Home » Neuroscience, News » A review materialist pop science writer Jonah Lehrer probably won’t like …

A review materialist pop science writer Jonah Lehrer probably won’t like …

Imagine: How Creativity Works

But maybe needs to hear, for next time.

In “Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer – review, A self-regarding how-to guide through the creative process” (The Guardian April 19, 2012), Steven Poole observes,

Lehrer’s neuroscientistic method consists of paraphrasing brain-imaging studies, grossly inflating what can be properly inferred from them, and so purporting to explain “creativity” or “imagination”. He doesn’t bother to distinguish between the two – presumably Coleridge, for example, can have had nothing interesting to say on the matter. As any good neuroscientistic believer should, he regularly insults the preceding centuries of thought on his topic, dismissing it all as “completely wrong”. Lehrer has a rage, indeed, to insist on the novelty of his extrapolations from the research, which usually means misrepresenting conventional wisdom. “It’s commonly assumed that the best way to solve a difficult problem is to relentlessly focus,” he writes, but people have always known that going for a walk or sleeping on it – or, like Archimedes, taking a bath – can help. Nor did we need to wait for colourful neuro-pictures to learn that people sometimes have good ideas during daydreams, or on holiday.

The inconvenient truth is that observing which areas of the brain light up on a screen during experiments tells us little about “how creativity works”. The “right hemisphere” is here suggested to be more verbally free-associative (handling “connotation”), as opposed to the pedantically literal left hemisphere (handling “denotation”).

Lehrer doesn’t realise, bizarrely, that Dylan could not have written “Like a Rolling Stone” without attending to the literal meanings of words – which means, on this crude scheme, that his left hemisphere, as well as his right, must have been hard at work. So the anatomical locus of creativity is not narrowed down after all. …

But the point of works like Lehrer’s isn’t to explain, only to provide an explanation that accords with materialism. And most of these explanations don’t sound right to people who create artistic products for a living.

See also: How’s that materialist project going again? Another review of Lehrer.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allan at Brains on Purpose

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