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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Jonah Lehrer, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 11 of 11
1. Ideas In the Shower: Brian Eno, Don Music, and the Creative Process


(RE-POST: This piece was originally posted on June 7, 2011.)

I’ve admitted it more than once: I know my work is going well when I have ideas in the shower. That is, those times when I’m thinking that I’m not thinking.

By the way, whenever I think about the creative process, and the difficulty of forcing ideas, I think of this classic Sesame Street sketch featuring Don Music: “I’ll never get it, never, argh!

I’m posting today to direct your attention to this piece from the fascinating 99% blog by Scott McDowell, “Developing Your Creative Practice: Tips from Brian Eno.”

It does not hurt that I have been a big Eno fan since the 70’s.

Read the opening quote from McDowell’s piece and you’ll see why it grabbed my attention . . .

Current neuroscience research confirms what creatives intuitively know about being innovative: that it usually happens in the shower. After focusing intently on a project or problem, the brain needs to fully disengage and relax in order for a “Eureka!” moment to arise. It’s often the mundane activities like taking a shower, driving, or taking a walk that lure great ideas to the surface. Composer Steve Reich, for instance, would ride the subway around New York when he was stuck.

Comments Eno:

The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. It’s the equivalent of the dream time, in your daily life, times when things get sorted out and reshuffled. If you’re constantly awake work-wise you don’t allow that to happen. One of the reasons I have to take distinct breaks when I work is to allow the momentum of a particular direction to run down, so that another one can establish itself.

The 99% piece references a July, 2008 article that I recall reading in The New Yorker, written by Jonah Lehrer, in which he investigates the nature of ideas, “The Eureeka Hunt.” Lehrer brought joy to procrastinators everywhere when he opined:

The relaxation phase is crucial. That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers. … One of the surprising lessons of this research is that trying to force an insight can actually prevent the insight.

Always an intellectual with a lively mind, Brian Eno, along with Peter Schmidt, developed a deck of cards in the 1970’s called Oblique Strategies, a series of prompts intended to help push people through periods of creative block. Now the Strategies are available for FREE on your iPhone or iTouch — just click here.

To close, here’s a cool fan video of Eno’s beautiful “By This River,” taken from the disk, Before and After Science. The album, by the way, has very distinct sides to it — something that’s lost in today’s CD era. For Side 1, Eno delivers traditional pop structures. But Side 2 plays like a series of dream songs, lullabies, hinting at the ambient sounds he’ll explore more fully on later disks.

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2. Jonah Lehrer Cut at Wired Magazine

Wired magazine has ended its relationship with author Jonah Lehrer after an investigation into his writings turned up “inexcusable” problems.

New York University associate journalism professor  Charles Seife reviewed Lehrer’s work for Wired. His complete report has been posted at Slate, outlining examples of plagiarism, questionable facts and recycled work.

Earlier this summer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt removed Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works from bookstores after the journalist confessed he had manufactured Bob Dylan quotes in the book. Until December 31, the company will refund readers for the book.


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3. The Jonah Lehrer Lies: But why?

Late last Friday afternoon, a client and I were discussing Jonah Lehrer.  My client had seen Lehrer talk, we'd both read Imagine. We liked the provocative style of Lehrer's work, his easy translations of harder-concept things. We liked that a guy like Lehrer got so much attention in a Fifty Shades world.

But just today, a few minutes ago, I was checking out at the grocery store, when my phone buzzed. It was my client, sharing a link to this Josh Voorhees Slate story, titled "Jonah Lehrer Resigns From New Yorker After Making Up Quotes."

I raced home to read the story on the full screen.  I churn now, within—confused, more than anything, as to why a young man as successful as Jonah Lehrer most certainly is would find it necessary, first, to fabricate Dylan for his book, and, second, to spin a complicated tangle of lies in the aftermath of being found out. Lie after lie.  Preposterous lies.  Not exaggerations, but lies.

Why do such a thing?  Why cannibalize a rising-star career?  Why jeopardize the faith of readers, an editor, friends?  Writers make mistakes—we all do, I absolutely do—but deliberate deceit is hardly a mistake.  Deliberate deceit is intentional, and designed.  It can't feel good.  Nothing will make it right.

There can only be, when lying as overtly as this, a terrible anxious rush in the middle of the night.

3 Comments on The Jonah Lehrer Lies: But why?, last added: 7/31/2012
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4. Malcolm Gladwell on Jonah Lehrer Resignation: ‘I Am Heartbroken’

Malcolm Gladwell said “I am heartbroken” after hearing that Jonah Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker. Lehrer admitted that he had fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.

While the WWD reporter wasn’t sure if Gladwell had read the Tablet essay that exposed the fabrication, WWD had this quote from Gladwell: “I am heartbroken. Jonah is a friend. He is a decent and sweet and hugely talented guy, and I cannot imagine what he is going through right now,”

The book has already sold 200,000 copies, but the publisher has stopped the presses. Links to Lehrer’s book have been removed at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.


