"Charting the intellectual history of the emerging biology of mind, Eric R. Kandel explains the revolutionary landmarks of modern biology and illuminates how behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology have converged into a powerful new science of the mind. Scientists are now positioned to provide meaningful and nuanced insights into mental functioning - from perception, thought, emotion, and memory to schizophrenia, depression, and age-related memory loss. These windows into the mind also open the way to more effective healing." "Kandel's personal quest to understand memory is threaded throughout this absorbing intellectual history. Beginning with his memories of childhood experiences in Nazi-occupied Vienna, In Search of Memory chronicles Kandel's outstanding career from his initial fascination with history and psychoanalysis through his exploration of neurobiology to his groundbreaking work on the cellular and molecular process of memory, which earned him the Nobel Prize." "A deft mixture of memoir and history, modern biology and behavior, In Search of Memory traces how a brilliant scientist's intellectual journey intersected with one of the great scientific endeavors of the twentieth century: the search for the biological basis of memory."--BOOK JACKET.
I have also had decades-worth of interest in neuroscience and read quite a bit on the side. Hence, I am serious about my desires. But with a new family with includes 2-year-old daughters, I would not yet be able to command the same salary that I have built over the years as an engineer. I have not given up, nonetheless and will continue to enjoy exploring the possibilities. In this book, Dr. Kandel also expresses some concerns about how his passion for science affected his family. It appears that he struggled to balance this passion with his love for family and had some success!
This book briefly touches on this challenge, but explores in much more depth Dr. Kandel's path from psychoanalyst to cellular/molecular neurobiologist (and how he still integrates the two and so much more and advocates such integration).
On this path, he made choices that ultimately led to his (shared) discovery of how short and long term memory works in all animals, by discovering how it works in the much simpler Aplysia (marine snail). By drawing on evolution, he was able to propose and test similar mechanisms in mammals and humans with the help of and research of other scientists and colleagues to whom he gives much description and credit. The book contains numerous easy-to-understand diagrams and details of the electrochemical reactions that make up essential brain functions.
Without sugar-coating the rivalries and challenges of competing and collaborating with other scientists, Dr. Kandel appears to make the best of such relationships in the advancement of science and ultimate benefit to humanity. His descriptions include a brief history of brain research and scientists that include greats from Cajal to Crick and so many more that I am doing an injustice by not mentioning them here. Dr. Kandel does a far better job giving credit!
On the subject of humanity, Dr. Kandel traces much of his early interest in human behavior to his tragic personal experience of the Nazi's in Austria, and explains his desire to have and help Austria "come clean" regarding its involvement with the Nazi's and terrible treatment of the Jews, even, as he explains, to this day.
He extends his humanitarian views to speculate on the near future abilities of science to predict, diagnose and treat ever more complex neurological conditions and the related ethical ramifications.
He even speculates on current and upcoming research on conciousness.
I had purchased this book "blindly" via the internet and had expected more of a dry, textbook-style discussion of memory. Instead, I got a warmly engaging book that gave me a bit of "everything", including my desired introduction to how memory works.
I do not think Eric Kandel could have done a better job in combining so many things in such an enjoyable way!
Kudos and congratulations to Eric Kandel!
Some will be interested in the personal side (unrelated to science), but more – I suspect – will be interested his unfolding story of brain science and his scientific career. When he started his research, the neurosciences were very immature. Fortunately they are better founded today. Thus in this book, Kandel can discuss the neuronal, molecular and genetic aspects of making memories. He explains the ways in which neurons interact and even the way nuclear DNA plays an active role in setting permanent memories. However, another lesson is also clear to an outside observer. The immature practice of overgeneralization is a hard habit for any field to abandon.
Kandel professional career has kept to a theme. Nevertheless he describes how each time he took a new direction, others he respected advised against it. Ultimately he was proved correct. Therefore, we might ask if this good judgment or plain luck? The answer is both of course!
He explains how he made his career moves. He did not pay much attention to general attitudes as to what should or could be done. He worked on what he was fascinated by, what he though most important and what was an open field. He took a pragmatic approach and began with the easiest large-scale phenomena that could be studied. He did not try to develop skills independently. He decided what needed to be done and sought out collaborators who already had most of the needed skills he lacked. Each step of the way he tried to be first in some area to make substantive progress. Thus he could do all the easy exploration before it became too crowded. To continue making important contributions, he followed the reductionist path and gradually revealed the inner working of successive pictures from the organ of the brain right down to its molecular structure. Necessarily he did not tie himself down to any particular speciality within the neurosciences. Hence he took whatever he needed from whichever specialities were most relevant.
He presents a physical picture of how some neurons are excited or inhibited, how they strengthen connections, how these strengths are maintained, and how they can integrate different messages. He relates this to the laying down and reading of memories, and the formation of spatial awareness. Yet the nature of consciousness, the existence of free will (or won’t) and the process of setting attention are a step too far for even a guess.
Certainly much of the reported evidence has helped in the development of medicinal drugs. Yet it goes uncommented that such progress was advanced by the cavalier ‘torture’ of our DNA-cousins: snails, mice and monkeys.
Some of this harshness is certainly due to his lucky, unlucky personal history. Kandel's Jewish-Galician petit-bourgeois parents immigrated to Vienna where they owned a toy store in Vienna's 18th district (Today, this space is occupied by gourmet cheese store). Smart. sufficiently moneyed and with good local and US connections, the Kandels managed to escape from the worst of the Holocaust. While his parents and his brother suffered from the tragedy of the Second World War, it opened up a career for Eric Kandel, he probably would have been unable to follow in Vienna. Thanks to the support of New York's Jewish community, he received an excellent education and entry into elite universities. His understandable anger against Nazi Austria (and its tainted de-Nazification) results in a too positive retelling of Austrofascism (the regime that ruled Austria prior to the Nazi takeover). Just because the Austrofascists directed their anger against socialists (who often happened to be Jews) and not the members of the bourgeoisie (such as the Kandels) should not serve as an excuse to downplay its evilness. Perhaps a full condemnation of a Christianist, Corporationist and Nativistic movement would have highlighted too many parallels with current US politics. Apart from this small incomplete account of Austria's history, it is a tremendous read that highlights the joy of discovery and to seek large progress by examining the tiny and the simple things.
When regarded as Kandel's autobiography, detailing his progress, his origins and motivation to comprehend the biology of memory, it is a fascinating text.
When regarding as a biography that narrates the birth and development of a new science that combines Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, Psychiatry and many specific sub-areas within these disciplines, it is simply a "must read". Even for someone who, like me, completely lacks scientific formation.
One of the best lines: "The greatest strength of a scientific method is its ability to disprove a hypothesis.".
For someone who is interested in the 'science of things', this is a must read to know the inner intricacies of the brain.