Thought Leaders 003 | Tom Freeman

This week on Operant Innovations - Thought Leaders, we are sitting down and speaking with Tom Freeman about his history and what brought him to the field of behavior analysis.

If you have feedback or suggestions, please contact us at


Shauna Costello (00:01):

You're listening to operant innovations podcast brought to you by ABA technologies this week on thought leaders. We'll be speaking with Tom Freeman as he introduces you to his life and how he came to the field of behavior analysis. We are talking today with my office buddy for now, Tom Freeman, who is the senior vice president at ABA technologies. And he has been dedicated to ABA Tech's mission to disseminate the benefits of behavior science to the world, but on his role, now he helps create and present both the instructional content for the online program. And also a lot of our online CE continuing education courses, but he has quite the background from what I've heard, just being able to share an office with him for the last 11 months. It's been 11 months. And I would like to hear and share with you more about it. So, Tom, where did you come from? How'd you get here?

Tom Freeman (01:21):

Uh, I was born in 1953. We moved, I was born in Chicago. We moved to New York, uh, when I was about five years old. Um, my, uh, so I lived on long Island, actually grew up on long Island and always considered myself a new Yorker. I'm a big Yankee fan. So, um, and, um, you know, my family, most families have their problems in my family was, uh, reasonably dysfunctional. So I grew up in a situation with, I had two older sisters and, um, my parents were separated when I was six years old. I think the, it was a rather, um, difficult separation. I, as I recall, the police came in and actually removed my father from the house. I was six, um, because he was, he drank a lot. He was alcoholic. He was a very, um, productive person. He worked in Madison Avenue. He was, uh, uh, one of the mad men.

Tom Freeman (02:17):

He was an advertising man and, uh, for my entire life, I can remember he was working on the Reynolds metals account, Reynolds aluminum foil oven tempered for flexible stuff. That was my dad that put me through college. So, um, uh, he was, but those guys drank like fishes in those offices. And, um, he was part of that culture. Um, he'd grown up in a culture. His family was Germanic and they always drank and sang at the bars. And so he, he grew up in a very heavily drinking society and he became alcoholic and he and my mom began to have major problems. Um, she also had problems from her background, um, that she had a difficult upbringing as well. Her father died when she was 17. And, um, it was just a difficult family life. They were from the South. And, um, so my parents had their problems and my mom had some psychiatric problems.

Tom Freeman (03:13):

She actually had been in a psychiatric hospital when I was very young, which I don't remember, but, um, after my parents were separated, my mom was in and out of psychiatric facilities because she had very severe depression. She's a very sensitive person, extremely smart, um, but had a lot of problems. And so, uh, really suffered from major depression and had many suicide attempts. So as I was growing up, um, I began dealing with my mom's, uh, suicidal behavior when I was in junior high school. Cause that's the first suicide attempt I remember. And so she'd be going in and out of hospitals. And there were times when I would go visit her. In fact, you know, with my dad not being there, he would come and visit us every Sunday. Um, take us out. But, you know, so I got kind of a interesting view of life from that perspective.

Tom Freeman (04:03):

I also became quite ill when I was young. I had asthma to the point where the doctors had thought I wouldn't survive. So they had told my parents, um, I was probably gonna die, was in and out of oxygen tents. So I spent a lot of time in hospitals and spent a lot of time, you know, at home missing lots and lots of school. So I would sit around and read encyclopedias and write reports about things I was interested in. Um, so I developed really bad study habits. I was a terrible student. I mean, early on, I was fine. I would just go into school and I'd catch up. You know, I'd missed two weeks, two months with a work and I'd catch up in a week. But by the time I got into high school and was having to deal with like calculus and stuff, it was not so good.

