My watch list  

Gerald Edelman

Gerald Maurice Edelman (born July 1, 1929) is an American biologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1972 for his work on the immune system.[1] Edelman's Nobel Prize-winning research concerned discovery of the structure of antibody molecules.[2] In interviews, he has said that the way the components of the immune system evolve over the life of the individual is analogous to the way the components of the brain evolve in a lifetime. This is the continuity between his Nobel-Prize-winning work and his highly influential later work on neural darwinism.



Gerald Edelman was born in 1929 in Ozone Park, Queens, New York to Edward Edelman, a physician, and Anna Freedman Edelman.[3] After being raised in New York, he attended college in Pennsylvania where he graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. from Ursinus College in 1950 and received an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954.[3]

After a year at the Johnson Foundation for Medical Physics, he became a house officer at the Massachusetts General Hospital and then practiced medicine in France while serving with US Army Medical Corps.[3] Edelman joined the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research as a graduate fellow in 1957, receiving a Ph.D. in 1960.[3] Rockefeller made him the Assistant (later Associate) Dean of Graduate Studies until 1966, when he became a professor at the school.[3] In 1992, he moved to California and became a professor of neurobiology at The Scripps Research Institute.[4] Edelman also serves as the founder and director of The Neurosciences Institute, a nonprofit research centre in San Diego that studies the biological basis of higher brain function in humans, and is on the scientific board of the World Knowledge Dialogue project [5]

Nobel Prize

While in Paris serving in the Army, Edelman read a book that sparked his interest in antibodies.[6] He decided that, since the book said so little about antibodies, he would investigate them further upon returning to the United States, which led him to study physical chemistry for his 1960 Ph.D.[6] Research by Edelman and his colleagues and Rodney Robert Porter in the early 1960s produced fundamental breakthroughs in the understanding of the antibody's chemical structure, opening a door for further study.[7] For this work, Edelman and Porter shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1972.[1]

Theory of mind

Edelman is noted for his theory of mind, published in a trilogy of technical books, and in briefer form for a more general audience in Bright Air, Brilliant Fire (1992) and more recently in Wider than the Sky (2004). Neural Darwinism (1987) contains a theory of memory that is built around the idea of plasticity in the neural network in response to the environment. Topobiology (1988) contains a theory of how the original neuronal network of a newborn's brain is established during development of the embryo. The Remembered Present (1990) contains a theory of consciousness.

Edelman has asked whether we should attempt to construct models of functioning minds or models of brains which, through interactions with their surroundings, can develop minds. Edelman's answer is that we should make model brains and pay attention to how they interact with their environment. Edelman accepts the existence of qualia and incorporates them into his brain-based theory of mind. His concept of qualia attempts to avoid the pitfalls of the idea of special qualia with non-functional properties, which was criticized by Daniel Dennett.

Edelman expounds a biological theory of consciousness, based on his studies of the immune system, which he explicitly locates within Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection and Darwinian theories of population dynamics. He rejects dualism and also dismisses newer hypotheses such as the so-called 'computational' model of consciousness, which liken the brain's functions to the operations of a computer.

Edelman argues that the mind and consciousness are wholly material and purely biological phenomena, occurring as highly complex cellular processes within the brain, and that the development of consciousness and intelligence can be satisfactorily explained by Darwinian theory.


Edelman married Maxine M. Morrison in 1950.[3] They have two sons, Eric, an accomplished visual artist in New York City, and David. Their daughter, Judith Edelman, is a bluegrass musician.


  1. ^ a b The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1972. Retrieved on 2007-09-27.
  2. ^ Structural differences among antibodies of different specificities by G. M. Edelman, B. Benacerraf, Z. Ovary and M. D. Poulik in Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A (1961) volume 47, pages 1751-1758.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Odelberg, Wilhelm:Gerald M. Edelman: Biography. Les Prix Nobel en 1972. Nobel Foundation (1973). Retrieved on 2007-09-27. (Including Addendum, May 2005.)
  4. ^ Gerald M. Edelman: Curriculum Vitae (PDF). Retrieved on 2007-09-27.
  5. ^ World Knowledge Dialogue. Retrieved on 2007-10-12.
  6. ^ a b Frontiers Profile: Gerry Edelman (2000-11-21). Retrieved on 2007-09-27.
  7. ^ Karolinksa Institutet (October 1972). "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1972". Press release. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. “Their discoveries represent clearly a break-through that immediately incited a fervent research activity the whole world over [...]”

See also

  • Biologically-inspired computing
  • Embodied philosophy
  • Embodiment


  • Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (Basic Books, New York 1987). ISBN 0-19-286089-5
  • Topobiology: An Introduction to Molecular Embryology (Basic Books, 1988, Reissue edition 1993) ISBN 0-465-08653-5
  • The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness (Basic Books, New York 1990). ISBN 0-465-06910-X
  • Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind (Basic Books, 1992, Reprint edition 1993). ISBN 0-465-00764-3
  • The Brain, Edelman and Jean-Pierre Changeux, editors, (Transaction Publishers, 2000). ISBN 0-7658-0717-3
  • A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, Edelman and Giulio Tononi, coauthors, (Basic Books, 2000, Reprint edition 2001). ISBN 0-465-01377-5
  • Wider than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness (Yale Univ. Press 2004) ISBN 0-300-10229-1
  • Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge (Yale University Press 2006) ISBN 0-300-12039-7
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Gerald_Edelman". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE