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In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind

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Nobel Prize winner Kandel intertwines cogntive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology with his own quest to understand memory.


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Nobel Prize winner Kandel intertwines cogntive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology with his own quest to understand memory.

30 review for In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lewis Weinstein

    I'm taking a course at Oxford this summer on "The Brain and the Senses." So this is a little extra homework. The idea of memory, where thoughts come from, etc., is fascinating to me. And, many years ago, before I was there, Kandel had his laboratory at the Public Health Research Institute, of which I was later CEO. I'll post more when I get into it. I HAVE NOW COMPLETED BOTH THE COURSE AND KANDEL'S BOOK. BOTH WERE TERRIFIC! The course, offered by Oxford tutor Gillie McNeill, combined descriptions o I'm taking a course at Oxford this summer on "The Brain and the Senses." So this is a little extra homework. The idea of memory, where thoughts come from, etc., is fascinating to me. And, many years ago, before I was there, Kandel had his laboratory at the Public Health Research Institute, of which I was later CEO. I'll post more when I get into it. I HAVE NOW COMPLETED BOTH THE COURSE AND KANDEL'S BOOK. BOTH WERE TERRIFIC! The course, offered by Oxford tutor Gillie McNeill, combined descriptions of sensory processes with an explanation of the underlying molecular activity that integrates the incoming perceptions and what's already in memory to create a coherent narrative. We started by eating a cracker and considering what was involved in our individual perceptions of that event ... taste, smell, sight, feel, sound, and memory of crackers and herbs previously ingested. Quite a bit for the first few minutes of the course. Kandel’s book offers enchanting glimpses of his life story, the history of brain psychology and science, and a description of the experiments (of Kandel and others) which are moving our understanding of the brain forward at an incredible pace while also revealing just how little we still know. Kandel’s decision, early in his career, to begin his life’s work with the study of a single cell, set the stage for the way he approached his work. He decided to study the giant marine snail Aplysia as his first means to understand how information was brought into a cell and transferred out to another cell. Learn how that happens, multiply by tens of billions, and you have a working human brain. These quotes may communicate the excitement of Kandel’s journey (which by the way led to a Nobel prize)... “the realization that the workings of the brain - the ability not only to perceive but to think, learn, and store information - may occur through chemical as well as electrical signals expanded the appeal of brain science from anatomists and electro-physiologists to biochemists.” “I was testing the idea that the cellular mechanisms underlying learning and memory are likely to have been conserved through evolution and therefore to be found in simple animals.” “We pointed out the importance of discovering what actually goes on at the level of the synapse (the place where signals are passed from one cell to another) when behavior is modified by learning.” This last quote is almost a synopsis of what the course at the Oxford Experience was about. It turns out that there is considerable growth and change in the brain connections and that this goes on all the time. Your brain has changed since you started reading this review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    India M. Clamp

    “In Search of Memory” spans the gamut from this Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine, Eric R. Kandel. From epithets of Anti-Semitism to meeting his wife and the beautiful shining brain stuff of legend is found within. “Without memory, we would be nothing” and we discover words---like swords “böser jude” delineating the struggles of Jews in Austria and leaving parents behind at 9 years old. The cerebral cortex is concerned with perception, action, language, and planning. Three structures “In Search of Memory” spans the gamut from this Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine, Eric R. Kandel. From epithets of Anti-Semitism to meeting his wife and the beautiful shining brain stuff of legend is found within. “Without memory, we would be nothing” and we discover words---like swords “böser jude” delineating the struggles of Jews in Austria and leaving parents behind at 9 years old. The cerebral cortex is concerned with perception, action, language, and planning. Three structures lie within…amygdala coordinates autonomic and endocrine responses in the context of emotional states. —Eric R. Kandel How is a neuron like a signal? Inside this book we explore this and Freud (as usual) has a part in deciphering. In the brain---hard cheese like consistency—each cell is truly unique. Faces and how they are processed by the brain and the reactivity on the parts of facial recognition is an interesting study. We find how our responses gauge our reality at the time and what our brain retains. Information in a neural circuit travels, in what way? Noting well that this is a book review and not a report---and we take a voyage to Kristallnacht (1938) with Dr. Kandel and the transition of Vienna from being the center of culture to a place of oppression and humiliation. Personally, I can attest and confer being in Vienna (one of the most stunning cities in the world) it’s hard to imagine the horror that occurred. Must read! Savor, buy and share with loved ones.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gerald

