. Mentioned in a post from Scientia Salon, linked on Facebook by David Morey.

Promising, I commented …

“current practice of inflationary cosmology as [un]able to accommodate any experimental result, so, on philosophical grounds, no longer science – cargo cult physics (after Feynman)”

Thank you. And we already know “string theory” isn’t science, not even “theory”, according even to Krauss. Double whammy. If we just re-set science back to somewhere around Copenhagen, there may be some hope.

(If you’re not one of David’s FB friends you’ll need the direct link to the post on Silentia Salon.)

I commented in this thread, since it was one of the talks at How The Light Gets In that I attended (sorry that links a long post covering several talks). Needless to say the scientistic humanists are in panic reaction mode:

Ho hum – re-enter the Higg’s Boson saga as CERN prepares to restart the LHC in Jan 2015.

Something’s missing from the standard model – the Higgs Boson or (shock horror) “something else”. Here’s wishing open minds for CERN scientists (and fewer computer graphics). There is some promise:

Physicists know that this framework, devised in the 1970s, must be a stepping stone to a deeper understanding of the cosmos. But so far, it’s standing up exceptionally well. Searches at the LHC for deviations from this elegant scheme – such as evidence for new, exotic particles – have come to nothing.

Start believing the evidence, please.

Hat tip to Maria Ana of The Thinking Hotel on LinkedIn for the link to this 15minute TED Talk from philosopher Ruth Chang.

For reasons of various IT and physical interruptions, I partially listened to this talk 4 or 5 times before finally listening right through this morning. The presentation of example life-choices seemed so simplistic and presented so simply, that I was convinced there could be nothing of value here. [In fact I posted some pre-emptive thoughts based on the topic before I'd even listened at all.]

Well I’m glad I eventually listened right through. Full transcript also available, but here my paraphrase summary:

As post-enlightenment creatures we tend to assume assume objective science holds the key to everything of importance in the world. When we compare objective evidence and predicted outcomes, without any clear best option, then we tend to take the least risky option. But often in tough choices, reasons are  “on a par”. Options in tough choices are in the same league but of different kinds (*), not necessarily quantifiable in real numbers. There is in fact no best alternative out there.

The choice we make is supported by reasons created by us. Think about it. This is preferable to a world where objective reasons are all out there, where facts in the objective world determine our choices.

We choose which options we put our agency behind, what we want to be, what we want the world to be. Hard choices are in fact a god-send, opportunities to change the world. Not just opportunity, but a precious normative power we hold. To create reason.

Excellent stuff. Very much on my agenda, avoiding the scientistic neurosis, that objective reason is the only valid form of rationality in decision-making. I completely agree, it’s not. Worth a listen.

And it perfectly illustrates the (Wordsworth) “murder to dissect” point I made in the comment thread on LinkedIn. If we assume reason is out there in an objective sense to be analysed (sliced-and-diced with Aristotelian knives) and presented (re-assembled) in matrices and decision-trees, we kill the very thing we value most – our agency in the world.

[(*) Not recognising things as being of different qualitative kinds is known formally in philosophy as a "category error". And, when they are on a par - in the same league but different kinds - it's often because they're not actually a real binary choice either - it's a false dichotomy to see all "what should I/we do" decisions that way.]

[PS - wonder if I could join up Ruth Chang to Larry Krauss on the limits to scientific thinking, without Larry getting all "religious" on us - as he did when Angie and Mary tried to set him right in Philosophy Bites Back.]

Blogging live from the Conway Memorial Lecture at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square.

Lisa Jardine’s subject is her father Jacob Bronowski, public intellectual and humanist responsible for inspiring a generation, myself included. When I blogged about my “Bronowski Moment” some years ago, I discovered it was a moment shared with many, including Lisa herself. The impassioned Cromwellian plea grasping a sod plucked from the pond of human ash at the gates of Auschwitz from The Ascent of Man. The first time I became aware of Lisa as Bronowski’s daughter was when I followed- up a piece by her on the Auchinleck Manuscript. After that, Bronowski’s A Man Without a Mask (William Blake) and Science and Human Values followed naturally.

