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Waltzing with my wife


After-dinner Nobel banquet speech
Eric Kandel Scientist
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I spoke for our group.

Engraved above the entrance to 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, from Aristotle to Descartes, from Aeschylus to Steinberg and Ingmar Bergman, have thought it wise to understand oneself and one's behavior. Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard and I, whom you honor here tonight, and our generation of scientists, have attempted to translate abstract philosophical questions about mind into the empirical language of biology. The key principle that guides our work is that mind is a set of operations carried out by the brain, an astonishingly complex computational device that constructs our perception of the external world, fixes our attention, and controls our action.

We three have taken the first steps in linking mind to molecule, by determining how the biochemistry of signalling within and between nerve cells is related to mental processes and to mental disorders. We have found that the neural networks of the brain are not fixed, but that communication between nerve cells can be regulated by neurotransmitter molecules discovered here in Sweden by your great school of molecular pharmacology.

In looking toward the future, our generation of scientists has come to believe that the biology of mind will be as scientifically important to this century as the biology of the gene has been to the 20th century. In a larger sense, the biological study of mind is more than a scientific inquiry of great promise; it is also an important humanistic endeavour. The biology of mind bridges the sciences concerned with the natural world and the humanities concerned with the meaning of human experience. Insights that come from these new syntheses will not only improve our understanding of psychiatric and neurological disorders, but also lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves. Indeed, even in our generation, we've already gained initial biological insights towards a deeper understanding of the self. We know that even though the words of the maxim are no longer encoded in stone at Delphi, they're encoded in our brain. For centuries the maxim has been preserved in human memory by the very molecular processes in the brain that you so graciously recognized today, and that we are just beginning to understand.




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: Delphi

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016