    I'm really enjoying this book so far, especially as I'm considering a career in neuroscience research. Kandel's memoirs are both personal and historical. Reading about Kandel's personal growth to eventually become one of the leading scientists of the field has given me much opportunity to reflect on my own career goals. Also learning about the historical development of neuroscience as a discipline has been an interesting to the field as well (and much lighter to read than Principles of Neuroscie I'm really enjoying this book so far, especially as I'm considering a career in neuroscience research. Kandel's memoirs are both personal and historical. Reading about Kandel's personal growth to eventually become one of the leading scientists of the field has given me much opportunity to reflect on my own career goals. Also learning about the historical development of neuroscience as a discipline has been an interesting to the field as well (and much lighter to read than Principles of Neuroscience!).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Blackledge

    Warning: this book can be a little dull in the autobiographical sections (which you are free to skim), and a bit challenging in some of the technical parts (particularly if you are new to the nuts and bolts of cognitive neuroscience). But if you're a cognitive neuroscience dork (like me) and you love reading about the history of science (like me), and if you are reading this book on an e-reader, so you can pop back and forth between the text and web based resources e.g. Wikipedia etc. (like me), Warning: this book can be a little dull in the autobiographical sections (which you are free to skim), and a bit challenging in some of the technical parts (particularly if you are new to the nuts and bolts of cognitive neuroscience). But if you're a cognitive neuroscience dork (like me) and you love reading about the history of science (like me), and if you are reading this book on an e-reader, so you can pop back and forth between the text and web based resources e.g. Wikipedia etc. (like me), than this book is amazing! It's part autobiography of a son of a middle class Viennese toy merchant, who came to America as a child refugee from Nazi Germany, and went on to become a founder of a revolutionary new branch of science, and then was awarded a Nobel prize, and then kept going. This book is also an account of the 150 year (+) emergence of neuroscience and its confluence with molecular biology, psychiatry, behaviorism and cognitive science (eventually to become its own sub discipline, cognitive neuroscience). Additionally, this book functions as a step by step primer (more or less a condensed text book) on the biological sub straights of learning and memory, beginning with the neuron doctrine, and proceeding up to our current cutting edge, without omitting any important steps along the way. Lastly, this book serves a tacit function as an advice manual for young students who want to answer big questions (like what is consciousness), but really should begin by looking at small things (like neurons). I think of this book as the ultimate supplemental reading (or refresher) for any bio psych, or cognitive psych course. It really fills in some of the big blanks and brings the data to life, making it more human and thusly, much more memorable (irony aside), and therefore, much more functional/useable. If you have a real interest in the mind and brain (like me). And if you love to learn a subject both in the abstract, and from within a personal and historical context (like me), than I think you'll love this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Anca

    This is one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. It was not easy reading it as I constanly felt the urge to pay 100% attention in order not to miss anything and to try to understand and decode all the precious information that I had before my eyes. It was more of a study book from which I've learned about history, psychology, biology and genetics. Reading this book, I've learned that anxiety and depression are disorders of emotion whilst schizophrenia is a disorder of thought. I've lea This is one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. It was not easy reading it as I constanly felt the urge to pay 100% attention in order not to miss anything and to try to understand and decode all the precious information that I had before my eyes. It was more of a study book from which I've learned about history, psychology, biology and genetics. Reading this book, I've learned that anxiety and depression are disorders of emotion whilst schizophrenia is a disorder of thought. I've learned that mental illnesses are caused by both genetics and environmental factors. I've learned that proteins' synthesis are the basis of long term memory and that Drosophila, better known as the annoying fruit-fly, is a key experimental tool for the scientific studies. I've learned that what we believe to be a conscious action is actually initiated by the unconscious, but it get's to be validated by consciousness. "Our conscious mind may not have free will, but it does have free wont", Richard Gregory and Vilayanur Ramachandran This book will remain a reference for me and I know that I will come back to it to refresh my memory, because, as Kandel himself says, practice makes it perfect.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    A very readable science book for the layperson, explaining the basic neuroscience of memory. The author, a Nobel-prize-winning neuroscientist, weaves three threads together: a memoir about his own life, the history of thought and research on the workings of the brain, and an account of his own research into the biochemistry and physiology of memory formation. It's a tribute to the author's lucidity that I--whose 10th-grade biology class was 40 years ago now--was able to understand a lot of compl A very readable science book for the layperson, explaining the basic neuroscience of memory. The author, a Nobel-prize-winning neuroscientist, weaves three threads together: a memoir about his own life, the history of thought and research on the workings of the brain, and an account of his own research into the biochemistry and physiology of memory formation. It's a tribute to the author's lucidity that I--whose 10th-grade biology class was 40 years ago now--was able to understand a lot of complex, cutting-edge science research. I expected to hit the wall that I always hit in reading an interesting-sounding Scientific American article, where the first paragraph poses a fascinating question, the second paragraph makes me think I'm ever so clever for understanding so much science, and the third paragraph loses me entirely at about the fourth word. But every time Kandel approached what I thought would be that sudden wall in his scientific explanations, he switched neatly back to an episode of his own life, thus leading me through the whole book believing that I was quite clever. Kandel's own early history, leaving Vienna just ahead of complete Nazi takeover, is compelling. He offers lots of insights for outsiders into the scientific research community, and a lot of history of how we came to know what we know about the human brain and consciousness. I read the book on my Kindle and didn't realize there was a helpful glossary until I had finished the book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    A remarkable book about memory, it may also work as an introduction to neuroscience, though, some background in neuroanatomy and related areas may be required. When I read the synopsis: ''Nobel Prize winner Kandel intertwines cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology with his own quest to understand memory. '' I thought the book was going to be very technical and arduous, so I prepared myself for that. However, when I started reading it, I discovered that it was really easy-readab A remarkable book about memory, it may also work as an introduction to neuroscience, though, some background in neuroanatomy and related areas may be required. When I read the synopsis: ''Nobel Prize winner Kandel intertwines cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology with his own quest to understand memory. '' I thought the book was going to be very technical and arduous, so I prepared myself for that. However, when I started reading it, I discovered that it was really easy-readable. Further, I didn't know that it also was an autobiography and I truly enjoyed those parts, because when you want to follow a similiar path, it's good reading about what others have done. As I said, the book is mixed with his life (marriage, nazi period, Nobel prize), his discoveries, other scientists discoveries and explanations about memory/the brain. Ofyenly, the last was hard to get, not because the concepts were difficult, just because the rhythm in the book changes. Therefore, sometimes you are reading about his life, and then he starts speaking about the brain, its chemistry, anatomy.. etc. I got used to it, but it maybe a little bit disturbing. I found it weirdly interesting when he talked about psychoanalysis (he was going for that career path. Nonetheless, he decided to go for Neuroscience). Psychoanalysis is not dead for him, he even talks about it getting a bit together with neurology. For me, that's a ridiculous idea, I think they are really opposite, but I am curious, so if anyone knows a book that talks about that idea, I will welcome it. Great book anyway.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ruxandra

