Interview: Biology of the Mind; A Nobel Prize Winner on Psychiatry, Freud and the Future of Neuroscience

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Byline: Claudia Kalb

In 2000, Dr. Eric Kandel, a Columbia professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute senior investigator, earned a Nobel Prize for his work on learning and memory. But Kandel's early passion was psychoanalysis, and he is a leading proponent of merging the long-divided fields of neuroscience and psychology. His book on the topic, "In Search of Memory," hits bookstores this month. Kandel, 76, talked with NEWSWEEK's Claudia Kalb.

KALB: How does Freud hold up?

KANDEL: I think he's a giant. Tremendously thoughtful, insightful and imaginative. There are things that he said that don't hold up. His view of female sexuality was wrong. But he gave us a nuanced and rich picture of the complexities of mental life. He's one of the great thinkers of the 20th century.

What are his greatest contributions?

Much of what we do is unconscious. That is a revelation that largely comes from Freud. The fact that dreams have psychological meaning, that infants are active, thinking individuals who have sensual as well as painful experiences also comes from Freud. The fact that by listening carefully to a patient, you can get a lot of insight into what the unconscious is talking about. This is revolutionary stuff.

Is psychoanalysis still relevant?

The problem with psychoanalysis, and it's a deep problem, is not with Freud. Subsequent generations have failed to make it a more rigorous, biologically based science. Psychoanalysis as a therapy has declined in popularity because it is time-consuming and expensive. Most importantly, people have lost confidence in whether or not it works. I think it's going to go down the tubes if the psychoanalytic community doesn't make a serious effort to verify its concepts and show which aspects of therapy work, under what conditions, for what patients and with which therapists. We need to look for the biological effectiveness of all kinds of psychotherapy, in the same way we do for drugs. …