In his introduction, host Laurie Taylor recalled Michael Frayn on the difficulties of writing on the inheritance of a parent, anticipating what we might expect from Lisa’s title. Not even Laurie I suspect actually anticipated what we were about to receive. I’m not certain what I was expecting – surely something on science and humanism or the history thereof or maybe, as Laurie suggested, the third culture blurring of science with art and the humanities. Well no.

Lisa’s title “Jacob Bronowksi – Things I Never Knew About My Father” is the working title of the biography she’s currently writing and the subject of the lecture was the draft of a single chapter, one of two devoted to the MI5 file on Bruno collated from the 1930′s to 1954. The same year 60 years ago when he had given the Conway Memorial Lecture.

The irony for Lisa is that examining fragmentary one-sided unreliable archives is her day job, as director of the Centre for Editing of Lives and Letters (above) and as professor of 16th & 17th century history at UCL. All writing about archive material is simply fragments filled in with creative fiction. Her main objective, other than exposing what having a secret MI5 surveillance file can mean to a person in general – think Stasi, think Lives of Others, think NSA, think Edward Snowden – is to shed light on the thing she and we never knew – the fact that despite an illustrious public career, Bruno never had the life or career he actually sought.

Following Lisa’s lead this blog post can only be fragmentary – there was just too much fascinating revelation to be typing and not listening. Just two bookending thoughts:

Lisa can of course bring her own family memories and access to her father’s contemporary diaries to supplement what she finds in the MI5 file(s) – of course they’re notoriously unreliable too, but they do lend corroboration of time and place and subjects. After introducing us to initial informant reports – during the 1939/40 phoney war prelude to the real WW2 when Bruno was a maths lecturer at that hotbed of leftie intellectuals and agitators – the newly created Hull University, she also gave us glimpses of the files and the diary pages. On the 20th January 1950 the same week Bruno records Klaus Fuchs being sentenced for his treasonable wartime spying, Bruno also records a conversation with Tesla on Einstein’s Unified Field Theory ideas.

She concluded with another sad irony. So often the natural German, Russian and Eastern European passion of Jewish emigres for the allied cause against the Nazis was exploited, but with such suspicion that when the war was won they could be dumped by the allies. This contrasted with German brains that continued to work for the Nazi cause during the war and were welcomed by British and American teams afterwards(*). Bruno was one of those under constant suspicion whilst working for the allies during the war, he was turned down for the important science posts that were the natural aspirations of his academic and writing career. Instead he carved out a career in BBC radio and TV, where it was probably only the fact that he was taken to heart by the British public, that counteracted MI5 pressure on the BBC to pull any number of his media projects.

And that was just the one chapter. Even there, much left out above on British class-based culture and British vs US differences and so much more on the machinations of secret surveillance and petty internal politics, the C. P. Snow connection – Nick Humphreys “sabotaging” the BBC Bronowski Memorial Lectures after just one year – and not for the first time is academe seen as a hotbed of cruel personal competition compared to commercial business. All utterly fascinating and important if not entirely surprising. Look out for the book in the new year.

[Note - Conway Hall home of The Ethical Society had its origins South Place Chapel in Finsbury Square as the congregation led by William Fox rebelled against key dogmas and was inherited by Moncure Conway an American. The connections - Ethical Society / Bertrand Russell / Reith Lectures / BBC.]

[(*) See earlier operation paperclip references to Werner von Braun / Ernst Stuhlinger.]

My agenda is that we are culturally programmed –  by received wisdom in accepted world-views – to misrepresent(*) information in our decision-making at all levels. Hat tip to Maria-Ana Neves on LinkedIn for the pointer to this TED Talk by Ruth Chang. More later.