    After reading this book I feel it is the only one I've read, apart from MAUS, that deserves five stars. After reading this book I feel it is the only one I've read, apart from MAUS, that deserves five stars.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ardon Pillay

    Simply magnificent. Kandel, who is perhaps one of medicine’s lesser known Nobel laureates, outlines the major advances in neural science over the last hundred or so years, from Ramon y Cajal's seminal work on neurons to the most recent advances in understanding how consciousness works. He is a champion of the reductionist approach for understanding how executive functions and emotions come about. His exploration of how we know how nerves work is truly a testament to the inherent logic that under Simply magnificent. Kandel, who is perhaps one of medicine’s lesser known Nobel laureates, outlines the major advances in neural science over the last hundred or so years, from Ramon y Cajal's seminal work on neurons to the most recent advances in understanding how consciousness works. He is a champion of the reductionist approach for understanding how executive functions and emotions come about. His exploration of how we know how nerves work is truly a testament to the inherent logic that underlies the functioning of physiological systems. Memory, which is the main focus of the book, is explained using the central tenets of how neurons work, making it very easy to understand. However, as Kandel does acknowledge, there is a lot more work that needs to be done - we only really have some pieces of the overall "memory jigsaw," and once we have more pieces, we can start putting it together to get a better idea of how memories are retained in the brain. The work Kandel himself has done is quite incredible; he discovered the underlying molecular basis of strengthening connections between neurons during operant conditioning and learning. Funnily enough, it links to one of the most prominent intracellular secondary messengers - cyclic adenosine monophosphate. His analysis of how this messenger leads to growth of synaptic terminals forms the scientific basis for popular memory techniques like active recall and space repetition. What is most curious of all is that these studies were not based on humans, they were on a sea snail! Despite the magnitude of the impact Kandel has made on neuroscience, he is remarkably humble, pausing only near the end of the book to describe the Nobel ceremony, but otherwise, mentioning the win only once or twice. He also explores his Austrian heritage, and how Austria, like Germany, was subject to intense anti-semitism during Hitler's rule. I suppose my main takeaway from this book is that there is a lot of beauty in the rationality that is built into physiological systems, from the brain down to individual blood vessels.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    This is an improbable book by an improbable man. Eric Kandel fled Vienna with his parents and brother when he was nine, just as the Nazis were moving in. The family settled in New York where Eric excelled in school and then went to Harvard to be...an intellectual historian...no, a psychoanalyst...no, a Nobel-prize winning brain scientist. Here, he weaves elements of his personal autobiography together with elements of his scientific biography. There are many ways to get at the science he present This is an improbable book by an improbable man. Eric Kandel fled Vienna with his parents and brother when he was nine, just as the Nazis were moving in. The family settled in New York where Eric excelled in school and then went to Harvard to be...an intellectual historian...no, a psychoanalyst...no, a Nobel-prize winning brain scientist. Here, he weaves elements of his personal autobiography together with elements of his scientific biography. There are many ways to get at the science he presents, but this is a good one, starting with work at the cellular level on learning and moving toward memory and the role of genes in the multiple components of the brain. For a nonscientist this book can be demanding but also astonishing. Kandel's story takes us several important steps toward understanding the interaction of organic features of human life with environmental features (nature v nurture). We end up with no "ghost in the machine" but a mysterious ability to take experience and record it at the molecular level, where memories are stored. Kandel's life really is his fascination with science, his attachment to his wife, and his generosity toward his scientific colleagues. Once he is clear of Vienna, he has the freedom to explore, examine and verify the underpinnings of what he calls "mind," not "the mind." Along the way he helps elevate biology, previously a descriptive science, to the analytic/synthetic heights of chemistry and physics. This exposition reminds us of our capabilities as human beings while at the same time illustrating the ways in which science outstrips social reality. The things we can do scientifically simply dwarf our abilities to fashion just, liberal societies. Kandel continues to believe that Freud, originally a neurologist, remains relevant, particularly in the dimensions of understanding the conscious, the pre-conscious, and the unconscious. He frequently cites Freud's speculations about how much more his generation had to learn about the brain and how future generations undoubtedly would advance new paradigms for understanding it. The ultimate problem, of course, is subjectivity: why do certain experiences evoke different reactions in different individuals, all of whom really do see pretty much the same blue and hear pretty much the same note C. Kandel often mentions his love of music, but he doesn't reach the obvious conclusion: the role of the artist is to fashion a compelling aesthetic subjectivity to which the multitude can have access. Art is the deepest exploration of mind we know. That's why it is so hard to produce.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Piotr

