The genetic revolution

Dr. Kandel wrote, “it’s difficult to trace the complex interests and the actions of one’s adult life to specific experiences in childhood.” However, what he experienced during the Kristallnacht were memories etched into his brain that inspired him to study memory in college from a historical perspective and in medical school using psychoanalysis.

His education years paralleled revolutions in biology that enabled research and understanding of the fundamental nature of living things. Biology transitioned from a descriptive science to one that is grounded in genetics and biochemistry, that are experimentally rigorous and broadly based.

In the 1960s, there was a merging of behavioral psychologists and cognitive psychologists. Experiments designed to study simple reflexes of invertebrates such as snails, honey bees, and flies had implications on the cognitive processes of organisms higher up on the evolutionary tree, such as mice, monkeys, and humans.

In the 1970s, cognitive psychology and neuroscience combined. Biological methods were applied to the study of mental processes.

The advent of brain imaging in the 1980s with PET and fMRI realized scientists’ dream to finally peer at an working brain. Concomitant with the molecular biology of cognition, consciousness can be explained in terms of molecularly signaling pathways used by interacting populations of neurons.

The general understanding of biology were

  1. Darwinism evolution
  2. Genetic basis of inheritance
  3. Cell as fundamental unit of living things

Molecular biology showed that genes were

  1. the driving force for evolutionary change
  2. unit of heredity
  3. what produced RNA and proteins that are the elements of cellular function

Importantly, the new genetic understanding gave biologists tools to experiment.

The power of the human brain is no longer due to its mystery but to its complexity — enormous number, variety, interactions of nerve cells. Does this reductionist approach to mind muffle the brain’s beauty? I argue that it does not, it increased my respect and amazement that something organic can concoct wondrous abstractions via art and music that represent reality.

For sure, science of mind enables us to finally begin to answer big, philosophical questions such as “how is knowledge acquired.” It may be argued that a scientist’s answer is likely base. After all, signaling molecules often have unsexy names. Describing the interaction between one molecule to another, even with particularities, seem trivial and boring. However, this is the closest we can arrive to answering those questions. Given that molecules have implications on the health and experience of individuals, they are absolutely worthy of our time, study, and tax dollars.