The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science

By Peter Medawar | Go to book overview

4
The Act of Creation

The author of Darkness at Noon must be listened to attentively, no matter what he may choose to write upon. Arthur Koestler is a very clever, knowledgeable, and inventive man, and The Act of Creation 1 is very clever too, and full of information, and quite wonderfully inventive in the use of words. Many of the points it makes are not likely to be challenged. That wit and creative thought have much in common; that great syntheses may be come upon by logically unmapped pathways; that putting two and two together is an important element in discovery and also, in a certain sense, in making jokes: it has all been said before, of course, and in fewer than 750 pages, though never with such vitality; and anyhow much of it will bear repeating. But as a serious and original work of learning I am sorry to say that, in my opinion, The Act of Creation simply won't do. This is not because of its amateurishness, which is more often than not endearing, nor even because of its blunders -- they don't affect Koestler's arguments very much one way or another, even when they reveal a deep-seated misunderstanding of, for example, 'Neo-Darwinism', or find expression in fatuous epigrams like 'All automatic functions of the body are patterned by rhythmic pulsations.' I shall try to explain later what I think wrong with Koestler's technical arguments, but let us first of all examine The Act of Creation at the level of philosophical belles lettres.

As to style, Koestler overdoes it. On one half-page catharsis is described as an 'earthing' of the emotions, the satisfaction of seeing a joke is said to supply 'added voltage to the original charge detonated in laughter', and a smutty story is put at 'the infra-red

-40-

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