Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Imagining Creativity

Christopher Chabris, while critiquing the recent book 'Imagine' by Jonah Lehrer, observes in his NY Times Sunday Review:
The goal of "Imagine," according to its subtitle, is to tell us "how creativity works" — to offer a scientific, mechanistic account of a seemingly ineffable phenomenon. And what distinguishes the scientific from other modes of thinking is not its technology, level of detail or even subject matter, but its ability to discover reliable cause-and-effect relationships. The clarity of physics and chemistry is rare in social science, but this is no license for presenting interesting speculations as settled truths.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Here's Jonah Lehrer's response to this review:


  2. Abi said...

    TNR's review, by a non-expert in brain science, is pretty scathing:


    The book, of course, is doing quite well in spite of such negative reviews. But I think they do inflict some damage -- primarily by raising doubts about Lehrer's credibility as a writer who can (re)interpret interesting scientific findings for a larger audience. For example, both reviews accuse him of gullibility, and of overselling some dubious (or one-off) science.

  3. gaddeswarup said...

    From the review of an earlier boo "The Decisive Moment" in Nature
    (Behind Firewall http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v458/n7240/full/458835a.html)
    "Lehrer aims high by applying lessons from the neuroscience of decision-making to everyday choices. He provides valuable — if obvious — advice, such as relying on gut instinct for unimportant decisions but on reason when faced with new problems. But we were promised insights from neuroscience, not age-old wisdom.

    Neuroscientists must grapple with how to communicate subtle conclusions in a world of headline-news reporting. Popular books such as this one could serve this goal of translating science for the public. But by smoothing out the rough edges of our knowledge, Lehrer leads the reader astray. Among his well-told dramatic stories the science often gets lost. Yet he is a gifted writer, so I hope for his next project he will dig deeper, embrace complexity and make it his job to report from the cutting-edge of scientific knowledge."
    It seems that this has not happened.