Synopses & Reviews
From a rising journalist and Rhodes scholar, a dazzling look at how five writers, a painter, a composer, and a chef discovered the truth about the mind.
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 and original book, science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, where the brain is concerned, art got there first.
Focusing on 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 human 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 Chomsky. 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 this is what art knows better than science. An ingenious blend of biography, criticism, and first-rate science writing, Proust Was a Neuroscientist urges science to listen more closely to art, for the right minds can combine the best of both to brilliant effect.
"'With impressively clear prose, Lehrer explores the oft-overlooked places in literary history where novelists, poets and the occasional cookbook writer predicted scientific breakthroughs with their artistic insights. The 25-year-old Columbia graduate draws from his diverse background in lab work, science writing and fine cuisine to explain how Czanne anticipated breakthroughs in the understanding of human sight, how Walt Whitman intuited the biological basis of thoughts and, in the title essay, how Proust penetrated the mysteries of memory by immersing himself in childhood recollections. Lehrer's writing peaks in the essay about Auguste Escoffier, the chef who essentially invented modern French cooking. The author's obvious zeal for the subject of food preparation leads him into enjoyable discussions of the creation of MSG and the decidedly unappetizing history of 18th- and 19th-century culinary arts. Occasionally, the science prose risks becoming exceedingly dry (as in the enthusiastic section detailing the work of Lehrer's former employer, neuroscientist Kausik Si), but the hard science is usually tempered by Lehrer's deft way with anecdote and example. Most importantly, this collection comes close to exemplifying Lehrer's stated goal of creating a unified 'third culture' in which science and literature can co-exist as peaceful, complementary equals. 21 b&w illus.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Solid science journalism with an essayist's flair." Kirkus Reviews
"Brilliantly illustrated...amazing....[Jonah Lehrer's] clear and vivid writing incisive and thoughtful, yet sensitive and modest is a special pleasure." Oliver Sacks
"Jonah Lehrer provides a fresh and unique look at eight of the artists who define modern culture." Billy Collins, former poet laureate
"In this intriguing reflection...both art and science are freshly conceived." Howard Gardner
Lehrer argues in this original book that science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, where the brain is concerned, art got there first. Focusing on a group of artists, Lehrer shows how each one discovered an essential truth about the human mind that science is only now rediscovering.
About the Author
Jonah Lehrer, age twenty-five, is editor at large for Seed magazine. A graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes scholar, Lehrer has worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel and studied with Hermione Lee at Oxford. He has coauthored a peer-reviewed paper in Genetics and worked as a line cook at Melisse (in Los Angeles) and at Le Cirque 2000, and as a prep cook at Le Bernardin. As a journalist he has profiled Brian Greene and Elizabeth Gould, spent several days in the kitchen of the Fat Duck, and recorded bird songs and ruminated on Stravinsky for National Public Radio. He has written for Nature, NPR, NOVA, ScienceNow, and the MIT Technology Review, and writes a highly regarded blog known as the Frontal Cortex.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents:
1. Walt Whitman
The Substance of Feeling 1
2. George Eliot
The Biology of Freedom 25
3. Auguste Escoffier
The Essence of Taste 53
4. Marcel Proust
The Method of Memory 75
5. Paul Cézanne
The Process of Sight 96
6. Igor Stravinsky
The Source of Music 120
7. Gertrude Stein
The Structure of Language 144
8. Virginia Woolf
The Emergent Self 168