    One of the biggest questions plaguing behavioral biologists during the 20th century was the localization of the engram, or, a memory trace in the brain. Well, most of them who weren't dualists were looking in the brain. One of the most thorough studies of engram localization was performed by Karl Lashley, who spent a good chunk of his career doing cortical lesions on rodents and primates. he sums up his (mostly) negative results with this quote: "I sometimes feel, in reviewing the evidence on the One of the biggest questions plaguing behavioral biologists during the 20th century was the localization of the engram, or, a memory trace in the brain. Well, most of them who weren't dualists were looking in the brain. One of the most thorough studies of engram localization was performed by Karl Lashley, who spent a good chunk of his career doing cortical lesions on rodents and primates. he sums up his (mostly) negative results with this quote: "I sometimes feel, in reviewing the evidence on the localization of the memory trace, that the necessary conclusion is that learning just is not possible...Nevertheless, in spite of such evidence against it, learning does sometimes occur." That was 1954 or so. We're in the 21st century now, and how far have we come on localizing an engram? Some would claim we know more about memory circuits than any other brain function. Others would claim that memory is a lie, and we can't be sure we really remember anything. Those people usually wear kilts and clutter state university philosophy departments. Kandel's autobiography is a nice mix of personal history, scientific history, and the the charmingly naïve obsessions which drive many of the greatest scientific discoveries of our time. He describes how he pioneered the use of the invertebrate Aplysia as a model system to study cellular bases of associative learning, in a network of some <1000 neurons. He also chronicles the discoveries of his peers working in other systems such as mammals, and discusses many convergent and divergent themes in the field of synaptic plasticity. The language is by far accessible to anyone with a rudimentary grasp of the English language, so no need to fear a bloated lesson in advanced neurophysiology. The most interesting aspect of the book is his description of cultural history. I would have actually liked him to go more in depth into this (although others on this site have voiced differing opinions) as heritage is a great analogy to a sort of "cultural memory." This would have strengthened the autobiography as a trans-subject analysis of science, history, and autobiography instead of a memoir. He describes his efforts to reconcile certain moral battles which are still being fought in Europe, and briefly, his approaches to preserving his own culture.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Adnan Khaleel

    Really good book that describes neuronal function from the ground up, and does so in a very easy to understand way. The one thing I did notice is that the book is semi autobiographical and I wasn’t expecting this. It doesn’t detract too much from its central purpose but even so, its a great book on the subject.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cheese

    Torn with this one. It’s an autobiography of someone I knew little about. I read this to gain insight into cognitive memory and relearning over bad habits. In the end this became in depth into the science of memory. I mean this stuff pans over decades, so it’s detail can be off putting even for someone so interested in biology as I. A well written book, but it doesn’t flow very easily. It was a slog.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mag