Tom Freeman (04:41):

So my first couple of years in college were, um, pretty much of a throw away. Um, given my parents' history, I too had a collegiate substance abuse problem. One might say, but then I got over it. By the time I was a junior and started sort of knuckling down and working hard. I was a psych and an English major by the time I got out, when I went in, I thought it was going to be a physics and astronomy major cause I wanted to work for NASA and I wanted to do like, uh, um, I just wanted to work for NASA basically, but, um, between my, um, substance abuse as a freshmen, um, it didn't really go well with math classes and stuff. So, but I really was interested in psychology cause I was interested in why people do what they do. Obviously coming from my family background, there was a lot of stuff in there that I was trying to figure out, why are people acting like this? So, um, I was really interested in psychology. Um, strangely enough, interested in para psychology. Cause I really thought that people like might have extra sensory perception. I wanted to study that cause I thought it would be interesting to study that scientifically. Um, so I was interested in that

Shauna Costello (05:49):

And I know that we've talked about your ESP books sitting right here on your shelf.

Tom Freeman (05:55):

I was very interested in that and just to see what the science said and what I found out by talking to a lot of people is that, uh, it was considered so strange and outside the norm, the mainstream that like there was no way to get work in that field. There was no way to like people just made fun of it and you couldn't really get serious funding for anything. And I even did my senior project actually in college. I got a psych professor to agree to do my senior project. First half was to review all the research literature. The second half was to do my own experiment on pre cognition, using a random number generator from a computer, which I actually got some results, but you know, it was that I learned some stuff from that. That was interesting. Cause I had people fill out a, um, a questionnaire to say whether or not they thought that the, the, um, the pre cognition would exhibit itself in this experimental context.

Tom Freeman (06:53):

And that was what I used as my determining factor as to, you know, I was testing. Cause I had this whole thing we called sheeps and goats and people that were believers nonbelievers. Anyway, the person who showed the most, um, proclivity towards this, she had really high, I mean way above chance in terms of her ability to predict these random numbers. And she said her grandmother had it and her mother had it and she had it. She totally believed in it, but she didn't believe it would show up in this experiment. And so her data completely skewed my data set to be, she was a nonbeliever, even though she was a believer. And so I got it. It was chance if I had put her in the other group, I would have had results above chance, but you know, you learn, live and learn. So that was, um, I actually had come across Skinner in college and um, had read beyond freedom and dignity and thought, um, who is this guy?

Tom Freeman (07:45):

Who is this guy to talk about beyond freedom and dignity? You know, and I, I found my paper recently that I wrote on that course in college, I found the paper and the first line of that paper is the interesting thing about BF Skinner is that he is such a terrible theoretician, but an excellent experimenter, which is actually sort of in a way true. Cause he wasn't a theoretician. You know, he was just, and I didn't understand, I didn't understand what he was getting at. I didn't, it took me awhile to figure out what was going on. Anyway, once I graduated college, um, I didn't want to go straight into grad school. I was sort of tired of academia and I wanted to get some real life experience. So I went out in the world to try to get a job. I wanted to work at an institution if I could.

Tom Freeman (08:32):

Given I'd seen my mom in and out of institutions. And um, many times like I visited her at one institution one time when, um, you know, it was when I was older and I was the only one home with her and the cops actually had to knocked down the door at our house to cause she had called a friend of hers and fallen asleep on the phone cause she had taken a seconals and I had come home from school and I was napping, you know? So all of a sudden I hear the door being burst in by the cops and they come in and they take her and she almost died that time, but she went to a hospital on long Island. And so I went to visit her. And the, uh, I tell you the, the people that were the patients there seemed more sane than the people that were working there.

Tom Freeman (09:13):

The people that were working there were like mean and they were, it was just, I felt really bad for the people that were living there cause they didn't seem to be getting very good treatment and they were easy to talk to and they, you know, you could see they were suffering, but man, the staff were just nasty. So I sort of got from that, that I wanted to work in some kind of institutional setting. I thought there was going to probably work in a mental hospital. So I moved to Boston. I was in New York, but I, I wanted to get out of New York. So I moved to Boston after college and started looking for jobs in institutions, but they wouldn't hire me because they said you're overqualified for our lower level positions. And you're under-qualified for our psychological positions, even though you've got a degree in psych.

