Latest May 5th 2008
Andrew Marr excelled himself. His 'Start the Week' program on Radio 4
is always worth listening to, but today he discussed with their authors
4 books of which three are essential reading and the fourth highly
recommended. I quote the summary from the BBC web site:
Have you ever wondered why the universe is just right
for life? That's the question being asked by the eminent physicist and
cosmologist PAUL DAVIES. He explains why, if almost any of the
basic features of the universe were different, life would be
impossible. But was it a fluke, an act of God, or is our universe just
one of a few that permits life? The
Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the
Universe Just Right for Life? is published by Allen Lane.
The historian ANDREW ROBERTS has set himself the bold task
of carrying on the story of the English-speaking peoples, begun by
Winston Churchill. Roberts' account starts where Churchill's ends,
1900, and so he chronicles the development of the English-speaking
peoples through the 20th Century. A History of the
English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 is published by
Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
French philosopher BERNARD-HENRI LEVY has undertaken a
journey round America in the footsteps of the French political thinker,
Alexis de Tocqueville. The result is his book American Vertigo which
gives some indication of the America he found - under threat, intimated
and lacking cohesion. American Vertigo: On the Road from Newport to
Guantanamo is published by Gibson Square Books.
It was only when he was 72 and had lost his estranged wife that Thomas
Hardy became a great poet. Biographer CLAIRE TOMALIN talks
about Hardy's late, great flowering and how he travelled from his poor
roots in rural Dorset to his last resting place in Westminster Abbey. Thomas
Hardy: The Time-Torn Man is published by Viking.
I have not yet
read any of the above, but I shall now have to read at least the first
three because its sounds to me
that in addition to well researched information they contain a great
deal of wisdom. I have read some of Paul
previous work and, while I appreciated it, I was also frustrated. While
he approached some great insights he never 'dropped the other shoe'.
One was really no nearer getting a decision on the solution of the
puzzles and paradoxes of physics, cosmology and philosophy that plague
our current generation. I saw these as resolvable, understandable,
leading us on to more important problems, decisions, actions, aims and
debates. The paradoxes and insoluble puzzles were the result of false
assumptions and limited viewpoints in multidimensional space-time. From
what I heard this morning between extraneous domestic tasks that
distracted my attention it seems he has made progress in explaining
what he was getting round to working out over the years, and with which
I concur. I will read it and let you know. SEE ENTRY FEB 12th 2008 below.
seems to have got a grip on reality in history. There are those who
claim there is no objective history, that it is written by victors
anyway etc.etc. Modern communications combined with a multitude of
existing local records and memories open greater possibilities. Events
can be viewed from many perspectives. The causes behind effects, their
controllablity or the reverse by the participants can be better
assessed. Intentions can be analysed with hindsight and also with
contemporary foresight. Sources can be cross-referenced.
writes from a position of massive experience and knowledge of Europe
and America. Talking about this book he says 'I am not a
'pro-American', I am 'anti anti-American'. He explains himself very
well indeed. I think he also shares my former belief from the 1980s,
still a hope, that 'there is nothing wrong with America that can't be
cured by what's right with America'.
writes about Thomas Hardy, who became a great poet at the age of 72.
Here again we are witnessing how it takes a mulltiplicity of
viewpoints, this time achieved through the changing circumstances over
a lifetime, that gives the insight that transcends.
"What is truth?". We are still caught up in debates about subjective
and objective reality. Yet many people have reached an understanding of
how the two relate. More difficult is how to impart this understanding
to successive generations in an ever changing world. A great
physicist once said of science and religion that "they are two
different windows on the same world, equally valid, but we can only
look through one at a time". That may be the case, but if we take the
trouble over the years to look through each with great care,
alternately, many times, we can use our third, inner, eye to see both
at once. The result is a new level of understanding and appreciation,
as different as an 'Omnimax' experience to a postcard, beyond
understanding takes time. As St John once remarked, it will take all
the books that have ever been written. But we can construct analogies
which can give insight. Not only do we look through one window at a
time, the object, event or idea we are viewing is sometimes illuminated
by a single source. The result in that case is that some of it is
visible, some is in total darkness, and then there may be 'grey areas'.
