Loyal readers know that I’m a big fan of Jason Kottke. His blog, aptly summarized as “liberal arts 2.0,” is a consistent source of the best and smartest links from around the web. So I was really flattered to get interviewed on the site:
Kottke: Are there other books/media out there that share a third culture kinship with yours? I received a copy of Lawrence Weschler’s Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences for Christmas…that seems to fit. Steven Johnson’s books. Anything else you can recommend?
Lehrer: I’ve stolen ideas from so many people it’s hard to know where to begin. Certainly Weschler and Johnson have both been major influences. I’ve always worshipped Oliver Sacks; Richard Powers has more neuroscience in his novels than most issues of Nature; I just saw Olafur Eliasson’s new show at SFMOMA and that was rather inspiring. I could go on and on. It’s really an exciting time to be interested in the intersection of art and science.
But I’d also recommend traveling back in time a little bit, before our two cultures were so divided. We don’t think of people like George Eliot as third-culture figures, but she famously described her novels as a “a set of experiments in life.” Virginia Woolf, before she wrote Mrs. Dalloway, said that in her new novel the “psychology should be done very realistically.” Whitman worked in Civil War hospitals and corresponded for years with the neurologist who discovered phantom limb syndrome. (He also kept up with phrenology, the brain science of his day.) Or look at Coleridge. When the poet was asked why he attended so many lectures on chemistry, he gave a great answer: “To improve my stock of metaphors”. In other words, trying to merge art and science isn’t some newfangled idea.