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It was curious enough when the (now former) New Yorker writer Jonah Lehrer was hailed as an “important new thinker” for a book that attempted to use brain science to prove such banalities as that creativity could be fed by daydreaming, or that it was a good idea to put people from different specialties in the same building. It was even more curious when it turned out that Lehrer had cherry-picked scientific evidence, presented a misleading chronology, and (as it now turns out) completely fabricated a series of quotations from at least one of the creative geniuses whose “process” he describes in his book—mostly to support arguments with which no sane person would disagree. (Obsessing about a problem all the time is not always the best way to solve it? Really?). But the thing that was always most curious about Imagine: How Creativity Works was how many people seemed to think it offered, in a series of purple passages about brain waves and neurochemistry, some kind of answer to questions that philosophers have been debating since Plato. Now that we know he committed the unforgivable sin of misleading fact-checkers, Lehrer’s star will dim, but it would be a nice bonus if his demise prompted us to re-examine our culture’s broader belief that brain science may (someday, if not today) serve as a suitable substitute for philosophy. If you look at the elaborate praise that Lehrer’s book originally received, you come often across some version of the statement that Lehrer stood “at the crossroads of neuroscience and the humanities.” But does such a place really exist? And if so, who stands there besides the public relations experts who seemed almost intuitively to recognize the best use for Lehrer’s talents?

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