In Search of Memory - The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (Anglais) Broché – 24 avril 2007
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Ce livre était un cadeau pour célébrer les 48 ans de mon fils qui vient de le recevoir avec beaucoup de plaisir et de surprise !
Je ne l'ai évidemment pas vu, mais tout doit être bien comme d'habitude.
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Kandel's life is intertwined with his attempt to understand what makes us tick. He writes about the scars that Nazi occupation has left on a young Jewish boy in Vienna. These scars lead to a passionate quest for "why", why do people act as they do. Luckily for us, Kandel's attempt to answer this question leads him on a quest that has him surfing the perfect wave of the brain research his whole life. And in this book, we get to experience the wave with him.
For me, science books are often either too technical, or too mushy. This one manages to hit the golden middle ground. After reading it, I have a lot better understanding of the brain & memory in general, and some topics I was not really looking to understand: genetics & cell biology.
The book is well organized. Kandel's personal memories mix with science and keep things from being too dry. The discoveries he describes come alive with the personalities that made them. And when you forget the exact meaning of some technical term such as "modulating circuit", there is a great glossary appendix to refresh your memory.
And the topic of the book is so fascinating. Memory is at the core of who we are, why do remember our summer holiday from 1972 so well, and forget what we had for breakfast today. Science, that invites you to think those grand philosophical thoughts.
The book ends around 2004 with author applying his work to Alzeheimer's disease. From Kristalnacht to biotech in a lifetime, what a journey.
The only thing I wanted to ask Mr. Kandel was how do we manage to store so many memories. I understand how a single experience is stored, but what ties a sequence of experiences together?
Highly recommended for science types, and those who like to mix biology & philosophy.
Kandel tells us how he switched interests early on in his life, from history to psychoanalysis (which continued to serve as a foundation for his future scientific endeavors) and finally, to the molecular bases of behavior. As a young medical student, entering a research laboratory for the first time, Kandel was initially disappointed that he could not immediately look for a neuroanatomical basis of Freud's structural psychic apparatus. Instead, Kandel began studying nervous systems in a piecemeal fashion - one cell at a time. Moving from mammalian to invertebrate specimens, Kandel finally settled on his model organism, Aplysia californica (a sea snail), in order to pursue his studies on the cellular foundations of learning and memory. This line of research would eventually lead Kandel to make groundbreaking discoveries in the field and decades later, to set up a biotechnology firm (`Memory Pharmaceuticals'), to explore ways of chemically improving memory in human subjects.
Throughout the book, Kandel offers the reader a unique and intimate look into how the emerging fields of molecular biology, neuroscience and psychology were coalescing and contributing to the emergence of a new science of mind. For anyone with interest and a background in this field, Kandel's book is a fascinating history lesson and an important source of inspiration. However, the book is also accessible to general, educated readers. The science is not likely to be too overwhelming for someone without a background and Kandel eases the reader into it gently.
The book interweaves threads of science, personal life stories, career, friends, Jewish history, Nobel prize ceremony and biotechnology. The main story is about neuroscience, with emphasis on personal scientific work that culminated with Nobel prize award in 2000. The book can be divided in following sections: personal life, history of neuroscience and molecular biology, short term memory, long term memory, complex behavior and DNA, consciousness, mental illnesses, the experience of receiving Nobel prize, Austria and its relationship with Jewish community in the past and today and an insight analysis of trends in biotechnology from a business point of view.
The book is focused on the biology of short term and long term memory. Eric does an excellent job explaining the evolution of neuroscience up to the point when he started his career, so the reader has a good understanding of contemporary issues and of the formation of neurobiology. I liked a lot the fact that Eric Kandel kept the level of detail in balance and put the explanations in the perspective of human evolution. I loved how he classifies the mechanisms of learning as being either Kantian or Lockean: we are a combination of genetics and learned life experience. It is this philosophical approach that is constantly felt through the whole book that gave me a sense of direction and purpose of his work. His logic is very neutral (objective), in the sense that he refers to our mind as the result of an evolution based on laws of physics, chemistry and genetics. This is a stark contrast with the approach of psychoanalysts during most part of the 20th century that puts so much emphasis on personal interpretation based on patient confessions that transcends biological reality . This is another aspect of the book that astounded me: despite the fact that he is so methodical about deciphering the way the mind works using a reductionist approach, thus implying that mind is a complex and large collection of simple neuronal structures, he is so human when he talks about his family and friends. He talks a great deal in an emotional way (happy, sad or humorous) about his friends, mentors, colleagues and students. His emotions, infinitely more complex than any of Aplysia's rituals, in a way, are a reminder of the huge work that still needs to be done until we will understand how our neurons can create such sophisticated behavior.
