R.I.P. Gerald M. Edelman

Nobel Laureate and ‘Neural Darwinist’ Dies at 84: His original recognition was for his work in immunology, but I came to know of him because

‘[f]rom the mid-1970s on, Dr. Edelman was largely concerned with the brain and the nature of consciousness — “how the brain gives rise to the mind,” as he put it. He rejected the prevalent notion that the best model for the brain was a computer.

Rather, he took a lesson from his earlier work in immunology. He had helped establish that antibodies work according to a process akin to Darwinian selection, and he now postulated a theory of the brain called neuronal group selection, which came to be known as “neural Darwinism.”

Within the dense thicket of nerve cells in the brain, known as neurons, are a vast array of neuronal groups. Dr. Edelman believed that when something happened in the world — something encountered by one of our senses — some neuronal groups responded and were strengthened by a series of biological processes. Those groups, he concluded, became more likely to respond to the same or a similar stimulus the next time, and thus did the brain learn from its own experience and shape itself over the course of a life.’ (NYTimes obituary).