A Taboo Kind of Retirement Apology 12th November 2009
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Many thanks to everyone for my retirement party and for a great life experience! Enclosed, in return, is my farewell present to you all. In the emerging tradition of lightning electronic publication, this is an illustrated research version of my 'trick-or-treat' (see later) speech, with live links to the current ground-breaking developments mentioned, and my research works, including Sexual Paradox and my live research overviews on the origins of life, the evolutionary tree of life and the conscious brain.
In case your e-mail client didn't receive the html of my recent papers on classical and quantum chaos, or my music productions, links to all these are included, all of which can also be found at my media web site http://www.dhushara.com.
If we're talking mathematics, why do we have 52 weeks in a year, why are there 7 days in a week, and yet there are 12 months in a year?
Coincidentally with todays date, I had 12 points for this 'apology' and I thought, there's one taboo kind of point that maybe I shouldn't talk about that might bring everything undone. But, why the 13, and why the 12, and why is 13 unlucky? [Since this is also the Eve of a Friday 13th]. This has to do with our book "Sexual Paradox", that David Gauld just drew attention to.
Left: A taboo kind of point (click to enlarge): To avoid all NZ psilocybes being deemed ad-hoc as prohibited species by the DSIR, I classified the local species jointly with Gaston Guzman, the world's leader on Psilocybe taxonomy, (Mycological Research 1991 95/4 507-508, Mycotaxon 1993 XLVI 161-70) resulting in discovery of my own 'native' species Ps. aucklandii. Center Left: European Venus of Laussel has a horn with 13 notches linking the moon, fertility and the menstrual 28 day period. Center Right: Chris Knight's sex-strike theory linking the moon, ovulation, sex and hunting from "Sexual Paradox". It was said in the 19th century that the last of the southern Bushmen were driven to cattle stealing, because their women folk said "No meat - No Sex". Right: Fulton's cave rock drawing of girls menarche (c1000BC). Inset !Kung Bushmen celebrate the same ritual of first menstruation, believed to be so powerful that to set eyes on her will destroy a hunter's prowess.
It's an idea that is mathematical, because it's about self-organized criticality and the idea is that human super-intelligence has come about because the two human sexes have vastly different reproductive investments and because each sex is running while standing still, they have to court one another in such a way that only the most 'intelligent' genes survive. [The prisoners' dilemma places this strategy as self-organized criticality onto a cusp bifurcation point.] That's what the thesis of "Sexual Paradox" is about and it has something to do with chaos theory and self-organized criticality, so it is mathematical, but it comes back to the 12 and 13.
What you find happened is that basically the female menstrual period is driven by the moon. It's a lunar cycle and is what you might call a sinusoidally-kicked rotator. The heart is also like this. The heart is supposed to have a periodic rhythm, but it's actually chaotic [a pacemaker-kicked oscillator] - James brought this up when I gave my colloquium talk - the only time you really have an ordered process is when the heart is having a heart attack, and then it's death! The 13, I think, is caused by the week being invented because women had a knowledge of time before men did and they timed everything according to their own menstrual periods, which have an average of every 28 days [13x28=364] when the lunar cycle is actually 29.53 days [12.36 cycles per year], and then there was a kind of male rebellion and we have [12 months], 12 angry men, the amphictyony and the 12 tribes of Israel. So 12 repressed 13 and the number 13 became unlucky.
What I would like to do is look back at what Bill Barton said [about protecting academic principles], which is a question of - 2 things. So I'll reduce the 12 and 13 to 2!
In Praise of Academic Freedom
One of them is this serious question about what is academic freedom and I'm retiring today because of a dispute about my Amazonian leave and that goes back a long way because when I first got employed by the university in 1969 and then in 1976 after seven years - the sabbatical notion - I got my leave granted and nobody asked any questions and I was given my ticket to go round the world - nobody said "What are you going to do"? Nobody said "You have to justify where you're going to go", and I was interested in "What is consciousness?"
You're all looking here at me and what you're actually having is a subjective conscious impression of being at a party - it could be a dream - you're probably don't think it's a dream because there's various tests of reality we can make that it's not a dream, but dreams can be very convincing - and so what I did was went to India and I tried to get an understanding - India has a philosophical idea that mind is finer than matter and the description of reality starts from subjective consciousness and it's got a deep long-standing tradition, so I wandered around India as a sadhu and it’s about the last thing that you could possibly imagine a mathematician having a valid place for being but nobody asked any questions because it was the concept of academic freedom and the concept of sabbatical leave.
