Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist II

by F.

Another reviewer demolishes Proust Was a Neuroscientist:

Here’s a pretty safe bet: At some point this week, somewhere in the world—a darkened auditorium, a classroom, or an academic conference—a biologist will quote Marcel Proust.

My career as a grad student in neuroscience was filled with these obligatory madeleine moments: It seemed like every talk, lecture, presentation, or paper on the biology of memory began with a dip into Swann’s Way. An extended passage from the book appears in the brain researcher’s standard reference manual, Principles of Neural Science, and Proustian inscriptions routinely make their way into peer-reviewed science journals (PDF) and book chapters. Even the most sublunary findings—a study of cultured mouse cells or the neuromuscular junction of a fly—might earn the literary flourish of a line or two, projected above an audience on a PowerPoint slide: “I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. … “

On his blog, Lehrer twists and turns but can’t escape. He’s either wrong or trivial. If he thinks these artists were really doing neuroscience, he’s wrong. If he is just using literary anecdotes as window dressing, his book is trivial—just another pop neuroscience book with nothing much new to say.