The Quest to Understand Ourselves Through Art and Mind

Eric Kandel

I’m Alan Alda and this is Clear and Vivid, conversations about connecting and communicating.
Eric: 14:06 It was so exciting. I put an electrode into the cells of the hippocampus. This was a region that had been shown to be important for memory storage and I heard the boom, boom, boom of action potentials and the thrill of having that was just spectacular Now I had the naïve idea that all you had to do was to put an electrode into a cell that is involved in memory storage and I would understand how memory works. How dumb can you be?
Alan: 00:00 Eric, you were born in Vienna?
Eric: 00:02 Yes.
Alan: 00:04 You start your book with the most compelling story of when you were nine years old and it’s to me such an interesting example, such a prime example of how you can engage your reader with a story. What happened when you were nine?
Eric: 00:29 My father owned a small toy store and for my ninth birthday, he gave me something that I very much wanted, which was a train that I could control remotely. My birthday was November 7th. November 9th was Kristallnacht. That was the night in which a young Jewish guy, very much hurt by the fact that his parents have been kicked out of the house by the Nazis, walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot one of the officials working in the embassy. As a result not only was this boy arrested but Kristallnacht broke out in all of German controlled territory.
Alan: 01:27 What does that word mean in English?
Eric: 01:29 Kristallnacht means the crystal night. Every single synagogue in Vienna and in Berlin, and several other cities were destroyed. Many Jews were kicked out of their apartment including my family and Jews are beaten up all over.
Alan: 01:48 You were nine years old playing with your toy train when you heard pounding on the door as I remember?
Eric: 01:54 That’s right. Two guys walked in and said, “You’ve got 20 minutes to get your belongings together and then you’ve got to get out of here. We’ll send you to someplace else.” My brother who was five years older was more intelligent. He packed up his stamp collection, his coin collection, all the things were really valuable. I listened to our mother and she said, “Don’t forget to take underwear and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I took the boring things that are necessary for everyday life and none of the things I really valued. We left together and we were sent to another Jewish family much more affluent than we were. We were actually quite uncomfortable being there because we knew that they would be uncomfortable having all of a sudden to put up with us and we stayed there for five days before we were allowed to come back to our apartment.
Alan: 02:47 When you came back, what did you find?
Eric: 02:50 Everything of value is gone. My mother’s fur coats, my father’s better suits and all of my toys were gone.
Alan: 03:17 You came back to a thrashed apartment?
Eric: 03:19 Absolutely.
Alan: 03:20 Your whole life was turned upside down?
Eric: 03:22 Yes. Frightening experience.
Alan: 03:57 When were you able to leave and get to America?
Eric: 04:01 We left in stages. Hitler came in, in March of 1938 and we were able to leave in April 39 so one year after Hitler came in. My parents couldn’t leave until August 39. They just left before the war broke out. We were extremely fortunate to get out.
Alan: 04:20 You and your brother came?
Eric: 04:22 By ourselves.
Alan: 04:22 By yourselves.
Eric: 04:24 I was nine and he was 14.
Alan: 04:26 Wow.
Eric: in order to get to Antwerp where we got the ship that took us to the United States, we had to take a train from Vienna to Antwerp. My parents took us to the train station and my mother had so much confidence that things would work out that she conveyed that to us and I was never frightened. I find it hard to believe now in retrospect. If I had that experience now with my age, I would be scared to death but here I was, a nine-year-old, not the slightest bit scared.
Alan: 06:30 You couldn’t speak the language. What was it like for you? How did you get by? How did you get from that to being a Nobel Prize winner scientist? I mean, there’s such a leap there.
Eric: 06:45 It’s not unusual. If somebody actually did a study of how the European immigrates to the United States did compared to comparable people and the emigrees did surprisingly well. We had a hunger, we had an ambition, we had a need that was if not a conscious, certainly an unconscious driving force. It was very important. Also, there is something about teachers in America that is absolutely fantastic. I had several experiences but the most dramatic probably was in high school. I was a pretty good student particularly in history and I was also, forgive me for saying that, an athlete.
Alan: 07:39 Why should I forgive you for that?
Eric: 07:41 Because I hardly consider myself a great athlete.
