|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Sunday, November 28, 2010
The most alarming, perhaps, was at the Newscastle Arts event on Parallel Worlds, where Professor Ian Moss gave a very informative lecture on different physical theories of parallel worlds: island universes, M-theory, Many Worlds, etc. Towards the end he explained that he had two different possible final sections of the lecture, and he was going to deliver both simultaneously: one in one universe, one in another. He asked an audience member to look up an online site which delivers random numbers (it may have been some quantum random number generator, or what Moss called the most dangerous book ever published, A Million Random Digits, which apart from generating many amusing Amazon reviews creates a new universe every time someone bases a decision on it). He then based a choice on this number, using some simple algorithm, and told us which of the two alternative concluding sections he was going for. In another universe, of course, he delivered the other.
I'm not sure how well this dangerous demonstration of macro-scale quantum effects came across, but it could fairly be said that the audience was evenly divided.
The most surprising and encouraging was Cockermouth Cafe Sci, where I gave a talk on why Craig Venter's synthetic cell was, on balance, a good thing. I came along prepared for the usual objections, and dealt with them in my talk, but nobody from the audience followed these up or raised any of their own. Instead they took all that for granted and asked mostly technical questions. I was very glad to have retired cell biologist John Lackie, who chaired the event, standing by to give the answers. Later he and his wife Ann told me that as the audience for Cockermouth Cafe Sci are mostly farmers (who use reproductive technology all the time) or nuclear workers, there ain't much of a hearing for alarmism in these here parts. Maybe the countryside will surround the cities after all.