So I then went to England and I interviewed Nobel prize winners and I did a scientific quest about molecular biology and the origin of life. John brought up why didn't I get my PhD and you know, congratulations to Eamonn for getting and FRS. I'm sorry that James has had to put on three parties - why did you put on a party for me - why didn't you just take me to the elephant house [where the Department Christmas party is being held] - I think that a serious miscarriage of justice happened about what sabbaticals are and I think that was the right way to go and I'm still standing here with a "Quantum Mind" T-shirt because in 2003 I went to an academic conference about this relationship between the brain, how the brain develops subjective consciousness, what its there to do, how it fits into the scientific description of reality - it's still the biggest abyss facing science. We don't know the answer to this one, we don't even know how to devise a description of reality which is starting to formulate scratching at the edges.
Now I didn't do a 'Mickey Finn' to the University by going there, but there's a rationale and why it all happened, which was that I grew up in a medical family and I grew up driving to accidents with people killed on motorbikes, people screaming "My baby - my baby", going to other places where someone had had a heart attack, going through the delivery wards and all the new babies, so it was like life and death and I got this feeling that you couldn't really survive in the world unless you were a doctor, but then I went to the university a year early and I hadn't done biology in school and I ended up missing out on getting medical intermediate and then I tried to do physics. Then at Victoria there were a lot of nuclear physicists and some of them died of leukemia because they had far too much radioactive substances in their laboratories. At stage three, I became incredibly depressed when I took nuclear physics which is really a doomed science its not really part of the picture, apart from a few nuclear establishments - the Large Hadron Collider doesn't need to do nuclear physics, we've got beyond that and I ended up, by default, graduating in Mathematics.
In Defence of the Pursuit of Knowledge
Having done that, I went to Warwick and then I realized: "Wait a minute, mathematics is something really, really special, because mathematics is the keyboard of reality!" All the scientific descriptions of reality are couched in mathematics, so if you want to understand the relationship between the weak force and the colour force, you've got a chance if you are a mathematician. You've got a chance if you are a physicist, but you've only got a chance with physics, so to speak, [but maths works for all the sciences] so what I tried to do was use this opportunity that happened, kind of accidentally, or as a consequence of my family origins, to take my mathematical experience and say: What's my duty to the pursuit of knowledge? And my duty to the pursuit of knowledge is to say "What are the most serious questions facing humanity in terms of understanding?" And then I would say: We don't know how life began. And this is all tied up with religious ideas, and it's tied up with mistaken ideas about quantum physics, because [some people] think that the only way you'll get interesting molecules is like a green cheese by random accidents, with ball and stick molecules, but that's not a realistic model. Later on along came chaos theory and non-linear dynamics and it filled in a lot of those pictures, but I didn't have those pictures at the beginning, so I looked at the origins of life, I looked at how does the brain generate consciousness, and took those on as challenges [documenting the main theses in my 1978 paper "Unified Field Theories and the Origin of Life", which John Butcher just drew attention to]. Now if you're in a mathematics department, that's going to run the risk that you are going to make speculative investigations and they won't necessarily generate you a doctorate. They won't necessarily generate you a paper in Nature because you don't have the data to justify the thesis.
Figures from the two breakthrough discoveries on origins of life (Click to enlarge). Left: Sutherland's new direct routes of synthesis of RNA nucleotides from primitive precursors. Center: Genetic analysis shows the last common ancestor of life came before DNA replication in the latter RNA era. Right: The last common ancestor was not a cell, as the genes for cell walls are different in bacteria and archaea, but has a viable long term non-equilibrium generative interface in environments where organic molecules can be concentrated by factors of up to 1010 bringing concentrations to biological levels, and reaching the point where fatty acids form membranes, in micropores in the carbonate towers forming over olivine - acid seawater 'lost cities' ocean floor vents.
