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The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  526 ratings  ·  62 reviews
A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art.

At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Eur
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Hardcover, 656 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Random House (first published January 1st 2012)
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Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich HegelAesthetic Theory by Theodor W. AdornoCritique of Judgment by Immanuel KantWhat Is Art? by Leo TolstoyThe Philosophy of Art by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Aesthetics: The Philosophy of Art
26th out of 77 books — 29 voters
تراب الماس by أحمد مراداغتصاب كان و أخواتها by محمد الماغوطخرافة التقدم والتخلف by جلال أمينالأعمال الشعرية الكاملة by Mahmoud Darwishسياف الزهور by محمد الماغوط
Highly recommended
39th out of 74 books — 25 voters


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Community Reviews

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Hadrian
Kandel's topic is one of the most ambitious. Here he an attempt to link together the arts and the sciences. Where and how does he do this?

This is a book in two parts. the first is an overview of fin de siècle Vienna and all of its accomplishments at that time. Our author lived there when he was a boy, so he holds a fond attachment for this image of the city as it was before 1918 (and before 1938).

There he begins with the great discoveries on medicine and psychology which were made in that city.
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Adrian
Best book about bridging the two cultures: art(humanitarian) and science. The author already has a Nobel prize, so you know you are in good hands. We should invent a new award for books like these actually. It is even better if you read the book in Vienna as you can also see some of the paintings in the Upper Belvedere and visit the other 2 museums (Josephinum and Freud) that had a big role in Kandel's life and in the early history of the ideas behind this book. Will try to read it again after I ...more
Erin
By far, this is one of the worst books I have ever read. I thought I was getting an interesting piece on how the brain reacts when viewing art..instead I got a hero worship guide to some of the most questionable people in art & science. This book really shows how dangerous it is that a few wealthy elite can virtually take over the arts and sciences in a city and use that wealth and influence to propagate garbage. The "artists" the author worships are literally perverts..one,a man who not onl ...more
Carol
Because I have listened to Eric Kandel several times when he discusses what neuroscience knows about human brain behavior when a specific area of the brain has been damaged, I anticipated this book would follow that scientific endeavor. However, Kandel (a recipient of the 2000 Nobel in physiology) centers this book on understanding the unconscious as well as the conscious in art and begins with art in Vienna in the early 20th Century. He addresses what those artists were portraying as they shift ...more
Kunal Sen
My year ended on a high note, by finishing this most remarkable book – Eric R Kandel’s The Age of Insight – The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present. The timing of this book was remarkable for me because it happened on the same year when my primary focus was to find a bridge that I can use to cross at will between my two passions – science and art. Right after I wrote a blog on this topic (Artists without Science), my Art Historian friend Ar ...more
Jeremy
I'm almost finished with this book and I recommend it. It's not as good as his previous book, In Search of Memory, but how can it be? That was his life's work. This one is about the scientific and artistic accomplishments of turn of the century Austria, and how they contributed (or relate) to neuroscience developments. Kandel did as good a job as he could linking the two subjects: Austrian history and modern neuroscience. But they are two different subjects. If you like them both, it's a good re ...more
Frank Spencer
This book has a good combination of information about neuroscience and about art. The author uses three artists who worked around the time of Freud in Vienna to show how our brains process art and how processes outside of our conscious awareness are at work all of the time. He hopes that the new advances in neuroscience will allow more cooperation between those working in several fields to develop a theory of how we respond to art. There are implications for how we help people to cope and manage ...more
Syed Ashrafulla
This is a very good in-depth read for those who want a middle-level view of brain science with regards to art (vision + creativity + interpretation, to use brain science system terms). I very much enjoyed the careful description of Viennese art in 1900 as well as the careful description of cognitive neuroscience in 2000. I also thought that it was well-organized in that it linked the two fields much in the same way that I presume Kandel links them when using art in his research.

