Friday, August 13, 2010

Review of In Search of Memory by Eric Kandel

Where do I start?  Wow! Tour de force!

Reductionism.  His fundamental pre-supposition:  the mind and spirituality originate in a physical organ.  Makes many uncomfortable, but its hard for reasonable people to deny it.  Ironically, Kandel used a reductionist scientific process to understand the human brain--studying the brain of a sea slug--but the result is a a feeling of how utterly marvelous and spectacular and complex the brain is.  While a reductionist process is used to study the brain, that doesn't make me feel that the mind or spirituality has been "reduced" (that would be a different kind of reductionism practiced by an old school atheist or materialist that concludes that because the mind arises from the brain, the mind is only an unsubstantial, epi-phenomenon.  On the contrary, the chemistry of the brain makes it possible for minds and spirits to develop and flourish.  Chemistry enables the heights of spirituality and should ultimately be seen as a spiritual thing.  No scientific explanation explains away the mystery of anything.  To paraphrase, Chesterton, water flows downhill because of magic and the magical mechanism is gravity.

Kandel is the teacher per excellence.  I've heard and read descriptions of neurons and synapses many times before.  When he describes them, its like I"m hearing it for the first time.  I won't even attempt the capture the magic of his words which have a lot to do with weaving science history of science with autobiography--with the journey of one man's mind to understand the mind.

More on this later.

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