The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe


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What can ever be wordlessly seen of it that is not dependent upon the existence of a single viewpoint from which to see it?

Human Extinction

What can be understood of it without the scale and context of human purposes, or the instruments of human thought? Frayn, like David Hume before him, is a thoroughgoing sceptic whose scepticism, however, seems unlikely to keep him awake at night or interfere with his digestion. From his acquaintance with philosophy and his readings in the work of physicists such as Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr - the main characters in Copenhagen - he has got hold of a simple fact about the world, which is its indeterminacy.

What you see is not what you get, and Frayn is here to tell us how it is not. One is reminded irresistibly of that sheep in the Gary Larson cartoon which has suddenly looked up in astonished realisation from among a herd of its fellows to cry out: At the risk of falling into national stereotyping one might say that Frayn's is a particularly English form of humanism, in that he accepts human limitations without descending into existential despair.

His dismissal of the assumptions of common sense, that most deceptive of our senses, is itself admirably commonsensical. Yet he is no Johnsonian stone-kicker; indeed, he is at pains, and great pains they are, to acknowledge the insubstantiality of a world - or "a creation", to use the term and indefinite form of the book's subtitle - which common sense insists is solid all the way down. Again and again in The Human Touch he reminds us that the reason our foot does not go straight through the stone we have kicked is not that the stone is made of Democritan atoms, each unimaginably tiny one a piece of irrefrangible matter, but, on the contrary, that what resists the toe of our boot is an immensely intricate concatenation of atomic forces.

What we at our Newtonian level of existence necessarily conceive of as a substantial reality is in fact - in fact! The chair you are sitting in, the book you are holding, are made of a mesh of probabilities in empty space. And yet the book subsists, the seat sustains. But Frayn is concerned with far more than physics. In his vast overview of this anomalous universe in which we find ourselves thrown, he takes a good-humoured crack at a broad range of our certainties, from the laws of nature - or "the laws of nature" - through the chimera of free will, the dubious status of truth and the ambiguousness of language, to, at the close, the question of the self itself.

The breadth of his reading is awesome and he is fearless in interpreting, and in some cases attacking, the philosophical or scientific dogmas of this or that revered savant. Everywhere he is eminently sensible, especially when he is making nonsense of our illusory certainties. He calls as witnesses the great figures of science such as Einstein and Heisenberg, Bohr and Planck, Popper and Feynman, the supposed guardians of nature's laws who, on examination, turn out to contradict each other and themselves with unnerving frequency and unwavering conviction.

What do we really know? What are we in relation to the world around us? Here, the acclaimed playwright and novelist takes on the great questions of his career--and of our lives Humankind, scientists agree, is an insignificant speck in the impersonal vastness of the universe. But what would that universe be like if we were not here to say something about it?


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Would there be n What do we really know? Would there be numbers if there were no one to count them? Would the universe even be vast, without the fact of our smallness to give it scale? With wit, charm, and brilliance, this epic work of philosophy sets out to make sense of our place in the scheme of things. Our contact with the world around us, Michael Frayn shows, is always fleeting and indeterminate, yet we have nevertheless had to fashion a comprehensible universe in which action is possible.

But how do we distinguish our subjective experience from what is objectively true and knowable? Surveying the spectrum of philosophical concerns from the existence of space and time to relativity and language, Frayn attempts to resolve what he calls "the oldest mystery": In which case, though, what are we? All of Frayn's novels and plays have grappled with these essential questions; in this book he confronts them head-on. Hardcover , pages. Published February 6th by Metropolitan Books first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Human Touch , please sign up.

Lists with This Book. Philosophy, as a subject, is about as old as our civilization, and most people who read serious books have read at least some of the famous philosophers. After a while, you can't help wondering if this isn't something you could do too. After all, it just looks like a particularly advanced kind of bullshitting. Surely, you think, you've spent hundreds if not thousands of hours speculating about subjects which no one understands, and which maybe can't be understood in the first place.

Why should y Philosophy, as a subject, is about as old as our civilization, and most people who read serious books have read at least some of the famous philosophers. Why should your opinions be worth less than those of a few weird guys for some reason, they're almost all men , who somehow have managed to get themselves elected to this bizarre pantheon?

If thoughts like the above cross your mind from time to time, you may find The Human Touch an educational experience. Michael Frayn is an excellent writer, with a string of good novels and dramas to his credit. He's obviously very smart, reads widely in several languages, and is intensely curious, not just about philosophy, but also about science, history, psychology and pretty much anything else you care to name. He's not a professional philosopher: To me, the value of the book is that Frayn does such a good job of conveying the feeling, familiar to every amateur philosopher, that a breathtaking but strangely elusive insight is almost within one's reach.

I don't think he achieves anything in terms of actually reaching the goals he sets himself, but he is disarmingly honest in explaining his thought processes. Frayn is evidently impatient with the narrow, technical frameworks that characterize most contemporary philosophy: Unfortunately, this is now a very difficult thing to do, and, every time Frayn got into any subject where I possessed a little specialist knowledge, I could see that he immediately fell flat on his face. His characterization of quantum mechanics is completely wrong he admits himself that he has no inkling of how the mathematics works ; he doesn't understand how possible worlds are used to formalize modal logic; his criticisms of Chomskyan linguistics fail even to reach the level of attacking a straw man; and his discussion of Artificial Intelligence resolutely ignores anything that's been done since the 70s.