    A unique blend of memoir and science describing Kandel’s (Nobel prize winner for Physiology or Medicine in 2000) quest for memory both at the personal and scientific level. Kandel, a 9 year old Jew in Vienna in 1938, starts his book with his memories of Anschluss and Kristallnacht, describes the vividness of these memories and how years later they made him interested in why and how certain memories are remembered while others are lost. Throughout his career, he tackled brain and memory research A unique blend of memoir and science describing Kandel’s (Nobel prize winner for Physiology or Medicine in 2000) quest for memory both at the personal and scientific level. Kandel, a 9 year old Jew in Vienna in 1938, starts his book with his memories of Anschluss and Kristallnacht, describes the vividness of these memories and how years later they made him interested in why and how certain memories are remembered while others are lost. Throughout his career, he tackled brain and memory research at different levels from molecular biology to psychoanalysis, his most groundbreaking research being on Aplysia, a sea snail with very simple, yet molecularly big nervous system. All stages of this research are described exquisitely well in the book. Extremely informative and enlightening on all levels. I could have lived without some parts of the personal account, though. In particular, I had a bit of a problem with the overly self-righteous tone of some of his personal tales. Link: Kandel’s lecture on memory loss and aging http://www.iwf.de/iwf/do/mkat/details.aspx?Signatur=C 12884 4.5/5

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Jane

    Kandel creates a tangible link between “speculative metaphysics” (9) and experimental research. At once, this is a story of Kandel’s self and a story of creating and finding the space where the conceptual self can take shape. Kandel weaves his personal history into the history of biological inquiry into the nature of the mind. His method is ambitious, but, as an initially skeptical reader, I ultimately found it deeply meaningful. Through unifying philosophical, physiological, and his personal co Kandel creates a tangible link between “speculative metaphysics” (9) and experimental research. At once, this is a story of Kandel’s self and a story of creating and finding the space where the conceptual self can take shape. Kandel weaves his personal history into the history of biological inquiry into the nature of the mind. His method is ambitious, but, as an initially skeptical reader, I ultimately found it deeply meaningful. Through unifying philosophical, physiological, and his personal conceptions of the mind, Kandel leads us to consider that, perhaps, the space between these divergent ideas is the space in which we can find the utmost clarity on a range of fundamental metaphysical questions. Kandel ends his story through expressing gratitude for the fact that he had the privilege to explore these questions throughout his life and career. His words are humble but self-aware, at once light-hearted and blunt regarding the uglier parts of his personal history. I finished Kandel’s book grateful to have become acquainted with the honest, bright human voice behind such grand ideas.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Konstantin Okonechnikov

    The book provides a perfect explanation how difficult it is to be a real scientist and how to combine so many factors in life and research. A perfect motivation. And also with strong bias in my topic of interest: everything about memory.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Will Dorrell

    Nobel Laureate talks about his life and career - gives a broad strokes description of the cellular and molecular basis of memory and the progress it took from zero in the 1950s to hero in 2000. In no small part due to the author. Enjoyable, occasionally biochemically dense, but usually remarkably lucid (for a scientist). For those of you still unconvinced that abstract concepts like memory can be pinned down to molecules in nerve cells this is an effective antidote.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Wonderfully illuminating book on the "new science of the mind" and a life journey from Nazi Vienna to Nobel. At times too stuck in the weeds of molecular biology and meandering memoir, but generally outweighed by moments of exciting detail and sweeping perspective. Wonderfully illuminating book on the "new science of the mind" and a life journey from Nazi Vienna to Nobel. At times too stuck in the weeds of molecular biology and meandering memoir, but generally outweighed by moments of exciting detail and sweeping perspective.

