Jonah Lehrer: toward a vocation
I asked him how he wound up in his line of work.
It started coming together in college when, like so many undergrads, I was scrambling to connect the dots. I was interested in poetry. I was interested in mathematics. I was interested in Nietzsche. All these different interests came together in neuroscience.
The beauty of the human brain is that it’s where all this comes from; it’s the wellspring. And that’s how I fell into neuroscience. Neuroscience seemed like a natural way to bring together a really disparate group of interests.
So I wanted to be a scientist. That’s what I assumed. I worked in Eric Kandel‘s lab for a number of years, but only after four-and-a-half years did I realize I wasn’t that good at it! To be a great scientist, you have to love the manual labor of science. You have to love the empiricism. And I didn’t.
I was too lazy. I wasn’t disciplined enough. I wasn’t good at taking big, profound questions and breaking them down into testable chunks. And from that failure—and at the time it felt like a total failure—I somehow became a science writer.
Read the full interview with Jonah Lehrer.
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Jonah Lehrer writes a column for Wired, publishes essays in the New Yorker, and regularly contributes to RadioLab. His new book is called Imagine: How Creativity Works. Just about every day for the past few weeks, I’ve cited passages in conversation—it’s that good. But the career path of this 31-year-old author of three books hasn’t been as straightforward as you might expect. We spoke by phone on February 14, 2012.