Tom Freeman (09:55):

So there's really not a position for you here. So I looked around and looked around and then finally I went to this place called the Fernald state school, which is a school that a residential school in Massachusetts, very large first residential school for people with developmental disabilities in the country. And it was huge. At one point was over 2000 people. By the time I went there, it was about 1000 people liveing there. I did my interview and um, it scared the heck out of me cause they put me on my interview was I talked to somebody for about 15 minutes and then they put me on the ward to provide coverage cause they didn't have enough people. So I was on the ward with about 30 people with a severe and profound what they, at that time, they called mental retardation, severe and profound mental retardation, which was people that, and it smelled like feces and urine in the place.

Tom Freeman (10:43):

And people were walking around half dressed and there was only one other staff person there. And there were like 20 people and somebody came over to me and tried to lift me up and like put me on a apparently hang me up on the wall. I dunno, I didn't know what was going on, but it really freaked me out. So I left there and then they called me to offer me the job, but I wasn't ready. And I went to work in the, uh, uh, basically I went to work in the, uh, restaurant business and I was a bus boy, which I really, I loved that job still dream about it to this day now. And then I loved being a bus boy. Cause when you're a bus boy, you're invisible. People don't know you're there. So I worked in this bar in Harvard square where there were all these people coming in and you know, when you're busing their table there, they just keep talking.

Tom Freeman (11:26):

It's like, you're not even there. So it was a very interesting place to work and particularly interesting because it was run by a guy who, uh, had been one of Timothy Leary's original experimental subjects in LSD at Harvard. Right? So this guy had like great stories. He had, he invented CVS and uh, he created CVS and then sold it for a whole lot of money. And he bought this bar restaurant in Harvard Square and ran it. And um, there was such an interesting array of people working there. The guy that was the line chef was getting his PhD in ancient Chinese porcelain. It was also a weapons and demolitions expert that went off on, on military excursions now and then. The secret stuff, the guy that was the dishwasher that I worked with was a, um, his mother had been a college professor in, uh, Argentina.

Tom Freeman (12:19):

And then he, she had let the, the Tupamaros use her house for meetings and they were like, uh, uh, sort of a Marxist revolutionary group and they got caught. And then, so he was implicated and the government gave him the option to either go fight in Vietnam or to be in exile for five years. So he wouldn't exile. So this is the guy that was the dishwasher. Um, you know, there was all kinds of people like that. It was a crazy place to work, one a woman one day got a call and she started jumping, waitress got a call, she started jumping up and down, Oh my God. Oh my God. She had, um, uh, been nominated for an Oscar for her small documentary called kudzu that had Jimmy Carter and that stuff, she had made this documentary and it got it. Got it. I mean, those are the kinds of people that were working at this bar restaurant, you know? So it was like, this was an amazing place to work.

Shauna Costello (13:09):

I've worked in restaurants and bars, but never with that caliber.

Tom Freeman (13:15):

You know, it's Harvard square. So it's there were crazy people working there and it was a broad range of people. So anyway, I really liked that job, but I always felt like in the back of my mind that I, that, you know, that Fernald was like exactly the kind of place that I really should do something. It really just freaked me out. So after about two years working in the restaurant business, I went back to Fernald and to see, okay, can I handle this now in the interim, there had been a federal consent decree that the parents had, parents had brought a lawsuit and there had been a federal consent decree for all of Massachusetts institutions. And so the federal government had taken over and said, we need active treatment here. So I saw Fernald before there was mandated active treatmnt and I mean there were people there trying to do good work, right. There were people like B. Barrett. Was there an unknown to me, Carl Binder, there were people that were there that were trying to do good stuff. Ken Johnson, I didn't know who these people were, but the consent decree changed things. And so all of a sudden I went back and there was active treatment going on. It was better. It wasn't great, but it was better. So I took a job as a direct care staff person.

Shauna Costello (14:27):

When was that?

Tom Freeman (14:27):

That was in, uh, April 1st of 1979.

Shauna Costello (14:32):

April 1st?