Alan: 07:44 Come on, you swim everyday for [crosstalk 00:07:48] amounts of time.
Eric: 07:48 The speed is extraordinary. I was co-captain of Erasmus Hall track team.
Alan: 07:55 Wow.
Eric: 07:55 One thing that a Jew in Vienna learns is how to run.
Alan: 08:04 You made your way in sports and did you have an early interest in science?
Eric: 08:10 No. I didn’t have any interest in science at all.
Alan: 08:13 Isn’t that interesting. Were you interested in the arts?
Eric: 08:15 I was interested in the arts, yes and I’d like to write and I wrote a column for a newspaper called Gotham Sports, a commercial newspaper came out once a week called Breaking the Tape with Eric Kandel because as co-captain of the Erasmus Hall track team, I knew not only what our team was doing but what all the teams in New York City were doing so I started to write which was really quite wonderful when I think of it in retrospect, and I remember as a result of that my history teacher was very supportive of me and said, “Eric, where are you going to college?” I said, “I’m going to Brooklyn College. My brother is going there. It’s a wonderful school.” He said, “Have you ever thought of Harvard?” I said, “No.” He said, “Why don’t you apply to Harvard?” I went and discussed this with my parents who was so extremely poor and they said, “Look, Eric. We put out $5 for you to apply to Brooklyn College. Your brother is going there. It’s an excellent school.”
Alan: 09:28 It cost $5 to apply to Brooklyn College.
Eric: 09:31 It would be hard for us to do this so I went back to Mr. Campagna. Mr. Campagna gave me the $5 to apply to Harvard. This is unbelievable. I got into Harvard and a scholarship.
Alan: 09:45 Wow.
Eric: 09:47 Harvard was just an unbelievable experience for me.
Alan: 09:51 I’m so fascinated with your grasp of storytelling in the book, In Search of Memory. You tell that moment when you heard the beeps coming from the sea animal that you were studying. The animals is called the Aplysia?
Eric: 10:14 Yes.
Alan: 10:17 How did you choose it? Go back a little bit. Tell me how did you choose this snail? It’s a sea snail, right?
Eric: 10:25 It’s a marine mollusk. It’s a sea snail and it is characteristic of a number of decisions that I made which turn out in retrospect to be quite productive but that I had no expertise to help me make that decision so it was a decision that made almost unconsciously, intuitively without necessarily having the background information to do it.
Alan: 10:53 Kind of an intuitive leap you made?
Eric: 10:54 Intuitive leap. Very fortunate on my behalf. Let me tell you what it is. When I went to medical school. I had decided I should take a basic science selective. Now, why did I do that? I wanted at that point to become a psychoanalyst. As I was getting more and more interested in psychoanalysis, I thought that even as psychoanalyst you’d know something about the brain.
Alan: 12:11 Even a psychoanalyst like that’s where psychoanalysis is explained.
Eric: 12:17 I didn’t quite see it as clearly than as I see now. I took a six-month elective in brain science at Columbia and I just enjoyed it tremendously and as a result of that, I was recommended to the NIH. So when I got to the NIH, I worked in a lab with a guy by the name of Wade Marshal and he gave young people a complete freedom so I asked myself, “What are you gonna do? What are you gonna work on?” I said, “Look, the core problem for psychoanalysis is memory.” People had just found out that a structure deep in the temporal lobe called the hippocampus was critical for memory storage.
Eric: 13:16 I had learned medical school how to record from single cells which at that time was a technical achievement to put an electrode into the cell and actually record the biophysical properties of the cell.
Alan: 14:01 Is that the story that I remember so clearly the day you heard the beeps?
Eric: 14:06 That was the day it was so exciting. I put an electrode into the cells of the hippocampus. This was a region that had been shown to be important for memory storage and I heard the boom, boom, boom of action potentials and the thrill of having that was just spectacular
Alan: 14:49 Wait. Back up a second. Action potential. What does that mean?
Eric: 14:53 That’s a signal that nerve cells give when they communicate information. It’s a large electrical signal.
Alan: 15:27 You were doing this using the Aplysia?
Eric: 15:30 No. I was doing this in the hippocampus, in the mammalian brain.
Alan: 15:35 Oh, you had a probe in a person’s head?
Eric: 15:39 No, in a cat.