[(*) Two errors in the same direction. Firstly we objectify what we're dealing with, "it" our subject, so we can refer to it, talk about it, assign properties and values to it - useful, nay essential, but ... Secondly here's the rub, having objectified it, we reify it in our world-view, the model we hold in our head of how the world works. So whilst being carefully experiential, empirical and evidential in our objective considerations about "it" we forget the contingency in our model of "it" - and the more we use it, analyse it, put its values in tables and matrices, the harder it is to question the existence of  "it", the more we confuse our model with the world itself and the more we confuse our own relation to that world(model). Furthermore, being carefully empirical is culturally engrained, to the point of being neurotic - a scientistic neurosis. Perversely the closer our subject to science itself, and the closer that science to fundamental science, deeper the error. ie if you know the "it" you're talking about is subjective and qualitative, you can still make the objectification errors but you are less likely for forget the subjectivity of the subject when alternative questions and doubts arise. Whereas, the more you come to believe "it" is an objective reality, the more blind you will be to such questions and doubts arising - a deadly combination in any apparently "scientific" form of decision-making, and indeed in science itself.]

Coincidentally, I was in a  school earlier this week, interacting with Year 8′s and their teachers in a mixed city academy. (A “STEM” Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths event on National “Women in Engineering Day” – “awesome” was the feedback from the school incidentally.)

I was very impressed with the staff (as well as with the students). With my mother, wife and son all in teaching of one form or another, I have maybe more respect for the profession, but I heard echo’s of Tom’s words watching the teachers using a few formal tricks and sanctions to maintain discipline and communication. Without such techniques, and support in the organisation that they are needed, interactive sessions with excitable 13-year-olds would have been impossible to avoid descent into chaos.

This news story on teaching – values and standards – has an interesting tabular comparison where, unless I’m reading it wrong, the UK (England actually) comes out the right side of average in all cases.

[Aside - note for future use. Our topic for the STEM day presentations and exercises was "Engineering". The boys fell into two camps. The dominant boys who thought it was about being in charge of what their team was doing, and the meeker geeks who made it their job to keep account of the maths. The girls on the other hand suggested what maybe needed doing, shared out the resources between them and got on with it, "under the radar" of the dominant boy if necessary. "Vive la difference" is one of my agenda items. It's politically incorrect to notice gender differences, but in fact the diversity is a positive contribution, as I've noted a few times before.]

Interesting post from Ted Lumley at Aboriginal Physics – To be clear, I can never quite follow Ted’s full reasoning or his dependence on his storm-cell analogies – but I find we are both sympathetic to many of the same sources. Interesting however in light of the “centrism” indications in current cosmology; current dumb cosmology we agree. (A long post in need of unpicking – over-objectification of intellectual constructs is the recurring point at issue.)

Good to hear Rabbi Lord Sacks piece on BBC R4 Today this morning. Plenty of doomed to repeat history if we don’t appreciate it angles to the current Syria / Iraq / Iran sectarianism between Sunni vs Shia and comparisons with divided mono-theistic histories generally.

His primary point however – disestablishment.

Civil rule cannot, must not, ever, anywhere, be based on legal application of religious lore as law. And that BTW – Sacks’ wisdom - is why we need representatives of the Lords Spiritual in the non-elected / earned-influence second-chamber.

One to add to the list http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27935479

Still intent on laying the doubt on local errors, rather than the theory itself – because to give the creationist nutters an inch by suggesting there was no big bang would be to give them a politically incorrect mile.

Science as politics with an agenda set by nutters, not by real science.

[And it had been .... Nobel prize-worthy said Alan Guth. He he.]

Rick Ryals commenting on others commenting on UK Creationism teaching ban story:

“It isn’t a creation debate, it is about dishonesty in science that squashes real science that draws similar but purely naturalistic conclusions about some of the evidence that creationists use, and is therefore destroyed by the herd of rabid atheists who would pretend to be on the side of science… And then of course, there are many like yourself who don’t know the relevant science (probably most by a long shot) who eagerly join the rampaging herd of ideologues in science because 99% of those established activists are on your side politically.”

