Skip to main content

Imagine: how creativity works – Jonah Lehrer ***

Very much of the journalism-based, story telling, popular science style, there is no doubt that this is a very readable book from an enthusiastic writer. As someone who has trained people in business creativity for over 15 years, it was also very interesting seeing a degree of scientific basis for what we’ve known pragmatically for a long time about ways of being creative. As often is the case with brain-based popular science, the scientific backup is primarily through studies of how the brain acts using fMRI and EEG.
So far, so good. But I do have some issues. For me the ‘practical’ creative aspects of the book work much better than the ‘arty’ side. In the end, to an extent, this is inevitable because the arty side is so subjective. Jonah Lehrer (any relation to the very creative Tom? the bio doesn’t say) positively drools over how wonderful and creative Bob Dylan is. I find Dylan boring, pretentious and anything but creative. So that’s a whole chunk of the book that turns me off. You can’t argue about the creativity of a new product or invention – you certainly can about art.
There are, nonetheless, some very interesting observations – and it’s certainly not all as commonplace as ‘it helps to go and have a walk if you’re trying to come up with an idea’. (This may seem trivial, but it’s one of the most powerful aids to creativity.) I was really interested in the aspects of the influence of cities over productivity, and how electronic versions don’t deliver the same effect.
Unfortunately, Lehrer does get one thing totally wrong. He slags off the great Alex Osborn, because his idea ‘brainstorming’ doesn’t really deliver. This is a classic misunderstanding that tends to come if you don’t actually read Osborn’s books. He never intended brainstorming to be used in isolation to generate ideas. It’s an idea collection technique, not a generation technique – it’s supposed to be used alongside a generation technique, which Lehrer doesn’t mention. He also collapses the creative process, usually at its best consisting of at least four stages, into a single event and so totally fails to understand it.
Despite this, though, there a fair amount of useful material in a book that is generally an easy read. It just isn’t the masterpiece that it seems to think it is.

Hardback 

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…

The Cosmic Mystery Tour – Nicholas Mee ****

This is another book, like last year’s Enjoy Our Universe by Alvaro de Rújula, that sets out to provide a light-hearted introduction to physics and astrophysics for the general reader. It’s from the same publisher (OUP) and packaged in the same way: as a high quality small-format hardback with 200 glossy pages, the majority of them adorned with colour pictures. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike its predecessor, this new book by Nicholas Mee delivers exactly what it promises.

It’s not that de Rújula’s book was a bad one, but he just wasn’t able to think his way into the reader’s mind. He kept saying ‘physics is fun’, but he was talking about the fun a professional physicist gets out of doing it – which is a very arcane, often highly mathematical, type of fun. The result, for a non-specialist reader, was actually quite alienating. Mee, on the other hand, understands exactly how his readers think, what they find interesting, and the details that – no matter how important they …

Shadow Captain (SF) - Alastair Reynolds *****

One again, Alastair Reynolds demonstrates his mastery of complex world building. This is a sequel to Revenger, but while it's ideal to have read that first, I didn't feel a huge loss from not having done so. (But I'll be going back to read it.)

What sets these books apart is the richness of the setting. The Ness sisters, Adrana (the narrator of the book) and Arafura, along with their small motley crew, sail their spaceship through a far future solar system, where the planets have long since been dismantled to produce millions of small habitats and storage asteroids known as baubles. The civilisation in the system has risen and fallen many times, leaving mysterious technology (and contact with some low grade aliens) in a scenario that mixes high tech with a setting that is strongly (and intentionally) reminiscent of the world of seventeenth century shipping.

Spaceships are primarily powered by vast acreage of solar sails, privateers hunt bounty from the baubles and even th…