Is science the only path to knowledge? In this sparkling and provocative book Jonah Lehrer, author of The Decisive Moment, 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, ...
Is science the only path to knowledge? In this sparkling and provocative book Jonah Lehrer, author of The Decisive Moment, 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 malleable nature; 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.
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I know nothing about neuroscience so I'm no judge of whether Lehrer's discussion of that field is valid. Despite the high-sounding title, his book is lucidly written and quite charming. It seems to me he stretches his connections between art and neuroscience quite a bit, but his point about the deeper scientific truth that the artists know , consiously or not, is interesting. Art and science can illuminate each other. They don't have to be at odds.
Publishers Weekly, 2007-06-11 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 Cazanne 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.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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