Proust Was a Neuroscientist Hardcover – Nov 1 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
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 Cézanne 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. (Nov.)
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“In this book, Jonah Lehrer shows us brilliantly that the process of cooking is more than chemistry." --Jacques Pepin
“In this intriguing reflection . . . both art and science are freshly conceived.” --Howard Gardner
"Lehrer puts current neuroscience to a fine use -- ancestor worship -- and in the process gives us a delightful, thoughtful read.” --Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes' Error
"Brilliantly illustrated . . . amazing . . . [Jonah Lehrer's] clear and vivid writing--incisive and thoughtful, yet sensitive and modest--is a special pleasure." --Oliver Sacks
"Writing with effortless brilliance and astonishing clarity, Jonah Lehrer gives us . . . a beautiful book: I was enthralled by it." --Robert D. Richardson, author of William James (winner of the Bancroft Prize) and Emerson
"Jonah Lehrer in Proust was a Neuroscientist, brilliantly, playfully, and precociously shows how artistic perception often anticipates scientific discovery." --Michael Collier
"This is a delightful little book . . . fun to read and thought provoking." --Joseph LeDoux, New York University, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self
"Comes close to exemplifying . . . a unified “third culture” in which science and literature can co-exist as peaceful, complementary equals." Publishers Weekly
"Pleasingly fluent . . . [introduces] art to scientists and science to artists. Solid science journalism with an essayist's flair." Kirkus Reviews
"Entertaining and enlightening." New York Magazine
"Precocious and engaging . . . Lehrer is smart, and there are some fun moments in these pages." --D. T. Max The New York Times Book Review
"His book marks the arrival of an important new thinker . . . wise and fresh." --Jesse Cohen The Los Angeles Times
"Lehrer writes skillfully and coherently about both art and science." --Gregory Kirschling Entertainment Weekly
Top Customer Reviews
Lehrer demonstrates the way in which eight artists, from Walt Whitman to George Eliot to Marcel Proust, challenged the scientific status quo before or around the time that it was scientifically overturned. The "xenocysts" of science: problems that are ignored such as phantom limb symptoms, the complex nature of language, the dazzling complexity of the brain (not to mention the problematic mind/brain distinction), as well as the chaotic and incomprehensible nature of matter on the microscopic and macroscopic level are all limitations that challenge the tyranny of "Science Ltd."-- the institution, not the discipline itself-- in defining our conception of what counts as both knowledge and reality.
Lehrer depicts a pattern in this trend between the arts and science, demonstrating that in the wake of emerging new ideas, the consciousness that emerges often affirms the artistic values of freedom, will, possibility, creativity, imagination, chaos, playfulness and above all, meaning-making, while overturning ideas of genetic predestination, all forms of rational and biological determinism, the "knowledge/information" model of DNA and memory, and the general scientific definition of humans as the rational animal.Read more ›
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