Gerald Edelman, a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in 1972 who later joined the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla and wrote books and numerous articles about the brain, the nervous system and consciousness that amazed and sometimes annoyed his scientific colleagues, has died. He was 84.

Edelman died May 17 at his home in La Jolla; he had Parkinson's disease, according to his family.

"With Gerry's passing, the world has lost an independent and creative thinker with a true passion for knowledge," said Michael Marletta, president and chief executive of the Scripps Research Institute.

Along with Rodney Porter, a British scientist working independently, Edelman won the 1972 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for discoveries involving the chemical structure of antibodies, the immune system proteins that detect and destroy bacteria and viruses.

The findings of Edelman and Porter later proved key to the work of biotech firms looking to find ways to diagnose and cure cancer and other diseases.

Gerald Maurice Edelman was born July 1, 1929, in New York. His father was a doctor, and his mother worked in the insurance industry. As a youth, he dreamed of becoming a concert violinist.


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Switching his pursuit to science, he graduated from Ursinus College in Pennsylvania in 1950 and received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954. After serving in the Army medical corps, he received a doctorate from what is now the Rockefeller University and remained there to study antibodies.

By 1991, Edelman was director of the Neurosciences Institute, an independent center based at Rockefeller University. When it was announced that year that the institute would move to Scripps, it was considered a major scientific coup and a sign that the West Coast would soon rival the more established scientific centers of the East Coast.

To accommodate five research fellows and 17 scientists, Scripps built a 20,000-square-foot laboratory and office complex on its 20-acre campus. Edelman proudly called it a "monastery for science" and referred to his colleagues as poets.

In his decades-long association with Scripps, Edelman was a neurobiology professor, department chairman and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology within Scripps.

Following the trail of other brain scientists, Edelman's attention turned to unraveling the mystery of consciousness, which he felt evolved because of a person's experience.

In 1990, Lee Dembart, a reviewer for The Times, wrote that he could "feel my brain spinning" after reading Edelman's latest book, "The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness."

"Edelman's book is by turns lucid and opaque, which explains why he has been hailed and dismissed," Dembart wrote. "There's an awful lot going on there. I wish I knew what it was."

Reduced to its essence, Edelman's theory, called "neural Darwinism," held that a person's experiences shape and alter the brain in unique ways and that those alterations determine how the person will respond to future experiences. The theory seemed to contradict the more traditional view that the brain's potential is determined at birth by its chemistry and physical structure.

In 2004 Edelman was criticized by some scientists when it was revealed that he had been paid $700,000 over a decade by the tobacco company Philip Morris to act as a consultant. Edelman was working for an organization that "denied something that was an incontrovertible fact" -- that smoking causes cancer -- one medical professor said.

Edelman is survived by his wife, Maxine, sons Eric and David and a daughter, Judith.