The book talks in great detail about the structure and functions of neurons, with lots of details about how electrical and chemical signals work at the synaptic level. Eric Kandel did a great job describing the molecular and ionic hypothesis, signaling, protein manufacturing, genetics and their role in memory. However, I thought that it helped me a lot my prior understanding of how genes expression works, because the book does not provide much assistance in that area. This is especially important for readers who are more interested in aspects of long term memory and complex human behavior.
I found fascinating the section dedicated to consciousness. As usual, Eric takes the reader through the history of genetics and then spending more pages on the work of Francis Crick and Christof Koch and current developments.
Eric closes his book with a personal analysis of the current state of the science of mind, what is next and his sharing with the readers of how one should plan a career in general, based on his personal experience. Excellent book!
When I picked up this book, I was familiar with most of that. I was introduced to Eric Kandel, the scientist, through neuroscience coursework. I was quite familiar with his work both on Aplysia and mice. I thought that reading this book will be more of that; an overview of the science that lead to such discoveries.
I quickly realized, flipping through its pages at a local bookshop, that "In Search of Memory" was much more. A few minutes after I started reading it, I decided to buy it. I could hardly put down afterwards; it was very captivating.
This book is an elegant synthesis of Eric Kandel's personal life and scientific career. It is very well written in a style that, at times, allows the reader to feel that he or she is part of a particular experience that Dr Kandel describes.
Reading this book, one is introduced to Eric Kandel's early childhood in Vienna at the time when Hitler's army had just invaded the city. His memories of the time deftly describe not only his suffering as a Jew, but also reflect on an ideology of hate (Nazism) that allowed its followers to undertake the biggest genocide of modern history: The holocaust, which "Erich" and his family narrowly escaped. The fact that people can behave in such a manner sparked Dr Kandel's interest in human psychology and behavior, an interest that later made him seek training as a psychoanalyst. From psychoanalysis, Dr Kandel sought a more fundamental understanding of the mind, which turned him into an experimental neuroscientists and later into one of the major contributors to the "New Science of Mind".
Reading this book was a very rewarding experience. One clearly sees how working on a boundary of two disciplines can lead to many new insights. Dr Kandel used the technical advances laid down by giants like Hodgkin, Huxley, Katz, Eccles, and Sherrington along with his knowledge of behaviorist methodology to ask questions on how simple neural circuits learn and store memories.
One thing that I particularly gained from reading this book is the distinction made between "day science" and "night science". Day science is the kind of science that one undertakes when the scientific problem is clear and the methods to investigate it have been developed. Night science, on the other hand, involves thinking of what is far beyond our current understanding; a grand problem that will advance our knowledge of a poorly understood but a very important problem (like memory for instance). One needs not only to develop the methods, but to actually identify the problem in a testable way. I found that distinction fascinating.
I was particularly pleased of how Dr Kandel acknowledged not only his mentors and colleagues, but also his students and postdoctoral fellows. These acknowledgment did not appear in an acknowledgment section, but rather appeared during the relevant sections of his narration. That put things in perspective and gave the feel that these people were actually very much part of his life story.
The chapter on consciousness was a bit brief and failed to mention the work of Guilio Tononi whose work I consider to be monumental in that field. Tononi has constructed a rigorous theoretical analysis of consciousness that gives insight into how interconnectivity in the brain can lead to the emergence of consciousness. His theory has been tested and partially validated in a series of experiments carried out by his group and published in the journal Nature.
This is a minor point, however, and overall the book is a great treat. One is exposed to an interwoven tale of science, history and art. I highly recommend reading it for anyone interested in learning about life through the eye of a distinguished human being.
The book explains how the brain functions just like any other body organ, based on the fundamentals of molecular biology; and though much more powerful, how the human brain is fundamentally the same as that of any other living being. In addition to explaining the basics in a very simple manner, the author also provides an insight into how research projects are chosen by scientists, their thought processes, the wrong paths often taken and how scientific development corrects itself.
Though not addressed directly, the book questions the very existence of the `soul'? Is the soul just a figment of our imagination? It is difficult not to think of these questions once one understands how the brain has evolved and how it works. On the other hand, some of our age old sayings such as `Use it or lose it' (every part of your body has a corresponding section in the brain and the more you use some part, the brains assigns more area to that part), `Practice makes perfect' (synapses are strengthened through learning and repetition) are very much substantiated by the scientific findings.
Why should you read this book? Let me quote to you a couple of sections from the author's Nobel Prize acceptance speech. `Engraved above the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was the maxim, Know thyself. Since Socrates and Plato first speculated on the nature of the human mind, serious thinkers through the ages ... have thought it wise to understand oneself and one's behavior...' ` The biology of the mind bridges the sciences - concerned with the natural world - and the humanities - concerned with the meaning of human experience. Insights that come from this new synthesis will not only improve our understanding of psychiatric and neurological disorders, but will also lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves'
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