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Panel discussion
Chaired by Professor Lisa Jardine, Queen Mary University of London

Humankind, scientists agree, is a tiny and insignificant anomaly in the impersonal vastness of the universe. But what would that universe be like if we were not here to say something about it? Would there still be numbers, if there were no one to count them? Or scientific laws, if there were no words or numbers in which to express them? Would the universe even be vast, without the very fact of our tininess and insignificance to give it scale?
This paradox is what Michael Frayn calls the 'world's oldest mystery'. In his new book, The Human Touch, he shows how fleeting and indeterminate our contacts with the world around us are. Like all living creatures, humankind has had to pursue an active role in order to survive and propagate, and to do this it has had to fashion from its transitory contacts a comprehensible world in which action was possible. This, he argues, introduces an irreducible element of subjectivity into our understanding of the universe. The world is what we make of it. In which case, though, what are we?
Lisa Jardine, acclaimed writer, historian and critic, will quiz Michael Frayn over some of the conceptual questions of this nature that have been the driving force behind many of his novels and plays.