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In the shadow of Isaac Bashevis Singer


How I learned to bow to the king of Sweden
Eric Kandel Scientist
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Several things that came out of it were spectacular. I mean, obviously the most marvellous thing is the Nobel events themselves. I mean, from the moment you arrive at SAS Airlines you're treated like royalty. They come out and they meet you, they take your luggage, and you don't have to worry about checking in or anything like that. You have a first class seat. And when you arrive they assign a chauffeur and a limousine to you, same person takes care of you for two weeks, and you have a sort of administrative assistant that says, you know, now you're going to meet this, and now you're going to meet that. And you know, it's just a wonderful series of events in which you have a meeting… a wonderful party at the American embassy, wonderful party at the Swedish Embassy, or at least the Swedish formal office of some sort.

On the Sabbath we went to the synagogue and they gave us a wonderful replica of the synagogue. We went to the Jewish museum, and they had - which I didn't realize at the time - a wonderful memorial of the saving of the Danish Jews. Denmark had 7000 Jews; practically not a single one was killed. When they found out that the Germans wanted to round up the Jews, they contacted people in Stockholm, and then shipped almost all of them to Stockholm where they were safe for the remainder of the war years. But 400 of them they were not able to round up, and the Nazis later rounded them up and sent them to Theresienstadt. But the Danish government was so nervous about that, they sent extra monies and supplies to make sure they would be protected and not sent off to Auschwitz or something else, and as a result, most of them were also able to return. So Denmark really saved almost all of its Jews.

And then there was the Nobel Prize lecture which was extremely enjoyable for me because I think if I remember correctly I was the last one to speak. I think Paul spoke first, or maybe Arvid spoke first, and then Paul, and then myself. And I enjoyed giving the lecture once I got over my initial nervousness. And what made the lecture particularly pleasant for me was that Jack Byrne has sent me a wonderful photograph of Aplysia with a Nobel Prize medal around its neck. This is the animal that deserves the Nobel Prize. And when I introduced Aplysia saying what a beautiful animal it was, clearly highly intelligent and very accomplished I said, and I showed this image, and laughter and applause broke out. And I said, from now on it's downhill. I didn't have to worry anymore. And I had a very pleasant talk, and after that there was a reception, and all my kids were there. Well first of all, before the reception… there was a reception, and my kids and my grandchildren were there. And my granddaughter [Libby], who's now a freshman at Columbia, was standing in the receiving line shaking hands. She very much insisted she wanted to be there shaking hands. And after about 45 minutes she said, 'My God, that's an exhausting job, standing in receiving lines!' And then there was the prize ceremony, which was really quite magical. And it was particularly important because Denise is very demanding of me, standards. And there was a major rehearsal beforehand, which you walk through all the steps. And the critical step is that when your turn comes, you walk up, the king gives you the medal and a certificate, and you bow to the king, you bow to the Nobel Assembly that gave you the prize, and then you turn and you bow to the audience. And Denise was there for the rehearsal, and she said you just don't bow properly. Look at the Asian recipients. Watch them, they bow from the waist, not from the head. And so when I received it and I turned to the king and I bowed and I turned to the Nobel Assembly and I bowed, when I turned to the audience I obviously focused on Denise who was pushing Paul in the arm, pleased with how I bowed.

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: Sweden, Theresienstadt

Duration: 4 minutes, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016