Tom Freeman (14:36):

April Fool's day, yeah. So I started working at Fernald on April 1st in 79. Um, it was a really interesting job. It was like going into a completely new, like I worked with, um, a group of men that, that had severe profound, uh, developmental disabilities. It was a group of 12 guys and it was a building that was 12 guys on one side, 12 guys on the other side of the East wing and the West wing, I worked on the West wing. The, um, it was, uh, it was intense, people with really serious behavior problems. One guy, you know, would eat, try to break out of the building. And so he could eat cigarette butts. Another guy would dive head first into the corners of tables and had golf ball sized swellings above each of his eyes. Um, there were just all kinds of just intense behaviors there, stuff I'd never seen before, stuff I didn't even know existed.

Tom Freeman (15:27):

And I worked under the tutelage of a behavior analyst there named Mike Lowery, who was really good. I learned a lot from him and he would have me do things that I was learning about shaping. And, you know, I started learning about how these things worked. And honestly, I didn't come to sort of the radical behaviorism as a academic becoming like an acolyte of Skinner. I came to it because what works works right? And I saw the effect of this approach, working with people who were identified as incapable of learning when people could learn new things, right. But at the same time, the institution was understaffed and I would often times have to work forced overtime shifts. There was one time when I had to work a force triple overtime because the staff didn't show up for the 11th. I worked from the three to three to 11 shift staff didn't show for the 11 to seven.

Tom Freeman (16:25):

So I had to stay there overnight to cover. And then in that morning, staff didn't show up. So now I'm covering the morning shift after having worked two straight shifts. And I was at the point, like, I can't do this anymore. This was about eight months in. I liked the work I liked the people I was working with, but it was starting to burn me out. And one of the people that work there named Kristin Connett, who worked at the, at the Lavers hall said, um, well, there's a, you should go apply for this. Actually Kristen had worked at labor's hall anyway, said, you should go apply for this job. Okay. So I went to, I went up, there was this building at the top of Fernald at the very top of the Hill called Kelly Hall, which was, um, sort of had the reputation of being the worst building on grounds.

Tom Freeman (17:12):

And I want to see what is the worst building on grounds look like? So I went up there, they had an opening for a supervisor. So I went out and applied for supervisor. And then my interview, Kristen worked there and she cursed him. And she said, um, well, there's a job opening as an assistant staff psychologist, and you got a psych degree. So why don't you apply for the assistant staff psychologist position, which I did. And I got that position. So then I'm starting to work as a assistant staff psychologist, but everybody, it was behavioral, right? The head of the departments, Charlie Hammond, who was great. There was the Shriver center. Was there the Eunice Shriver center that did research. There was. So I was working in this environment. I was, I had a caseload, was working. I worked under, uh, a psychologist named Greg Deirmengian, who was great, taught me everything I knew about how to run a staff meeting, really how to write good programs, data collection, and doing graphing, you know, real world behavior analysis. But this is early on. This was before Iwata's article. This is before we were looking at functions. This is in the sort of the behavior modification days and institutional work. So, uh, you know, I saw kind of the, the real, um, early phases of the implementation of behavior analysis and institutions, and then the evolution of how things got better, how active treatment got better, how people started moving out of the institutions into, uh, into group homes. I saw, um, uh, and in my time there, I worked at Kelly Hall for about four years, but then I went to some other caseload's for a variety of reasons, but I worked with people that were in wheelchairs, for example, worked with people that were, um, only had mild or moderate, um, disability.

Tom Freeman (18:53):

And so we're able to talk, we're able to go off outside the institution, had all kinds of different problems. I got tasked to be the behavior, the, basically the psych department rep to the sexuality committee. So we fielded like all of the issues where there were sexual things regarding people in their various buildings. This place was huge. It had, it had like 60 buildings and, you know, many, many clients, so all different levels of people with all different kinds of problems, dual-diagnosis all kinds of stuff. Children, adults, people, you know, all kinds of stuff. So I got to see a lot of stuff. And, um, the department head there kept trying to get me to go into the MABA program. The Massachusetts is applied behavior analysis method. It was UMass had it like a behavior analysis program. And then I thought about it, but I didn't really want to go to grad school.