  19. 4 out of 5

    John Turlockton

    An autobiography rather than detailing the neuroscience of the mind. I don't want to give it a rating cause it's not bad it's just not what I wanted. An autobiography rather than detailing the neuroscience of the mind. I don't want to give it a rating cause it's not bad it's just not what I wanted.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    This book more-or-less successfully combined an autobiography and a research history into a holistic narrative of the life's work of the author. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about how brains enable animals to change their responses to environmental events. The title captures the main theme of the book as far as the research aspect is concerned: Kandel spent much of his life examining neurons and related biological structures to determine a measurable, experime This book more-or-less successfully combined an autobiography and a research history into a holistic narrative of the life's work of the author. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about how brains enable animals to change their responses to environmental events. The title captures the main theme of the book as far as the research aspect is concerned: Kandel spent much of his life examining neurons and related biological structures to determine a measurable, experimentally verifiable, biological basis for memory and learning. It was at times thrilling and other times a bit dry to read about lines of experiments to probe the inner workings of cells and how they enable learned responses to stimuli. I believe I would've gotten a bit more out of the book if I had a stronger background in biology (something beyond high-school bio), but it did leave me very interested in learning more about the rise of the empirical study of "mind". Much of these parts of the book will also provide guidance and inspiration to young scholars regardless of discipline (and can be summed up by: work really hard, work with other really smart people, and don't be afraid to move around to find the best place for you to succeed). The importance of the scientific community is also on display in this book: discoveries don't happen in isolation, they take collaborators and competitors to help stimulate fruitful inquiry. While certainly many more pages were devoted to the Nobel winning science that shaped Kandel's life, a substantial amount of space was spent characterizing the role of Vienna, Judaism, and family in Kandel's life. He is a testament to the importance of strong family relationships: escaping Nazi-held Austria as a child with the help of relatives in America, having a supportive wife who was essentially a single mother to allow Kandel time to his scientific pursuits, and having grown children who recognize the important work their father did and tolerated his absence from parts of their childhood (though still give him some lip about it). Kandel also placed great emphasis on being Jewish and the role faith played in his life - the book isn't preachy, but it doesn't ignore his religious background either. It's impossible to talk about 1930's Vienna without talking about Judaism in any event. As the Nazi movement spread into Austria and Jews were first marginalized and then persecuted, Kandel laments the loss of the intellectual center of Europe at that time (and dutifully highlights the role Jews had in building Vienna's intellectual elite). This is an important point that he would later be able to revisit upon earning the Nobel prize. Invited to celebrate another intellectual win as a native son of Vienna, Kandel took the opportunity to shine a light on the persistent anti-semitic views of too many citizens of Vienna. To be honest, I didn't realize that Holocaust denial or down-play was even possible in Europe in recent times, and I wish Kandel and his collaborators well on their current efforts to address that issue. Finally, I will end on a note about the tone of the book. I found Kandel to come off as being a little condescending in places, especially when he was writing about the scientific discovery process. Obviously, Kandel is brilliant and is writing from a position of knowledge, but I just felt as though he could have made more of an effort to come across as an equal rather than a superior. Just an opinion, but I don't think it detracts from the book overall.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Kosenko

    This is a wonderful book. Part biography, part intellectual history, part first-rate survey of neuroscience. Or -perhaps- all biography, all intellectual history, all neuroscience. An intellectually and aesthetically beautiful work of a great mind and a phenomenal scientist. The joy of science, and the dark history of anti-semitism in Vienna, scientific triumphs and deaths of close friends and colleagues, inimitably clear descriptions of complicated scientific phenomena and the stories of their This is a wonderful book. Part biography, part intellectual history, part first-rate survey of neuroscience. Or -perhaps- all biography, all intellectual history, all neuroscience. An intellectually and aesthetically beautiful work of a great mind and a phenomenal scientist. The joy of science, and the dark history of anti-semitism in Vienna, scientific triumphs and deaths of close friends and colleagues, inimitably clear descriptions of complicated scientific phenomena and the stories of their discovery, a child’s poem about sea slugs and a family at the Nobel prize ceremony - it’s all there in a beautiful portrait of one extraordinary scientist’s rich life.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Yuriy Stasyuk

    In search of memory by Robert Kandel This was a strange and unusual read. Kandel combines a personal autobiography with the history of and an introduction to neuroscience. (With footnotes from the history of the philosophy of mind). If you are here because of Kandel you may like this, if you are looking for a history of neuroscience, some of the nostalgic longing for 20th century Vienna may be distracting - it was to me - and I love history. Some key takeaways for me: • There is serious physicalis In search of memory by Robert Kandel This was a strange and unusual read. Kandel combines a personal autobiography with the history of and an introduction to neuroscience. (With footnotes from the history of the philosophy of mind). If you are here because of Kandel you may like this, if you are looking for a history of neuroscience, some of the nostalgic longing for 20th century Vienna may be distracting - it was to me - and I love history. Some key takeaways for me: • There is serious physicalist work happening at understanding the neurobiological foundation of moods, emotions, memories, personality and identity. • Any long term memory - by definition - changes the mind. • The brain has a great amount of neuroplasticity, anything that can be learned can be unlearned, and relearned. • Neuroscience solves Kantian a priori vs Lockian tabula rasa debate in philosophy. "The anatomy of the neural circuit is a simple example of Kantian a priori knowledge, while changes in the strength of particular connections in the neural circuit reflect the influence of experience. Moreover, consistent with Locke’s notion that practice makes perfect, the persistence of such changes underlies memory." • Declarative vs procedural memories: "What we usually think of as conscious memory we now call, explicit (or declarative) memory. It is the conscious recall of people, places, objects, facts, and events. Unconscious memory we now call implicit (or procedural) memory. It underlies habituation, sensitization, and classical conditioning, as well as perceptual and motor skills such as riding a bicycle or serving a tennis ball." • Emotions begin in the subconsciousness: "a consensus is emerging on how emotions are generated. The first step is thought to be the unconscious, implicit evaluation of a stimulus, followed by physiological responses, and finally by conscious experience that may or may not persist. " • "Normal anxiety exists in two major forms: instinctive anxiety (instinctive or innate fear), which is built into the organism and is under more rigid genetic control, and learned anxiety (learned fear), to which an organism may be genetically predisposed but which is basically acquired through experience. - Both forms of fear can be deranged. Instinctive anxiety is pathological when it is excessive and persistent enough to paralyze action. Learned anxiety is pathological when it is provoked by events that present no real threat," • "Depressed people express a systematic negative bias in the way they think about life. They almost invariably have unrealistically high expectations of themselves, overreact dramatically to any disappointment, put themselves down whenever possible, and are pessimistic about their future. This distorted pattern of thinking… is not simply a symptom, a reflection of a conflict lying deep within the psyche, but a key agent in the actual development and continuation of the depressive disorder."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dia

