I find myself mourning this loss in a way that makes me feel silly. And when I examine the mourning, I realize that it’s not just about me losing a personal idol. Jonah Lehrer, both before and after the publication of his latest book, which is all about the creative process and the elevated place that creativity deserves in our society, was a strong and articulate proponent of the power of art and creativity in society. By relying on scientific findings, by pulling difficult, jargony papers into the mainstream with patient and enthusiastic explanation, by placing the role of the creativity in the functioning of the brain, and both the brain and creativity at the center of what makes us human, Lehrer in ways large and small was an ally to the arts field. Whether he meant to or not, he fought against the marginalization of what we do by attempting over and over to explain the particular work that our work was doing. And more than that, particulars aside (as I don’t pretend to know what other quotes he might have fabricated), he told true stories, valuable stories, stories based in a tremendous amount of reading and research, built out of data and embroidered with stories and anecdotes. Imagine is a formidable book, a book that at its core tackles the same questions our research into intrinsic impact is trying to tackle—what is creativity? How does it happen? How does it work? What does it do to us, as makers, as consumers? In the same way that he previously tackled memory through the creative lens, Lehrer has created in Imagine a book, which had sold more than 200,000 copies at last count, that placed front and center the secrets of what we do in this field, and for the world.
And now, because he needed to tack on a few emphatic quotes, because he needed to not let the words of one of the great poets of our time sit as they were, that book has been pulled from shelves, removed from e-book stores, and its author shunned.
The blog post the above quote comes from, by Clayton Lord, pretty much summarizes how I feel about the Jonah Lehrer situation, particularly since I have recommended his work here and to my friends and colleagues so much. Like Lord, what I appreciated about Lehrer's writing was the multitude of examples that he provided in simple language that I could use to further a conversation about art, technology, creativity and even marketing.