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My wife, Denise


The love of a good woman
Eric Kandel Scientist
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Well love is a wonderful experience. And it has many phases. The acute phase of meeting a person that you really like, and becoming intimate with them, which is really quite wonderful. But it takes on another dimension when you live with each other for a while, because it's such a rich and enduring experience. I'm surrounded by beauty. I mean, I come from a family in which my mother was quite wonderful but had really no taste for, you know… she didn't have the resources to have elegant furniture, but she didn't have elegant taste. She didn't cook well. I've never had a bad meal.

Not only is the quality of what we eat, although it's very modest, but the way it's set out, you know, we have cloth napkins, dinners are a feast with us. And the… I mean, I take it for granted. I expect it. I would be disappointed if it wasn't there. But the quality of our life is just wonderful. And what we do together is so interesting.

We're planning our 60th wedding anniversary. So what do you think we're going to do for our 60th wedding anniversary? So Denise wants to rent a house, or something attached to a hotel which everyone can come in France, of course, in the South of France. Where we would have a swimming pool and tennis court and we'd all be together for a two- or three-week period, and also be able to visit some museums, maybe start off in Paris, and then go there and have a great time together and come back. I think it's just a wonderful idea to do that. Particularly wonderful for Denise, because Denise, unlike myself, thinks very carefully about money. I don't think about money at all. Denise counts the pennies and yet here she's willing to really… splurge is not the right word, but you know what I mean. I would not have accomplished what I did without Denise.

I had wonderful relationships before Denise, thought of getting married several times. Once I was very close to getting married. And those were great women. But my life with them would have been extremely different. In one case, I would have ended up being an analyst, I could have been, you know, maybe moderately competent analyst, but without any due respect to analysts, for me you can't compare the pleasures I've gotten out of science to the pleasures I would have gotten out of private practice. Just absolutely can't compare it.

[Q] This is love you're talking about?

Love. Yes. Denise saw things in me that I never saw in myself, and she brought them out. I'm wearing the suit that I'm wearing and the tie that I'm wearing because Denise thought this would be very good for this film. I have worn this on occasion with Charlie Rose, and she said, that's what you wear. And if she sees me hunched over or bent over she says, 'Straighten out. You look 20 years older'. I mean, she's great. I mean, not all of those things I enjoy as much as I make it appear at the moment, but she has standards for me in all aspects of my life which I respect.

[Q] How have you reciprocated in bringing out things in Denise?

I've brought out a lot of things in Denise. Denise did not have the intellectual confidence in herself. She was very bright, but her father gave her the feeling she's not a big picture person. She's very good in details, but she's not good conceptually. And that's quite wrong. I mean, she just didn't have as much practice as I had, but she has really quite deep insights. And our collaboration has been very satisfying. I mean, I… part of the collaboration was to give Denise an opportunity to get involved in animal work, and it's been wonderful for her, but also wonderful for me. But I think I've brought out features in her, in her academic life. She was the first sociologist ever to publish in Science. And my feeling was, one publishes in Science because you don't just want to speak to the person next to you, you want to speak to a larger scientific community. And she's continued to do that. No one showed slides in sociology, I don't know whether she was the first one, she was one of the early people to show slides.

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: Denise Kandel

Duration: 4 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016