Alan: 15:41 Oh, in a cat.
Eric: 15:42 Yes.
Alan: 15:42 Okay.
Eric: 15:43 I developed the technique for recording directly from the hippocampus. I put an electrode into the hippocampus and recorded beautiful action potentials, boom, boom, boom from hippocampal neurons and I thought I would understand how learning occurs, how naive can you get.
Alan: 16:00 What did you do then? You didn’t stick with the cat, why?
Eric: 16:03 Why? I realized that this is … To study learning, you have to see how information is stored in the brain, how inputs are combined in some way so I realized this is too complicated to do in the cats. I have to go to a simple system where I can study a very simple learning process.
Alan: 16:25 That’s when you decided-
Eric: 16:26 That’s when I decided to go to Aplysia. Why did I select Aplysia? Aplysia has the advantage that has very few nerve cells so the number of cells committed to carrying out a single behavioral act is quite small.
Alan: 16:49 Let me show off here. As I remember the Aplysia has about 20,000 neurons?
Eric: 16:54 To the number, correct.
Alan: 16:56 The human brain by comparison has been billions, I guess.
Eric: 17:00 No comparison.
Alan: 17:02 You made the problem simpler by using a small population of neurons that you could …
Eric: 17:09 That’s called reductionism and this is a strategy that many scientists, myself included often take. You would take a complex problem that interests you and you take a very simple example of it and you try to drive it to the ground.
Alan: 17:30 I’ve read in your book the Aplysia you described as an animal about a foot long and weighing several pounds. That sounds like a lot of-
Eric: 17:49 A lot of flesh for very little never cells.
Alan: 17:52 Very little brain cell activity.
Eric: 17:52 Absolutely, right.
Alan: 17:56 Is that unusual in nature?
Eric: 18:00 No. There are many animals that have relatively small brain compared to the size of the body.
Alan: 18:06 That’s mostly politician.
Eric: 18:08 Also. They learned it from Aplysia.
Alan: 18:12 That’s just a dumb joke, I’m sorry. Using this reductionist approach where you boil it down to a simple problem then you were able to figure out how the brain learned and how memory is stored?
Eric: 18:27 Exactly. I was able to find for the first time that what happens when learning occurs, nerve cells communicate with one another to points of contact called synapses
Alan: 37:14 For people who aren’t familiar with the synapse, tell me what a synapse is?
Eric: 37:20 Neurons talk to each other at special points of communication called the synapse and that’s made up of three components. A pre-synaptic component, one cell, a little space and the other cell that contacts. The way it works is that the first cell releases a chemical substance called a neurotransmitter that diffuses across this little space, binds to the next cell and gets an excitatory process or inhibitory process going in the following cell.
Alan: 37:56 It’s happened almost instantaneously.
Eric: 37:58 It happens very rapidly. It happens in every nerve cell of the brain. Not simultaneously but different times and people thought that synapses might be important for learning but there were many other alternative ideas so there was several ideas floating around as to how learning could occur. I was the first person to show directly the learning involved changes in the strength of how nerve cells communicate with one another, changes in the strength of synaptic connections. I found there was certain kinds of learning, the connection got weaker and with other kinds of learning, connections got stronger. Let me give you an example.
Alan: 19:14 Yeah. What’s the difference?
Eric: 19:16 There’s a process of learning called habituation.
Alan: 19:24 You’re slapping the table with your hand.
Eric: 19:26 If I do this long enough …
Alan: 19:29 You drive yourself crazy.
Eric: 19:31 … you will learn to ignore it.
Alan: 19:34 I see. I get it. Habituation by sound.
Eric: 19:36 It’s just so boring. Habituation which is what that learning process is called is associated with a progressive weakening of synaptic connections.
Alan: 19:45 How interesting.
Eric: 19:46 If now I go, boom and I come back with the same weak stimulus, it will sound much louder to you and that’s called sensitization. When a strong stimulus enhances another reflex pathway that’s called sensitization.
Alan: 20:01 It’s almost as if the brain is saying, “You don’t need to pay attention to that,” until it says, “Now you better start paying attention again. Something is happening that might be dangerous maybe.”
Eric: 20:10 I don’t know why the hell you interviewed me. You know the answers to all of this. You’re just showing off.
