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Walter Freeman: The Dance of Consciousness


Posted February 28, 2011 by Natalie Geld

Walter J. Freeman


he challenger and the Matrix. Dr. Walter J. Freeman is a professor of Neurobiology at the University of California at Berkeley. He received an M.D. from Yale University. He completed postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1959, the year he joined the Berkeley faculty. He is an acknowledged pioneer of brain research whose books include Societies of Brains: A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate.

In fact, Dr. Freeman believes he has physiological evidence for his bold assertions.

Dr. Freeman is a pioneering neurobiologist who has been doing brain research at the University of California at Berkeley since 1959. He is a medical doctor, student of physics, mathematics and philosophy, and an author. An acknowledged pioneer in brain research, Dr. Freeman’s experimentally-based ideas about consciousness and the central role of cooperation in the brain, family, tribe, and society are revitalizing honored scientific and philosophical traditions.

His work challenges many in today’s scientific establishment, including Nobel Laureates. But Freeman is secure in the company he keeps — many of his ideas have been around for centuries. He is droll in casting himself in the role of midwife, someone to update and recognize the critical role of cooperative action.

Experimental work leads Dr. Freeman to believe that we evolved within a matrix of cooperative action within brains and between them.

Cooperation is a profound reality for humans. It is fundamental between neurons, in families, within tribes, and among nations.

In fact, Dr. Freeman believes, consciousness itself is rooted in these cooperative interactions. He believes we create ourselves by our actions and that he has the experimental data to demonstrate it. In terms of Darwin’s natural selection, Dr. Freeman is confident we were selected to be cooperative.

Freeman also has evidence that learning is action-based. We learn from experience. But before we can learn new behaviors, we must first un-learn old ones. Both un-learning old ways and learning new ones were required for our hominid ancestors survival, he believes. Freeman thinks the physiology of un-learning requires deeply emotional experiences, with neurochemical mechanisms at work during those emotional experiences. Where do learning, un-learning and cooperation come together? In rhythmic, predictable actions like drumming, dancing and singing. And according to Dr. Freeman, only humans have rhythm.

There are profound implications for our species in Dr. Freeman’s new way of seeing consciousness. His work gives him confidence that human beings have only just begun to comprehend our full potential. He does not see any limitations on our growth or the richness of human experience.

So what have we to fear as we face an uncertain future? Fear itself. Sound familiar?

Walter J. Freeman (b. 30 January 1927 in Washington DC) studied physics and mathematics at M.I.T., electronics in the Navy in World War II, philosophy at the University of Chicago, medicine at Yale University, internal medicine at Johns Hopkins, and neuropsychiatry at UCLA. He has taught brain science in the University of California at Berkeley since 1959, where he is Professor of the Graduate School.

Dr. Freeman received his M.D. cum laude in 1954, and he has more than 20 awards, among which are the Bennett Award from the Society of Biological Psychiatry in 1964, a Guggenheim in 1965, the MERIT Award from NIMH in 1990, and the Pioneer Award from the Neural Networks Council of the IEEE in 1992. He was President of the International Neural Network Society in 1994, is Life Fellow of the IEEE, and Chair, IEEE Oakland-East Bay Section, EMBS, 2006.

He has authored over 450 articles and many books including Mass Action in the Nervous System, Societies of Brains, Neurodynamics, and in 2001 – How Brains Make Up Their Minds.

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Natalie Geld

Co-founder + Creative Director of mbSci, Natalie Geld is a writer, communications specialist, producer, and educator, and has spent much of her life fostering educational opportunities for activating vivid human potential. She researches the integral nature of energy and the relationship of science, consciousness, and our health.


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