John Lobell addresses how new technology changes our consciousness, which in turn leads to cultural paradigm shifts. He received his degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and is a professor of architecture at Pratt Institute. His interests include creativity, architecture, cultural theory, consciousness, mythology, and movies. He has lectured throughout the world and is the author of numerous articles and several books.
Our world is no longer what we have thought it to be, and a new world is struggling to be born.
Visionary Creatives are driven to bring this new world to all of us.
29th June 2012

What are we to make of the Jonah Lehrer thing?

posted in Uncategorized |

It’s all over the news. The Big Idea journalist, Jonah Lehrer, fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan in his best selling book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. You can follow the breaking news on Google. (Note that Imagine is one of the books I reference on this site.)

What to make of this? Lehrer’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has recalled the book. You can’t even find it new on Amazon. Wow! As of this writing three used copies are being offered—is everybody else hanging on to their copies in hopes they will increase in value? And Lehrer resigned his new dream job as a science writer at the New Yorker. And there will surely be more to come. Discoveries of other problems with Lehrer’s books? An in depth mea culpa from Lehrer? We will see.

But there is something else going on here. It has always been hard to write a real book. Now it appears that many people can no longer even read a real book.

Some of the discussion of Lehrer focuses on the popularity of presentations at TED (although Lehrer had not made such a presentation). While attendance at a TED conference is reserved for the few who can afford it, their presentations are on the Web for all to see.

While many of these presentations are excellent, many of them fall into what is being referred to as “Big Ideas at TED.” Take a recent scientific discovery, preferably in the field of neurophysiology. Present it to the lay public with the gloss that it will change the world as we have known it. Add some PowerPoint images. Recycle the whole thing into a book. Voila, a mega best seller.

These kinds of books can be fun to read, and when they are done well, we can learn from them (as long as we keep our critical antennas up). But if we read too many of them (and the manufacture of these books is a major industry) we may be failing to read real books. What is a real book?

A real book represents a way of knowing and existing: A person with a point of view is interested in something and wishes to understand it more deeply. From this own point of view, they research it, think about it, and come to conclusions. They then present their findings in a book, a medium that communicates with other persons who invest the time to read it, to follow the presentation and argument, and reach or not reach the same conclusions from their own points of view. All of which is dependant on the existence of literate individual persons capable of knowledge, insights, emotions, and wisdom, with points of view. (See a list of what I consider to be real books on this site.)

Shows how out of date I am—all of this is, of course, disappearing. A great image of our new world comes from Marshall McLuhan:

“Like easel painting, the printed book added much to the new cult of individualism. The private, fixed point of view became possible and literacy conferred the power of detachment, non-involvement.”

And, seventeen years before Mark Zuckerberg was born, McLuhan wrote:

“The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions—the patterns of mechanistic technologies—are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval… that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of earlier ‘mistakes.’”

Lehrer should have read this instead of that stuff about neurophysiology.

But we can always use books to decorate our homes. From the Wall Street Journal:

A House to Look Smart In

Old-School Reading Rooms Stage Grand Return; No Books? Firms Will Pick, Style
… Affluent homeowners are buying quality books in quantity to amass collections for private personal libraries. These rooms are as much aesthetic set pieces and public displays of intelligence as they are quiet spaces to reflect and retreat. Some people are also seeking the services of experts to help pull together notable collections…”

Big step from the 1950s and 60s when people used to display the uniformly leather bound volumes of the Britannica’s “Great Books” selected by the pseudo intellectual, Mortimer Adler as “displays of intelligence.”

 

Note: The above is an adaptation I did on August 5 of a post I did on June 29.  Here is the original post:

Are Books Over?

So where do we stand with books in our new, post-human guise?

From the Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2012:
Your E-Book Is Reading You
Digital-book publishers and retailers now know more about their readers than ever before. … Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second book in the [Hunger Games] series…”

And, also from the Journal, a couple of days earlier:
A House to Look Smart In
Old-School Reading Rooms Stage Grand Return; No Books? Firms Will Pick, Style
… Affluent homeowners are buying quality books in quantity to amass collections for private personal libraries. These rooms are as much aesthetic set pieces and public displays of intelligence as they are quiet spaces to reflect and retreat. Some people are also seeking the services of experts to help pull together notable collections…”

Big step from the 50s and 60s when people used to display the uniformly bound books of the Britannica’s “Great Books” selected by the pseudo intellectual, Mortimer Adler as “displays of intelligence.”

My take?  In the section of this site on my books, I state:

“A book can represent a way of knowing and existing: A person with a point of view is interested in something and wishes to understand it more deeply. From this own point of view, they research it, think about it, and come to conclusions. They then present their findings in a book, a medium that communicates with other persons who invest the time to read it, to follow the presentation and argument, and reach or not reach the same conclusions from their own points of view. All of which is dependant on the existence of literate individual persons capable of knowledge, insights, emotions, and wisdom, with points of view. For better or worse, we are beginning to exit this world.”

Shows how out of date I am – all of this is, of course, gone. A great image of our new world comes from McLuhan:

“Like easel painting, the printed book added much to the new cult of individualism. The private, fixed point of view became possible and literacy conferred the power of detachment, non-involvement.”

And, seventeen years before Zuckerberg was born, McLuhan wrote:

“The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions—the patterns of mechanistic technologies—are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval… that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of earlier ‘mistakes.’”

Still trying to lean how to download books into my Nook.  In the mean time, it’s great to get used classics from Amazon and half.com for 5 cents over shipping.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 29th, 2012 at 3:18 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. 1 On August 14th, 2012, Darryl said:

    The Jonah Lehrer story is really pathetic. It’s amazing to think this bright young guy had everything going his way. Author of 3 popular books, staff writing position at The New Yorker, huge following in the blogosphere, and the list goes on. Now, zero integrity as a ‘big ideas thinker’ and a rather embarrassing Wikipedia page with a section summarizing his “Fabricated quotes and self-plagiarism” exploits. Really sad.

    Why, of all people, concoct the words of Bob Dylan? Maybe he should have chosen a more obscure musician like Glenn Danzig or Mike Ness to illustrate points in his book. Or how about this: just don’t make that kind of shit up.

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