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5. How To Get a Refund for Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has pulled Jonah Lehrer‘s Imagine: How Creativity Works after the author admitted to fabricating Bob Dylan quotes. Until December 31, the company will refund readers for the book.

If you want a refund from the hardcover book, you can take the book back to the bookstore where you bought it. Digital book  buyers must “submit requests to the retailer from which the eBook was originally purchased.”

In addition, you can mail the book directly to the publisher along with a proof of purchase. The publisher will send you “$30 within 30 days of receipt of book ($26 for book, plus $4 to cover mailing charges).” Here is the address:

Attn: Trade Sales/KR
222 Berkeley St.
Boston, MA.  02116


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6. Karl Taro Greenfeld: ‘Journalism is self-policing itself probably better than ever, but meanwhile, journalism isn’t getting any better’

Veteran journalist Karl Taro Greenfeld talked about his new novel, Triburbia on the Morning Media Menu today, sharing advice for journalists and writers coping with a dramatically evolving landscape.

Follow this link to read a Byliner excerpt from his book, a section about a journalist caught fabricating chunks of his memoir. It arrived as a timely piece of writing after Jonah Lehrer‘s recent scandal.

Press play to listen, but we’ve included quotes from the interview below: “Even though we seem to be able to unmask journalistic frauds with greater and greater regularity, is that really improving journalism at all? That’s a funny thing that’s happening. Journalism is self-policing itself probably better than ever, but meanwhile, journalism isn’t getting any better for all of that.”


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7. Proust was a Neuroscientist/Jonah Lehrer: Reflections

As a former memoirist and ever-ongoing blogger, I think and read a lot about memory—how it works, why it is so radically imprecise, how it shapes us.  I bought Proust was a Neuroscientist, then, because I was primarily interested in Jonah Lehrer's Marcel Proust chapter, subtitled "The Method of Memory."  What is new, I wondered, in memory science?  How did Proust, so many years ago, anticipate the workings of the brain while lying in bed writing and rewriting his so many pages? 

The Proust chapter didn't disappoint, yielding, as it does, the science behind such statements as "we have to misremember something in order to remember it."  But the rest of the book drew me deeply in as well, with its pairings of Auguste Escoffier and "the essence of taste," Paul Cezanne and "the process of sight," Igor Stravinsky and "the source of music," and Gertrude Stein and "the structure of language," among others. A former technician in the lab of Eric Kandel, Lehrer takes a thoughtful look at how some of the great artists anticipated, or somehow understood, just how the mind receives and assembles signals. 

So that we read, for example, that "[Stravinsky] realized that the engine of music is conflict, not consonance"a fact neuroscience has underscored by proving that it is the "desperate neuronal search for a pattern, any pattern...that is the source of music."  Whitman, for his part, was certain that "when it comes to the drama of feelings, our flesh is the stage" long before neuroscientist Antonio Damasio was able to provide scientific testimony on behalf of the "body loop."  Virginia Woolf wrote of the divided selves, the endless contradictions that inhabit (and haunt) our individual beings well in advance of the split-brain patient studies that demonstrated the chaos that lurks within.

"This is why we need art:  it teaches us how to live with mystery," Lehrer writes in his coda.  A simple claim, perhaps.  But a sustaining one.

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8. Why You Should Write Like a Little Kid

If you watch one video today, you should watch the heartwarming video embedded above–a Los Angeles filmmaker visited a cardboard box arcade built by a 9-year-old kid.

The video should remind us all about why we should think like a little kid when we write. Wired contributing editor and author Jonah Lehrer described why children can be “effortlessly creative” in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works:

Picasso once summarized the paradox this way: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” From the perspective of the brain, Picasso is exactly right, as the DLPFC is the last brain area to fully develop. This helps explain why young children are so effortlessly creative: their censors don’t yet exist. But then the brain matures and we become too self-conscious to improvise, too worried about saying the wrong thing, or playing the wrong note, or falling off the surfboard.

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9. Imagine/Jonah Lehrer (and thoughts on failure)

Among the books I am now reading is Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, the same writer who brought us How We Decide and Proust was a Neuroscientist.  The History and Sociology of Science major in me likes this kind of book—the melding of popular questions with current science, the anecdotal proof points that take us briefly into the minds of Bob Dylan (I've seen him perform), say, or Milton Glaser (I met him in his office), or the guy who had the 3M cellophane tape epiphany (I use a lot of that tape).  I like to measure what I know about my own creative process (such as it is) against what Lehrer and his cohort of experimenters have to say.  Imagine is the right read for this Memorial Day weekend.

