age of insight/eric kandel

There is plenty to question in Age of Insight: the treatment of Klimt’s sexualized drawings; the discussion of autism and art; using artwork to prove artists knowledge of neurobiology. My guess is this doesn’t bother Eric Kandel one little bit. Actually, I’m sure he’d like to include your /my objections in the next edition.

 The book already boasts a cast of hundreds, from scientists, to doctors, to artists, to patients. Somehow Kandel has synthesized all of their contributions into a single story. Starting with an intellectual history of Vienna at the turn of the century, turning to perceptual psychology, and ending with an extended neurobiological description of consciousness, Age of Insight embodies so much knowledge that it’s hard to believe a single man wrote it.

 And of course this is Kandel’s point all along: a single man DIDN’T write it. The master narrative in this century-long story is that the creation of knowledge, whether in the sciences or in art, is a social activity, done in groups, over time. Everyone is connected. There are no lone geniuses, only flashes of individual creativity within the larger cultural movement. In this way, Kandell’s narrative mirrors and represents the workings of the brain itself, at least in the way that he has constructed it: a miraculous network of networks, interdependent, interactive, and biologically biased to find pleasure in the acquisition of knowledge