Monthly Archives: November 2010

A remarkable and inspiring person

Clara Schumann was my pianist heroine for many years. Now I have another: Alice Herz-Sommer. At the time of writing this she is aged 107. I read the biography because I came across a video Holocaust survivor Alice Herz Sommer playing piano and then searched for more information.

There are several valuable things to learn from Alice. The most immediate for me was the dedication to keyboard practise. I have always fancied being able to give a good rendering of the Chopin Studies but have always muddled along because I did not put in the time; for now I have faith that if I do the work I will get to something competent and my target is one year – at which point I will try to avoid feeling I have wasted a lot of my lifetime in doing things half-way.

The next crucial lesson is to shun bitterness and bad feeling about people and the past; this must include oneself as many self-help books say.

My criticism of the biography is that I assume it was written from her reminiscences but tends to read like a docu-drama where many conversations are made up to set a tone. I would have preferred Alice’s own notes. Although not without some interest because I hope that they reflect Alice’s emotional view of the Chopin Studies the digressions on each of the studies should really have been an appendix. Finally, the latter part of Alice’s life was rushed through with most focus on the bad years during and immediately after the German occupation of Prague.

Whetever, it must be a great privilege to know Alice Herz-Sommer.

Delightful and impressive creative thinking

These two bits of scientific thinking impressed me a lot: Dark energy and flat Universe exposed by simple method and Cosmos may show echoes of events before Big Bang with links to the original papers that I like to have explicit rather than search for. The first, as the article title suggests, is a method to determine the large-scale geometry of space-time. Is it flat (so we can use Euclidean geometry) or is it curved (so we have to use a non-Euclidean geometry). What impressed me is the simplicity of the analysis. There is an assumption that the inclination of orbits of binary galaxy systems that we observe has no bias for any angle, but from that the flatness of space-time and the proportion of dark energy in the overall Universe mass is obtained. My ‘lay’ question on this is that we need to know what theories that amend general relativity to avoid the existence of dark energy would predict.

The second report is of work done with Roger Penrose, a very creative thinker. I had always assumed that if the Big Bang theory is really the way our world came into existence we would have no way of knowing anything about what was before the Big bang. This is so if you take the conventional view of the event, but Penrose does not like the instant inflation that current models need (the Penrose view suits me) and has a model of the Universe where the Universe preceding ‘this’ one produces the effect that inflation in the conventional model does. The papers author’s find non-uniformities in the microwave background radiation that can be related to the previous Universes and Big Bangs. We need alternative models in a similar way to test the ideas in the first paper mentioned above.