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Out of a job in Aberdeen

Roger Penrose, 26 September 1991

The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell 
edited by P.M. Harman.
Cambridge, 748 pp., £125, November 1990, 0 521 25625 9
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... James Clerk Maxwell, a Scotsman who lived from 1831 to 1879, was a scientist of outstanding stature. Bearing his name, apart from the famous ‘demon’, is the set of fundamental equations that he discovered, governing the behaviour of electricity, magnetism and light. He also found, among many other things, the basic equation for the distribution of velocities of the molecules in a gas in equilibrium, and made other profound contributions to the statistical study of the molecules in a gas, relating to the Second Law of thermodynamics – which is what Maxwell’s ‘demon’ was all about ...

Miracles Aren’t Enough

George Ellis: The mathematical universe, 26 January 2006

The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe 
by Roger Penrose.
Vintage, 1099 pp., £15, February 2006, 0 09 944068 7
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... Roger Penrose is one of the most creative and original mathematical physicists in Britain. This remarkable book is the result of many decades of reflection on our scientific understanding of the physical universe. We have discovered some major things about the nature of reality over the past three hundred years ...

Big Bang to Big Crunch

John Leslie, 1 August 1996

The Nature of Space and Time 
by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose.
Princeton, 141 pp., £16.95, May 1996, 0 691 03791 4
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... The Nature of Space and Time contains six lectures-three by Stephen Hawking, three by Roger Penrose – and a closing Hawking-Penrose debate. As Penrose indicates, it might be viewed as continuing the famous Bohr-Einstein exchange of some seventy years ago ...

I am not a computer

Owen Flanagan, 7 September 1995

Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness 
by Roger Penrose.
Vintage, 457 pp., £17.99, September 1995, 0 09 958211 2
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... for a ‘deeper physicalism’, whether it be Witless or a leading mathematical physicist like Roger Penrose has got to be right. Deep physicalists look to biology, chemistry and physics for depth. They are sceptics – and rightly – about the resources of both a priori philosophy of mind and computer science to explain nature and ...

Going Supernova

David Kaiser, 17 February 2011

Cycles of Time 
by Roger Penrose.
Bodley Head, 288 pp., £25, September 2010, 978 0 224 08036 1
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How Old Is the Universe? 
by David Weintraub.
Princeton, 370 pp., £20.95, 0 691 14731 0
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... by means of precise measurements of observable quantities), and it will squirt out in others. Roger Penrose’s Cycles of Time takes one such imaginative leap. Now that cosmologists have determined the precise age of our observable universe, Penrose proposes that all the proliferating confusion since the big bang ...

Thinking about Death

Michael Wood: Why does the world exist?, 21 March 2013

Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story 
by Jim Holt.
Profile, 307 pp., £12.99, June 2012, 978 1 84668 244 5
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... David Deutsch in Headington, to John Leslie in Canada, to Derek Parfit, again in Oxford. He meets Roger Penrose in New York, has phone conversations with Steven Weinberg and John Updike. These conversations become a way of evoking possibilities as much as seeking answers, and some of these possibilities are fascinating, whatever our scepticism may be ...

Not God

David Lindley, 30 January 1992

Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science 
by Michael White and John Gribbin.
Viking, 304 pp., £16.99, January 1992, 0 670 84013 0
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... relativity but which do not contain the initial singularity. Hawking, with the mathematician Roger Penrose, proved that all such attempts are futile. No matter how fancy the model, they demonstrated, the rules of general relativity dictate that a singularity always exists. Naturally enough, the proof that a singularity must exist led Hawking, along ...

Turtles All the Way Down

Walter Gratzer, 4 September 1997

The End of Science 
by John Horgan.
Little, Brown, 324 pp., £18.99, May 1997, 0 316 64052 2
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... the best-known figures (and popularisers) of our day, such as Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg and Roger Penrose, not to mention all the proponents of superstring theory. But Horgan has also found some more fitting targets for his scorn. The expansion of science, the increasingly brutish struggle for survival that scientists must endure and the ...