    Kandel begins and ends his memoir/neuroscience primer with bold declarations of faith, that consciousness itself, as well as (and of perhaps even greater import) the unconscious processes deduced by psychoanalytic investigations, can be accounted for entirely via molecular and cellular activities. The book is therefore a great education and challenge for those who are interested in the problems and possibilities of reductionism. Kandel's work, for which he won a Nobel prize, shows that the simpl Kandel begins and ends his memoir/neuroscience primer with bold declarations of faith, that consciousness itself, as well as (and of perhaps even greater import) the unconscious processes deduced by psychoanalytic investigations, can be accounted for entirely via molecular and cellular activities. The book is therefore a great education and challenge for those who are interested in the problems and possibilities of reductionism. Kandel's work, for which he won a Nobel prize, shows that the simplest forms of learning do have molecular and cellular correlates in simple animals. It seems premature, though, to get excited about reducing higher cognitive abilities to the neural level, and Kandel does acknowledge some major scientific and philosophical problems with reductionism, but mostly he remains optimistic. (Thus I was surprised to read that he once cautioned a colleague [rival?] against pursuing the question of consciousness -- it seems to go against everything he did and all that he explicitly recommends in the final chapter of his book!) Some of the interesting threads Kandel weaves throughout this memoir include his childhood in Nazi Austria and his later, surprisingly recent, efforts to help Austrians acknowledge past atrocities; the brief histories of neuroscience he gives each time he begins describing a new topic of research he pursued; his unapologetic involvement with the biotechnology industry; and the many brief but vivid and gracious portraits he offers of his colleagues. Thankfully, his writing is clear, as well. I would have liked to have learned more about Kandel's own experience with psychoanalysis. This is not a tell-all memoir, nor should it be, but some discussion of his own analysis might have helped the reader understand why Kandel remained allied with the tenets of psychoanalysis long after many reductionists would have discarded them. It might also have helped the reader understand why Kandel made some of the career moves that he made, important moves that seem inexplicable as the book now stands; for example, one professor told him to look to the cell for an understanding of the psyche -- and so he did, for the rest of his life. Without some sharing of his own analysis, Kandel deprives the reader of a clear understanding of why he became a reductionist, really -- other than that he just really enjoyed research, and research implies reductionism. On the other hand, it probably is best that he didn't air his inner dynamics -- and he has plenty to say without all that.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Derek Davis

    This is a superb study of the science of mind as well as a superb study of Kandel as a human being. It traces his progress from a child escaping the Holocaust to his Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology, and beyond. Starting out in psychiatry, he switched to being a research scientist who followed his own intuitions, rather than professional advice, to slowly unfold the secrets of how memories are formed in the neural system, first in a sea snail, then in mice, finally in humans. Though the pr This is a superb study of the science of mind as well as a superb study of Kandel as a human being. It traces his progress from a child escaping the Holocaust to his Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology, and beyond. Starting out in psychiatry, he switched to being a research scientist who followed his own intuitions, rather than professional advice, to slowly unfold the secrets of how memories are formed in the neural system, first in a sea snail, then in mice, finally in humans. Though the progress toward a "theory of mind" still has miles to go, his part in its development today is fascinating. This is probably the clearest outline of scientific research that I've ever read, but it goes well beyond that, because it is interwoven with the personal progress of a remarkable human being. His telling personal details—especially the horrifying complicity of the Austrian population in the Holocaust and the country's inability and disinterest in dealing with that shame—give special weight to his life story. Yet the most winning aspect to his writing is the balance he brings to all these details and his apparent inability to attach blame to even the most intolerant. He attempts to share all credit at every level for what he's accomplished and appears not to have a jealous or condescending molecule to his makeup. If your bent is toward biological science and the unraveling of mental processes—especially the intermediate ground that is neither pop science nor numerical overload—I can't imagine a better book. If there were a Nobel for human decency in science, Kandel would deserve it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ashvin