Alan: 20:19 [inaudible 00:20:19] I find a part of the brain that’s responsible for that, I’ll give you $5.
Eric: 20:27 The prefrontal cortex.
Alan: 20:30 You already know.
Eric: 20:30 No. I’m making this up.
Alan: 20:37 This is so interesting because here you were studying how we learn and you became such a good teacher. Your teaching and your writing is so clear and vivid to borrow the title of the show. I’m curious, was there a moment, an aha moment when you said, “People aren’t understanding this if I talk this way.”
Eric: 21:16 Yes. In my early days, I would always practice my lectures and the talks that I gave. In fact, one time … It’s Jimmy Schwartz. We were rehearsing talks and I tried to give a clearest talk as possible and he gave a very confused talk. I said, “Jimmy, I’m your collaborator. I know what you’re working on and I have a difficult time understanding the experiments you’re describing.” I said, “Why do you do that?” He said, “Eric, you don’t understand. You simply don’t understand. I went to graduate school at Rockefeller University and there they taught us that if your lectures are too simple, they think your mind is too simple, so I purposely tried to make things a little bit more complicated. I had the opposite philosophy.
Alan: 22:04 What do you drew on for that? Can you each back into your own memory bank as the psychoanalyst you studied to be or were beginning to think about being? What gave you that urge to connect with the people you were communicating with and not just try to snow them with your impressive vocabulary?
Eric: 22:26 This happened in high school when the teacher would ask questions. You raised your hand and if you’re called then you stood up. And I would think through my answer and I would stand up and I’d give several sentence coherent answers and I saw that both of the teacher and the class responded very positively to this. I worked to make it clear as possible.
Alan: 22:55 It’s so interesting. You were paying attention to the audience in subtle ways.
Eric: 23:02 Always.
Alan: 23:02 And getting clues from them it sounds like how you were doing.
Eric: 23:06 I pay enormous attention to the audience even now. Sometimes I focus on a particular person who seems to be paying attention to me to make sure that the person continuous to follow what I’m saying.
Alan: 23:19 I find that very helpful.
Eric: 23:20 Very helpful.
Alan: 23:21 I take in the audience at random might and someone catches my eye who looks confused, I simplify it.
Eric: 23:29 Absolutely. I do the same thing.
Alan: 23:33 It is nice when they laugh, isn’t it?
Eric: 23:35 Fantastic. You know you really have them in the plan of your hands.
Alan: 23:40 To me laughter is a state of vulnerability and if we laugh together, we’re really more open with each other.
Eric: 23:47 Absolutely.
Alan: 23:50 I wanted to ask you about something is related to exactly what we’re talking about now. The people listening to the person talking, the communicator relies on the audience to a greater extent that a lot of us think about and I think you’ve thought about this a lot with regard to what is called the beholder’s share. That has to do with art and say [crosstalk 00:24:20]
Eric: 24:20 It’s the same idea.
Alan: 24:20 Same idea.
Eric: 24:22 It also is true for an audience and audience as a beholder, an auditory beholder.
Alan: 24:29 Tell us about the beholder’s share.
Eric: 24:31 The beholder’s share is an idea that Alois Riegl.
Alan: 24:37 Who is that?
Eric: 24:37 Is an Austrian art historian about 1900 teacher and he pointed out that there is the artist who creates something and there is the viewer who responds to it and he called that the beholder’s share because there are two parts to a creative act. The creativity itself and that is producing a piece of sculpture or a painting and having somebody respond to it. he was very interested in how people respond to works of art.
Alan: 25:16 As I understand in the conversations we’ve had there’s this idea that the work of art is incomplete until the beholder’s share has taken place.
Eric: 25:28 That’s why it’s called the beholder’s share. If you create a work of art and no one looks at it, what use is a work of art? There are really two components of it. The creative act of making the work of art and the creative active responding to it.
Alan: 25:44 The creative part responding to it.
Eric: 25:45 There is a creative component.
Alan: 25:47 Talk about that. Why is it creative and how does it not impinge on the work of the artist? Does it add to the work of the artist or does it?
Eric: 25:58 When you and I look at the same painting, we see it in somewhat different terms and that is we bring two things to bear on it, bottom up and top down. Bottom up is we have a common visual system, we have a common visual brain and that pretty much give us a similar view of the image.
