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How Denise survived the war


My inspiring wife
Eric Kandel Scientist
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When I graduated medical school, which was soon after my experience, my first experience with Harry Grundfest, Denise and I were married on June 10th 1956. We had a small wedding at Denise's mother's house. Denise's father had died the year before. Denise was not only perhaps the most beautiful woman I've ever gone out with, but certainly the most marvelous woman I've ever gone out with. Extremely intelligent, marvelous taste, and very generous. And I immediately liked her very much. She just would surround herself with beauty.

And she sensed after a while that we should get married. And I was reluctant. And she said, 'What are you so reluctant about? We really like one another.' And I said, you know, 'I don't know. You know, my parents fight with one another, I'm not sure I'm ready to get married.' And she said, 'Well, of course, you know, we're going to fight with one another. The issue is not whether people fight with one another, strong-minded people will have disagreements. The issue is how you resolve that.' And we see we resolve those things perfectly well.

So I decided really in a leap of faith, the wisest leap of faith ever made, to get married, and Denise has changed my life at many critical points when decisions had to be made. She absolutely helped me with the right decision. You know, doing science. Later on when I finished my residency, I realized that it's going to be hard to combine psychoanalysis with brain science, and she encouraged me to devote myself completely to brain science.

And then, one year later I was offered the chairmanship of a department of psychiatry at Harvard. I could barely read and write and I was being offered the chair of a department. I would have killed for that job ten years earlier. Denise said, 'What? Throw your career away? It's absurd. You should continue to do science.' And this is what she's urged in me all the time. And she learned from her mother, sort of exquisite taste about arranging a house. Her mother collected Art Nouveau furniture, and she actually gave us a beautiful table when we got married. And we've surrounded our house with vases, with furniture, that's just a delight to look at. And I just feel privileged to be with her. In addition, she's a fantastically creative person.

Eric Kandel (b. 1929) is an American neuropsychiatrist. 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 Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, 'If you want to understand the brain you're going to have to take a reductionist approach, one cell at a time.' Kandel then studied the neural system of the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has large nerve cells amenable to experimental manipulation and is a member of the simplest group of animals known to be capable of learning. Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He is also Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Kandel's popularized account chronicling his life and research, 'In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind', was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: wife, marriage, inspiration, support

Duration: 3 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016