    I'll be honest, I didn't finish it, and I likely won't any time soon. But, I wanted to say a few things about it in case anyone else was interested. Kandel does a fantastic job of explaining the neurobiology of learning and memory to the layman. He makes it understandable without dumbing it down. If you're interested in that, read this book. This guy is one of the greats. He has a noble prize and co-wrote Principles of Neural Science, the standard neuroscience book that every neuroscientist has. I'll be honest, I didn't finish it, and I likely won't any time soon. But, I wanted to say a few things about it in case anyone else was interested. Kandel does a fantastic job of explaining the neurobiology of learning and memory to the layman. He makes it understandable without dumbing it down. If you're interested in that, read this book. This guy is one of the greats. He has a noble prize and co-wrote Principles of Neural Science, the standard neuroscience book that every neuroscientist has. And I'm a neuroscientist. This book is part autobiography. Sorry, but although I have the utmost respect for him as a scientist, the autobiography part is pretty dull. He left Vienna in time to escape Hitler when he was a child. Other than that, boring stuff. If you're looking for a fantastic book that mixes biography and science, pick up Genius by James Gleick. It's about Richard Feynman, who's a character and a half. Gleick's other books aren't as good, so don't let that stop you. Three stars just because I applaud people who explain science well. He does that.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is half a memoir, half a book on the biological basis of cognition, and I dove into it enthusiastically. Unfortunately, there's easily enough material in here for two books, one for the personal aspects and one for the science. I burned out halfway through Kandel's career, and couldn't muster the enthusiasm to finish the final hundred-odd pages before it was due back at the library. Still, I'll keep an eye out for a used copy, because the subject is fascinating indeed: how does one study the This is half a memoir, half a book on the biological basis of cognition, and I dove into it enthusiastically. Unfortunately, there's easily enough material in here for two books, one for the personal aspects and one for the science. I burned out halfway through Kandel's career, and couldn't muster the enthusiasm to finish the final hundred-odd pages before it was due back at the library. Still, I'll keep an eye out for a used copy, because the subject is fascinating indeed: how does one study the biological foundations of thought and cognition? What's the mechanism for self-awareness? Understanding how electrical impulses are propagated between neurons is difficult enough: how do you design an experiment to measure thoughts? Kandel's certainly one for asking the big questions, and his tales of laboratory serendipity offer an amusing look inside the life of a research scientist.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Biser Hong

    Kandel has created a narrative that fuses his own scientific development and interests with the broader historical and landmark developments in neuroscience. He gradually focuses in on his own expanding research to present his own findings on memory and learning along with other related work. I found the book incredibly clearly written and his explanation of tricky scientific ideas very approachable. The autobiographical sections can be a bit unexciting but his interests in art and psychoanalysi Kandel has created a narrative that fuses his own scientific development and interests with the broader historical and landmark developments in neuroscience. He gradually focuses in on his own expanding research to present his own findings on memory and learning along with other related work. I found the book incredibly clearly written and his explanation of tricky scientific ideas very approachable. The autobiographical sections can be a bit unexciting but his interests in art and psychoanalysis contribute for an interesting tour of ideas. It was particularly interesting to see that in his thinking about the workings of the mind he considers ideas from a very broad spectrum - from nonempirical psychoanalytic thought to genetics.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    What can say? This book is a great book for anyone at all interested in Neuroscience. Fascinating discoveries on why some memories are stronger than others. This information has allowed me to realize that I can control how strongly I feel about things that happened in the past by simply not revisiting the memory. With time the strength of the memories will fade. worth reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    DJ

    I wanted a book about the physical implementation of memory in the brain. Fifty or so pages in, all I had learned was that Kandel had been molested by a nurse when he was a boy. A heart-warming story this might be, but the word science should be stripped from its title.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Biogeek

    An absolutely brilliant book from a brilliant mind. Kandel's writing flows off the page and is so easy to follow, even as he delves into some pretty intricate physiology, but always with some personal stories. Humorous and human, this is how science should be written. Am loving it so far. An absolutely brilliant book from a brilliant mind. Kandel's writing flows off the page and is so easy to follow, even as he delves into some pretty intricate physiology, but always with some personal stories. Humorous and human, this is how science should be written. Am loving it so far.

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