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Rethinking Thought: Inside the Minds of Creative Scientists and Artists

Rethinking Thought: Inside the Minds of Creative Scientists and Artists

Laura Otis


This book demonstrates how greatly the lived experience of thought varies from one person to another, especially with respect to visual mental images and verbal language. It examines differences in the conscious feel of thought, including planning, problem solving, reflecting, remembering, and devising new ideas. Presenting the results of interview-based research, it offers portraits of 29 creative minds, including those of novelist Salman Rushdie, engineer Temple Grandin, and U. S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. It takes readers into the minds of two award-winning painters, a flamenco dancer, a game designer, a cartoonist, a lawyer–novelist, a theoretical physicist, a creator of multiagent software, a translator, a professional singer and former Sister of St. Francis.


The book creates a dialogue between the insights of innovative thinkers and recent findings in neuroscience, cognitive science, linguistics, and philosophy. It offers a forum in which qualitative and quantitative research results engage each other as equal partners, each encouraging critical re-evaluations of the other. One striking finding that has emerged from this dialogue is that many creative people enter fields requiring skills that don’t come naturally. Instead, they choose professions that demand the hardest work and the greatest mental growth. Both laboratory studies and common experiences indicate how often people presume that others think as they do—sometimes with disastrous results.

Oxford University Press

Laura Otis

Trained as a neuroscientist and literary scholar, Laura Otis, Ph.D., studies the ways literature and science intersect. In her interdisciplinary research, she compares scientific and literary writers’ descriptions of memory, identity, emotion, and thought. Her research has been supported by MacArthur, Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Humboldt Fellowships.


Otis earned her B.S. in Biochemistry at Yale University, her M.A. in Neuroscience from the University of California at San Francisco, her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Cornell University, and her M.F.A. in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. Since 2004 she has been a Professor of English at Emory University, where she teaches interdisciplinary courses on literature, neuroscience, cognitive science, and medicine.


She is the author of “Organic Memory” (1994), “Membranes” (1999), “Networking” (2001), “Müller’s Lab” (2007), “Rethinking Thought” (2016), and “Banned Emotions” (2019). She has also translated neurobiologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s “Vacation Stories” (2001) into English and has edited “Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology” (2002, available on DCPAS). A fiction writer as well as a scholar, she is the author of the novels “Clean”, “Refiner’s Fire”, “Lacking in Substance”, “The Tantalus Letters”, and “The Memory Hive”.


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