Proust was a neuroscientist – Recension and reflection
At the end of the January 2018, I had a walk by Union square in New York where the book store in Barns & Nobles is.
I came across the book about which I heard a lot of, but as far as I know it never came into the Nordic book stores.
After I´ve read the book I was searching what happened with the authors début book and I came across some hard judgment about the book author Jonah Lehrer. You can read it by yourself:
and you can find whole list of misinterpreted quotes on this blog page “All about work” by
Dr. Fiona McQuarrie: https://allaboutwork.org/2013/03/22/the
I was asking myself, how a Columbian University scholar can misinterpret and use original quotes of famous people like Cézanne, or how can he even afford to quote Bob Dylan.
As an art teacher I´m worried that art subject and art history are disappearing from our western educational curriculums, which is deprivation of our identity and culture and the knowledge on which our civilization is based on.
Jonah Lehrer is trying to convince the reader, what artists, poets and writers sensed long before scientists did about the phenomena of human brains functions.
First chapter of the book is talking about how Walt Whitman poetry explains advance sense of its own body. As J. Lehrer is writing on the p. 19 what modern neuroscience is now discovering – the anatomy of Whitman`s poetry. Whitman was working as a nurse in the American Civil War, which is a fact, so could write “Song of myself”.
I have to point out, that we artists, we take from our life experiences and we go into the bed with emotions and as a result you can see a poem or painting, a song or a play out to the world.
When I think about it, it comes into my mind that artists thorough different periods of time had a second job in order to survive. These jobs were and are different as an example most of artist are very well-educated teachers but also nurses, who are taking care of elderly people, cleaners, taxi drivers, postmen, guards in museum, where we are put in different situations, where we can develop many life experiences and work skills. So, this is where our real life is happening and where our emotions and experiences come from and so it can be seen in different art works.
Artists have freedom so that they can suggest the world with different ideas. It is the opposite of the world of scientist because they need to prove everything with examples as an example why amputees, mainly from war, still sense their missing limb.
Author’s statement on page 113: “With that startling revelation, Cezanne invented modernist art”, continues with the statement that Pablo Picasso and George Braque took Cezanne´s technique for theirs too. In order to learn skills all painters copied the Masters. For example, Picasso copied at some point Las Meninas from Velazquez, but he paints his own interpretation, which is more modernistic. With his painting “Les Demoiselles d´Avignion” is Picasso the father of modernist painting and not Cezanne. He breaks out from the traditional composition and perspective, which Cezanne has used long before him. Cezanne´s revolution was the usage of definite forms from nature with geometrical forms, for example apple could represent a ball.
Those, who studied art history know that Cezanne actually was not the first artist to simplify all forms around us. It was Albrecht Dürer, with descriptive geometry, 300 years before Cézanne simplifies forms for human eyes. As author of the book attempts to strike our own conviction about Cezanne on the p. 97: “Cezanne´s epiphany was that our impressions require interpretation; to look is to create what you see.” Further on the page 97, he explains what neuroscientists know now, that picture is formed in our brain: “By probing inside the skull, scientists can see how our sensation are created, how the cells of visual cortex silently construct sight; reality is made by mind.” As I was explained from doctor Eric Hellstrand, who knows Torsten Niels Wiesele, this happens in our brain or even more precisely in the columns of visual cortex. Hubel and Wiesel worked together and discovered the columnar arrangement of the visual cortex of man and 1981won the Nobel Prize.
The book for neuroscientists is attempt to sell story of our brain to those who don’t know much about how our body and brains work.
My favorite sentence in the book Proust was a neuroscientist is on thep. 188: “The artist describes what the scientist can´t” This is the chapter about the creativity and genialness of Virginia Woolf.
My father was physicist and scientists and I practically had grown up among scientist and his research colleagues, some of them were/are notable scientists. In any occasion I got from my early age, I liked to discuss with the scientists, if The Big Bang theory is absolute truth and only ultimate truth and their answered was: “Oh, it is still only the theory!” Somehow, I was not satisfied with this answer; therefore, it came to me my mind how limited science is with its theories and most probably that is the reason I became an artist.
I was around 10 years old, when I started to believe that, if I will draw I can/could explain better world around us, then scientists do. Therefore, I can identify myself with this sentence: “The artist describes what the scientist can´t” p. 188.
Unfortunately, V. Woolf had a mental illness as we know she committed suicide at the end.
In my perfect world scientist and artist should collaborate much more, then they do.
On the same page 188, the author is writing about consciousness of objective sensation. On the other side neuroscience nowadays knows that mental or neuron physical illness could be lack of certain chemicals in brain. I wonder why author not discussed more about, why Virginia Woolf actually needed to write about consciousness to survive everyday reality. Instead J.L. turns on (Christ Koch, neuroscientist) Koch`s “neural correlate of consciousness”. Koch was using visual illusion to test the patients to see, if they have a split brain.
Here we could make discussion how art is important for good being of our society and for sanity of the human brain. Never before in human history we know so much about human brain. For example, there are scientific researches and reports, what are the benefits for humans, just to listen to the classical music.
Even more, there are thousand researches how color influences on our psychophysical body and that children and young adults, who have a lot of creative artistic subject in school curriculum have beater knowledge and results in mathematical tests.
On p.77 author writes about Proust’s intuition: “Proust wouldn´t be surprised by his prophetic powers. He believed that while art and science both dealt in fact (The impression for the writer what experimentation is for the scientist”) only artist was able to describe reality as it was actually experienced. “
There is a deluge of visual images every day. Many citizens of the world are hanging on the mobile screen like it is the only reality of the moment, yet we divide science and art and we do not teach future citizens of the world about critical thinking and how to reflect what they are reading and what are they seeing on the screens.
According to journalist D. T. MAXNOV Jonah Lehrer wrote a book of patisserie of many essays on knowledge about the historical figure and he adds:” Anyway, Lehrer’s central point holds had, has, and always will have a problem with subjective experience.” In Sunday book revue Swann’s Hypothesis by D. T. MAX in New York Times.
Achievement of Jonah Lehrer Proust was a neuroscientistis that he gave a turning point of new and at the same time old Aristotle’s good reasoning that science and art can work together.
In 1995 when I was one term student at NYU art department in New York, my professor Krishna Reddy has sent me to Mr. Angiola Churchill. She was the head of master studies in arts. After she looked into my work, she said “yes, you are definitely an artist”. I would like to point out, that in the future art and artist will only survive in art institutions, art foundations and museums.
Above all of Jonah Lehrer wrote citations in the book and he is trying to warn society that art and science are important for human survival. Creative and critical thinking will save us.
With this writing I hope that everybody will and can understand that art is not only going to survive in the institutions. The seclusion of art, which is happening at this moment, is going to impact not only art itself but also science and the destiny of the future generations.
- J. Lehrer, Proust was a neuroscientist (2008, Boston), First Mariner Books edition
- D. T. MAX,Swann’s Hypothesis, (2007, New York),Sunday book revue, New York Times
- S. Ings, Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer – review, (2011, London) The Guardian, Science and nature
- F McQuarrie, The problems with Jonah Lehrer´s Proust was a neuroscientist (March 2013),https://allaboutwork.org/contact/ (12 Nov. 2018)