Freeman on Brain and Consciousness

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Tue Jun 11 13:00:15 EST 1996

  You are invited to a lecture on brain and consciousness by 
  Professor Walter Freeman of University of California, Berkeley,
  in the
  Southampton University Cognitive Sciences Center
  External Speaker Series:

                Tuesday 18 June 1996
                4:00 pm (tea at 3:30 pm)
                Murray Lecture Theatre
		Murray Building
                Southampton University


           Professor Walter Freeman
           Department of Molecular Biology
           University of California, Berkeley
           wfreeman at

    PROFESSOR FREEMAN studied electronics, physics and mathematics at
    the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and literature and
    philosophy at the University of Chicago. He received his medical
    degree cum laude from Yale University in 1954, and took
    postdoctoral training in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins
    University, and neurobiology at UCLA as Fellow of the Foundations
    Fund for Research in Psychiatry. Since 1959 he has taught
    neuroscience in the University of California at Berkeley. He
    received the A. E. Bennett Award of the Society of Biological
    Psychiatry (1964), Guggenheim Award (1966), Titulaire de la Chaire
    Solvay, University of Brussels (1974), the MERIT Award from NIMH
    (1990), the Pioneer Award from the Neural Network Council of the
    IEEE(1991), and the Spinoza Chair of the University of Amsterdam
    (1995). He was President of the International Neural Network
    Society in 1994. His research interests lie in mathematical
    modeling of nonlinear neurodynamics, based on his experimental
    measurements of brain activity in behaving animals, and the
    application of these models in biology, neurology, psychiatry,
    philosophy, and industry.

ABSTRACT: Experimental observations of the brain activity that follows
sensory stimulation of animals show that sensory cortices engage in
construction of activity patterns in response to stimuli. The operation
is not that of filter, retrieval, or correlation mechanisms. It is a
state transition by which a cortex switches abruptly from one basin of
attraction to another, thereby to change one spatial pattern to another
like frames in a cinema.  The transitions in the primary sensory
cortices are shaped by interactions with the limbic system, which
express the goal-directed nature of percepts. They result from
intentional actions in time and space. Each transition involves
learning, so that cumulatively a trajectory is formed by each brain
over its lifetime. Each spatial pattern as it occurs reflects the
entire content of individual experience. It is a meaning and not the
representation of a meaning. It is the basis for consciousness.

It follows that each brain creates its own frames of reference for
time, space and associations, which are not directly accessible by any
other brain.  How, then, can two or more brains be shaped by learning,
so as to form cooperative pairs for reproduction and groups for
survival? Evolution has provided a biological, mechanism that first
came under scientific scrutiny in the form of Pavlovian 'brain
washing'. Under now well known conditions of stress in the internal and
external environments, a global transition takes place, following which
brains sustain a remarkable period of malleability. I believe that
Pavlov manipulated a mammalian mechanism of pair bonding, already
evolved for the nurture of altricial young through sexual orgasm and
lactation, which is mediated by oxytocin and other neuropeptides. Our
remote ancestors evolved by adapting this mechanism for tribal bonding
through dance, chanting, rituals, and evangelical conversions (Sargant
1957). These dimensions of human experience can be encompassed by a
theory of neurodynamics, but not by theories of representation.

Freeman WJ (1995) Societies of Brains. Hillsdale NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum

Sargant W (1957) Battle for the Mind. Westport CT, Greenwood Press

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