Thursday, October 09, 2008

Scientific American - Speaking of Memory: Q&A with Neuroscientist Eric Kandel

Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel is one of the Godfathers of modern neuroscience and memory study. Plus, he's just plain fun to listen to (or read, in this case).

From Wikipedia:
Eric Richard Kandel (born November 7, 1929) is a psychiatrist, a neuroscientist and professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with fellow recipients Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. His other honors include the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize, the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Charles A. Dana Award and the Lasker Award. Kandel has been at Columbia University since 1974, and lives in New York City. Kandel has recently authored In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (WW Norton), which chronicles his life and research. The book was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.
The rest of the entry is interesting as well.

Scientific American Mind sat down with with good professor for a little chat about memory. Geeky good stuff!

Speaking of Memory: Q&A with Neuroscientist Eric Kandel

MIND interviews the Nobel laureate about Freud's legacy, memory's foibles and the potential of drugs that boost brainpower

By Steve Ayan

Eric Kandel

Eric Kandel
Eric Kandel - Lange Nacht der Forschung / - Long Night of Science

Over the past 50 years Nobel laureate Eric R. Kandel has shaped our understanding of the basic mechanisms of memory through his studies of the primitive sea slug Aplysia [see “Eric Kandel: From Mind to Brain and Back Again,” by David Dobbs, Scientific American Mind; October/November 2007]. First a student of history and literature and later a psychiatrist, the Vienna-born Columbia University professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator has emerged as one of the most prominent brain researchers of the century.

Scientific American Mind: Do you see the humanities and natural sciences as separate realms, or can they be unified?
Eric Kandel: I think they can—and the biology of the mind is one of ­several possible bridges between them. But unfortunately, today people from different academic backgrounds do not meet and talk to each other so much. This was once quite different. For example, in Vienna at the end of the 19th century, uncovering the unconscious was a project shared by scientists, artists and writers alike. People such as [writer and doctor] Arthur Schnitzler, [painters] Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and [artist, poet and playwright] Oskar Kokoschka exchanged their ideas with scientists and other intellectuals and scientists in literary circles.

Mind: Do you regard Freud as a ­scientist?
Kandel: His aim was clearly scientific, but his methods weren’t. Until 1894 Freud tried to develop a neurobiological view of the mental apparatus. But because of the limited knowledge of his time, he finally gave up on that idea. Although Freud kept on working in a fairly systematic way, his ideas lacked an empirical foundation. But to my mind, the problems with psychoanalysis arose with those who came later. Freud’s followers should have tried to verify at least some of Freud’s postulates using empirical methods. Instead they treated him as if he were a guru. Nevertheless, we have profited from Freudian ideas. For example, he bridged the gap between mental disease and mental health, seeing the same unconscious mechanisms at work in both.

Mind: Why is the unconscious so fascinating to us?
Kandel: Because 80 to 90 percent of what we do is unconscious. When we speak, we use presumably correct grammatical structures while paying little if any conscious attention to this grammar. And we act in lots of other ways without having the slightest clue what we are actually doing. Much of our urge to understand the unconscious arises from the spooky feeling that there is something within us governing our actions.

Mind: How does the modern understanding of unconscious processes differ from Freud’s?
Kandel: Freud first proposed one fundamental driving force, the libido, and later, in response to the horrors of the First World War, added the “death impulse” Thanatos. These are very broad categories that brain research cannot really deal with. But Freud did not think there was a unified unconscious. ­Instead he came up with a topology of different forms: the implicit unconscious representing motor and perceptual skills, the preconscious filled with material we can readily become aware of, and the dynamic unconscious in which, for example, instinctive impulses are suppressed. With modern neuroimaging techniques, we are finally able to discover what the brain is doing during conscious or different forms of unconscious processing.

Mind: We tend to think of memory as a kind of library that holds a record of events and facts that can be retrieved as needed. Is this an accurate metaphor?
Kandel: No, memory is not like that at all. Human memory reinvents itself all the time. Every time you remember something, you modify it a little bit, in part dependent on the context in which you recall it. That is because the brain’s storage is not as exact as written text. It is always a mixture of many facades of the past event: images, pictures, feelings, words, facts and fiction—a “re-collection” in the true sense.

Go read the rest of the interview.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speaking Of Memory And Of Culture-Genetics

A. From “Speaking of Memory, Eric Kandel”

Are there unanswerable questions in neuroscience; ones that should be left to philosophers and poets?
Who’s to know what will emerge 50 to 100 years from now. But for the foreseeable future I think it’s our lack of ingenuity that is limiting, not the intrinsic difficulties; the problems are difficult—but not insurmountable.
Even love?
I think there’ll always be magic to life, even though science explains a great deal.

B. BioCulture
June 16, 2006

To paraphrase a statement by Eugene Thacker in the opening pages of Biomedia (ISBN 0-8166-4353-9):
I posit that as every organism's cultural element is an artifact which involves biological intra-/inter-cell expression and/or process, biological and cultural domains are not ontologically distinct, but instead culture inheres in biology. Dov Henis

C. On “our lack of ingenuity” and “science explains”

Bigger Human Brain, Horses And Wagon

On Culture And Genetics, Horses And Wagon
If you saw it once, you saw it a million times: it’s the horses pulling, not the wagon pushing !

Dov Henis
(comments from 22nd century)