If we change the source of illumination, what was a grey area may be
illuminated and what was clear become grey. From other points of view
our brightly lit aspect may be invisible to those who see. through
their window, what for us
does not exist. To get an objective understanding of reality, we have
either to look through every window and ask for illumination from all
the sources we can find, or develop through experience the ability to
rotate, in our own intellect, the object, event or idea in question.
of us in today's world, where there is 'no time to stand and stare',
where from cradle to grave we are trying to deal with the demands of
the moment, have the opportunity to do any of this. We are therefore
ever more reliant on Public Service Broadcasting to bring enlightement
into our lives and present us with their selection from the mass of
input and output..
We are now
offered hundreds of TV and Radio channels and the World Wide Web, but I
expect cutting-edge broadcasters and journalists to find out what we
need to have a look at and bring it to our attention. A few newspapers
do this.The main 5 TV channels do too. I hope they continue to do so as
even if you were to buy a set-op box and a DVD recorder you would never
have time to look at the output before deciding that it was or was not
worth watching anyway.
FEBRUARY 12th 2008 - see entry above
on Paul Davies
I have.not yet read Paul Davies' "The Goldilocks Enigma" but
Robin Lustig has and came to the same conclusion that I did about
Davies previous books. However I am just as disappointed with Lustig as
he is with Davies. I accept that Davies has not come up with the
solution, but this is what I have written in the file on Quantum
Physics on this web site:
I [have been listening
to] the reviews, on BBC Radio 4 "A Good Read", of Paul Davies "The Goldilocks Enigma".
I have not read it. I assume its contents hold no surprises.but some
excellent descriptions of alternative theories and interpretations of
the origin, nature and possible purpose of the observable universe and
What gave me pause was the reaction of one of the reviewers, Robin
Lustig, a highly articulate and imaginative BBC presenter (you can look
up his CV no doubt via Google). Lustig was disappointed and angry at
finding the book difficult to understand and, at the end, offering no
'answer'. Fair enough, but he then produced an example of the text that
really annoyed him, read it out and said: "What am I supposed to make
The paragraph in question was in fact a important suggestion that there
was scientific evidence to show that the 'mass' of the universe was not
a static quantity or property but a dynamic manifestation. When
everything is taken into account mathematically the mass of the
universe is in fact ZERO. It is the sort of observation that can assist
those trying to work out the solution to "The Goldilocks Enigma" a
puzzle concerning the reason for our world being so extraordinarily,
exactly suitable for the development and continuing sustenance of human
life and the surrounding universe so benign in its distant arrangement,
yet how can this be if there is no divine design or designer.
We are inclined to think of the universe having some static property
like a violin string at rest, and all that we observe to be like notes
that emanate from its vibration,.the origin of the string itself being
on a different level. Physicists talk of 'the building blocks of the
universe' and 'mass' (inertial, gravitational and otherly defined) as a
'property or properties of matter'. I think this is not so reasonable.
Even at this level it could be an activity and not a property.
So while I accept that Paul Davies may not have pointed readers towards
a closer understanding (I will now have to read the damned thing) I am
really disappointed by Lustig - to such an extent that I decided to
stop writing any more here for the moment. I am not sure there are any
readers worth the effort - though the other members of the Good Read
team made a bit more of an effort.
There is a solution to the Goldilocks Enigma. Various people have got
quite close to cracking it, but then have always gone for a single way
out which ends up in an infinity of of one sort or another in terms
that they prefer (like an infinite number of universes of which we are
one, or an effective infinity of possibilities within the one we can
observe which (as Derren Brown has shown by tossing a coin) would end
up in something like what we know anyway. That's the 'monkeys can write
Shakespeare' theory. Then we have the famous Weak Anthropic Principle
to take into account. They are all important theories and all wrong or
incomplete, lacking some philosophical or mathematical dimensions.
Monkey's DID write Shakespeare anyway, or rather one of their cousins
many times removed did, but not by chance at that stage of the game.
There is an answer to the Goldilocks Enigma. It is excellent. But on
reflection it is a good thing most people do not get a glimpse of it as
they would probably stop what they are doing, go out and get pleasantly
with their friends. Hold on..... I keep reading that's what too many
people are doing anyway, though not so pleasantly, because they CAN'T understand
why or how they are here in the first place. Talk about Catch 22!
Paradox abounds as we approach the boundaries of any 'box' of existence
we explore. While it is ever more clear that there are probably many
planets with life in our galaxy and some with intelligent life, it is
also becoming clearer that we will never make contact with them and in
this century may or may not receive direct evidence by observation of
the electromagnetic spectrum. As a longtime supporter of the theory of
extra terrestrial intelligence and at the same time a supporter of my
own theory that conventional contact or proof at our level of science
and society would be inconsistent with any cosmological philosophy or
model that is rational, I value and approve that apparent paradox.
