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Has the pop neuroscience of creativity been “underbussed”?

Imagine: How Creativity Works

In “The Curse of Knowledge” (The New Republic, June 7, 2012), Isaac Chotiner seems to be giving it the ol’ heave under, if we go by his review of Jonah Lehrer’s recent Imagine:

IMAGINE is really a pop-science book, which these days usually means that it is an exercise in laboratory-approved self-help. Like Malcolm Gladwell and David Brooks, Lehrer writes self-help for people who would be embarrassed to be seen reading it. For this reason, their chestnuts must be roasted in “studies” and given a scientific gloss. The surrender to brain science is particularly zeitgeisty. Their sponging off science is what gives these writers the authority that their readers impute to them, and makes their simplicities seem very weighty. Of course, Gladwell and Brooks and Lehrer rarely challenge the findings that they report, not least because they lack the expertise to make such a challenge.

The irony of Lehrer’s work, and of the genre as a whole, is that while he takes an almost worshipful attitude toward specific scientific studies, he is sloppy in his more factual claims. (In one low moment, he quotes an online poll from Nature magazine to support one of his arguments.) I am not an expert on brain science, but for Lehrer to quote a study about the ability of test subjects to answer questions when those questions were placed on a computer screen with a blue background, and then to make the life-changing claim that “the color blue can help you double your creative output,” is laughable. No scientist would accept such an inference.

Of courswe, all this was always true about the whole “neuro-” genre, but a significantly larger number of folk seem to be catching on.

See also: There are now hopeful signs of what may be called a backlash against the brain

New scholarly neuroscience books question simple materialist theories of mind

No, we are not afraid that science will eliminate the soul. (We are afraid it will fail to eliminate cascades of pop materialist nonsense. That stuff is harder to kill than kudzu grass, and about as useful.)

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