God Created the Integers, Man Created God

Michael Atiyah gives a presidential address on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics (good alliteration).  In it he discusses the difference between mathematical philosophy and natural philosophy.  It’s an interesting read throughout.

But, near the end he says:

Mathematical physicists believe that there are indeed simple and beautiful mathematical equations that govern the universe, and that the task of the scientist is to search for them. This is an article of faith.

An alternative faith is to believe in a God who created the universe and kindly provided us with laws or equations that we would be able to understand.

He touts that these are compatible philosophies.  As faiths, they are similar (I take issue with the first idea:  Mathematical equations do not “govern” the universe, they are just really good at representing it.)

But, more importantly, I disagree with the idea that belief in God is always compatible with science (an implication I think he was making).  In physics, it’s an easier sell.  There is nothing alive in physics.

A harder sell is in biology.  Belief in God is one thing, but belief in a soul is problematic.  If one believes in a soul, that every human (homo sapien) is singled out from among God’s creatures as different (better), then all of biological evolution (and what it can tell us about who we are) falls apart.

If it is true that humans ARE totally and fundamentally different than all of the other creatures on earth (and potentially on other planets), and if this is due to our having a soul, then we MUST abandon much of what we believe to be true in biology.

If biology is right, then we are not different in any fundamental way than other species.  Unique, sure.  (So is the norwhal.)  But, not totally different.

I am hesitant to say that a belief in a God-given soul is compatible with biological science, and from there science generally.

(HAT TIP:  Noncommutative Geo)


My new favorite way to waste time at work… without really wasting it

It doesn’t matter how hard I try to bring work on myself.  This job of mine has always been full of free time. After so many hours wasting my life on digg, I realized that I could use this time to make music.  I had always wanted to put more time into it but never really found the motivation to get good… but enforced boredom can be a powerful motivator.

Unfortunately, I think my job is a little uptight to let me bring my guitar in and start banging away.  But I have this laptop sitting in front of me.  One time I played around with a friend’s copy of Fruity Loops.  I made it through maybe an hour or two – not exactly the recipe for a virtuoso electronic composition.  Recently though, a friend that’s devoted a lot more of his life than I to creative pursuits has turned me on to something better.

Pure Data is the answer to so many questions I hadn’t even thought to ask.  It’s a synthesizer.  It’s a processor for other audio signals.  It’s a sequencer.  More than that, it’s a general purpose drag and drop audio programming language.  It’s like Legos for your ears.

If you have any free time in front of a computer that you can’t spend elsewhere, you could do a lot worse than a free download and this 10 minute tutorial:

I love that this thing is purpose built as software.  Unlike Reason, Fruity Loops and any VST plugin I’ve ever looked at, Pure Data makes no attempt to look anything like the music making we were used to before computers.  It’s in good company that way. A lot of the big jumps in computing happened as an acknowledgment that software doesn’t need to look and feel like anything from the real world.  I’ve been really disappointed the last few years with the relatively incremental pace of change in software and hardware.  This environment, even if it’s based on the circa-1990 Max/MSP, is rekindling my faith.

Mathematical Biology Seminar

Felicis and I are running a Mathematical Biology Seminar here at PSU. Felicis has been helping to bring us all up to speed on some of the basic Neuroanatomy of Hearing. (We’re starting with a paper co-authored by Lars Holmstrom of PSU entitled: Responses to Social Vocalizations in the Inferior Colliculus of the Mustached Bat are Influenced by Secondary Tuning Curves)

I’ll be talking next week about some basic modeling techniques in relation to the topic above.

This is a big deal for both Felicis and I, as we’re both primarily interested in doing work in Mathematical and Theoretical Biology here in the mathematics department. Felicis’s core area of interest is in Neurology, and mine is in Ecology and Evolution.

We’re meeting on Wednesdays at 3:30 pm. If you are a mathematics student (or for that matter a biology student) interested in mathematical biology, feel free to stop by the new conference room at that time on the 3rd floor of NewBurger Hall

For those totally new the Idea of mathematical biology, here’s the Wikipedia page.

And here are a few more links to wet your appetite:

Some equations from EqWorld

Why is Mathematical Biology so Hard? from the Notices of the AMA

Getting Started in Mathematical Biology, by Frank Hoppensteadt and the AMS

What to Know About Applying to Graduate School

The following link is to a PDF on the Portland State University Biology Department’s website. But, I think it’s full of a lot of basic information that should apply to any graduate program that is research oriented.

Graduate Program PDF

Science Data Storage, Google Comes to the Rescue!

The giant just keeps on growing.   Google will now be getting into the Science research field by offering data storage to scientists:

The storage would fill a major need for scientists who want to openly share their data, and would allow citizen scientists access to an unprecedented amount of data to explore. For example, two planned datasets are all 120 terabytes of Hubble Space Telescope data and the images from the Archimedes Palimpsest, the 10th century manuscript that inspired the Google dataset storage project.

Intelligent Robots!

Check out PSU’s own Intelligent Robotics Lab

I particularly like the title of this publication:

“Use of Machine Learning based on Constructive Induction in Dialogs with Robotic Heads,” 

Some Post-Christmas Offerings

Hello everyone!

John Baez has some neat stuff for this week, including a whole slew of free online texts! You’ll find them immediately after the pictures of nebulae.

Also, John Wilkins has a blog called “Evolving Thoughts” and yesterday’s (26 December 07) post, “Basic Concepts in Science: A list” has some more neat links to follow, even if I am not quite sure how many would actually qualify as ‘basic concepts’.