A quest to understand how memory works: interview with neuroscientist Eric R. Kandel

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At 82, the Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Dr. Eric R. Kandel is still constantly coming up with new ideas for research.

This winter, he has been working on a project that he hopes will lead to a new class of drugs for treating schizophrenia. Last year he collaborated, for the first time, with Denise B. Kandel — his fellow Columbia University research scientist and wife of 55 years — investigating the biological links between cigarette and cocaine addiction. And this month his newest book, “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain, From Vienna 1900 to the Present,” is to be released by Random House.

A condensed and edited version of our two interviews follows. As in his new book, the conversation begins with memories of Vienna, his birthplace.

How old were you when the Nazis marched into Vienna?

I was 8 ½. Immediately, we saw that our lives were in danger. We were completely abandoned by our non-Jewish friends and neighbors. No one spoke to me in school. One boy walked up to me and said, “My father said I’m not to speak to you anymore.” When we went to the park, we were roughed up. Then, on Nov. 9, 1938, Kristallnacht, we were booted out of our apartment, which was looted. We knew we had to get out.

Fortunately, my mother had the foresight to apply for visas to the United States earlier. For more than a year, we waited in the terror of Vienna for our immigration quota number to come up. When it finally did, my older brother, Ludwig, and I made the Atlantic crossing alone. Our parents came later. On the trip, it’s amazing how unfrightened I was, considering that even before the Nazis, I was an apprehensive child. You rise to the occasion....

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