Neuro-Bio Gems from Jonah Lehrer


[Aug 02 2012] Lehrer is now a fallen angel, my neuroscience hero no more. But I can’t take back anything I wrote here in 2008.  His first book was an idea stimulating read for me.   Before reading my review here read the one that was done in 2007 on  That reviewer wasn’t as impressed by the 20 something wunderkind as the rest of us were.  Perhaps Lehrer should have stopped there and not tried to tempt the fates, but hubris got the best of him and he ended up believing the hype about his persona.  How does a 20 something write a book like this anyway? I have asked myself  that question many times since reading Proust was a Neuroscientist.  When it comes to his most recent attempt at wowing us for the umpteenth time, it just seems to me that it takes many more years of reflection, self-reflection, observation, and honing, refining, searching and research to really tackle a subject as complicated as imagination’s connection to neuroscience.  I admit, I never intended to read  Imagine: How Creativity Works from the moment I heard about it.  Somehow I felt that for a few years now he hasn’t said anything new, different or as interesting as the material in his first book. Any subject worth exploring and especially ones he was attempting to explain for laymen sometimes need a lifetime of mining and nurturing.  He should have stopped when he was at the top.  Here though is my 2008 review.  You may find some ironic comments given his current situation:

I give Proust was a Neuroscientist an 8 out of 10 for its ability to provoke thought in me and allow me to contemplate on my own assumptions about creativity, genius and the mind/body split.    If I ask you to visualize someone who is creative and/or brilliant what sort of person do you think about?  Special K thinks of Leonardo Da Vinci.   I think of some young mathematician.  Often I think of some young person who burns out his or her flame brilliantly and quickly – like Rimbaud, Michael Jackson, or Boy George.  Athletes often fall into this category.  Their talents are external.  They are so obviously dependent on the ability of their bodies to perform according to a range of activity that is almost never available to our aging shells.

In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks writes about a forty-two year old man who after he was struck by lightening, becomes a musical prodigy.  Sacks loves to write about people who, at various points in their lives, because of neurological changes, develop talents previously unknown to them.  In Proust was a Neuroscientist, Lehrer instead focuses on established artists who reveal neuroscience through their art.  He explores where the body ends and mind begins and vice versa.  He asks what it means to be aware and conscious as human beings.   Personally, I tend to think that we are just a random collection of protein.  And that there is no distinction between the mind and the body.  My mind is in my toes and heart as much as it is in my brain. My brain is simply where the electronics gather to interpret.    About our experience inside ourselves, Virgina Woolf said: “We are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself “.   And in reponse to this process, Leher is comfortable asserting that “…only the artist [is] able to describe reality as it [is] actually experienced”. Here are some of the other ways that Lehrer describes that same experience:

…the mind is not a place: it’s a process.

The self is simply…the story we tell ourselves about our experiences.

Reality is not out there waiting to be witnessed; reality is made by the mind.

When it comes to the drama of feelings, our flesh is its stage.


Marcel Proust