In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall...
I don't trust Jonah Lehrer to get science right.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:44 AM on February 25
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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.
This superficiality is a tip-off about the book’s intended audience. Imagine is another manual for self-styled entrepreneurs. Lehrer’s definition of creativity is essentially an entrepreneurial one: for him, anything that succeeds is creative. I mean this in two ways. First, any product that sells, from a mop to a drink, is a sign of creativity. It would follow from Lehrer’s approach that a study of movie box office numbers would prove that there must be something remarkably creative about Transformers.
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