Trotter Lecture Features World Experts In Theoretical Physics, Computer Science
Hundreds of people recently capitalized on a free opportunity to explore the crossroads of science and religion at the 2017-18 Trotter Lecture, held April 17 in Ruddder Theater at Texas A&M University and featuring Stanford University computer scientist Dr. Donald Knuth and Imperial College London theoretical physicist Dr. Michael Duff.
Knuth, a professor emeritus at Stanford, is known as the father of algorithm analysis and the creator of the popular TeX computer typesetting system, among other programming books. He presented “Translating the Bible into Music,” which explored his recent composition Fantasia Apocalyptica that converts the Greek text of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine into pipe organ music with a bonus beyond its intricate programming — spiritual insight for the 21st century.
Duff, also an emeritus professor at Imperial as well as a pioneering supergravity theorist known for coining the term “p-brane” to describe one facet of dimensional volume in spacetime, was returning to the campus he previously spent a decade at as a professor during the 1990s. For his presentation, “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” Duff drew from his more than four decades of research spanning the fundamental forces and electromagnetic fields governed by the rules of quantum mechanics to explain why he believes the universe seems tailored for creatures like us.
Knuth opened his talk and the lecture portion of the event by detailing how he first mapped out the word usage in a work that has proven inspirational for many classical composers, then assigned musical hooks – recurring short series of notes — to those words which were representative of their meaning as well as different styles of music, from baroque and classical to folk and jazz. To help explain how the music was integrated from an algorithm, he turned to a nearby piano, playing several hooks from his composition, which recently made its world premiere in Sweden on his 80th birthday — January 10, 2018.
“Forty-five years ago I took a class in computer science at Stanford from Dr. Knuth, and after 45 years, I was able to meet him again,” said Texas A&M astronomer Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff, who earned a bachelor’s of science degree in mathematics from Stanford in 1974. “Although some scientists might not readily recognize him, many of them use his software every week and perhaps every day. He is one of the most influential computer scientists of the 20th century and someone who can safely be called a genius.”
For his part, Duff took the Rudder Theater audience through the history of elemental particles and forces, starting with Sir Isaac Newton and leading up to developments in the 21st century by people such as Steven Hawking and others, including Duff himself. He concluded his talk by asking some fundamental questions about the role of faith in doing science and describing the influence that faith had — or didn’t have — on several very influential physicists over the centuries.