I used to work in a neuroscience lab. We were trying to figure out how the mind remembers, how a collection of cells can encapsulate our past. I was just a lab technician, and most of my day was spent performing the strange verbs of bench science: amplifying, vortexing, pipetting, sequencing, digesting, and so on. It was simple manual labor, but the work felt profound. Mysteries were distilled into minor questions, and if my experiments didn’t fail, I ended up with an answer. The truth seemed to slowly accumulate, like dust.
At the same time, I began reading Proust. I would often bring my copy of Swann’s Way into the lab and read a few pages while waiting for an experiment to finish. All I expected from Proust was a little entertainment, or perhaps an education in the art of constructing sentences. For me, his story about one man’s memory was simply that: a story. It was a work of fiction, the opposite of scientific fact.
But once I got past the jarring contrast of forms—my science spoke in acronyms, while Proust preferred meandering prose—I began to see a surprising convergence. The novelist had predicted my experiments. Proust and neuroscience shared a vision of how our memory works. If you listened closely, they were actually saying the same thing.
-from Proust Was a Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer