Proust Was a Neuroscientist

I began reading a new book last night entitled Proust Was a Neuroscientist . First some background...

Once during my college education I envisioned something I'll refer to here as The Duality. At the time I had been doing a great deal of psychological research to satisfy my educational requirements. At the same time I was reading a good deal of philosophy, specifically some of Zeno's Paradoxes, so it's a safe assumption that I was receiving a good deal of signals from sources that eventually collided. In a sense, during my personal periods of contemplation I had been evaluating the possibility of quantification of emotion. As I walked around campus, listened to music, or attended lectures, I was plagued by the continuous need to evaluate each stimulus from two angles - to think about the stimulus in a deductive, rational mindset while at the same time attempting to actively determine what emotional content the stimulus activated within me. During a particular "thought session" The Duality appeared to me as two bands of color that drew continuously closer to one another yet never actually met (I'm sure this was inspired by Zeno's Paradox that motion is not possible). One of the colors in my mind represented the rational side of my thought process, while the other color represented my Emotional side (and I'm not talking about left-brain-right-brain stuff here). 

Whenever I discussed this notion with friends, colleagues, even teachers, I was usually met with a sympathetic stare and a statement that I was "over thinking things a bit much." Usually I felt the need (as I do now) to convince my audience that studying The Duality was necessary, if not something that I felt had become just shy of an obsession for me. To accomplish this and to persuade them to believe me I would implement metaphor similar to the following:

Let's say you have a really spirited, independent friend who has a heroin addiction. On the one hand you share with this friend the agreement that being a friend means accepting someone for who they are and not trying to change them. Yet, as a human who loves his friends and feels sorrow when they depart, observing the friend do themselves in with heroin causes me pain and to feel compelled to help them stop using the drug. Sure, the human side retains the ability to behave in a selfish manner, and that very manner would cause the desire to stop the friend from hurting himself. 

Therein arose my conflict. The rational side wants to allow the friend the independence. The rational side opposes influence and prefers observation to affection. However, the emotional side felt fearful, felt painful on behalf of the friend and desired to impact their direction. The two sides, in a sense, would create a conflicted state in the observer that, if given a good deal of time and consideration, would yield nothing short of more conflict and inability-of-decision. 

Given the influence of Zeno's paradoxical studies and the influence of my psychological training, I eventually spiraled completely out of control upon realization that I could not determine how to behave; should I continue to perform my duties as a human being using rationality as a directive or should I give in to my human-ness and allow my emotions to rule over my decision-making? Being a perfectionist (and being somewhat young and naive, I guess, at the time), I sort of lost it right there. Eventually I switched from psychology to computer science because I couldn't move past this Duality, this inability to cut reason with emotion or vice-versa. I just ended that course of study as a profession and adopted a new one. In computers I found the answer - they aren't very emotional, so I could look at my work with one angle and remove the other angle from the equation.

In my own summation, I gave up on the quest to comprehend how to two could exist together and be used together to understand everything. It just didn't seem possible.

Back to the book, the one I began reading last night.

It gave me a moment to digest this Duality in the words of a far-more polished author and researcher than I'd ever have the patience to become. His name is Jonah Lehrer and he has a blog called The Frontal Cortex .  Recently he posted about recent book reviews he'd been receiving and I felt like it couldn't just be chance that I started reading, thought of this blog post I wanted to write, and that he was blogging about incoming reviews. So this is mine, despite not having finished the book yet. 

So far the book is amazing and I insist that you read this as your next book. Especially if you are anything like me and you're into the idea of meta-thought. PWAN discusses, in a sense, the mutual need for both art and science as a dualistic means to understand the world in which we live. Through careful examination of artists, writers, and other nifty people, he uses their art and the relevant science of the era in which their arts were produced to point out how one can't exist without the other. This thinking really grabbed my attention as it seems akin to my own Duality some 15 years ago. Though I was looking at it in a slightly variant light the work has already proven to me that I wasn't over-thinking the idea or that even if I was, there are others out there who share my desire to gain insight into the way we derive understanding about our world. If anything, I felt a degree of camaraderie with Jonah, and look forward to reading more of the book. 

Brady Gaster
Hi! I'm a christian dad who lives near Seattle, where I work with the talented folks at Microsoft to create compelling demonstrations for conferences that instruct and inspire developers who want to party in the cloud.