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About the Author

Eric R. Kandel is a University Professor and the Fred Kavli Professor at Columbia University and a Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his studies of learning and memory, he is the author of In Search of show more Memory, The Age of Insight, and Reductionism in Art and Brain Science and the coauthor of Principles of Neural Science, the standard textbook in the field. show less
Image credit: August Wieselmayer from Wien Vienna, Österreich Austria

Works by Eric R. Kandel

Principles of Neural Science (1981) 581 copies
The Women of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoscha (2015) — Author — 10 copies

Associated Works

The Earth and I (2016) — Contributor — 23 copies


Common Knowledge



Discussion of how the brain works, illustrated by examples of what happens when it doesn’t work properly. Lots of history too, about how the brain has been understood in the past. The author certainly knows what he’s talking about - he won a Nobel Prize for his work on brain function. Clearly written for a lay audience.
steve02476 | 1 other review | Jan 3, 2023 |
After reading this book I feel it is the only one I've read, apart from MAUS, that deserves five stars.
luciarux | 15 other reviews | Jul 3, 2022 |
aftabhumna | Oct 18, 2021 |
All fear of reductionism is a fear of change. We have our philosophies, our models of what is true, and when someone comes along and disturbs that, we don’t like it.

The advance of science has been to break down, to reduce, all processes to their smallest fundamental events. For example, materials were once understood as whole things, then as attribute and extension, then as atoms, then subatomic particles, and finally as field interactions. All of this is true, but it doesn’t help an engineer determine the fatigue strength of a piece of steel. Macro properties are not destroyed by understanding micro properties. The same is true of, say, consciousness. If we break it down, understand it in terms of chemistry and electrical interaction that should not stop people using the higher understanding as a model. It remains analysable as a single unit, even when its basis is fully understood in terms of tiny events. Where this advance does cause a problem is when certain philosophies depend on a particular model for their existence. Life is completely understood as chemistry, but that causes problems for any philosophy that requires it to be separate from chemistry. The only people who need to be scared of reductionism in this sense are those whose philosophy is built on “the spark of life”, or some other piece of magic. As for the rest of things, an irregular set of surfaces, red in colour, with a linear green attachment, comprising various mechanisms for the chemical and photosynthetic transfer of energy, is still a rose by any other name, and it still smells as sweet.

Of course as Kandel implicitly suggests it depends on what we mean by 'fear', I suppose. There are actual limits to the utility of reductionism. Like any tools, the answers reductionism gives you depends on the precise nature of the tools you use. As an analogy imagine you have a cylindrical chocolate cake. You take a knife, and make one plane cut that passes through the centre of the cake. How big are the resulting pieces? Theoretically, the answer is that you have two halves. But in reality? In reality, you also have crumbs, and bits stick to the knife. How much of each depends on things like how dry or moist the cake is, how smooth the knife is, etc., etc., etc. We really consider the analogous properties of the analytical tools we use when we perform reductionist science. Even numbers are not immune. Numbers are often treated as if they are somehow incredibly precise, when in fact we use them to mean very different things. 'One' football team has little in common with 'one' maggot, 'one' forest, 'one' universe . . . Even in a more abstract sense, numerical systems do not agree. Fractions and decimals cannot be exactly mapped one to the other, for example. So I don't fear reductionism; but I do find myself bemused as to why this (or any other) scientific method is treated as if infallible; especially by those who can clearly see the problems with treating religious dogma as infallible. All scientific theories are descriptions; no matter how accurate, they are not 'the truth' any more than a map actually is the land it represents.
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antao | Jul 26, 2021 |



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Peter Baldinger Graphic design
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