I’m not an expert cosmologist, nor even a physicist. And as someone already said in a comment in the thread that posed me the above question, few people in such threads are actually experts. Of course as soon as you get into the area of some specialised theory within the domain, the maths becomes even more specialised. And even if interlocutors were sufficiently expert in any objective sense, conducting a sufficiently nuanced dialogue in such an environment within which neither has any history of mutual respect and understanding of the other in the subject matter is pretty risky anyway.

The request was actually for “empirical” evidence. A pretty tall order at the extremes of the known and knowable cosmos, where pretty much all evidence is indirect. But here goes:

The simplest starting point of empirical doubt for me is the apparent CMBR alignment with the ecliptic of our home solar system. Of which Larry Krauss said back in 2006:

[T]here appears to be energy of empty space that isn’t zero! This flies in the face of all conventional wisdom in theoretical particle physics. It is the most profound shift in thinking, perhaps the most profound puzzle … … when we look out at the universe, there doesn’t seem to be enough structure — not as much as inflation would predict … … when you look at CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun — the plane of the earth around the sun — the ecliptic … … telling us that all of science is wrong and we’re the center of the universe, or maybe the data is simply incorrect, or … maybe there’s something wrong with our theories on the larger scales.

Larry has never responded to later questions as what later evidence or interpretation has explained that “crazy” observation, or removed the suggestion of doubt “maybe there’s something wrong with our theories”. (And Larry has of course suffered the slings and arrows of those accusing him of actual “geocentrism” – much amusement and defensive arguments against the spurious accusation of course – but never any sign of Larry actually addressing his own original point.)

I could stop there for now. But it’s important to note that for me the above is simply an observation confirming existing doubt. Doubt arrived at by other non-empirical philosophical, logical and theoretical arguments. And also to note that there are several other reported observations looking for missing “mass” and “echoes” of energetic events in the boundary conditions of the cosmos, and the inflationary processes since in what we can observe now, which cast doubt on the theory.

As I’ve concluded before reasons the doubts are downplayed are political, in a climate where to concede an inch risks headlines proclaiming the opposite. Like the hyped article that initiated the thread which raised the question at the head of this post, itself a response to a hyped original claim.

Probably 120 posts over 14 years on this blog alone highlighting sources of doubt – not all of them empirical, as I say. This previous post http://www.psybertron.org/?p=7013 includes links to 3 posts before that which themselves include links to many more. Let’s address the one doubt above before we unpick the whole story.

Good to see Laura Mersini-Houghton’s work recognised as important news on Newsnight. The work of a scientist not hidebound by fictions of the standard model, unlike the emperor’s new clothes over at CERN.

Cosmic Continuity http://www.psybertron.org/?p=7006
Bang goes Big Bang http://www.psybertron.org/?p=6970
Cracks in the Cosmic Egg http://www.psybertron.org/?p=6911

Hopefully we’ll see funding diverted to real science in future.


Re-watched this morning (I came across it by accident yesterday, and didn’t catch the whole thing). Jeremy asks the right question – isn’t this really about the limits of what science can know, and how much this kind of science is relevant to human knowledge. (I’ll have to see if I can rip the video.)


Different piece, from Rick commenting on Facebook. Big Bang Blunder Burst Multiverse Bubble. (Hat tip to Dawkins Foundation whose hint of a saving grace is the and between science and reason.) (I think this is the “twisty B-mode CMBR polarisation” evidence against the big bang Penrose referred to in Bang Goes the Big Bang above.)

… should make the scientific community contemplate
the implications for the future of cosmology …

Some interesting points in the comment thread too …

… pure politicking …
… skeptical that science reporting is reliable and helpful to scientific enterprises …
… etc.

The one thing people can agree on is that science is not religion, but sadly most reported science is not science either. Wake-up science.

From the Beeb today, on the start on a new Tungsten mine down in the UK West Country ….

“Tungsten is an extraordinary metal.

