CHICKASHA — When Erik Kandel steps to the podium for his keynote speech Thursday at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma for its annual Spring Symposium, he will command deserved attention.
That’s what graduating from Harvard, authoring a number of books and winning a Nobel Prize will do — garner the respect of an audience.
But for Kandel, 84, the speech and following discussion will mark a first-time experience for a man with so many accomplishments. It will be his first visit to Oklahoma.
“I think this country is so interesting,” Kandel said. “Every state has its unique strengths and charms. It gives me a chance to see something new. Not bad, at my age.”
Kandel, an American neuropsychiatrist who received the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons, is the keynote speaker for USAO’s eighth annual Emerson-Wier Liberal Arts Symposium beginning at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Te Ata Memorial Auditorium on campus in Chickasha. Kandel will also participate in a panel discussion featuring prominent educators from Oklahoma and Arkansas at 2 p.m. The event and parking is free.
Kandel’s presentation will discuss the research that went into his latest book, “Age of Insight.” It examines the cultural legacy of Vienna, Kandel’s birthplace, through the eyes of psychologists, painters, authors and philosophers.
Kandel’s research into the blending of science and art is exactly what Chris Walker, an associate USAO professor and chair of the spring symposium committee, wanted in a keynote speaker for one of the university’s biggest events of the year.
“This symposium is to highlight and emphasize that notion of interdisciplinarity,” Walker said. “Frankly, Kandel’s work best illustrates that as well as any other speaker that we’ve had.”
Walker has chaired the symposium committee since 2009, and has helped bring in scientists, authors and artists who identify with the school’s mission — providing a comprehensive interdisciplinary core curriculum with superior instruction in major fields of study. But Thursday’s event is held for more than just prospective and current USAO students.
Walker said the symposium is open to the public and provides a unique opportunity to anyone with an inquisitive mind.
“You don’t have to travel to another state to hear one of the most influential thinkers of our time,” Walker said. “We actively seek the most influential thinkers, writers, scientists, and we get them to Oklahoma.”
Kandel said he’s seen the nationwide movement toward interdisciplinary studies grow over the years. That’s one of the reasons why he was so willing to accept the offer to speak on Thursday.
“I think it’s absolutely far-sighted on their part,” Kandel said. “I’m interested in trying to bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities.”
Kandel’s passion for education and the inner workings of the brain makes him wonder how others can stand by and not be enthralled by it. Jokingly, Kandel said his son is one of his harder sells.
“I can’t understand, I tell my son, why people are more enthusiastic about baseball than they are about brain science?” Kandel asked. “He thinks I’m a looney.”
I think this country is so interesting. Every state has its unique strengths and charms. It gives me a chance to see something new. Not bad, at my age.”