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How’s that materialist project going again?

Imagine: How Creativity Works

Here, in “It’s All in Your Head: The Problems With Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine” (The Millions, March 21, 2012), a would-be sympathetic source on science writer Jonah Leher’s Imagine , Tim Requarth and Meehan Crist, demur,

Imagine uses the same mash-up method that was so successful in How We Decide, but the science of creativity simply isn’t as developed as the science of decision-making. Because of this, it turns out that Lehrer’s tried-and-true method doesn’t work quite as well. The difficulty with pinning down creativity — scientifically or otherwise — becomes obvious when you consider the diversity of anecdotal examples in the book. Is writing a song comparable to coming up with new uses for glue or solving a puzzle that has only one correct answer? Is the person who writes twenty cookie-cutter novels engaged in the same activity as the person who writes one book so unprecedented that it changes the trajectory of literature? Are any two creative processes really the same? At most, it seems that one could point out patterns, but Lehrer boldly sets his sights on formula.

Good point. But then Lehrer commits, in their eyes, a most grave sin, claiming that human creativity is unique,

Most cognitive skills have elaborate biological histories, so their evolution can be traced over time. But not creativity — the human imagination has no clear precursors…The birth of creativity, in other words, arrived like any insight: out of nowhere.

That, of course, is true and obvious; but reviewers Tim Requarth and Meehan Crist – shocked, just shocked – primly announce that

It’s tempting to think that we are special, but today most researchers agree with Darwin’s eloquent observation that humans are animals, too; we are different in degree rather than kind. There’s no reason to think that creativity will be the exception.

One suspects that Requarth and Crist don’t actually know where, when, and under what circumstances Darwin said that, if he ever did. It is his glorious and sanctified name they are invoking, against legitimate challenges to materialism.

These days, that suggests that the reviewers themselves are a bit wanting in creativity. The creative biologists are not even Darwinists any more. The Darwinists are the ones rehashing the trash on Darwin’s monster of a garbage scow. And defending the ship and its trash against all efforts at sanitation and recycling.

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