The Frontal Cortex

My Book

So here’s a link to my future book (due out in November), which gives you a nice little synopsis of the subject. What do you think of the cover?*


*I’m personally interested in whether or not most people recognize the cookie as a madeleine, and thus get the Proust reference. My hunch is that, if it weren’t for those insipid little madeleines next to the register at Starbucks, the madeleine would still be a relatively obscure French cookie.


  1. #1 Kirk
    April 30, 2007

    I do, because I’m a Proust fanatic – I’m currently traversing the work for the fourth time, listening to a French audiobook of it. However, the lighting is weird, and doesn’t portray the madeleine correctly – it looks as though it is flat, whereas the fluted side is slightly rounded, with the front and back ends (what you see on the top and bottom in the photo) higher than the rest. Also, the madeleine in the picture doesn’t look cooked enough; good madeleines are browned on the outside, since they are cooked in stainless steel pans.

    In any case, I’m curious about the book. Partly because I’m assuming that your title is not meant to be serious, but rather simply an attention-grabber…

  2. #2 Jack Vaughan
    April 30, 2007

    Yes. No question. I had no true idea of what a Madeline looked like until they invented Starbucks. I love Proust but I never got out of the U.S. But I did think ‘butter cookie” although I sort of had macaroon in mind too. If they place the book by the cash register it should do great.

  3. #3 Jonah
    April 30, 2007

    So glad to know I’ve got some readers who are Proust fans. Me too, although I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read the complete work once through. To respond to Kirk…Actually, my title is quite literal. I argue that Proust (and Whitman, Cezanne, Woolf, etc.) anticipated the facts of modern neuroscience. Their art expresses truths about the human mind – real, tangible, truths – that science is only now rediscovering. As you can probably guess, Proust was very prescient when it came to the neuroscience of memory.

  4. #4 Kirk
    April 30, 2007

    Jonah, can you go just a bit further as to how you present these ideas? Yes, Proust’s exploration of memory is indeed interesting, and revolutionary for literature, but obviously the madeleine episode is just one of the many examples of how he discusses memory, time, etc. Another biggie in Proust is how things you expect don’t meet your expectations, and how you can be disappointed by your inner schema of an object, place or person not corresponding to reality. (Two examples: his meeting with Bergotte, or his thoughts about Venice.)

    The madeleine episode is, of course, interesting because of the relationship between taste/smell and memory, but I don’t see Proust as having been “prescient”; he simply put into words something that others had also noticed in the past. He didn’t discover or invent the idea that memories can be tied to smells and tastes, though his lyrical description of the moment is probably the most thorough such examination of the phenomonenon.

  5. #5 Johanna
    April 30, 2007

    Already, this looks like a fascinating read. My main area of interest/research is where science and art converge, and I am intrigued by the subjects you handle (Cezanne, Stein). Are there other books from which you drew inspiration, that deal with the same ideas?

  6. #6 Jonah
    April 30, 2007

    Thanks for the comments and questions. While I don’t want to give away too many plot points, I’ll say that Proust’s obsession with olfactory memories was only a small part of his scientific prescience. Much more important, at least in my version of things, was his meditation on the fictionality of memory, the way we are constantly recreating and reconsolidating our past.

    As for inspiration…If I had to pick one thinker that inspired my strange thoughts on science and art, I’d have to go with William James. This quote is in the epigraph:
    “This systematic denial on science’s part of personality as a condition of events, this rigorous belief that in its own essential and innermost nature our world is a strictly impersonal world, may, conceivably, as the whirligig of time goes round, prove to be the very defect that our descendants will be most surprised at in our own boasted science, the omission that to their eyes will most tend to make it look perspectiveless and short.”
    -William James

  7. #7 Paul Sunstone
    April 30, 2007

    The book sounds fascinating, and it’s already on my list of reads to check out — but I don’t much care for the cover.

  8. #8 ivan
    May 1, 2007

    Jonah, I had a bet that your response to the “Proust was a neuroscientist” seriousness question would be yes. Proust definitely tried to explain people, and as Wilder Penfield said “to understand the neurology means to understand the man himself”. The difference between Penfield and Proust was the approach. One was strict and the other was putting on the paper his unrestrained impressions. But the root of the motivation was the same – curiosity for what makes us humans and what makes us feel how we feel and do what we do.

  9. #9 Mr.G
    May 1, 2007

    Following up on my comment below (since you seem disinclined to do so), perhaps a better title for your book would have been “Cognitive Scientists Write Fiction”.

  10. #10 Micah Jones
    May 1, 2007

    You clever little devil!

  11. #11 MattXIV
    May 1, 2007

    I recognized it as a madeleine, although admittedly because I’d seen pics of them before in materials dealing with Proust 🙂

  12. #12 Justin Sippy
    June 15, 2007

    cool i just picked up an advance reading copy of your book and will start reading it today. ( i wErk at amazon.) i really like the cover.

  13. #13 Lisa
    July 8, 2007

    As neither a Starbucks regular nor a Proust person, I have to admit the cover made me think of the cover of The Shell Collector, so I parsed it as a seashell. But that’s just me. Looking forward to your book.

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