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Karl H. Pribram (born February 25, 1919 in Vienna, Austria) is a research professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He trained as a neurosurgeon and became a professor at Stanford University, where he did pioneering work on the cerebral cortex. To the general public, he is better known for his development of the holonomic brain model of cognitive function and his contribution to the ongoing neurological research into the engram. He is also interested in the neurophysiological basis of "spiritual" experiences.

Holonomic model

Pribram's holonomic model, developed in collaboration with quantum physicist David Bohm, theorizes that memory/information is stored not in cells, but rather in wave interference patterns. Pribram was drawn to this conclusion by two facts:

  1. There are visual cortex response functions that correspond to Gabor functions, which in turn are related to hologram image functions.
  2. Drastic lesions can be made in animal brains which reduce, but do not extinguish memories (training), as demonstrated by Karl Lashley in the 1920s.

To formulate his model, Pribram utilized Fourier analysis, based on the Fourier Theorem, a variation of calculus that transforms complex patterns into component sine waves. Some believe that Pribram's theory also explains how the human brain can store so many memories in the engram in such limited space. Pribram believes the brain operates according to the same quantum mathematical principles as a hologram. Bohm has suggested these wave forms may compose hologram-like organizations.

Technological advances associated with brain wave patterns, such as neuroimaging and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), have emerged and become more prominent in recent years. These advances, foreshadowed by the insights of Pribram and Bohm, offer the potential for improving diagnostic objectivity and the efficacy of psychiatric interventions. Researchers have made significant advances with TMS brain implants, which focus magnetic pulses on specific brain regions, thereby altering the neurological wave patterns that Pribram describes. TMS has proved a valuable tool in the treatment of epilepsy, and shows promise for efforts to suppress certain thought processes.

It is now widely recognized that the electrical activity of neural membranes (which result from the activity of ion channel transfers) is a significant variable affecting cognition. Pribram believes that if psychology is to understand the conditions producing the world of appearances, it must look to the thinking of physicists like Bohm.

Other contributions

Pribram's other contributions include a quantum approach to neurophilosophy: "this is the critical thing -- that if indeed we're right that these quantum-like phenomena, or the rules of quantum mechanics, apply all the way through to our psychological processes, to what's going on in the nervous system -- then we have an explanation perhaps, certainly we have a parallel, to the kind of experiences that people have called spiritual experiences. Because the descriptions you get with spiritual experiences seem to parallel the descriptions of quantum physics." [1]

When asked recently to summarize his research interests, Pribram wrote: "My interests are focused on cerebral function as it relates to psychological processes. I am especially concerned with the differences between the functions of the posterior convexity of the brain on the one hand, and its frontolimbic systems on the other. Briefly put, the convexity deals with locating us in space and time; the frontolimbic formations monitor that experience to create a narrative about our existence. The substance of my research and theorizing is to provide data and interpretations as to just how our brains organize the psychological processes that make up 'locating' and 'monitoring'."


  • Plans and the Structure of Behavior (with George Miller and Eugene Galanter) 1960
  • Languages of the Brain 1971
  • Freud's "Project" Reassessed (with Merton Gill) 1976
  • Brain and Perception 1991
  • Brain and Being. At boundary between science,philosophy, language and arts (with Gordon G. Globus and Giuseppe Vitiello) 2004

Edited by Pribram

  • Biology of Memory (with Donald Broadbent) 1970
  • Rethinking Neural Networks 1993
  • Origins: Brain & Self Organization 1994
  • Scale in Conscious Experience: Is the Brain Too Important to be Left to Specialists to Study? 1995
  • Learning as Self-Organization 1996
  • Brain and Values 1997

External links

Karl H. Pribram