Monday, March 28, 2011

Events NYC | Neuroscience: Eric Kandel on Memory at CUNY

Erkenne Dich selbst (know yourself)

This evening my walkabouts took me across the street from the Empire State Building: the Graduate Center of CUNY presented Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, as launching event of the new Interdisciplinary Committee for Science Studies. Eric R. Kandel, M.D., professor at Columbia University and director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 2000.

In his presentation dr. Kandel focused on memory and introduced the history of research on memory as a system problem and as molecular problem. He started with phrenology (from the Greek φρήν "mind" and λόγος "knowledge"): the popular XIX century discipline (now considered pseudoscience) was developed by the German physician Franz Joseph Gall and assigned cognitive functions and emotions to areas of the brain. The history of how cognitive functions became assigned to specific brain region was quite fascinating and quite amusing to learn how intelligence and emotional responses were determined as function of measurement of the skull.

Dr. Kandel's presentation progressed into contemporary neuroscience and introduced memory related topics such as the relationship between short term, long term, implicit and explicit memory, spatial learning in the hippocampus, influence of aging and how memory is effected by emotions. He also mentioned his upcoming book on art and neuroscience, with references to the German expressionism as well as Gestalt and visual illusions. The content was delivered with great clarity to be fully understood and appreciated even by an audience without specific more technical knowledge in the field of neuroscience.

In the QA session the audience introduced major themes such as neuroscience and ethics: can evil have a biological explanation?

Unfortunately the QA session ended before I was able to ask a question on mnemonic systems from the ancient Greece, Rome and the Renaissance ---as narrated in The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates. As an artist interested in neuroscience and concerned with the transformation of space, the association between space and memory is quite relevant to my work.

To be continued...

PS The Empire State Building has nothing to do with dr. Kandel's presentation, I only took the photo on my way to CUNY, as I am always fascinated by the interaction of light with landmark building ---and I am not the only one, remember Andy Warhol? As the topic of the lecture was memory and this blog (as many others) is a collection of visual memories...why not including it?