Sunday, December 12, 2010

In Search of Memory (Rhoades)

“In Search of Memory” Finds an Interesting Man
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Think of it as spending time with a kindly professor, not in the classroom but tagging along with him as he talks about his research on memory loss.

Nueroscientist Eric Kandel was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his research into the science of memory.

“My life was pretty wonderful before then,” say Kandel, “but it changed it dramatically.”

Students consider this Harvard-trained scientist “a rock star.”

In fact, he looks more like an older version of Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” than, say, Rod Stewart. But it’s his brain they admire.

He says his mother made him become a scientist without intending to. Other Jewish mothers would ask their children when they got home from school, “Did you learn anything today?” But his mother would ask, “Izzy, did you ask any good questions today?” Asking questions pointed him to a career in science.
“In Search of Memory” – a documentary by Petra Seeger -- profiles Eric Kandel. It’s playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Rather than basing the film on Kandel’s book of the same name, Seeger offers a personal glimpse into the life and memories of the noted scientist. Her camera tags along as he visits his old high school in Brooklyn; follows as he takes his family on a visit to Vienna, Austria, where he was born; reenacts his memories of Nazis kicking his parents out of their spacious apartment; listens as he offers an on-the-fly lecture on the brain and how it stores memory.

The return to Vienna is “in search of memory,” he quips. His own.

He goes on to explain that “memory is the glue that binds our mental life together … memory provides our lives with continuity.”

And it makes us unique. “Everybody in the audience has a slightly different brain,” he says to a group of listeners.

He has started a company to help deliver cures for the problems of memory loss. There’s a need. “Take a hundred people,” he says. “Forty percent of them function like they are teenagers.” What he calls Successful Aging. “Another thirty percent go on to a mild disorder called Aged Memory Loss,” he expounds. “And the final thirty percent face a very severe illness known as Alzheimer’s.”

When it comes to these memory disorders, science is better at treating laboratory mice than people, he says sadly.

Nonetheless, Eric Kandel has been on the cutting edge of unlocking the secrets of the brain since the ’60s. And he has the big gold medal to prove it.

Is he playing God? No way, he protests. Being a scientist is no different than any other craft. “You’re a shoemaker,” he says modestly.
[from Solares Hill]

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