So the critical issue of the second question is: Was the thesis false? Was this pipe dreaming? And what has turned out 40 years later? Because I was employed in 1969, and it's now 2009, so yes it's 300 years if you like [as James jokingly suggested] and the answers are very interesting, because for 30 years at least it looked like the origin of life was unsolvable, insoluble, and that nobody knew how to make RNA, and then in 2009 two papers were suddenly published and one of them showed that from absolutely primitive molecules you can actually get RNA nucleotides by a completely different route from those that anyone had imagined you don't get the sugars and the bases and the phosphates separately and then try and put them together - they won't fit together, they won't make RNA but there's another kind of chemical reaction and if you put the phosphate into the chemical reaction it all comes together. [The second research breakthrough concerns a unique phase interface in the form of undersea vents (not the black smokers, but milder chemical garden Lost City vents from the reaction of cosmologically abundant olivine with acidic primal ocean sea water) which show how prebiotic chemicals could be concentrated to cellular levels over whole geological time scales and form membranes and the RNA era] and what I did was say - there's a thesis and the thesis says that the origin of life is a cosmological process - it's part of how the laws of nature work - it's part of the non-linearities of the way the forces of nature have split symmetry and what I would say is that, as of 2009, it looks like that thesis is valid and the conjecture was true.
Evidence for genetic symbiosis became clear only after the Human Genome Project results were published (click to enlarge). History of human mobile DNA elements covering some 250 million years of evolution showing continuing germ-line coexistence of some 100,000 reverse transcribing LINE-1 elements, a subpopulation of which remain highly active, and their transcriptional 'piggy-backing' 900,000 Alu SINES.
Now there was another thing that I put into that 1978 paper and that was there is some sort of very deep symbiosis between viral genetics and cellular genetics and when the human genome project came out, it turns out there are things called LINE1 elements that go right back to the slime mould and they're involved in interactive processes, they're involved in certain kinds of medical conditions because of their mutations, they generate themselves when sperms are being made and eggs are being made, and they're an integral part of how the modular nature of the genome arising in humanity has come about , so that was also a true conjecture. [This goes as far as a dependence of mammals on retroviral cell-budding syncytin genes to enable the placental membrane. Viral particles on the placenta were noted in the 1978 paper.]
Left: Evidence for instabilites at the quantum or molecular level being able to influence brain states (click to enlarge). Top: Evidence for complex system coupling between the molecular and global levels. Stochastic activation of single ion channels in hippocampal cells (a) leads to activation of the cells (c). Activation of such individual cells can in turn lead to formation of global excitations as a result of stochastic resonance (d). Individuals cells are also capable of issuing action potentials in synchronization with peaks in the eeg (e). Bottom: Influence of chandelier cells in amplification. Single pre-synaptic pyramidal action potential leads to multiple post-synaptic excitations. Structure of chandelier or axon-axonal cells with dendrites (blue) and axons (red). Right: Quantum analogue of the kicked top using an ultra-cold cesium atom kicked by both a laser pulse and a magnetic field. In figure 9b is shown the classical dynamical phase space of the kicked top showing domains of order where there is periodic motion and complementary regions of chaos where there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions as a result of horseshoe stretching and folding. In the quantum system (second row) in the ordered region (left), the linear entropy of the system is reduced and there is no quantum entanglement between the orbital and nuclear spin of the atom. However in the chaotic region (right) there is no such dip, as the orbital and nuclear spins have become entangled as a result of the chaotic perturbations of the quantum top's motion.
The third thing is about consciousness, and going away to India and so on, and what I want to say is that there are some new results that I found were very fascinating. [I am interested in a model where sensitive dependence on initial conditions in transitions at the edge of chaos in global brain dynamics leads to sensitivity to quantum processes, opening the can-of-worms of quantum uncertainty and 'free-will'. This is also consistent with the similarity between wave front coherence as distinguishing attended signal from noise in brain dynamics and wavefront coherence, as the fundamental measure of Planck's constant of the quantum.] Until recently it looked like chaos was suppressed by at least closed quantum systems - then about a month ago there was a paper that came out about the kicked top and it was suspending a Caesium atom in a vacuum and them firing a laser at it and also putting it in a magnetic field and throwing it into a chaotic state and then what happened was the quantum system entered a deeper state of entanglement [with the nucleus], so we have a very very big question here about quantum entanglement, quantum chaos, the amplification of [the 'butterfly effect' of] classical chaos and "What is the brain doing when you have the 'eureka' phenomenon of saying 'aha' and you [at first] don't have the pieces of the puzzle fitting and then the solution suddenly appears?" We suddenly go through some sort of intuitive process [a transition from space-filling chaos to order] and arrive at the answer.