Because it is a p
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Marzie


This promises to be a long, dense read but I already am fascinated after the first two chapters....
Randol Schoenberg
This is an incredible book, a real tour de force in explaining in layman's terms some of the most amazing and important recent developments in neuroscience, biology and psychology, at the same time relating them to the artistic achievements of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka in Vienna 1900. If there is a flaw, it is Kandel's avoidance of any discussion of music, and especially of Schoenberg, who also painted artworks that fit much better into his thesis than those of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. T ...more
Vincent
Eric Kandel deserves a lot of praise. Not only did his pioneering work on the neurobiology of memory pave the way for our modern understanding of mind, he has also untiringly pursued the integration of neuroscience and psychiatry. Moreover, he has always resisted going along with the widespread dismissal of Freudian thought in neuroscience, and kept an open mind with regard to psychoanalysis. For all his work, Kandel deserves praise.

But not for this book.

While I enjoyed his depiction of coffeeho
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Melissa Earley
I found so many unconvincing and troubling statements and bad art history interpretations after just a casual flip through the book's captions and then the first 40 or so pages that I gave up. Dr. Kandel may know his neuroscience (I don't even know about that--I didn't get that far), but he does not know history or art history well enough or broadly enough to make this a worthwhile read. His summary of the Enlightenment was completely off base, as if he had read Candide and somehow missed that i ...more
Mason Sawyer
Awesome book! I learned sooo much about the medical profession in which I work and the arts! I had no clue the depth of detail I was lacking. I knew that 1900 Vienna was inspirational to economics due to my favorite economist Von Mises but the book opened my eyes to the world of 1900 Vienna and all that it signified and changed for the rest of the world! Modern US Medicine was founded on Vienna's school of medicine. That's not all, the theories on the unconscious are incredible and intriguing. I ...more
Mark
Not clear what the point of this book is. The chapters reviewing early Vienna psychologists (Freud) and artists (Klimt, Schiele) are interesting but I find myself asking why? Where is all this going...I think that this is ill-conceived. He is clearly interested in Austrian Art and his intellectual roots in Vienna around 1930s. but, then he tries to realte all this to modern cognitive and neuroscience and the links are either not there or tenuous. So, it all does not seem well motivated or indeed ...more
E. Journey
Dr. Kandel's Nobel Prize (2000) Prize is in Physiology or Medicine for "research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons." Thus, it is not surprising that, at the conclusion to this book, he believes that there is a need for what he calls a biology of aesthetics (or neuroaesthetics, in particular), that field of study which integrates the creation and appreciation of art, not only with the psychology, but also the biology, of the mind. Predictably, when it comes to art, the biolo ...more
Monica Davis
A well structured treatise on the conceivable (perhaps necessary) convergence of disciplines from the arts and sciences to reach a more comprehensive understanding of the human mind. In the context of the subjects the author has chosen, he offers illustrations and case studies as examples to supplement his compelling arguments. Kandel's “Insight” gives one pause to reflect on and gain a deeper appreciation of not only art forms, but the world in general.
Keith Kendall
Part one is a review of some pornographic material from about 1900 from Vienna. Freud also figures prominently in Part 1. Part 2 and Part 3 can't leave that heritage behind. It's time to exercise the rule that it's okay to not read the whole thing. Based on the topic of this book, it is no wonder that the Viennese period of greatness collapsed.
Joeydag
500 pages of science, art history, and art criticism written in a very straight forward manner, science for the general public. Some brain science is numbingly dull. This book helped me to recognize Freud as the first to place unconscious thought so central to psychology. Also it helped me start to realize how much of human thought is unconscious and how much our emotions and feelings are part of our thoughts. The author explains some fascinating results in testing consciousness near the end of ...more
Susan
Actually three books in one. The first is Vienna 1900 and includes a fine introduction to Freud as well as three artists – Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele. (The latter can be quite off-putting, but is a good example for some of the points made later in the book). The largest part of the book is devoted to understanding how the senses and brain perceive and interpret art and includes a truly phenomenal overview of about a century of brain research. The third book is more philosophical and explores ...more
Jrobertus