“It’s almost as hard as a diamond and has one of the highest melting points of any mineral.

“Adding a small amount to steel makes it far harder, far more resistant to stress and heat. The benefits to industry are obvious.”

Dr John Emsley
Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry

If Dr Elmsley really is FRSC, then I’m guessing he didn’t actually say it like that, if he did ….

Anyway, the first and third sentences are true enough. The second would be true if he were talking about Tungsten Carbide as opposed to Tungsten at the time.

Found myself talking to an attractive German couple in a London bar the other evening. Noticed he was wearing a Eurofighter tie-pin. Yes, he was a pilot, now retired he said, and pulled up a photo on his smart phone. Hang on, that’s a Phantom – my favourite aircraft ever. Yes, I’m flying the Phantom, that’s our son flying the Eurofighter. You didn’t by any chance fly Starfighters before that did you? No she says, but my father did. Father, husband and son.

[As Smiffy said on Facebook, makes you wonder what Granddad flew - if I meet them again, I'll ask.]

Saw the John Lloyd interview on Arena with Melvyn Bragg at the weekend. Pretty sure I’ve seen it before, but I found it fascinating and moved to record the pertinent facts relevant to my agenda.

Very explicit about “scientific management” being the death of innovative comedy and creativity generally, since Spitting Image days. (Shearsmith and Pemberton might disagree.)

Weirdly, never associated him with being the same John Lloyd responsible for The Meaning of Liff with DNA (Douglas Adams) – obvious I guess, when you think of QI.

Responsible for producing much Rowan Atkinson (and Ben Elton and Stephen Fry) material – Not the Nine o’Clock News, Blackadder and the insanely expensive / lucrative Barclaycard ads. Given the entertainment / media  context it was immensely reassuring to hear his commentary on general management decision-making, right up to levels of governance.

The scientistic meme really is ubiquitous. Melvyn, please join up those dots with your In Our Time resources please, please, please.

The meme gets half way around the world, before the truth even gets its boots on. Quoted by Gove (from attrib) in the (so obviously false) story of his aversion to – nay, banning of – US Literature.

Blogging live from the IAI – How The Light Gets In – conference at Hay-on-Wye. (Not to be confused with the contemporary and almost co-located Hay Festival of Arts and Literature.)

Well, I was live when I wrote that – but sadly teeming rain, muddy tented venues and lack of any safe power supplies, meant  I lost the live aspect barely over an hour in.

So after blogging the rough notes on the first debate, the following is mostly edited / reconstructed from my manual notes. Actually five separate talks I wanted to record, though I have notes on a dozen more before I baled out on the Sunday.

Those I want to record are:

Bang Goes the Big Bang
- with Roger Penrose, John Ellis, and Laura Mersini-Houghton.
Philosophy Bites Back
- with Larry Krauss (on-line feed), Mary Midgely and Angie Hobbs.
Out of Darkness (Black Holes Don’t Exist)
- with Laura Mersini-Houghton.
Secrets of the Mind
- with Ian McGilchrist, Roger Penrose and Nick Humphrey.
The Limits of Logic (in association with BHA)
- with Simon Blackburn, Iain McGilchrist and Bea Campbell.

Meta-stuff first, as is my wont. I’m at least as interested in the process of dialogue as I am the content, The truth is rarely stated so much as approached or arrived at, if you’re lucky.

Full marks to facilitators in the last two session in particular, Joanna Kavenna and Shahidha Bari respectively, for demonstrating both the understanding and the skills to pull that off. Much appreciated.

Bottom marks to Larry for not being there in person, and more, see later. Removed any opportunity to join him up with Laura in a real conversation. One of my main justifications for making the effort (and expense) to attend this year.

Talking of which – OK, an early UK summer festival in a field. Can’t hold them responsible for the weather, but “hotel standard accommodation” – gimme a break. Could they not get more shelter up, slicker change-overs of venue seating, and more straw and matting down, once it was obvious we were in for a rainy weekend. (And were they honest about Krauss not actually being there before the final programme on the day – they certainly used his presence to advertise the full 12 days of events, even thought he was there for less than one hour by Skype link on the one day only. Just sayin’.)