Tom Freeman (19:42):

So, um, I worked there for a while and, uh, in 1984, it's a long story, I finally found out about this, but I found out there was this place called Earthwatch that did people could pay money to go be volunteers on scientific research projects. And I hadn't had a vacation for a really long time. My mom had, had had cancer and I'd be going home all the time to help deal with my mom in New York. And I was, I needed a vacation. So I saw that there was this thing called Earthwatch, or you could go participate in a research project. And one of the research projects they had was something I was particularly interested in, which was language teaching language to animals. Right. I was really interested in the chimpanzee research, the language research they were doing when I was back at Harvard square, I was taking courses at like the Harvard extension and linguistics and stuff, just so I could look at like language training with animals.

Tom Freeman (20:34):

And so in Hawaii, they were doing language training with dolphins at this lab called the Kewalo based Marine mammal lab in Honolulu. So I went out there as a volunteer, had accumulated all my vacation time. I had a, so I took a month off to go work at the dolphin lab. And, um, it was really cool. Um, one of the reasons I wanted to go to Hawaii in the meantime was that there was a volcano erupting and I thought I could go out there and see a volcano. So, so now, uh, I saw it had stopped erupting by the time I got out there, but I did see a wall of really hot rock that I started climbing up on the bottom. My shoes started in belt. So that was, it was pretty, it was pretty cool. It was a, it was a wall of rock that had not been there like a week before it had come down the slope into this place called the Royal gardens district, which by the way is no longer there. Um, so I, you know, that was really cool. And so then I came back to Massachusetts and worked some more and Then I had always wanted to travel extensively because my whole life I'd basically all the information I had about the world was filtered through other people. Yeah. Right. And I figured, I want to see what's really out there. So I had been saving money and didn't have a car this whole time. So I didn't have to spend all this money.

Shauna Costello (22:00):

The funny thing is, is that doesn't surprise me at all about you, that you didn't.

Tom Freeman (22:06):

I take the bus and I would walk to work. So, but that allowed me to save money, even though I wasn't making that much money at Fernald, I could save money. And so I wanted to travel. I'd always wanted to go to China. So I wanted to go see China and go see like the Himalayas and stuff and travel. Like I really like volcanoes too. So I really wanted to like do a volcano tour. So, um, in preparation for leaving, cause I decided I'm going to leave and go on this trip in like 1986, there were Earthwatch projects that I saw, but I figured, well, I can do these projects as I go. So there's one project that's affiliated with the Kewalo based Marine mammal lab. That is a humpback whale project where they're studying humpback whales in the wild. They're not doing language training with dolphins at like the Kewalo based Marine mammal lab where the dolphins are in captivity, which was really interesting.

Tom Freeman (22:57):

And the dolphins did learn word strings, although it was all receptive. And I would be really interesting to see if Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior were to be used now in doing language training with animals. Because it, as far as I know, it never has been, never know nobody's ever used Skinner's analysis to apply, to trying to teach animals language, but in the meantime verbal behavior. But in the meantime, there was this whale project that looked really interesting and it was studying whales in the wild. And then there was this orangutan project that was studying orangutans in the wild, that looked really interesting and I'd heard really good things about it. So I decided that while I traveled go to Asia, you know, I will go to these two research projects on the way and then kind of launch into China and who knows what will happen.

Tom Freeman (23:41):

So I went in 1986 in March. Uh, I left and I went to the humpback whale research project. And, uh, I got along with those people really well. We and I would, uh, we'd go out on boats and would look for pods of whales. And then we'd try to keep the boat behind them and track them and take pictures of the underside of their flukes. We also had a shore station where they were doing experiments where sometimes the boat would put, uh, a speaker under water. Um, it's called the J9 and then the J11 they're big, big underwater speakers and would play back whale sounds to the, to the whales and the shore station would be there. And we'll be tracking the movements of all the whale pods, the groups of whales in the area through using a theta light, you know, one of those surveyors tools and, uh, and a little field computer there Commodore, I think it was the trash, you know, it was TRS its TRS 80 it's trash.