I have read, then, about the difference between divergent and convergent creativity, the role of a little fold of brain matter near the right ear, the importance of being frustrated, the saturating power of melancholy, and the need for constraints (structural frameworks for poets, to name one example). I have read about the hazy conjugating glory of near sleep and the necessity of walk taking (I depend on these states) and about the need for deliberate distractions.   

For example:
The unexpected benefits of not being able to focus reveal something important about creativity. Although we live in an age that worships attention—when we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate—this approach can inhibit the imagination.  Sometimes it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain. Occasionally, focus can backfire and make us fixated on the wrong answers.  It's not until you let yourself relax and indulge in distractions that you discover the answer; the insight arrives only after you stop looking for it.

In Imagine I recognize so much that is true about my own work.  I fail when I hold on too tight, for example.  I fail when I put myself on a schedule.  I fail when I don't let myself walk away.  I fail when I have too much literary freedom—when I do not give myself at least one or two constraints to work against and commune with.   I fail when I try to write the first draft at a keyboard; I need to be on the couch or the deck or by the sea with pen and paper in hand.  With first drafts I am Dionysian.  With later drafts, Apollonian.

Buy Imagine.  You'll see what I mean. 

2 Comments on Imagine/Jonah Lehrer (and thoughts on failure), last added: 5/27/2012
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10. Imagine: How Creativity Works/Jonah Lehrer: Highly Recommended to .....

This morning I made a list of all those with whom I want to share Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works.  My corporate clients and friends.  My writer friends.  My family.  My son.  You, obviously.

Then I went back through the book to see if I might find the right single seductive passage to quote—that one book slice that would enthrall (ensnare?) my imaginary book party goers.  My father, a businessman just returned from Israel, would no doubt like those pages of the chapter "Urban Friction" that detail the determined smallness and interconnectivity of that country, and then reveal how Israel "a tiny sliver of land on the Mediterranean, about the same size as Vermont—has nearly three times the amount of VC funding per capita as the United States and thirty times the average of Western Europe."

My brother, a physicist leading a cadre of top thinkers in a research lab, would enjoy, I suspect, those parts of the book that talk about genius and what happens when individual genius folds and bends with the genius across the aisle.

My writer friends would be intrigued by the "gradient of awareness" passages that detail just why it is so hard for us to find our own mistakes (or pure badness) in prose written in the heat of a recent hour.  Or those passages that reveal what parts of the brain entertain autobiography.  Or those insiderly looks at Bob Dylan's writing process.  Or the bits about sleep.  Or the flavorful reminders of the importance of imperfection.

My corporate clients might hurry toward those passages about the rise of InnoCentive (why nonexperts can sometimes solve the technical problems that have eluded expert teams for years) or the failure of traditional brainstorming or the power of random conversations and coffee breaks.  My advertising-invested son would benefit from pages on WK12, the Widen+Kennedy advertising school, and the quest for the individual voice.  We're all going to love the "Toy Story 2" tale (even if we've heard much of it before).  And I know a guy who works to change the shape and fate of Philadelphia who would love the whole book, no doubt, but would particularly enjoy the parts about why cities exist, and what happens when pedestrians walk fast, and why strange encounters with strangers (even if annoying, sweaty, hot) are not just inevitable but essential.

Then there are my blogging friends—many of whom, most of whom, have become far more than blogging friends.  Your interests are broad.  Your intentions are good.  Your desire to have the right impact changes lives; it certainly has changed mine.  I choose this quote for all of you, then.  I choose it for us—ripe, weird, original, and (thankfully) still striving. 
If the Internet is going to become an accelerator of creativity, then we need to design websites that act like our most innovative cities.  Instead of sharing links with just our friends, or commenting anonymously on blog, or filtering the world with algorithms to fit our interests, we must engage with strangers and strange ideas.  The Internet has such creative potential; it's so ripe with weirdness and originality, so full of people eager to share their work and ideas.  What we need now is a virtual world that brings us together for real. 

1 Comments on Imagine: How Creativity Works/Jonah Lehrer: Highly Recommended to ....., last added: 5/29/2012
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11. Should Writers Be Allowed To Recycle Material?

Journalist and author Jonah Lehrer has come under media scrutiny this week after he was caught recycling his own writing from The Wall Street Journal for NewYorker.com, where he recently joined as a staff writer.

Media critic Jim Romenesko discovered that Leher had repurposed copy about how and why people respond incorrectly to a simple arithmetic question about the cost of a bat and a ball. Literary blogger Edward Champion found recycled material in Leher’s recent book as well.

Since Romenesko’s discovery, The New Yorker has updated the post with an Editors’ Note, which reads, “Portions of this post appeared in similar form in an April, 2011, post by Jonah Lehrer for Wired.com. We regret the duplication of material.” (It is also is an October WSJ story, as Romenesko points out). continued…

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