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Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
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Proust Was a Neuroscientist (2007)

by Jonah Lehrer

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When it comes to truths about cognition, art usually gets there first, and art can do what science cannot: describe human life from the inside. Lehrer gushes too much sometimes, and there are some holes in his thinking - it's too in love with the individual - he says we can never be intimate with anyone but ourselves, but that's patently only true in what some psychologists are now calling the WEIRD culture (Western - or White - Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic)- not at all representative of human experience in general. Collective intimacy is perhaps the major hallmark of many traditional cultures - an intimacy with time, the natural world and one another. But this is still a useful defense of the truth of artistic insight that the fragmented, increasingly reductionist WEIRD world ought to hear. And the great quotes, from Walt Whitman, William James, Virginia Woolf and many others are going straight into my commonplace book. ( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
In Proust was a Neuroscientist, Lehrer examines the art of eight Modernist figureheads and the connections between their artistic endeavors and what neuroscientists are now learning about the human brain. While it is evident that the connections between Proust and neuroscience were foremost in Lehrer's conception of this book, the connections between neuroscience and each of the other featured artists is clear and - while not groundbreaking - very interesting and insightful.

The importance of this work lies in the Coda, where Lehrer uses these forged connections to weave a convincing argument for a "fourth culture" in which there exists intersection between science and art with each discipline standing on equal footing for the common goal of exploring a shared human experience.

That said, a major criticism of this book is that it is primarily a work of Modernism - ignoring and at times taking unfair jabs against Postmodern notions that have been explored in the half-century between the artists' time and the book's publication.
( )
  tbeck | Mar 31, 2013 |
An intriguing collection of essays on 19th & 20th century artists & writers and their connections to (or foreshadowing of) psychology and neuroscience. Fascinating both for the personal histories and for the science. What's stuck with me is both the weirdness of perception and the malleability of the brain. FWIW, that second bit actually brings me a lot of hope and comfort.

Even as a writer, I got annoyed after a while with the touches of "oh some things can never be explained" (I'm paraphrasing badly) bits. Felt a bit hand-wavey.

Still, quite interesting. ( )
  epersonae | Mar 30, 2013 |
You can find my review on Goodreads.com ( )
  echaika | Apr 7, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0547085907, Paperback)

Amazon Significant Seven, December 2007: Proust may have been more neurasthenic than neuroscientist, but Jonah Lehrer argues in Proust Was a Neuroscientist that he (and many of his fellow artists) made discoveries about the brain that it took science decades to catch up with (in Proust's case, that memory is a process, not a repository). Lehrer weaves back and forth between art and science in eight graceful portraits of artists (mostly writers, along with a chef, a painter, and a composer) who understood, better at times than atomizing scientists, that truth can begin with "what reality feels like." Sometimes it's the art that's most evocative in his tales, sometimes the science: Lehrer writes about them with equal ease and clarity, and with a youthful confidence that art and science, long divided, may yet be reconciled. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:45 -0400)

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"In this technology-driven age, it's tempting to believe that science can solve every mystery. After all, science has cured countless diseases and even sent humans into space. But as Jonah Lehrer argues in this sparkling debut, science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, when it comes to understanding the brain, art got there first. Taking a group of artists - a painter, a poet, a chef, a composer, and a handful of novelists - Lehrer shows how each one discovered an essential truth about the mind that science is only now rediscovering. We learn, for example, how Proust first revealed the fallibility of memory; how George Eliot discovered the brain's malleability; how the French chef Escoffier discovered umami (the fifth taste); how Cezanne worked out the subtleties of vision; and how Gertrude Stein exposed the deep structure of language -- a full half-century before the work of Noam Chomsky and other linguists. It's the ultimate tale of art trumping science. More broadly, Lehrer shows that there is a cost to reducing everything to atoms and acronyms and genes. Measurement is not the same as understanding, and art knows this better than science does. An ingenious blend of biography, criticism, and first-rate science writing, Proust Was a Neuroscientist urges science and art to listen more closely to each other, for willing minds can combine the best of both, to brilliant effect."--Publisher's description.… (more)

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