- Hardcover: 512 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (February 6, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780805081480
- ISBN-13: 978-0805081480
- ASIN: 0805081488
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,343,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe Hardcover – February 6, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. British playwright and novelist Frayn has nursed a serious interest in philosophy since studying it at Cambridge in the 1950s, a fact that won't surprise fans of the writer best known for his 1982 farce, Noises Off, and award-winning 1998 drama, Copenhagen. This bold, original spin on the role of the human imagination in the construction of reality reflects the same robust intellectual curiosity, keen powers of observation and ingenious sense of humor that characterize all his work. Ranging over science, mathematics, philosophy, psychology and linguistics—with a grasp that would be admirable in a professional but is astounding in a self-confessed amateur—Frayn rigorously exposes the human scaffolding propping up what we like to see as a detached, neatly ordered universe. Gazing both outwardly at the indeterminate cosmos suggested by relativity and quantum mechanics, and inwardly at the slippery constructions of consciousness and our sense of self, he focuses on the narrative compulsion that arises from the continual "traffic" between human beings and their ever-changing, ephemeral surroundings. Frayn's dogged unraveling of determinist assumptions and the occasionally mind-bending minutiae of theories, arguments and counterarguments can get taxing, despite lucid and witty prose. But Frayn's ecstatic embrace of a human-made universe is a fascinatingly persuasive ride. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
In less-skilled hands, Michael Frayn's observations might strike the reader as self-indulgent and esoteric, or worse, inaccessible. After all, Frayn spans the range of human experience in this hefty tomefrom the origin of consciousness to the infinity of the universein an attempt to describe "the great mutual balancing act." Overall, Frayn has a remarkable grasp of science, mathematics, philosophy, linguistics, and related disciplines, and he possesses an intuitive ability to connect with an audience (sharpened, no doubt, by his stage work, most notably in Noises Off and Copenhagen). Also, a keen sense of humor never hurts. The result recalls James Burke (he of the popular history-of-science series Connections) working on a higher plane and with a greater wealth of anecdotes.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Another example of missing the point is where he likens the surprising creativity of some AI programs to the surprise of an earth quake. It is not the _fact_ of the surprise but the _nature_ of the surprise that matters. (I once wrote quite a simple program to play some board game or other - Go? - and was genuinely surprised at how convincingly and consistently it could beat me, it's creator.)
A sizable part of the book concerns the truth values of propositions about fictional characters, which is amusing but ultimately a made-up problem. Given that we know from Godel that there are undecidable propositions in formal logical systems, it hardly seems surprising that these would exist in novels and plays.
He should have been on firmer ground with mathematics, because imho this is where the question of how much exists independently of human minds is most arguable, but this is where he is weakest and he makes a number of mistakes.
Towards the end he discusses the idea that mind is made of some kind of non-physical stuff and seems to poo-poo the idea that there can be any such non-physical stuff. But isn't information an example of non-physical stuff?
It is telling that towards the end he says that he often doesn't know what he means by what he has written, until someone else tries to explain it back to him and he thinks "well it certainly wasn't that." So he still doesn't know what it _was_ about. And in the case of this book, neither do I.
When the item arrived it was in the described condition, which was stated to be in excellent condition.
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A Guide to The Logic of Scientific Discovery (The Popular Popper)
All Life is Problem Solving
Through a great deal of thought, study, experimenting and effort we have established a view of the universe. We call it the 'Standard Model.' And while it seems to be developing a few cracks around the edges (the speed of gravity, dark matter/energy) it's the best view that we have.
Mr. Frayn points out that we have a bit of grey matter up in our heads that lives on a small clump of matter that isn't quite a sphere, that's going around a rather ordinary star. It's about a third the way out in an arm of a spiral galaxy. One of three hundred million or so stars that are going round and round. And this is just one in our local cluster of galaxies, one local cluster in our super cluster, part of we really don't know how many galaxies, perhaps 125,000,000,000 give or take a few billion. And from here we've developed the Standard Model.
This is a beautiful look at our presumptions to have to be the center of things, a look at the world by a philosopher of our time. Conclusions, no -- the book ends with the same words it uses to begin:
'Look up at the stars on a calm, clear night....'