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Proust Was a Neuroscientist [Paperback]

Jonah Lehrer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Feb 2011
Is science the only path to knowledge? In this sparkling and provocative book, Jonah Lehrer explains that when it comes to understanding the brain, art got there first. Taking a group of celebrated writers, painters and composers, Lehrer shows us how artists have discovered truths about the human mind - real, tangible truths - that science is only now rediscovering. We learn, for example, how Proust first revealed the fallibility of memory; how George Eliot understood the brain's malleability; how the French chef Escoffier intuited umami (the fifth taste); how Cezanne worked out the subtleties of vision; and how Virginia Woolf pierced the mysteries of consciousness. It's a riveting tale of art trumping science again and again.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The Text Publishing Company (28 Feb 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1921758147
  • ISBN-13: 978-1921758140
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,408,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. He graduated from Columbia University and studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He's written for The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. He's also a Contributing Editor at Scientific American Mind and National Public Radio's Radio Lab.

Product Description


If all science books were as successful in bridging the divide between art and science as this one is, there would no longer be a divide to bridge. - Sunday Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Jonah Lehrer is editor at large for Seed magazine and the author of The Decisive Moment: How the Brain Makes Up Its Mind. A graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Lehrer has worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel. He has written for the New Yorker, Boston Globe, Washington Post, NPR and New Scientist, and writes a highly regarded blog, The Frontal Cortex. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly worthwhile read 7 Jun 2010
Intelligently written, with both a coherent and insightful argument, this book was a refreshing antidote to all those repetitive pop-science articles stretched to book length.

By making both evidence-based connections and robust literary analysis it bridges a much needed gap between arts and science. As an arts educated person now working in the sciences, its non reductionist approach was highly refreshing. And I think to the more science focussed, less aware of these great artists through not having studied them, it still brings enough human insight and rigorous thinking in the field of neuroscience to be of interest.

What I most enjoyed is a modern science book saying: It's OK to accept that some truths about the self are profoundly unknowable, and that there is no single version of the truth of the self owned exclusively by arts or science. That acknowledgement doesn't necessarily make you a whacko-lite science hating fruitcake - for often where intense introspection of the artist has led, experimentation and evidence based conclusions from science have followed.

The two fields gain from exposure to each other. The author's fourth way of thinking convinced me - where do I sign up?
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars finding the movement i want to belong to 24 Mar 2008
lehrer's book is a gem; reading it a joyful series of "aha's". trained as a humanist, i have long taken great and guilty pleasure in reading about the brain, its physiology and development, while entertaining a sneaky suspicion that this reading is not so different from perusing "la princesse de clèves" or "the house of mirth".

lehrer connects the dots for me, starting by opening up the possibility that artists - not just the novelists i was thinking of, but painters, composers, poets, you name it - are working on the same topics, with the same legitimacy and epistemological justification and import as scientists.

he may not be the first either artist or scientist to do so, but the comprehensive scope of his book, drawing on so many artists and scientific angles is, in my experience, unique.

his final call for a "fourth culture" that truly seeks to draw on the investigations and insights of both art and science, respecting different approaches, methodologies and epistemologies is most inspiring. all i want to know is, where do i sign up? i suspect the first step is to review this book in greater depth, as soon as time permits: till now, just read it!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proust was a neuroscientist. 31 Jan 2010
This book provides the thoughts and beliefs of various twentieth centuary artists who recognised essential spiritual truths from their personal life expereinces and works. These can now be related to their thought processes and contain information that neuroscience is only just discovering.

The chapters are split between 8 artists of the time including artists, poets, musicians and authors. These include Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, George Elliot, Marcel Proust. This book is a wonderful read.

Walt Whitman's poetic hypothesis (my favourite) - the idea that feelings begin in the flesh is described and explained. 'The spirit recieves from the body just as much as it gives to the body.'
This is then related forward to the work of Damasio, a neuroscientist, who has researched into the etiology of feelings, calling it 'the body loop.' Therefore 'the mind and body are insepable and in his veiw , the mind stalks the flesh, from our muscles we steal our moods.'
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