The Human Touch: Our part in the creation of the universe

Nicholas Fearn review Michael Frayn’s book, in The Independent:

FraynstorIt is unfair of sceptics to dismiss psychology as mere alchemy. Whatever the deficiencies of Freud and his successors, the alchemical stage in our understanding of human beings was always that catalogue of speculation and dogma known as literature. Even today, a novelist can still round off a chapter with a grand pronouncement about life or men and women without fear that the reader might demand evidence or argument to support his claim. Such authorly “insights” are the currants that make the cake, for we like to think that a great work of literature is not just inspiring, but also contains eternal truths. We do not wonder about the writer’s sample size or his controlled conditions, for to doubt his intuitive grasp of the world and his authentic vision would be philistine. However, this has not prevented scientists from trespassing on the novelist’s territory at will; seeking to expose the conditions for happiness and the recipe for love itself. Were proper account to be taken of such research, then poets and novelists would be reduced to the status of upmarket entertainers. Their vaunted insights would at best provide illustrations with which to jazz up the papers in a scientific journal.

More here.