APRIL 21st 2008
Once again Andrew Marr has come up with a remarkable bunch of academics
with remarkable powers of verbal expression. The research they have
done and the thoughts they have to express are profound.
Raymond Tallis states out loud the thoughts millions will have had
about their own consciousness and self-consciousness. He has not gone
as far into this as he might but has gone a long way with great
clarity. A little further and he might have thought he was back at the
beginning so his limitations are probably in the reader's favour.
Daniel Dennet targets unerringly the failures of both organised
religion and the idiosynchrasies of disorganised superstition. He is an
atheist as a result because he has failed to understand the real
religious insights that are not only compatible with reason but
actually assist, when we meet a barrier in the form of a a paradox, to
take us on and through to the next level, with rationality intact and
science undamaged. Both Christ and Buddha would have no problem with
Dennet even though he thinks he has a problem with them. His problem is
actually with Christians and Buddhists he has observed and listened to
or read the thoughts of, some of which he may have understood and
rightly rejected, others which he may have misunderstood.
Gwen Griffith-Dickson has profound insight into the confusion that
surrounds young Muslims who are drawn to violence, lacking any proper
understanding of their own religion and misled by their environment and
sometimes the media as to the culture and motives of the UK
establishment and its aims and objectives. You need to read the book to
get the picture.
Carole Seymour-Jones brings to book the complete Sartre and de
Beauvoir, revealing them to be self-obsessed pioneers who got
everything wrong, the ultimate trial-and-error story from which they
learned a little and at best enabled te rest of us to avoid mistakes we
were not going to make anyway, being less arrogant and/or less driven
by their own psychological problems. She does not intend this as a
hatchet job though so it is for the reader to come to the conclusion I
have just reached. It was perhaps not always what Sartre and de
Beauvoir did which was a mistake but the way that they did it, and why.
Here is the BBC website summary
again has his finger on the literary pulse. Nicholson Baker's knickers
are totally rwisted and his thesis 100% wrong in detail and as a whole,
though it seems he has come up with some interesting facts. Knowing
where to put them and value them in the scheme of things might have
helped. On the other hand Jeffrey Sachs lays it on the line and if we
don't realise we have to make the choices he lays before us then Nature
will carry on without our guidance or cooperation. Nice to be part of
the solution for a change but maybe that's not the way it works....
Chopin's Majorca Holiday was the source of his amazing Preludes, that's
worth a read; but most surprising is that for all that has been written
about Wren, Hooke and Locke it has not been clear to most of us how the
synergy of great multidisciplinarians at that era virtually rebooted
London and to a great extent Britain's future by their example.and
NICHOLSON BAKER is best known
novels celebrating the minutiae of everyday life. However, his new book
examines one of the most significant events of the last century: the
Second World War. Nicholson Baker defends his controversial argument
that the actions of the Allied forces fanned the flames of conflict
with Germany and that a truce with Hitler may have saved lives. Human
Smoke is published by Simon & Schuster.
As an advisor to the UN Secretary-General, the economist JEFFREY
has been instrumental in drawing up internationally agreed goals to
reduce poverty, hunger and disease across the world. His latest book is
a characteristically ambitious plan for nothing less than saving the
planet and calls for radical action on climate change, sustainable
development and population growth through a new kind of global
co-operation. Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet is
published by Allen Lane.
In October 1838, the composer Frédéric Chopin, together
with his lover,
the bohemian French novelist George Sand and her children, embarked for
Majorca for a turbulent four-month stay that has since taken on a
mythic life of its own. As part of BBC Radio 3’s upcoming weekend
devoted to playing every note written by the composer, pianist and
broadcaster SARAH WALKER has travelled to the island to find
out what really happened. The
Chopin Experience on BBC Radio 3 is on 17 and 18 May.
As St Paul’s Cathedral celebrates its 300th birthday this
year, writer LEO HOLLIS
talks about the life of the building, reconstructed in the aftermath of
the great Fire of London. He uncovers the history of the Cathedral by
examining the lives of the men whose ideas and inventions helped to
build it. The Phoenix: St Paul’s Cathedral and the Men Who Made
Modern London is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.