Proust Was a Neuroscientist

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The New York Times–bestselling author provides an “entertaining” look at how artists enlighten us about the workings of the brain (New York magazine).
 
In this book, the author of How We Decide and Imagine: How Creativity Works “writes skillfully and coherently about both art and science”—and about the connections between the two (Entertainment Weekly).
 
In this technology-driven age, it’s tempting to believe that science can solve every mystery. After all, it’s cured countless diseases and sent humans into space. But as Jonah Lehrer explains, science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, when it comes to understanding the brain, art got there first.
 
Taking a group of artists—a painter, a poet, a chef, a composer, and a handful of novelists—Lehrer shows how each one discovered an essential truth about the mind that science is only now rediscovering. We learn, for example, how Proust first revealed the fallibility of memory; how George Eliot discovered the brain’s malleability; how the French chef Escoffier discovered umami (the fifth taste); how Cézanne worked out the subtleties of vision; and how Gertrude Stein exposed the deep structure of language—a full half-century before the work of Noam Chomsky and other linguists.
 
More broadly, Lehrer shows that there’s a cost to reducing everything to atoms and acronyms and genes. Measurement is not the same as understanding, and art knows this better than science does. An ingenious blend of biography, criticism, and first-rate science writing, Proust Was a Neuroscientist urges science and art to listen more closely to each other, for willing minds can combine the best of both to brilliant effect.
 
“His book marks the arrival of an important new thinker . . . Wise and fresh.” —Los Angeles Times
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About the author

Jonah Lehrer is a contributing editor at Wired and a frequent contributor to the New Yorker. He writes the "Head Case" column for The Wall Street Journal and regularly appears on WNYC’s Radiolab. His writing has also appeared in Nature, the New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and Outside. He’s the author of two previous books, Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
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Additional Information

Publisher
HMH
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Published on
Sep 1, 2008
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9780547394282
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Literary Figures
Science / Life Sciences / Neuroscience
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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The recent explosion of neuroscience techniques has proved to be game changing in terms of understanding the healthy brain, and in the development of neuropsychiatric treatments. One of the key techniques available to us is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which allows us to examine the human brain non-invasively, and observe brain activity in real time. Through fMRI, we are beginning to build a deeper understanding of our thoughts, motivations, and behaviours. Recent reports that some patients who have all indications of being in a persistent vegetative state actually show conscious awareness, and were able to communicate with researchers, demonstrate perhaps the most remarkable and dramatic use of fMRI. But this is just the most striking of a number of areas in which fMRI is being used to 'read minds', albeit in a very limited way. As neuroscientists unravel the regions of the brain involved in reward and motivation, and in romantic love, we are likely to develop the capacity to influence responses such as love using drugs. fMRI studies have also been used to indicate that many people who would not regard themselves as racist show a racial bias in their emotional responses to faces of another racial group. Meanwhile, the reliability of fMRI as a lie detector in murder cases is being debated - what if the individual simply believes, falsely, that he or she committed a murder? Sex, Lies, and Brain Scans takes readers beyond the media headlines. Barbara J. Sahakian and Julia Gottwald consider what the technique of fMRI entails, and what information it can give us, showing which applications are possible today, and which ones are science fiction. They also consider the important ethical questions these techniques raise. Should individuals applying for jobs as teachers or judges be screened for unconscious racial bias? What if the manipulation of love using 'love potions' was misused for economic or military ends? How far will we allow neuroscience to go? It is time to make up our minds.
Despite the fact that we spend roughly a third of our lives asleep, science has still not been able to provide an answer as to why we and other animals sleep. While much of sleep physiology has been elucidated over years of scientific research, there has never been a thorough explanation of sleep that accounts for all of the observed sleep phenomena and uncovers sleep's primary purpose and why it evolved in the first place. Until now. The Neurotransmitter Theory of Sleep integrates concepts from multiple disciplines and various models and theories (both old and new) into one unified explanation of sleep. Similar to how Einstein's General Theory of Relativity shed new light on the concept of gravity and supplanted Newton's ideas of gravitation, this book describes sleep neurophysiology in a new light and proposes an explanation that accounts for all the phenomena that have yielded numerous, seemingly disparate theories and hypotheses regarding sleep's primary purpose. This book is where it all comes together. In 1982, Dr. Alexander A. Borbély, MD, graced the field of sleep science with his Two-Process Model of Sleep Regulation. His revolutionary mathematical model laid the foundations for subsequent generations of scientists to gain an even deeper understanding of sleep's intricacies. It describes two separate processes regulating sleep: a sleep-independent process called Process C and a sleep-dependent process, Process S. Understanding what underlies these two processes becomes central to elucidating sleep's primary purpose. Over many years of scientific inquiry, a number of theories and hypotheses have been proposed to explain why we sleep: The Restoration Theory of Sleep, Theory of Adaptive Inactivity, Theory of Energy Conservation, and the Synaptic Homeostasis Hypothesis. Each of these, in isolation, is not able to explain sleep's purpose for all animals that do sleep. With the ever-growing number of propositions and phenomena to be accounted for, the prospect of uncovering a simple, elegant explanation to all of it seemed to get further out of reach. 2014, however, proved to be a breakthrough year. The field of sleep science saw a major leap in the right direction with the advancement of a new explanation of sleep proposed by my former physiology professor, Dr. Richard Horner, PhD, in his book The Universal Pastime: Sleep and Rest Explained. Just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to sleep's primary purpose. Horner's explanation represents one of those facets. The other side of the proverbial coin is an explanation provided by The Neurotransmitter Theory of Sleep. An explanation that stands alongside Horner's ideas and allows them to take root. An explanation that links the Two Process Model of Sleep Regulation, Restoration Theory, Synaptic Homeostasis Hypothesis and Horner's explanation of sleep into one unified theory. An explanation that both observes Occam's razor and the correspondence principle. An explanation that lays the confusion to bed.
Number one bestselling science writer Jonah Lehrer explores the “only happiness that lasts”—love—in a book that “is interesting on nearly every page” (David Brooks, The New York Times Book Review).

