Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2007; 256 pages, ISBN 0-618-62010-4, hardback, $24.00.
This absorbing book analyses together the work of artists and scientific researchers, with the thesis that the artists discovered aspects of the mind that are only now being rediscovered by scientists. The author devotes a chapter each to an artist and related question: Walt Whitman (body-mind unity), George Eliot (free will), Auguste Escoffier (taste and umami), Marcel Proust (memory), Paul Cezanne (vision), Igor Stravinsky (music), Gerturde Stein (the structure of language), and Virginia Woolf (the sense of self). The information he brings together is fascinating, and his style makes reading the book a pleasure.
Lehrer is also seeking, very successfully I think, to make a bridge between the artistic and the scientific. He wishes to show how each discipline offers insights into the reality of human experience that are equally valid and which need to be integrated to get a rounded picture of a human being. The book is a practical manifesto for a "fourth culture," referring to C. P. Snow's call for a third culture uniting the humanities with the sciences formed by people who understand and appreciate both. Lehrer feels the third culture has been monopolized by scientific adherents, so his fourth culture "seeks to discover relationships between the humanities and the sciences. . . . [It] will ignore arbitrary intellectual boundaries, seeking instead to blur the lines that separate. It will freely transplant knowledge between the sciences and the humanities, and will focus on connecting reductionist fact to our actual experiences. It will take a pragmatic view of the truth, and it will judge truth not by its origins but in terms of its usefulness" (p. 196). This is a very thought-provoking and enjoyable read. – Sarah Belle Dougherty (January 2009)