Friday, May 15, 2009

Nobel: Kandel and Lohengrin

Eric Kandel, M.D.:
"We are what we are through what we have experienced and what we have remembered."

In 2001 I was fortunate enough to be in New Orleans for the American Psychiatric Association Annual Conference. One of the lectures attracted a long queue and it turned out that the Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel was giving his lecture. I was fortunate enough to be able to secure a seat.

"What learning does is to change the strength of the synaptic connections in the brain," Kandel explained, "and this has held true for every form of learning so far analyzed. So, what genetic and developmental processes do is specify the cells that connect to each other, but what they do not specify is the exact strength of those connections. Environmental contingencies, such as learning, play a significant part in the strength of those connections."

"Different forms of learning result in memories by changing that strength in different ways. Short-term memory results from transient changes that last minutes and does not require any new synthesis of proteins, Kandel said. However, long-term memories are based in more lasting changes of days to weeks that do require new brain protein to be synthesized. And this synthesis requires the input of the neuron’s genes."

Lohengrin Royal Opera House
Readers would have noted that a week ago I was at the Royal Opera House Lohengrin.

I have always maintained that there is something fundamentally enjoyable about a piece of music that you are familiar with. It is of course the case with many pop songs. But they were only a few minutes long. Lohengrin runs to nearly four hours.

Yet to me it is one of Wagner’s most wonderful piece of music. On the 8th of May the musical performance was amazing. You can feel the brain re-activating the proteins.

The set was of course from 1977 and bits of it smack of a school play. The costume was extraordinary even after 32 years. Adherence to the classical Grail story is deceptive especially with the unexpected kissing of Elsa and her brother on the lips. I know incest is covered in the Ring cycle but sex seems to be the new black now in opera. Or was Wagner dropping hints on Nietzsche’s relationship with his sister? I did not think it helped the opera Lohengrin.

There is no question though: Lohengrin has one of the best music of all the Wagners including Götterdämmerung.

Autobiography: Eric Kandel
Wagner website.
Other Opera Posts:Lohengrin: Speech Disability, Design & Hypertension
The Dark Side: Il TrovatoreDoctor Atomic
Illness and Morality
Lunar Eclipse
Other arts posts:
Can They Draw: From Picasso to Matisse

Picasso, Medicine and Lloyds
Picasso and Tradition

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