Imagine – Jonah Lehrer

NOTE: Cover art for this alleged nonfiction book apparently yanked by Amazon. Book was a fraud and Amazon is Big Brother. Literature is many things but never dull. (It was, despite the perfidy of the delusional author, a very attractive cover.)

Original post–pre-disclosure of certain fictional elements in the book:

Jonah Lehrer has assembled a fascinating study of how creativity works–where it lives in the brain, what in a culture acts as a petri dish. Imagine is fun to read, hopeful, filled with examples of genius at work–from Steve Jobs to Shakespeare–studded with genesis stories of brilliant new products–from Scotch tape to Swiffers–and awash in statistics and study results that make sense. Lehrer has a gift for translating nerd to common language.

Bob Dylan burnt out on tour and gave up music, heading for a house in Woodstock where he was inspired to scribble down a wonky poem that became “Like a Rolling Stone.” He invented a new kind of music that changed his work and the music world profoundly. Milton Glaser couldn’t stop fiddling with the art for a New York ad campaign, even after it had been approved. The result was a do-over that became the famous “I [heart] NY graphic. Jack Kerouac lived on Benzadrine while he wrote “On the Road” in near-continuous sessions at the typewriter for three weeks straight. Shakespeare ripped off Marlowe and everything else he could find to create his masterpieces.  

So, what’s up with all of that? (And where are the women in this epic tale of genius?  — but that’s another story, isn’t it?) Turns out the brain lights up in interesting ways when creative juices start flowing. A good idea might sneak up on you while you are doing something else. A chance encounter with a stranger in a crowded city or a co-worker in a coffee bar could trigger the Next Big Thing. Scientists can measure bits of that process now and they have mapped the various parts of the brain that get in gear, connect with other brain areas, or relax their guards and allow uninhibited ideas and behaviors to flow.  

But it’s not all neurons and anterior superior temporal gyruses. It’s also just noticing something from a different perspective–like the guy who invented Post-it notes did. It’s about encouraging alpha waves so your nice, relaxed mind coughs up an insight. It can also be about caffeine, amphetamines and alcohol–not too much, though, or you slide right past creative into incoherent.  And studies conclude that cities are hotbeds of genius (sometimes, and some cities), the urban experience is more conducive to a rich foment of ideas than the suburbs. Widely available education that encourages making things and de-emphasizes filling in bubbles with a #2 pencil  is a societal predictor of innovation. Critique sessions, but not creative brainstorming in which all ideas are supported, lead to breakthroughs and new inventions. Pixar gets some ink in this book and the story of how its culture developed is as much fun as any of its movies.

I’d highly recommend wandering through Imagine for insight about how your own strokes of creative genius come about–or how you might encourage some. The anecdotes that prove the points are terrific and the focus down on what makes creativity happen is instructive. I doubt anyone will ever be able to define creativity and imagination with the pure application of science but Lehrer makes a noble effort and his ideas are good ones. Now someone needs to write a book about why there aren’t more female names in the roster of Western genius–and how we might encourage that.

Imagine: How Creativity Works  Jonah Lehrer | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt   2012

Coda: It seems this post was miscategorized as nonfiction. Galleycat reported today (July 30) that Jonah Lehrer has resigned from The New Yorker after it was revealed that he manufactured Bob Dylan’s quotes for Imagine. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is “halting shipment of all physical copies of the book,” according to Galleycat reporter Jason Boog. The subtitle of Imagine is How Creativity Works–or doesn’t.  And so it goes… 

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