In Appreciation of Collegiality
So what I would say is that thank you to John Butcher for appointing me, and that was a very foolish thing to do, and I would like to thank George Seber for not firing me when student fired darts in PLT2 when suddenly in the middle of the lecture they started firing whole pieces of the Herald newspaper and the whole floor was littered with darts that big and Ron Keam came in and complained to Physics and George Seber came into the class and castigated me and castigated the class.
I want to say that I repaired that situation because there was a lecturer called Arnold Hart who was a very sincere lecturer, he worked very, very hard, but he had a tremendous amount of trouble supervising the engineering students and there was an era that was the first era that we had student evaluations and now we can say this is a political exercise in expediency, we can take a good view of it and say it's a democratic process, but the first student evaluations were an absolute safety valve for the engineers to vent their wrath on Arnold Hart and suddenly Arnold Hart took ill after reading the student evaluations and he took ill and said "I just can't seen to get up out of bed" and then passed away. So I was commissioned with the task of going into MLT1 and taking over the engineering students, so having had these darts launched at me and seeming to be too loose and a hippie dropout lecturer and not keeping the covenant of discipline, I walked into MLT1 and it was absolute bedlam - the students were shouting at the tops of their voices no one was looking at the front of the theatre at all - I can't remember if there was a microphone, but I think I grabbed the microphone and said "You killed the last lecturer!" and they all stopped dead in their tracks and there was not a sound in the theatre.
Images from the Amazon field study phase of my millennial sabbatical, disputes over which led ultimately to my retirement. Centre: NOAA sattelite coverage of the same period showing extensive fires. Almost the entire area today is in agribusiness. The second phase of this sabbatical led to a twelve day workshop at The Academy of Jerusalem, above the main souk in the Old City, leading discussions on the biodiversity paradigm of the Tree of Life with liberal rabbis and others. A conservation strategy also followed by E. O. Wilson author of "Sociobiology" amd "The Future of Life". It was the formal invitation from The Academy of Jerusalem which resulted in my being awarded an extension to my original short-leave granted for the biodiveristy impact study into long leave through to the millennium. Therefore all aspects of this leave program were bona fide. In addition to the Amazon biodiveristy impact study I did interviews on conservation strategies with major world NGOs, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Nature Conservancy. These issues are of pivotal importance to the future of humanity and the diversity of life. I consider this leave to have been highly effective and that it was contrary to academic principles that my subsequent leave application was denied by the then Dean Dick Bellamy and that my ensuing appeal, headed by Raewyn Dalziel, was unsuccessful.
And I'd like to thank David Gauld, because Bob Mann was one of the most cantankerous lecturers in the university, but I had a very close liaison with him because I went out to the Coromandel, where we have got land and I realized that so much of the habitat of biodiversity is getting destroyed so we really should do something at university that students coming through in a science degree should also have an opportunity in their degree to see what the impact of the sciences they are studying are, so I went around the university and somebody said to go and see Bob Mann, and I ended up striking up a relationship with Bob Mann and we devised a course called environmental studies 200 and it became a functioning course.
But Bob had run into some serious problems because he had had a masters student doing a project and he had given them a grade of A and it's a funny echo - What is coincidence?, What is fate? I noticed that David Bryant mentioned a few days ago in an e-mail about somebody getting a paper in Nature, and in passing mentioned that it was pain to the animals that figured, so Bob Mann gave an A grade to this M.Sc. student, who complained about the unnecessary pain to the animals in this experimental paradigm.
Now at the time the professor of Biochemistry had a wife who was also a biochemist and what happened was the professor took the grading, took it to his wife and his wife crossed out the A and gave it a D and then gave it back to Bob and then Bob took it to - whatever - whatever - I don't know, I've never been through disciplinary committee, or the disputes tribunal or any such thing, but the end result was that the professor of Biochemistry resigned and moved overseas, Bob moved to continuing education on a five year contract, and a new professor of Biochemistry was appointed who would not have Bob in his department over his dead body.
