Scully/The World Show

Season 20, Episode 4 of 52

This week, thanks to a brilliant winner of the Nobel Prize, the entire forgotten world of the Austro-Hungarian empire comes to life. Eric Kandel is the author of The Age of Insight, a book about his native Vienna before and during WWII. He is Bob's guest in the Nobel Laureates series. Kandel is a passionate New Yorker, a great intellectual and a trailblazing neuroscientist. He recalls his youth, as Hitler marched into Vienna in 1938, after the Anschluss, when he was eight years old. 200,000 people turned out at the Heldenplatz to celebrate the triumphant Nazis, but the festivity soon turned into an outburst of violence against the Jews. He remembers how his school friends stopped talking to him and all the Jewish children were kicked out and sent to another institution on the outskirts of town. But most vivid in his memory is the day his family was ordered to move out of their small apartment and Eric had to leave behind his birthday presents (which had been bestowed a few days prior), especially that remote-controlled toy car he had long coveted and had just gotten, never to be seen again. Things unfolded very rapidly, as the threat and the fear were real. The two Kandel brothers, nine and fourteen years old, were separated from their parents and sent to live with an uncle in the United States. The young boys travelled alone by train to Brussels, and then to Antwerp where they boarded a ship crossing the Atlantic, bound for New York. In a happier turn of events, the children were reunited with their parents in America, just as the war broke out in Europe. Haunted by these early life experiences, Eric developed an affinity for the subject of history in class. His high school teacher was so impressed with him that he gave him the money to apply for Harvard when came time for him to choose a college. Kandel was accepted. His curiosity was rooted in the quest for fundamental answers: "how come the Viennese could one day be listening to Mozart and the next day be beating up their Jewish neighbors?" He studied history and literature at Harvard, but on the advice of a friend, he pursued a psychoanalysis curriculum to further probe the depths of the human brain. He spent summers in medical school while working as a psychiatrist in a hospital. Even though he graduated with honors, he needed more answers: "I wanted to know where in the cranium the id, the ego and the superego were located." A friend at Columbia University suggested that he should study the brain one cell at a time. And that's when the Nobel Prize-winning chapter of Eric Kandel's scientific career began: with a marine snail, aplysia, and the biologically materialist theory of reductionism. His older fellow citizen, Sigmund Freud, had meanwhile departed for London, so these Viennese geniuses furthered the world's understanding of the human soul, simultaneously, from both sides of the Atlantic. Meet the Nobel laureate in the bowtie, this week on The World Show.

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