Despite not seeing and/or recording specific talks with them, surreal to share the muddy byways with the wellies of George Galloway, Julie Bindel, Chris Huhne, Hillary Lawson, David Aaronovitch and more familiar faces, and many more I didn’t see – Laurie Taylor hosted 4 sessions, but I didn’t get to see him.

So here goes with the first debate,

Bang Goes The Big Bang
with Roger Penrose, John Ellis and Laura Mersini-Houghton – physicists all.

Penrose and Ellis fame precedes them. Mersini-Houghton is a favourite of mine, a multiverse cosmologist with an open-mind, not bound by the standard models and their singularities, gravitational mass & CMBR anomalies with their balancing (explaining away) “hacks”, but with first principles solutions to the wave equations.

David Malone hosts. “What is wrong with the big bang theory?”

John; Not much he says; as a theory it will outlast him. Contingent, like any theory.

Laura; it works well, but comes with a heavy price tag on boundary conditions, and whilst it does agree well with physics on earth scale – the standard model of cosmology is flawed, missing something, on the full range of scales, at higher energies. Initial boundary conditions are the critical hole.

Roger; It has problems with contravening 2nd law. Used to believe it was meaningless to think about “before” – but now believes this is a key thinking point -the initial state of entropy.

Turtles all the way down? asks John.

Roger is using eons for each universe – “inflationary” expansion is not right. Irregularities we see are NOT quantum fluctuations, but part of the boundary conditions from previous “eon”. Electron polarisation – B-mode “twisted light” – anomalies, pre-existing magnetic fields unrelated to matter in our universe – all current examples in recent reports.

Laura. Even time is an uncertain quantity – so before is a problematic concept. Matter and energy oppose – contraction and expansion. Fluctuations in pre-existing universe, may account for, certainly affect the probabilities, of a given universe emerging from its big bang.

My question – Given the anomalies – even “special” anthropic anomalies, hemispherical ecliptic CMB asymmetries – constantly arising in models of inflation to explain the structures in the current universe, is dark matter just a speculative hack, or is it a reality.

Laura’s answer; no such thing as dark matter, just matter not yet explained by the standard model, another feature of its incompleteness – it may not be the matter that’s missing, it may be another hole in the model.

Roger. Back to time, beginning of time, “nothing north of the north pole”. Nature of space time fundamentally. Geometry (conformal physics) says mass is irrelevant at high-energies near the big bang. Sequential, but not parallel universes

Laura – ie Multiple universes in space-time or just in time. This is the question the three of us are really debating. Predictions based on effects of pre-existing universe – classical, not just quantum entanglement – have been observed. Not 5-sigma yet, but you bet.

Roger agrees with Laura. Concentric echo-rings from cluster-collisions in the previous universe – another example predictable indicator of multiverses – will achieve 10-sigma standard.

My conclusion: Not so much “big bang” theory being wrong, but that the current cosmology and standard model physics underlying current big bang theories has many indicators that it is seriously flawed. The hypothetical predictions to be confirmed suggest significant alternatives, not just refinements of the current model.

[And - IAI have already uploaded the video of this talk.]


Philosophy Bites Back
With Angie Hobbs, Mary Midgley and (by feed) Larry Krauss.
Basic question – does philosophy have anything to teach or add to science?

Larry; Yes, sure philosophy adds something to some aspects of science. Particularly formulating questions where science doesn’t yet have clearly understood questions or hypothetical formulations. Physics is not one of those areas (!) – philosophy has nothing to add – the whole gamut from quantum to cosmic levels are already sorted.

Angie; Is cosmology physics?

The question is left hanging, but it’s a point I’ve made before too.

Mary; It’s not a question of adding philosophy to science. Philosophy is about many ways of thinking of which science is one. Arts, social, freedoms, history, and more. Physical science is only a small part of knowledge.

