There are a few things I want to touch on this time, which is kind of a nice contrast from last time when I had absolutely nothing to say.
First (and foremost) you’ll see that I’m off my pace (again). Writing has continued to be very difficult and Statler and Waldorf are currently winning the argument. It isn’t easy to keep going when I’m not at all happy with the quality of what I’m producing. I’m not really sure how to resolve this but there are a couple of possibilities.
The first of these is that I am firing off another chunk of product to the Eager Volunteers to get some perspective. If I really am off the rails (as I currently feel) then independent confirmation would be good. The second thing is something I had been sort of trying to decide how I would handle from the beginning – I have a vacation coming up and have no intention of taking my computer. So there will be a few days where no writing will happen, at all. I’m hoping that will end up giving me a bit of a break and that I can come back a bit fresh. We’ll see.
Now, I also wanted to get back to a post I made a while ago about a podcast I heard about creativity and how it works that I found interesting. The podcast was an interview with a (now former) writer for the New York Times name Jonah Lehrer and Lehrer has since been accused of, and admitted to, making up and misrepresenting many of the quotes in the book that interview was based on, in particular quotes of Bob Dylan talking about his creative process.
Reading through Lehrer’s admission was interesting in a few ways (and I’m going to stray away from fiction writing for a bit here) because some of what he talked about sounded familiar – he says he panicked being unable to find sources for quotes and ended up making the references up. I have had the experience of being sure in my mind that I had a piece of evidence that was perfect for supporting a particular argument, written the paragraph (or what have you) that would make use of it, and then upon going to get the specific reference, been utterly unable to find the quote or fact I had in mind. It’s a terrible feeling. There is that impulse to think that you couldn’t possibly have invented it out of thin air, it’s got to be somewhere, and it’s so good it would be terrible not to use it.
I can say though that I have always managed to resist this impulse, and gone with evidence I actually had to hand. Sometimes I still suspect I must have forgotten to record something properly (so sure am I that this thing I ‘remember’ must exist) but I would rather a less effective argument that I can actually back up than one that turns out to be built on fiction. But I do understand the impulse Lehrer had and although I’m not qualified to get into an analysis of this, other commentators have already started to discuss what cases like this tell us about the pressure writers are under to turn out marketable product, and how this can lead otherwise well-intentioned people astray.
Lehrer’s reputation, I suspect, will never be the same. It’s the kind of story I try to tell students to get them to ask for help with assignments rather than fabricating something. I feel a little bad using academically dishonest work even on a forum as humble as this, but Lehrer’s dishonesty is not under my control.
Now, while I don’t feel like Lehrer’s intellectual dishonesty is something I need to apologize for, I do feel kind of silly about something else that came to light as I read about his resignation. It turns out, as well, that the book (called Imagine: How Creativity Works) is (probably) not very good to begin with. I still haven’t read the book, so I won’t advance criticisms here, but I was dismayed to see excoriating reviews like this one: http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/103912/bob-dylan-jonah-lehrer-creativity
It reminds me that I always need to do my homework. I mean, it’s not as though this blog has a wide enough audience that I feel as though I misled a large number of people, but it was still careless of me to promote (somewhat) a work that I hadn’t actually read, based on a brief interview. It’s always important to go back to the original source material (in this case, Lehrer’s book) and check it out yourself. Having read the reviews I’m pretty sure (flattering myself somewhat) I would have seen a lot of the flaws they mention and probably wouldn’t have written a post about the interview at all.
There’s something here too about how it’s important not to assume that if something is in print it must be true, even if the product is described as ‘science’. Scientists can be as wrong as anyone, science can be as flawed as anything, and we shouldn’t assume otherwise. Usually I like to think I keep things like this in mind, but I admit that in part at least I figured that anything that showed up on Guardian Science Weekly had probably been vetted enough to trust. Another reminder that no one is any less fallible than the rest of us, even when their business is promoting science.
Anyway, hopefully when I post here next I will be refreshed and ready for the home stretch on the Project. Thanks for your indulgence, if you made it this far.
Word Count: 86, 460. It’s something.