A geologist once flattered me by lending me his subscription copy of the Journal of Improbable Research with its motto: ‘Improbable research is research that makes people laugh and then think.’ In those pre-internet days, the JIR was still a small samizdat coming out at very irregular intervals to amuse a select group of the most brainy to which my friend belonged but not me.
Since then, IR have come a long way, if only because of their illustrious counterpart to the Nobel Prize, the iG Nobel Prize. This prize was recently conferred for a breakthrough in psychology: ‘Leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower look smaller’(a joint project of Peru, Russia and The Netherlands). I hasten to add that the timing of this project was unrelated to that of recent French elections.
The article which my friend insisted I should read was, though futuristic and visionary, written in the past tense. I cannot anymore remember its precise title but it must have been something like: ‘Important geological discoveries during the ten to the power 4-th century after Hillel the Elder’. The article describes in vivid detail how, during a deep-drilling campaign in search of Usantis, the lost continent of North-America, strange cuttings were carried up to the surface.
Minute slivers of a thin metal, red on the outside, shiny on the inside accumulated on the shale shakers. It took several weeks before a young geologist managed to arrange these slivers intuitively into small composite pictures of strange oriental characters like la, ca and co and an abundance of C. With the help of chinese onomasticians and artificial intelligence, scientists decided on Co ca co la as being the most likely combination. Thereupon, geologists decided to name the very thick geological strata just penetrated the Cocacolian.
This recollection is, at least for me, a logical run-up to my own specialization in improbable research: intuitive neurology. I have initiated this novel field of research only recently, after reading ‘Proust was a neuroscientist’ by Jonah Lehrer. To focus my attention I have set a target: to win an iG Nobel Prize in about two years from now.
Lehrer shows us that long before the advent of modern neuroscience, artists had already discovered how brains, neurons and nerves work. I was intuitively attracted to this book by Proust’s cookie which adorns the cover and yes indeed, Jonah Lehrer gives us a lot of food for thought. What to think of Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) of Pêche Melba renown, who discovered the fifth taste by forever broiling bones into bouillons, long before the Japanese found it in seaweed? They cheated, by not broiling but doing chemical laboratory experiments and synthesizing the infamous MSG, monosodiumglutamate which poisons me on a daily basis ever since.
What to think of Marcel Proust (1871-1922) who activated his memory so as to build a cathedral of 4000 pages just by dipping a madeleine in lime-flower tea? Which reminds the francophile in me that Chateaubriand wrote 4000 pages from beyond the grave after hearing the trill of a thrush near to his house on a late afternoon.
And of the painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) who experimented with colours, brush strokes and shades and discovered that personal interpretation goes on betwixt retina and brain? Seeing is highly individual, even mood related. He painted the Montagne Sainte-Victoire eleven times in oil and seventeen times in aquarel and he saw the mountain differently each time, as you can see at the top of this article.
Some regular neuroscientists dismiss Lehrer’s book. Poor fellows, I am sure that they have never tasted a Peach Melba or read Proust – and that they prefer the beauty of a blackgammon board to that of a Cézanne painting.
I think that I am particularly suited to undertake this research. A long time ago, scientists of Philips Electronics discovered during a secret television research project, that a higher quality sound makes the viewer believe that he sees a more beautiful picture. I could have told them so intuitively, already then. Some women produce the same effect on me.
Right now I am studying the uninterrupted transmittal of nerve impulses from the mind and body of Liszt to current-day listeners. Keep me in view.