Angie; Aristotle. In science surely it is physics that is closest to need philosophical help with questions at its metaphysical boundaries. Think ontology – being vs beings, existence vs things that exist. Physics very doubtful on these questions at both extremes of scale.

Larry; Snigger – look at Aristotle’s mistakes – ancient lack of wisdom on causation.

Angie; No not a matter of being wrong, there is more to causation than efficient cause or a before / after view.

Mary; What bout questions that science cannot answer? Talking about the questions IS philosophy. Physics arose out of 17th century natural philosophy. Much current science is “Promissory Materialism” –  ie yes there are gaps but we will have solutions tomorrow.

Larry; Even saying there are questions science cannot answer is a religious statement.

Angie; But there is more than questions of knowledge at stake. Getting from facts to values, from is to ought, does not come from science. And even with knowledge, the epistemic conditions for what constitutes knowledge is a philosophical question.

Larry; These are still empirical questions. Scientists can be “nice” people, religion has nothing to do with morality.

For a scientist Larry is rather obsessed with religion – he’s the only one talking about it and he’s mentioned it twice so far !

Mary; History is another kind of knowledge. Social facts too.

No, all still empirical says Larry.

Mary disagrees. Evolution is historical as well as scientific.

Larry; It’s creationist to say that. More than history, also predictive, testable hypotheses. It’s sound science, like economics – some tries to be scientific, which is often hard for it to be.

Angie; Episteme (again).

Larry; In science repeatable experiments lead to accepted facts. So for example, String Theory is not even a theory yet – it’s untestable hypothetical conjecture. Evolution and economics are sound theory.

Mary; What about Einstein’s ideas? They came from philosophical thinking, and they remain consequential and influential.

Angie; Physics and philosophy remain entangled – the language of facts and the science of stuff.

Mary; Issues like tolerance and freedom (eg Locke) nothing to do with science.

….. degenerates to repeat gain-saying, talking past each other.

My take on this debate. It was doomed to failure – failure to achieve any new agreement. Mary is the “doyen” of British philosophy, but being very elderly her ability to engage in the rhetorical cut and thrust is limited, especially in the mixed live and internet mediated (delayed) Skype context. Angie, still relies heavily on 17th C and earlier Greek sources, her specialist subject. Sure, I’m the first to agree there is nothing new under the sun, and all philosophy since has been footnotes to Plato, but that’s never going to impress the cock-sure Larry, who has all the skills of rhetorical come-backs with a side-order of flirtation. Yes even Angie couldn’t resist flirting back. Doomed I say, doomed.

My tactic with Larry is to (attempt to) draw his attention to actual physics that turns him on, and point out where some of the specific gaps have worthwhile epistemic questions, rather than get him interested in learning about epistemology per se. Being an influential “public scientist” Larry is worth the effort even if it gives him a breathtaking arrogance when it comes to listening.

Next, a surprise one-person event:

Out of Darkness
with Laura Mersini-Houghton

Laura; What I’m here to tell you today is news. The first time the findings I’m about to describe from my team have been aired in public.

First a little history of black holes – the stellar-massive and super-massive kinds. Oppenheimer and Schneider 1959. Singularities where physicists lose track of their models. Quantum gravity, Event horizons. Penrose & Hawking 1971. All evidence indirect. Hawking Radiation as particle-pair fluctuations are stripped of their partners near the event horizon. The Information Paradox – information about the prior structure of the universe is lost as the mass is consumed. Black holes have already been back in the news.

Today’s news is this; Black holes as defined by event horizons and singularities don’t exist. As sufficiently massive objects collapse under gravity and dynamic equilibrium is reached where the Collapsing gravity bounces back on the Hawking radiation. There are no singularities, no information losses, Einstein and classical physics are preserved.

The hypothesis already has several predictable observable elements to do with the frequency and dynamics of the bounce-back shock-wave. Watch this space.