Spin Foam

Michael Redhead: Quantum Gravity, 23 May 2002

Three Roads to Quantum Gravity: A New Understanding of Space, Time and the Universe 
by Lee Smolin.
Phoenix, 231 pp., £6.99, August 2001, 0 7538 1261 4
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... network’, and quantised versions of spin networks were introduced some thirty years ago by Roger Penrose to produce a geometry of ‘quantised directions’. They play a vital role in loop quantum gravity. Once again, the points are little chunks of space, but the edges of the network are associated with surfaces separating the chunks. When this ...

Mathematics on Ice

Jim Holt: Infinities without End, 27 August 2009

Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity 
by Loren Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor.
Harvard, 256 pp., £19.95, April 2009, 978 0 674 03293 4
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... reality,’ one that is ‘far more permanent than the physical reality that surrounds us’. Roger Penrose, another unabashed Platonist, holds that the natural world is only a ‘shadow’ of a realm of eternal mathematical forms. The rationale for this otherwordly view appeared first in the Republic. Geometers, Plato observed, talk of perfectly ...

Other Lives

M.F. Burnyeat: The Truth about Pythagoras, 22 February 2007

Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching and Influence 
by Christoph Riedweg, translated by Steven Rendall.
Cornell, 216 pp., £9.95, May 2005, 0 8014 4240 0
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Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans: A Brief History 
by Charles Kahn.
Hackett, 193 pp., £10.95, October 2001, 0 87220 575 4
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... partly owing to him, has, ever since his time, been both profound and unfortunate.Or this from Roger Penrose in The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (2005):Although mathematical truths of various kinds had been surmised since ancient Egyptian and Babylonian times, it was not until the great Greek philosophers Thales of ...

The Absolute Now

John Leslie, 12 May 1994

The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory 
by David Bohm, translated by Basil Hiley.
Routledge, 397 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 415 06588 7
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Black Holes and Baby Universes, and Other Essays 
by Stephen Hawking.
Bantam, 182 pp., £16.99, October 1993, 0 593 03400 7
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... In the book’s later essays attention centres on something else. In the Sixties, Hawking and Roger Penrose seemed to have shown that any universe beginning in a state of infinite density, a ‘singularity’, which is how our universe was thought to have begun, would necessarily begin unpredictably. All Theories of Everything would fail at the very ...


Mary Ann Caws: Roland Penrose’s notebooks, 19 October 2006

Visiting Picasso: The Notebooks and Letters of Roland Penrose 
by Elizabeth Cowling.
Thames and Hudson, 408 pp., £25, May 2006, 0 500 51293 0
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... be accessible to everyone, so that the children could play with it and the dogs piss on it. Roland Penrose – a friend of the Bloomsbury Group, close friend of the French Surrealists and a Surrealist painter himself – was, as the blurb to this collection of his notebooks and letters claims, the ideal commentator on Picasso’s goings-on, a Saint-Simon at ...


Christopher Andrew, 22 January 1987

Sword and Shield: Soviet Intelligence and Security Apparatus 
by Jeffrey Richelson.
Harper and Row, 279 pp., £11.95, February 1986, 0 88730 035 9
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The Red and the Blue: Intelligence, Treason and the University 
by Andrew Sinclair.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £12.95, June 1986, 0 297 78866 3
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Inside Stalin’s Secret Police: NKVD Politics 1936-39 
by Robert Conquest.
Macmillan, 222 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 333 39260 4
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Conspiracy of Silence: The Secret Life of Anthony Blunt 
by Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman.
Grafton, 588 pp., £14.95, November 1986, 0 246 12200 5
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... the interest aroused by defunct Cambridge moles. The market for works even on imaginary moles like Roger Hollis shows no sign of slackening. The KGB, too, remembers the recruitment of the moles by its Comintern Intelligence subsidiary as one of its major triumphs. The literary attention lavished on the Cambridge moles has led to a curious loss of ...

Blunder around for a while

Richard Rorty, 21 November 1991

Consciousness Explained 
by Daniel Dennett.
Little, Brown, 514 pp., $27.95, October 1991, 0 316 18065 3
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... respect ‘the brute facts of immediate conscious experience’. All of them would sympathise with Roger Penrose’s conviction, as put forward in The Emperor’s New Mind, that computers can’t feel like anything, whereas we can, and that consciousness is not dependent upon the possession of a language in which to formulate beliefs. So they will find ...

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