November 19th saw the second and final part of the Ordered Universe Being Human festivities, with a wonderful lecture by Michael Brooks. We took Michael on a tour of some of the resources at Durham: a visit to the Norman Chapel and then Cosin’s library for a trawl through early printed scientific collections, Galileo, Hooke’s Micrographia, and many others, before a visit to the Institute of Computational Cosmology and Richard Bower’s EAGLE project on galaxy simulation. We made our way to Ushaw, for another archival visit, of some of the scientific-related material in the collections, including a fascinating correspondence involving Cardinal Newman on Darwin’s theories of evolution and the Origin of the Species.
Michael’s lecture took us on a different tour; of questions and issues from contemporary science, in a compelling narrative which introduced science and its practitioners in context, the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies of scientific discovery, and the changes in intellectual, social, cultural and economic circumstances that both affect and are affected by the practice of science. From the origins of the big bang theory for the beginning of the universe and the sobering story of Eddington’s demolition of Chandra’s calculations and suggestion for the existence of black holes, to the implications of how we think about animals, taking the story of the gradual acceptance of Jane Goodall’s observations on their individuality and personality derided in the 1960s, but the underpinning of current orthodoxy. Michael explored the ethical questions of the potential to grow human organs within animals, and questions of epigenetics – how and why particular genes are affected by change: stress, trauma, diet and so on. The notion of our hologrammatic identity, and the future of computing (all modern computers still, essentially, function within the framework devised by Alan Turing in his thesis from 1938 Systems of Logic based on Ordinals, rounded up the lecture. Stimulating and moving, we were grateful indeed to Michael’s presentation and learning, as the breath and liveliness of the question and answer session showed. Michael’s At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise is required reading for anyone wanting to explore these subjects further.
The lecture was organised by the Durham University Centre for Catholic Studies, and we’re very grateful to Dr James Kelly and Theresa Phillips for making all of the arrangements and to Professor Karen Kilby for introducing the series. It was a fitting end to our two days, celebrating the inheritance of science, the benefits of collaboration, and the importance of a wild frontier, and the power of uncertainty, to interpret both the past and the future.