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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Imagine--Jonah Lehrer

In his third book length publication Jonah Lehrer takes on the world of creativity, innovation, and to some extent imagination--though that is hardly touched upon at all.  Leaving the secure ground of neuroscience (particularly in the second half og the book) Lehrer strays into the fields of social psychology and sociology with somewhat mixed results.

Perhaps that is only for me.  I tend to become quite skeptical when research involves more than empirically verifiable fact and strays off into the territory of group interaction.  You can say that something worked, but it seems difficult to pinpoint why that something worked in the particular instance.  Taking the well-known example of Pixar, Lehrer  (summarizing the work of others, implies that success was largely the result of architecture forcing hallway meetings and interchange.  This, in turn, blossomed into some of the wonderful films we see from the studio.  If such chance meetings and random conversations were really the breeding ground of creativity, one would have expected the 1950s cocktail party to have given rise to something better than Joe McCarthy.

Despite some places where I felt (but do not know) that the explanation was lacking credibility, I found myself sympathetic to the suggestions.  That, of course made me even more skeptical about their validity.  Just because a book confirms what I think to be right because of anecdotal experience does not imply that either the experience nor the book have a finger on the pulse of reality as-it-is.

Despite these reservations, the book is, as usual, readable, fun, and even compelling.  If I disagree at times with the examples of "genius" he chooses to site  (Why Auden rather than Larkin or T.S. Eliot?  Why Bob Dylan rather than John Lennon?--But then, one must draw from examples that demonstrate the principle), I nevertheless enjoyed the exposition of what these individuals did that allowed creativity to flourish.

My rating--an entirely subjective ***1/2  mostly because of disagreements and skepticism.


  1. Sadly, your skepticism turns out to have been well-founded

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