Book Review: In Search of Memory: the emergence of a new science of the mind.
Eric R. Kandel. W. W. Norton, 2006.
After a semester of exploring the workings of the brain and the mind, what (and how) will you remember? In his book In search of memory: the emergence of the mind, Eric Kandel—2000 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine for his work on signal transduction in the nervous system—presents a personal account of his lifelong attempt to understand the biological basis for memory set against a background of the development of modern cognitive neuroscience and the evolution of a new scientific paradigm. Kandel touches upon practically all of the topics explored this semester: the structure and function of neurons, how cells communicate via action potentials and neurotransmitter, the dynamic nature and multi-routed nature neuronal systems that incorporate both excitatory and inhibitory signals, how synaptic signals are strengthened. He also explores in greater detail the nature of short-term and long-term memory and the role that genes play with much more beside. Reminiscent of Watson’s Double Helix, In Search of Memory conveys a passion and excitement for scientific discovery; but where Watson’s 1968 work reflected his youthfulness, Kandel’s work demonstrates his sensitivity and maturity. Kandel’s familiarity with the key players and important contributions to his field of scientists and post-doctoral students is inspiring. We are presented with an almost Kuhninan intellectual account of the structure of the scientist revolution/evolution of neuroscience. We see how new ideas arise out of a mosaic of existing beliefs. Indeed, after reading Kandel’s five hundred page book, one gets the sense of seeing not merely the forest of memory and neurons, but also of the trees proteins and genes that play a role in the strengthening of synaptic connections.