Freeman, Walter J.

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Freeman, Walter J.

PERSONAL: Male. Education: Yale University, M.D. (cum laude), 1954; attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, and Johns Hopkins University; postdoctoral study at University of California, Los Angeles, 1959.

ADDRESSES: OfficeUniversity of California, Berkeley, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, 101 Donner, No. 3206, Berkeley, CA 94720-3200. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer, neurobiologist, and educator. University of California, Berkeley, professor of neurobiology, 1959–.

AWARDS, HONORS: Pioneer Award, Neural Networks Council of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); A.E. Bennett Award, Society of Biological Psychiatry.


Mass Action in the Nervous System: Examination of the Neurophysiological Basis of Adaptive Behavior through the EEG, Academic Press (New York, NY), 1975.

Societies of Brains: A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (Hillsdale, NJ), 1995.

How Brains Make up Their Minds, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Neurodynamics: An Exploration in Mesoscopic Brain Dynamics, Springer (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to scholarly journals and periodicals, including BioSystems, Journal of Neurophysiology, International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos, Cognitive Processing, and Journal of Physiology.

SIDELIGHTS: A writer, educator, and neurobiologist, Walter J. Freeman is a noted authority on brain function and related areas of neurobiology. As a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, Freeman studies complex biological and bioelectrical brain activity. His findings suggest several intriguing ways to look at brain function. Freeman believes that there is a constant background noise in the brain, a chaotic state of electrical activity that "generates a flexible 'I don't know' energy state, from which massive numbers of neurons can be prodded instantaneously to work together and respond to new as well as previously encountered sensory stimuli without getting hopelessly confused," remarked Bruce Bower in Science News. This suggests that the brain has available to itself at all times all previously gathered knowledge about the world, which can be instantaneously accessed and processed when an organism encounters a stimulus. Prior knowledge thus does not need to be retrieved from any storage place in the brain. From this charged and ready "I don't know" state, "massive numbers of neurons can instantly generate coordinated responses to sensations," Bower noted. (Neurons are nerve cells in the brain.) Freeman has also found that individual brains are in all ways isolated from other brains; they do not cooperate with any part of the neurological system of other organisms. At first, this finding suggests that there should be great difficulty in forming the types of mutual trust and cooperation among organisms that result in communities, functioning societies, and even successful reproduction and raising of offspring. However, Freeman indicates that "Fortunately, evolution equipped mammals with a biological mechanism for bridging the gap between isolated brains so that pairs of animals in a species can reproduce and raise their offspring," Bower stated.

In How Brains Make up Their Minds, Freeman discusses in depth the function of the brain and how it works to satisfy the needs and desires of individual humans. He describes the nature of neurons and how they function. He outlines how structures in the brain change and adapt as humans learn, experience the environment, and interact socially. These changes shape each individual's beliefs and how each person reacts to the world. Freeman also lists the functions of the brain that are absolutely critical to life, including the brain's role in stimulating mitochondria (specialized membrane structures) to activities that prolong life. Though the book does not suffer from a lack of facts, it also contains Freeman's detailed description of his own ideas in theoretical neurobiology. "The talented author writes in a clear and persuasive fashion and his book is organized so as to answer the reader's questions," commented Stewart Wolf in a review for Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science.

Freeman told CA: "My favorite book is Societies of Brains: A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate, because I wrote it for the sheer pleasure of doing so."



Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, April-June, 2000, Stewart Wolf, review of How Brains Make up Their Minds, p. 167.

Quarterly Review of Biology, June, 2002, Bernard J. Baars, review of How Brains Make up Their Minds, p. 227.

Science News, January 23, 1988, Bruce Bower, "Chaotic Connections: Do Learning and Memory Spring from Chaos Generated by Brain Cells?," p. 58; November 2, 1996, Bower, "Bridging the Brain Gap: A Scientist Explores the Biology of Isolated Minds and Mutual Trust," profile of Walter J. Freeman, p. 280.


University of California, Berkeley, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology Web site, (September 19, 2005), biography of Walter J. Freeman.