Alan: 26:19 We see the composition the same way?
Eric: 26:22 Pretty much.
Alan: 26:23 What’s top down?
Eric: 26:24 Top down is you and I have completely different experiences in our life. I’m older than you.
Alan: 26:30 Not by much.
Eric: 26:33 I’m more experienced than you.
Alan: 26:35 You’re smarter than me. I’ll go with that.
Eric: 26:36 Not true. You bring to bear those experience, those associations which are quite unique for each of us.
Alan: 26:44 Right.
Eric: 26:45 That influences any work of art that we look at. Our previous exposure to art, our previous exposure to certain things of life that the art recalls in our head and so that influences our perception of the work of art.
Alan: 26:57 Now, you bring up a view of making art that I agree with. I get the impression there are artists, many novelists that I’ve talked to for instance who tell me they don’t think about the reader when they’re writing. They’re writing I guess out of experience that’s internal and they explore that internal experience, put it on paper and somebody reads it and they make of it what they will. I get the impression there are even some painters who do that. Are they kidding themselves or is that just another way to look at it?
Eric: 27:38 I think for the successful artist, it must be another way of looking at it. An artist is capable of depicting an idea in ways that is so clear that a beholder who doesn’t know the artist at all will be able to get a meaningful response to the work of art.
Alan: 39:49 You’re working on an interesting problem now about abstraction. Did I get that right?
Eric: 40:20 I’m interested in seeing how people respond to works of art.
Eric: 40:31 I’ve been working with a colleague called Daphne Shahani. A very good cognitive psychologist who does imaging and we went to see how a person like you when their brain is being imaged responds to work of art from the same artist when a work is figurative, transitional or abstract.
Alan: 40:52 What does transitional mean? Between figurative and-
Eric: 40:56 Between figuration and abstraction.
Alan: 40:58 In other words, a picture of a person who looks like a person.
Eric: 41:02 Versus a picture that, the outlines of a face but it’s not clearly delineated.
Alan: 41:07 Right. Then a real abstraction.
Eric: 41:09 Abstraction.
Alan: 41:10 This is fascinating.
Eric: 41:12 Fascinating. You see what’s happening is that the distinction between art and science in some ways is being diminished because we’re beginning to bring scientific methodologies to bear in the study of art, to give us even greater insights into how the beholder responds to work of art and maybe even to the creative process whereby the artist produces a work of art. Now many people thinks this will degrade art and will reduce our appreciation and I think that’s just nonsense. The more we understand something, the more insight we have in how we respond to something. [inaudible 00:42:39] makes our experience.
Alan: 42:41 It seems to me that’s true because I place a lot of value on trying to figure out what’s going on in the listener’s mind and the more I know, the more I know what I’m doing to that brain, the better more effective I think I can be.
Eric: 42:57 Exactly. That’s exactly it. What are you getting across. It’s just like when you communicate verbally, what’s the purpose of the communication if we don’t understand one another.
Alan: 28:42 I’m thinking the name Ezra Pound just fell into my head. I h ad the impression that he really didn’t care at all whether people understood him or not. I find his poetry almost impenetrable. Some people…
Eric: 28:59 TS Eliot for example was very much influenced by him so he was able to reach people in his level even though he was not able to reach the general audience in many cases.
Alan: 29:08 Sometimes I need to go a couple of steps down from TS Eliot too but I see what you mean. He did communicate with the beholder.
Eric: 29:15 He communicated with other poets quite effectively and influenced them.
Alan: 29:21 There is this interaction almost willy-nilly.
Eric: 29:26 For some people, communicating to other poets is more important than communicating to the general audience. I wouldn’t feel that way but I certainly want people who work at my level to enjoy my work but I wanted to go beyond that.
Alan: 29:43 Now, you’re capable of doing clear and vivid when you’re writing for somebody like me who’s curious but not trained in your work. Do you worry that someone who is trained in your work will find it too simple or do you have a way of talking to both of us at the same time.
Eric: 30:03 I think it’s essential to speak to both of you at the same time. What would bother a colleague of mine is if I distorted the facts
Alan: 30:49 What is called dumbing down.
Eric: 30:51 Yes.
