pop non fiction

so i read imagine & proust was a neuroscientist by lehrer as well as don’t make me think! by krug during my action packed wedding + prague weekend. a quick review of just lehrer for now:

imagine and proust were a bit too malcolm gladwellian for me. i found both to be disappointingly safe. lehrer takes what you likely already suspect and then pats you on the back and tells you reassuringly, you too, can be creative just like bob dylan. yes, kanye, you are the next steve jobs.  no, that was snarky of me. but lehrer’s focus on creativity’s accessibility is silly. of course you can be creative. within the context of recent pop science, it’s the restatement of the slightly obvious, mildly deep.

the range of anecdotal evidence that he uses to support his argument is compelling, interesting, but far too wide-ranging to contribute greatly to validation. when you pull from such a miscellany of examples, it essentially erases the line between fiction and fact. to be fair, any attempt at bringing a scientific approach to understanding how the brain works to the general public likely requires some imaginative (or select) storytelling.

it’s no easy feat to connect the dots between science and art in a thoughtfully written and seemingly well-substantiated manner (i appreciate his bibliography). lehrer writes well enough and the stories he chooses to tell are fascinating. perhaps what is more fascinating, albeit a bit meta, is to consider how the stories themselves are insight into lehrer himself. they are effectively snapshots into how the dots connect in his life and his thought processes.

this however, begs the question of authenticity. are the stories a retelling, a mental autobiography of sorts? or are they in actuality a carefully constructed set of arguments (e.g. cherry picked) to advance one’s position on the bestseller list? (ha, or are both instances actually the same?) in any case, i am wary of popular science for popularity’s sake. i found lehrer engaging, but not particularly convincing.

the focus on creativity’s accessibility is a layup. we’re all winners is the easy way out argument. the real impetus to creativity, as found in quite a few of the anecdotes he provides (but what he glosses over), is the value of difficult experiences coupled with opportunity. what is also notable is each creative star’s willingness to move beyond convention. this is not easy and few people are ever willing to challenge their “normal”. creativity demands a particular self confidence, it utilizes the experience of “other” — that is, “other” than your routine, “other” than what is comfortable, “other” than what is acceptable. how does one think differently if he or she doesn’t ever do differently? different or “other” is risky. for some of the folks (proust, eliot, cezanne, dylan, etc.) he profiled, that other experience often involved drugs, social isolation, heartbreak, and public ridicule. often it seems, that to be creative is to be brave, and to be brave is to be vulnerable.

my biggest take away or affirmation is the power of fiction and its ability to convey reality. but when i say fiction, i mean the term widely. to also encompass the artistic opposite of realism (cezanne).  in any case, before i spin out another long post. it may be time i dusted off my proust.


may 2012



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