Weaving together scientific studies from clinical psychologists, longitudinal studies of health and happiness, historical accounts and literary depictions, child-rearing manuals, and the language of online dating sites, Jonah Lehrer’s A Book About Love plumbs the most mysterious, most formative, most important impulse governing our lives.

Love confuses and compels us—and it can destroy and define us. It has inspired our greatest poetry, defined our societies and our beliefs, and governs our biology. From the way infants attach to their parents, to the way we fall in love with another person, to the way some find a love for God or their pets, to the way we remember and mourn love after it expires, this book focuses on research that attempts, even in glancing ways, to deal with the long-term and the everyday.

The most dangerous myth of love is that it’s easy, that we fall into the feeling and then the feeling takes care of itself. While we can easily measure the dopamine that causes the initial feelings of “falling” in love, the partnerships and devotions that last decades or longer remain a mystery. “Lehrer uses scores of detailed vignettes to traverse a complicated intellectual landscape, eventually arriving at modern theories of love…He is a talent” (USA TODAY), and A Book About Love decodes the set of skills necessary to cultivate a lifetime of love. Love, Lehrer argues, is not built solely on overwhelming passion, but, fascinatingly, on a set of skills to be cultivated over a lifetime.
Katrina Firlik is a neurosurgeon, one of only two hundred or so women among the alpha males who dominate this high-pressure, high-prestige medical specialty. She is also a superbly gifted writer–witty, insightful, at once deeply humane and refreshingly wry. In Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Dr. Firlik draws on this rare combination to create a neurosurgeon’s Kitchen Confidential–a unique insider’s memoir of a fascinating profession.

Neurosurgeons are renowned for their big egos and aggressive self-confidence, and Dr. Firlik confirms that timidity is indeed rare in the field. “They’re the kids who never lost at musical chairs,” she writes. A brain surgeon is not only a highly trained scientist and clinician but also a mechanic who of necessity develops an intimate, hands-on familiarity with the gray matter inside our skulls. It’s the balance between cutting-edge medical technology and manual dexterity, between instinct and expertise, that Firlik finds so appealing–and so difficult to master.

Firlik recounts how her background as a surgeon’s daughter with a strong stomach and a keen interest in the brain led her to this rarefied specialty, and she describes her challenging, atypical trek from medical student to fully qualified surgeon. Among Firlik’s more memorable cases: a young roofer who walked into the hospital with a three-inch-long barbed nail driven into his forehead, the result of an accident with his partner’s nail gun, and a sweet little seven-year-old boy whose untreated earache had become a raging, potentially fatal infection of the brain lining.

From OR theatrics to thorny ethical questions, from the surprisingly primitive tools in a neurosurgeon’s kit to glimpses of future techniques like the “brain lift,” Firlik cracks open medicine’s most prestigious and secretive specialty. Candid, smart, clear-eyed, and unfailingly engaging, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe is a mesmerizing behind-the-scenes glimpse into a world of incredible competition and incalculable rewards.
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