Alan: 30:53 That doesn’t seem to help anybody. It certainly doesn’t help the uninitiated.
Eric: 30:57 It distorts the science.
Alan: 30:59 We get the wrong impression of what it is we start making crazy claims about science.
Alan: You’ve had a life with your wife, Denise that reminds me of the advice I give young actors. They expect me to tell them how to get an agent and I say the most important thing you can do is find a life partner who helps you stick to your values assuming you have any or helps you find a good set of values if you’re short on them and I get the impression that Denise has been that person for you.
Eric: 31:40 Denise has been marvelous for me because she saw things in me that I did not see in myself.
Alan: 33:04 Didn’t she encourage you to follow hard neuroscience?
Eric: 33:10 Absolutely. When I took an elective in medical school just as I was getting out in basic science, I just enjoyed it immensely and I had been with Denise and I said I get enormous pleasure out of doing science but it’s completely unrealistic. You don’t have any money, I don’t have any money. We want to get married and we want to have kids. I’ve got to have a private practice. I wanted to have an income necessary to support us. She said, “Money is of no significance.” Now subsequent 61 years of marriage she’s never repeated that but that particular evening she just completely …
Alan: 33:57 She let it slip out.
Eric: 33:58 Right. Won me over.
Alan: 34:00 You didn’t pursue a private practice in psychoanalysis, instead you went into poking people in the head with these electrodes.
Eric: 34:07 I didn’t poke them.
Alan: 34:08 [inaudible 00:34:08]
Eric: 34:09 Exactly.
Eric: 34:12 I got training [inaudible 00:34:14] and I was actually pretty good. I like doing it. I like psychotherapy. I like the human interaction and my colleagues including some of my mentors thought it was a shame if I wanted a full-time research and they thought that I should also do part-time practice and I said, “Look, would you like to go to a physician who does research four days a week and sees patients one day a week?”
Alan: 34:38 He needs more practice.
Eric: 34:40 He needs more practice and they said, “Well, maybe you specialize on something. They suggested hypnosis and I said that’s the least attractive. The reason psychotherapy is an interesting discipline is you get to know another human being, you interact with them.
Alan: 35:04 See that must be the basis. I think it answers the question I asked you before, what was the central germinating point from which you communicate so well is you want to make contact with another human and it guided your life.
Eric: 35:22 Absolutely. I enjoy that a great deal.
Alan: 35:27 The fact that you started in psychoanalysis is interesting to me because you haven’t really left that interview.
Eric: 35:41 Never left it. People ask me was it a waste of time? You had your own analysis, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I said, “Not at all. I gain from it every single day.”
Alan: 35:55 I get the impression that you feel that psychoanalysis raises questions that can be answered by brain science.
Eric: 36:04 Brilliant.
Eric: 36:07 The problem with psychoanalysis is not that it isn’t interesting, it is not true because we don’t know. It hasn’t been tested rigorously. The weakness with psychoanalysis is it’s getting better now but for the longest time, there are very few outcome studies, both in the concept and on the therapy so people went into therapy or they went into analysis but no one tested to see what happens if they didn’t go into therapy. What happens if you take two people that have the same problems? One goes into analysis, the other one doesn’t or goes into a different kind of therapy. Do you see any difference between them? Outcome studies, by and large were not done.
Alan: 38:51 Now science has developed these methods of assessing the value of various techniques but they don’t seem to have been applied systematically to psychoanalysis. Why do you suppose that is?
Eric: 39:05 Why do you think it’s so? Because you ask a psychoanalyst how come you don’t do outcome studies and a number of answers are given but one typical one is it’s so difficult to do because what is critical to psychoanalysis is the way I, the physician, the therapist interacts with the patient.
Alan: 39:26 It has to be subjective of a view of whether it is working.
Eric: 39:30 It needs to involve the therapist himself. How can the therapist himself evaluate in an objective fashion whether or not the change he produced in the patient was beneficial or not so that’s been a problem but slowly but surely the field is overcoming these problems.
Alan: 43:23 This has been a lovely conversation. I want to close out this part of the conversation. The good news you were telling me the other day about the bones as a source of something that I didn’t know the bones were a source of.
