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In Search of Memory

by Petra Seeger
Icarus Films, New York, USA, 2009
DVD, 95 mins., col.,
Sales, $440
Distributor’s website:  http://www.icarusfilms.com.

Reviewed by Rob Harle


This is a most enjoyable film. Entertaining, educational and inspiring. In Search of Memory is a blend of autobiography and history that tells the story, mostly in the first person, of the life of Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel. Petra Seeger cleverly intertwines neuroscience lectures, laboratory procedures, travelogue, personal anecdotes and the way of scientific discovery into a film that is suitable for most age groups and levels of education. This film shows that it is possible to present highly complex scientific ideas in a way that is quite easily understood by the layman.

Kandel as well as being a great scientist is also a great actor. His smile, sense of humour, and personal approach engage the viewer from start to finish in a quite remarkable way. The film is in colour, runs for 95 minutes, in DVD format and is mostly in English with occasional subtitles. It is shot mainly in New York and Austria and features Kandel's own family (wife, children and grandchildren), his friends, and scientific colleagues.

Together with his parents, Kandel migrated from Nazi occupied Austria to New York, as did many other European Jews at this time. The film is quite moving as Kandel remembers and 'relives' his childhood experiences in Vienna. He uses the personal experiences from his own memory recollections to highlight, so to speak, the neuroscience behind memory and his discoveries of how memory actually works. As he says, “Memory is everything. Without memory we are nothing.” This statement has far reaching ramifications in many areas of research beyond the immediately obvious ones of personal identity, relationships, and social responsibility. One reason I was keen to review this film is that I have discussed 'memory continuity' in my own research concerning Artificial Intelligence, the (im)possibility of disembodied consciousness and the notion of 'the self'. [1]

Nobel Prizes are awarded to researchers who have undertaken vast amounts of investigation, the results of which have led to major breakthroughs in our understanding of important human issues. Kandel's research has resulted in a number of important discoveries. Perhaps the most important is that through the use of intellectually stimulating activities and the ingestion of certain neurotransmitter style chemicals, now under FDA clinical trials and approval, we may be able to put an end to Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Kandel has shown we can actually transform the anatomy of the brain in these ways.

Again, a thoroughly enjoyable and informative film that I am sure will inspire young researchers and show that we can all rise above difficult or disastrous periods in our lives if we have faith in ourselves and believe we can.


[1] Harle, R.F. (2007). "Disembodied Consciousness & The Transcendence of the Limitations of the Biological Body" Janus Head Journal. Special Issue - "Situated Body" (Winter 2006/07) Trivium Publications, New York.

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