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

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

Michael Frayn, . . Holt/Metropolitan, $32.50 (505pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-8148-0

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.)