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Proust Was a Neuroscientist
Lehrer, Jonah
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Softcover / 2008-08-01 / 0547085907
The Brain - for the layperson / Neuroscience
price: $20.95 (may be subject to change)
256 pages
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In this technology-driven age, its 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 debut, science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, when it comes to understanding the brain, art got there first.
Taking 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 mind that science is only now rediscovering. We learn, for example, how Proust first revealed the fallibility of memory; how George Eliot discovered the brains malleability; how the French chef Escoffier discovered umami (the fifth taste); how Czanne worked out the subtleties of vision; and how Gertrude Stein exposed the deep structure of language a full half-century before the work of Noam Chomsky and other linguists. Its the ultimate tale of art trumping science.
More broadly, Lehrer shows that theres a cost to reducing everything to atoms and acronyms and genes. Measurement is not the same as understanding, and art knows this better than science does. An ingenious blend of biography, criticism, and first-rate science writing, Proust Was a Neuroscientist urges science and art to listen more closely to each other, for willing minds can combine the best of both, to brilliant effect.

Review quotes

His book marks the arrival of an important new thinker, who finds in the science and the arts wonder and beauty, and with equal confidence says wise and fresh things about both.

About Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer is editor at large for Seed magazine. A graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes scholar, Lehrer has worked in the lab of Nobel Prizewinning neuroscientist Eric Kandel and in the kitchens of Le Cirque 2000 and Le Bernardin. He has written for the Boston Globe, Nature, NPR, and NOVA ScienceNow, and writes a highly regarded blog, The Frontal Cortex.

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The Brain - for the layperson