Seriously, why do people keep throwing money at this doofus? He's like Malcolm Gladwell's evil-er twin (without the decade spent working for the tobacco industry helping kill people).
Jonah Lehrer book proposal on love: Did he plagiarize Adam Gopnik?
So what’s in Jonah Lehrer’s Book of Love? More of the same, in every way you can imagine. It’s a self-help book disguised as a science book that’s dismissive of self-help books. “I will never forget the taste of disgrace in my mouth, the dryness and bitterness coating the tongue,” Lehrer writes in his introduction, but he manages to forget that neural signal in all the text that follows. It’s as if he’s washed his mouth with bromides.
The new project offers guidance for the smart set on the bedrock matters of popular psychology: mating, dating, and relating. Each chapter begins with an anecdote of love, often taken from the life of a cultural icon—Montaigne, Berlioz, Tolstoy, etc.—and then progresses in an onslaught of social-science data, cherry-picked to make a simple point that’s been dressed up to look like counter-intuition. That is to say, it’s Lehrer doing exactly what he’s done before. He loves to start with straw-man science, using published research to establish some flagrant bit of nonsense—"marriage is a waste of time,” let’s say—so he can batter and abuse it with other, better published research. (“And yet,” he explains, “a number of subsequent studies have revealed a surprising upside to marriage.”)
Our sex lives are subjected to a similar parade of cheap epiphanies that lead back to where we started. “Although people typically assume that there is a trade-off between emotional intimacy and happiness in bed,” Lehrer writes, “research suggests that the opposite is true. Good sex is not just about the sex. It is about sharing everything with someone else.” (Naturally, this revelation has a footnote, citing unpublished work by author and sex therapist Bernie Zilbergeld.) Same goes for child-rearing: Science may have told us that babies don’t need affection, that they’re better off without a mother’s love. It’s “one of the recurring themes of modern culture,” Lehrer says, “that we are fundamentally alone.” But you’ll be intrigued to know that other, better science shows the opposite. “In the right sort of world, the ability to love is the very first thing we learn,” Lehrer says. “It is also the most important.”
The proposal confirms Lehrer’s status as a master craftsman, one who can decorate a commonplace with enormous skill and erudition. Most impressive is the way he maneuvers around the empty-headed mode that he helped create: “It’s not enough to simply describe the hormones of Romeo, or the fMRI results of Juliet,” he says, as if embarking on a soliloquy about his early work. “While the latest science describes love as a side-effect of pleasure, just an overflow of some chemical in the reward parts of the brain, that assumption is profoundly flawed.”
Lehrer 2.0 won’t accept these dopey, brain-based explanations. He’s loaded up his hard drive with a different set of data. “True love remains ineffable,” he says. But not that ineffable: We just need surveys instead of scanners, and psychology in place of brain anatomy.
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