The real lesson ? Dynamics. Evolution is ALWAYS part of the story. Paradoxes invariably mean something taken for granted as a static fact in the existing standard model is not statically true. What is observed is always “becoming” as well as “being”. All is dynamic. In this specific case the idea of a black hole as a thing, is really the process of gravitational collapse. The thing doesn’t exist.

My conclusion; Wow. As I suspected Laura is a proper scientist that talks sense. Compare Larry above. Such a pity my plan to get them in the same room failed to materialise.

Question – what about particle scale black holes? This new theory says nothing about these “primordial” black holes, but they are after all only hypothetical conjecture, not even indirectly observable. They probably don’t exist either, but this theory is silent on that.

Secrets of the Mind
with Roger Penrose, Nic Humphrey and Iain McGilchrist.

Joanna Kavenna; Are we about to crack the problem of consciousness?

Iain; What problem, there is no problem. We know and inhabit it, there is nothing we know more intimately, unlike the material world, which is an erection, a construct.

Joanna; But there are many who deny its existence or call it illusory, some who say it’s part of the universe rather than an emergent property, others who even say it’s the other way around, that matter is  “phase” of consciousness.

Nic; Yes, there are many conflicting ideas, we are not close to agreeing the solution. The problem remains sentience, the so-called hard problem. The explanatory gap between neural correlates and the subjective experience of qualia.

Roger; No, there are plenty of clues where the solution lies. In understanding of numbers and computation. Turing was bugged by QM self-inconsistencies between the wave equations and the observer /measurement problem.  But these are not so much unexplained inconsistencies as clues that we have the model wrong. Consciousness must in some way come about from QM … Penrose-Hameroff theory basically …. consciousness arises from QM-coherence in micro-tubules at the neuronal level. There are now empirical indicators.

Left hanging …. many attempts at expressions that attempt to define what consciousness is before we can agree an explanation.

Long story short … Nic sticking to his “Cartesian theatre” or evolved, emergent stage-show view. Iain and Roger seeing some more fundamental widely distributed connection between consciousness and matter – in that order.

Iain and Roger seem to be agreeing something like – the elements of consciousness exist in physics. The brain – and wider neuro-physiological system - is simply the most evolved “transducer” of consciousness so far.

Apart from that putative agreement, worth hanging onto, I didn’t hear a lot new there, certainly nothng more than restatement of differing views. I don’t yet buy QM-coherent micro-tubules (too convenient, and too classically scaled) it’s more fundamental than that. Even emergent, in a layered rather than historical timescale sense. I have my own models, closer to McGilchrist.

Finally, for this report:

The Limits of Logic
with Simon Blackburn, Bea Campbell and Iain McGilchrist

However important and valuable it is, yes, there are limits to logic – who could disagree.

I have yards of notes – too many to record here. I really got a lot out of this one for meta-reasons. [IAI have posted the video of this talk - and hey - that's the back of my head with the glasses perched on top. ]

Iain I already know and like – as you can probably tell from above – and I have many links to him in the blog.

Simon has been one of those “mainstream academic” philosophers I’ve never previously gotten into or found a distinctive voice or message – so it was good to see the common sense and humanity in his interactions at close quarters. Obviously as the philosopher on the panel, he wants to sell us the value of logic, as a tool for testing arguments, but he’s as sympathetic to the psychologist and the political activist views as the next human. I must find something of his to read.

Bea I’ve heard, but never listened or read. Her contributions were refreshingly different to me in this context. She spoke from experience – scars – of many different viewpoints to every issue – and we (all) listened. No-one needed to disagree.

Iain said applying logic can be part of the tick-box mentality, that misses the real point, which may be less than 100% logical but nevertheless meaningful. The obsession with 100% logic can be autistic. Simon said the same thing a different way. It is always useful to test any argument with logic, test it for logical consistency. But failing the test, doesn’t mean the sense is wrong. Obviously there is something wrong with the argument, but the conclusion, the action, may still be right. The error may just as likely be be in the model underlying the argument.