"The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe" | Deseret News

Alas, all of these issues are central to his argument. But, as always, he writes beautifully; the book works well as a record of how a smart person tries to become a philosopher and learns the hard way that there's more to it than you might think. If you've ever been tempted to try this yourself, check out Frayn first. View all 7 comments. Oct 11, notgettingenough added it Shelves: I can't imagine reading this book, having lived through Manny's reading of it.

It was awful, having to listen to him talk about how completely Frayn had misunderstood everything in science and philosophy he talked about. When he did come to actual interesting content by Frayn he couldn't stand the round about, waffling way in which he wrote, peppering everything with asides which were sometimes entertaining and generally irrelevant. Somehow Bill Bryson writing mostly of irrelevancies is okay, bu I can't imagine reading this book, having lived through Manny's reading of it. Somehow Bill Bryson writing mostly of irrelevancies is okay, but not Frayn.

Maybe he isn't good enough a writer. Having started this book some years ago, I am certainly never going to read it now. I don't have the discerning eye resulting from knowledge of the fields to be able to read it in a discriminating way. But I want to make a few points which come from my understanding of Frayn which explain the failure of this book.

The first is that this book is the consequence of a shambles - Frayn's mulling over the world for a great many years. So when, for example, he discusses some point of AI which has been obsolete for decades, or a Chomsky theory which he himself abandoned before the old queen died, this is, I suspect, because that his ideas came from that period. We happen to be reading them now. The second is that this book undoubtedly reflects something Frayn talks about in Stage Directions - he found it very hard to go back to novels after working as a dramatist for a long period because writing plays was writing in a highly disciplined limited way, whereas novel writing was like open countryside compared with the city.

He found it necessary to create ways to give the novel limits. One can see that, for example, in one of my favourites, The Trick of It. In this context, what could be more unbounded, less able to be disciplined, than the subject of The Human Touch? The third is that Frayn - and again this comes from reading Stage Directions - is obsessed with the notion of the audience and in particular with is ability to change the thing it is watching. The meaning of everything and anything comes from its audience. View all 4 comments. Mar 21, Robert Wechsler rated it it was amazing Shelves: It is difficult to sum up this book.

Its neither an introduction to philosophy, nor a personal philosophy. It is for a general audience, but it requires a great deal of work. What truly distinguishes this book is the writing, especially the authors use of analogies and examples. Frayn does not set up arguments in the usual manner. His book moves more like a literary work. Its basic goal is to show how much our perspective, as humans, affects the world we know.

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This applies not only to modern phy It is difficult to sum up this book. This applies not only to modern physics, but to everything. I think that every college student should read this book, not as an assignment for a course, because I cannot imagine a course using this book, but as summer reading: Frayn lays down hard earned observations regarding our primal responses to logic, biology, philosophy and the irregularity of existence.

What is this book about? I think Frayn was inspired by some of the pedantic episodes of Doctor Who. I found The Human Touch a backbreaking and immensely convoluted and difficult journey and on occasions I gave him a kick in the guts. I loved this book because being squeezing through the wringer page by page I discovered a fetish for the enlightening masochistic genre.

The old chestnut, if a tree falls and no one's around does it make a sound?

"The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe"

Apparently, of course it does, but not really because there is nobody to observe it or give it meaning. The Human Touch starts of as a great book, examining science and epistemology, then gets bogged down with language, where every stone is turned, even if totally unnecessarily. The subject matter and the main question of the book how to reconcile the objectivity of science and physics with the subjective meaning and na The old chestnut, if a tree falls and no one's around does it make a sound?

The subject matter and the main question of the book how to reconcile the objectivity of science and physics with the subjective meaning and naming of the world are very interesting, but Frayn comes across as someone who has read Merleau-Ponty but not understood him, because they neglect to read Heidegger. Frayn's point of view is similar to a scientific Cartesian, never really letting go of the the separation of mind and body, clinging to his Dualism while bashing it at the same time.

Similar to Sartre who could never let go of the 'I', while avidly re-writing 'Being and Time' with the Cartesian 'I' firmly at its centre. Although, I can't really criticize Frayn all that much, as it is a very good book in places and Dualism is so ingrained within ourselves it is difficult not to fall into the same old traps. Aug 05, Alan Reynolds rated it liked it. I am impressed by Frayn's writing but in the end put off by his worrying a topic till it his concern seems overwrought. Reading in this book again. Fascinating in small doses.

Feb 05, Bookmarks Magazine added it. Dec 05, Sheryl rated it really liked it. Michael Frayn is brilliant. The only reason this book didn't get a five star rating from me was because parts of book that included math were not always clear to me, so I had a bit of an intellectual struggle at times.

The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe
The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe
The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe
The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe
The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe
The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe
The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe
The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe

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