Kandel is a NObel laureate for work on neural biology. Here he explores the salon culture of 1900's Vienna, with scientists like Freud, and artists like Klimpt and Schiele. He describes how they brought a scientific analysis to the human mind, and to the meaning of and response to, art. Kandel clearly has a deep knowledge of the art of the time, and his own expertise allows him to give a lucid discussion of the development of modern art criticism and history. Although a little redundant, and per ...more
Bill
opens a window onto Vienna c. 1900 - conservative & anti-semitic, avant garde and poetic all at the same time
Laurie
Fascinating! The section about Messerschmidt's creativity while suffering from mental illness must be shared; not only did his "internal conflicts not hinder his imagination," but they actually seemed to be "more original than the excellent work" done prior to illness. One writer commented, "Messerschmidt's madness proved to be strangely liberating...he began to make art that was true to himself...his demons were now his muses, and he made the creative best of them by portraying them" in his scu ...more
David Redden
This is a great book if you're interested in Viennese expressionist art and/or neuroscience, otherwise it will be one heck of a slog. In this book, Kandel, a Nobel Prize winner, explores ways in which art and neuroscience have or might in the future connect to inform each other, focusing specifically on the expressionist painters, Klimmt, and Schiele. I read this mostly as a follow-up to Hans-Georg Gadamer's Truth and Method, which presents a more purely philosophical view on how we interpret an ...more
Ani Artinyan
Интересен поглед към биопсихологията на изкуството, както на самия креативен процес, така и на ролята на "консуматора". Книгата е написана от едно от светилата на съвременните невронауки - Ерик Кандел, носител на Нобелова награда за приноса си към разбирането ни за принципите на краткосрочната и дългосрочната памет на молекулярно ниво. Авторът използа като отправна точка творбите на Климт, Кокошка и Шийле, духа на Виена от началото на 20ти век, основните идеи на Фройд, както и съвременните разби ...more
Janne
Aug 07, 2013 Janne rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
It took me a while to read this whole book: I had to intersperse it with lighter fare, but it was totally worth the weight of the hardcover book on my chest. The first half of the book was my favorite. In it Kandel narrates the history of the artistic and scientific world in the Vienna of the turn of the 20th century. With his neuroscience background, Kandel tries to explain how our brain respond to visual art, and how great artists have an intuitive understanding of that. Also, during that exci ...more
Paul McNeil
This book reaches far- it takes the specific time and cultural situation of Vienna circa 1900 as a way of looking at both the relationship between art and science, and what we understand of the science of perception and empathy and how those things relate to both creating and appreciating art. Neuroscience, history, art history, psychoanalysis, psychology, studies of autism, and a host of other things are part of the mix, but Kandel (himself originally from Vienna and a Nobel Prize-winning resea ...more
Emily
I think that Vienna in the late 20th and early 21st century is a fascinating epoch. So, naturally, I really enjoyed this book about that time period. It's a great survey of the field of psychology and the main artists of the Austrian Expressionist movement and the general history of the time. There is very good information about neurobiology and neuropsychology, which, for the most part is accessible to a general audience.

There are a few dry spots in the writing-- this occurs in the science and
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Sha Li
I was stimulated to read what a Nobel Prize winning scientist would write about art and the way the brain works. It's a slog to get all the way through the meticulous text, but the 'insights' were worth it!
Ninakix
I started reading this first last year, and found the beginning section about the artists and scientists fascinating. And then I got a little bored. The second time through I still found the beginning sections really fascinating, and the parts after occasionally difficult to read through because how many times can you read about Phineas Gage? I do wish some of those chapters had been a bit condensed. At 600 pages the book is a doozy. Still, the insights about how these neuronal processes drive t ...more
Edward
Mar 31, 2015 Edward marked it as to-read
Recommended to Edward by: Maria
Preface

--The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Illustration Credits
Index
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Eric R. Kandel is an American neuropsychiatrist who was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard.

Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, “If you want to understand the brai
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More about Eric R. Kandel...
In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind Principles of Neural Science Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and the New Biology of Mind Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior Molecular Neurobiology in Neurology and Psychiatry (Research Publications (Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease))

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