Eric: 43:39 Gerard Kosinki at Columbia has shown that bones are an endocrine gland. They release a hormone called osteocalcin and we’ve been collaborating together and we found that experimental animals that animals like humans show age related memory loss, different from Alzheimer’s disease and osteocalcin is hormone released from bones reverses age related memory loss so this will be very important for you because we influence each other this way. You once invited me to your house and I was astonished to see your house that you’ve got a pool because I’m addicted to swimming and you are not swimming that much but I egged you, you started to use your own pool a little bit more.
Alan: 44:34 Was I releasing a hormone in doing that?
Eric: 44:37 It turns out that swimming is probably not as good for you and me as I thought it was. It’s very good as a cardiovascular exercise but a better exercise is to do something that releases osteocalcin from bone.
Alan: 44:53 Which is what?
Eric: 44:55 Walking.
Alan: 44:55 Walking? At a fast pace or any pace.
Eric: 44:58 I think any pace but certainly walking a little bit faster is even more effective. I think walking is probably as one matures, an optimal exercise.
Alan: 45:10 This is so good because the next time I take a walk, I’ll remember how to get home.
Eric: 45:17 That’s a separate problem but I think it’s really quite encouraging. We need to do studies [inaudible 00:45:24] really show this in a rigorous way but walking may turn out to be really an optimal exercise for people in their ’70s and ’80s in terms of trying to keep their cognitive functions as effective as possible.
Alan: 45:39 That’s so great. Good news to end on. Before we totally end though, we do something on the show that I hope you’ll go along with. I ask seven quick questions and they’re intended to get seven quick answers, not too much thought about it, just to see how you respond, see what comes up out of the back of your head. Are you okay with that?
Eric: 46:00 Yes.
Alan: 46:00 The first one is, what do you wish you really understood?
Eric: 46:05 Myself.
Alan: 46:08 Two, what do you wish other people understood about you?
Eric: 46:17 Factors that have influenced my life importantly being Jewish on the one hand and being an immigrant in other have affected my later life.
Alan: 46:27 What’s the strangest question someone has ever asked you?
Eric: 46:30 Boy, I like life in the United States.
Alan: 46:36 Strange because?
Eric: 46:37 It’s so obvious marvelous country to live in.
Alan: 46:41 Here’s an active one, how do you stop a compulsive talker?
Eric: 46:46 I walk away.
Alan: 46:47 Just like that.
Eric: 46:50 I’d change the conversation.
Alan: 46:52 Sometimes it’s hard to do. Walking away is a clear cut. Is there anyone for whom you just can’t feel empathy?
Eric: 47:05 Hitler. There are many people who are just awful human beings.
Alan: 47:12 How do you like to deliver bad news in person, on the phone or by carrier pigeon?
Eric: 47:19 I think the best way to do is to be in person.
Alan: 47:23 In person. How do you like to do it?
Eric: 47:25 It’s very hard.
Alan: 47:26 But you prefer that.
Eric: 47:27 You have to do that.
Alan: 47:29 Here’s the last one. What if anything would make you end a friendship?
Eric: 47:36 If a person was dishonest with me, lied to me in some way.
Alan: 47:43 You can count me. I want to keep our friendship. Thank you so much, Eric.
Eric: 47:47 Thank you.
Alan: 47:48 It’s great. Thank you.
Eric: 47:50 Thank you very much.

This has been Clear + Vivid, at least I hope so.

My thanks the sponsors of this episode. All the income from the ads you hear go to the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Just by listening to this podcast, you’re contributing to the better communication of science. So, thank you.

Dr. Eric Kandel is an inspiration to me. He’s everything a scientist should be and he’s warm and funny at the same time. His latest book is “The Disordered Mind, What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves.” And it’s full of fascinating stories and insights. I’m really curious to talk more with Eric about that book as well as the research he discussed today. So I know we’ll have him back as a guest soon.

This episode was produced by Graham Chedd with help from our associate producer, Sarah Chase. Our sound engineer is Dan Dzula, our Tech Guru is Allison Coston, our publicist is Sarah Hill. You can subscribe to our podcast for free at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen. For more details about Clear + Vivid, and to sign up for my newsletter, please visit You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at “Clear and Vivid” and I’m on Twitter @alanalda.

Thanks for listening. Bye bye!