So then his contract ran out and Bob had been doing talk back radio and the current Vice Chancellor was Colin Maiden, who was think big, so we had Motonui and we had Bill Birch and we had the massive plan to burn up the natural gas of New Zealand to make it into petrol, which as we know was a financial failure, and Bob Mann was drawing attention to that, but Colin Maiden didn't like it, so he said cancel environmental studies and fire Bob Mann [who had been lecturing the course], and so I thought you know, Bob can go, but environmental studies can't go. So I went down to the student quad and got a desk and I started collecting student signatures [to save both Bob and the course] and I got about 2,500 signatures and took it to the registry and said "There!" Then Colin rang up David and said "Have you got any smut on Chris King?" "Of course!" No - thankfully David declined.
Circular panorama of the land in the Coromandel. A communally owned conservation reserve (click to enlarge).
I'm going to stop here with my "two points", but I've been very grateful to everyone in the Department I've been with, it's been an absolutely enjoyable and creative journey being and working here, it's been a very good department to work for and work with. It's been very collegial and congenial and in terms of the heads of department Marston Conder and George Seber and David Gauld and Ivan Reilly as the Director of the School and James Sneyd and Bill Barton, I think the Department's been extremely well-served by heads, even though they have had different styles, they have served the collegial interests and I think it's something to do with mathematics and the magic of mathematics that we carry most of what we do, like I used to say that we carry everything we do in our heads so we don't have to work from 9 to 5 in a chemistry lab. Now I'm rather reluctantly saying that at least 60% of what I do is in my laptop, but there's still something very special about mathematics that it is something that is part of our psyche and something that we do as a process of thought and it seems to have engendered for the Department over a long period a very beneficent toward the people that have struggled to teach and do research in the era of PBRFs and so on.
Okay two points, that's enough!
Actually - trick or treat - I covered virtually all of my 13 points, except for 2 about the future. Here they are:
The first is that we have had the fortune to live in a transitional generation and that scientific knowledge of the universe is going through a cumulative S curve and we have already, even with the standard model of physics, come close to the theory of everything, and given the human genome project and molecular biology, discovered perhaps more than half of what there is conceptually to discover, so in future there may not be so many new discoveries to make. We are going to have to be more creative with our lives and spend time caring for the living environment, loving one another, making music and telling engaging stories round the camp fire. This goes also for the institutional mentality. I have preserved an independence from being just an academic because I have many strings to my bow, from the conservation community, through music to the cosncious and sexual quests and travel to far-flung wildernesses. There is a big risk in any institution of becoming 'ring-wraiths' of academia. Don't let it happen!
My world music compositions involve a variety of Western and Eastern stringed instruments.
The second is that mathematics is a classical discipline going through a social evolution, involving a degree of attrition, as human populations pass a lot of their more mechanical numerical reasoning on to calculators and computers. Although mathematicians may hold it sacred, to a certain extent mathematics runs the risk of becoming an artifact of the history of ideas, unless it can regenerate itself from the fertile ground beneath its rigorous foundations, as our ideas of the universe evolve. Its classical foundation, based on point elements and infinite limits, is in a degree of conflict with the quantum view of the universe, in which wave and particle aspects are complementary, so that the inconsistencies we find between relativistic and quantum descriptions of the universe may have their source ultimately in the fact that our mathematics is at root classical and may need a fundamental revision of its premises to bring our reasoning into line with how the universe actually works.
One last thing, one of these coincidences, I just noticed this thing in the newspaper, about time and space and coincidence, and here we have "Retirement winds back the years say scientists" - they say that when people retire they actually feel and act and biologically are ten years younger - this was the right day to see this! I'm not retiring to go out to pasture and it's the creative process that allows more free time to do those nefarious things.
James Sneyd: Thank you Chris. I would like to end by emphasizing two things. The first is that your work, particularly in mathematical biology Chris was ahead of its time and this has in fact been proved by things like the Santa Fe Institute, for instance which have taken up a lot of your ideas. So I don't think you need to feel that in any way that your ideas have been ignored, because they certainly haven't. [James is right in the sense that the Santa Fe Institute was not founded until 1984, ironically also as a result of a falling out with nuclear physics paradigm at Los Alamos].
The second thing I wanted to say is that I want to emphasize what Bill said - that you have kept true to certain ideals, which many other people have not. I think you should feel proud of that as well.
Dhushara.com My Media, Publishing and Research Web SiteMATHS 745 Chaos, Fractals and Bifurcations Course Materials Semester 1 2009