Tom Freeman (24:40):

So that was the radio shack computer, right. In those days. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, we had the shore station, we had the boats and then we had a little Zodiac that would mostly just track whales and get their, their flu identification. Cause we were trying to see who was traveling with who and see if we could determine social groups. So anyway, we'd play back a sounds of the whales underwater and then see, did it have an impact on the whales or it was like, uh, uh, control tape. There were, uh, social sounds from Alaska. There were feeding sounds from Alaska. And then there was a humpback whale song from the prior year. Cause the song of a humpback whale evolves your year. New themes come in, old things drop out, but everybody's basically singing the same song like, you know, but they sound, they sound different.

Tom Freeman (25:25):

It's like, you know, you've got Frank Sinatra singing my way versus Sid vicious singing my way. You know, they sound different, but it's the same song. So, um, we would play sounds back and found that the whales would basically rush the boat or about 20% of the pods in the area would rush the boat when we played the feeding sound and then they they'd go by the speaker and then they swim away. But the, it drew them in. So we had to be really careful that tape was, um, because you don't want the, like the whalers to get, you know, a hold of that. But they did use that tape for Humphrey, the humpback whale that went up the Sacramento river, that's the tape that they use to draw him back out of the Sacramento river. They were trying to use seal bombs, all kinds of stuff to turn them around.

Tom Freeman (26:10):

And the skin was starting to slough off. He was getting in trouble, but the quality, Kewalo Marine mammal lab was in on the conference call and they said, well, we've got this tape. And then they use the tape to draw him back out into the Pacific ocean. Yeah. Was cool. So I worked with them in 86 and then I went on my journey into Asia, right. And I get to the, the orangutan project. And I worked there where we go in the, in the, the rainforest and are working with ex-captive orangutans that are there in the camp, camp Leakey that named after Louis B leaky, that was run by this woman named Birutė Galdikas, and she was one of the three women that Louis Leakey mentored. There was Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey, and Birutė, Jane Goodall went to work with the chimps. Diane Fossey went to work with the gorillas and the Birutė went to work with the orangutan. She was the youngest. So working in the rainforest was really incredible. It was amazing because we would get up in the morning, we'd track the orangutans in the wild, take data on them, collect their scat, you know, collect, see what kind of food they were eating. And then when they would bed down for the night they build, they build a new, um, like a new, uh, uh, nest every night to sleep in. And then we would make our way back to camp. And the rule was dinner. Wouldn't start till everybody got back to camp. And sometimes it was like dark. And then if you were on a, uh, an orangutan, then you would have to get up at like three o'clock in the morning and go out with the Dayak who were the native people that live in Borneo.

Tom Freeman (27:34):

And, um, they would be our guides. And then we'd go out and sit and wait for the Orangutan to wake up and then track them. And the rule was three days and no more if they, if you could stay with them. So it was amazing. Cause you'd be out there at night when the rainforest is waking up. Right. So when the Dawn is happening in the rainforest, it's, it's incredible. Cause it's like this symphony, it's sort of like the, you hear the, it start to wake up. I can't really describe it. It's just, it's sort of overwhelming. Cause the baboons start to wake up and the, you know, everybody starts to make noise, but it's sort of, this sounds like an orchestra tuning up anyway. Um, that was incredible. And I was out there for a couple of weeks, which is interestingly enough, where I met my future wife.

Tom Freeman (28:19):

She was I'm from long Island. She was from New Jersey and we met in Borneo. So anyway, uh, it took a while for us to get together. But um, cause we were on different continents for one thing. But in any case, Mmm, after that, I stayed in Indonesia for a little while and I was about, I went back to Hong Kong and was about to launch into China and got a telegram from my mother saying she needed me to come home. That all things, but there was a big like, anyway, it was all kinds of family stuff. I had to go home. My mom, you know, I told you my mom has had cancer. And anyway, so I went home and I live with her for a year trying to sell our house. And it was a, um, I feel that I mutated in that year cause it was hard and it was very hard.

Tom Freeman (29:02):

They invited me back to the whale project and I couldn't go and I was, it was hard. But after we finally got the house sold and I got my mom resettled in South Georgia, which is where she originally grew up. Mmm Hmm. I went back to the whale project in 88 and I worked in the whale project from then on, I was the unpaid, I didn't pay in 1988. When I went to work there, I was like, uh, uh, the earth watch liaison. So I was responsible for all the volunteers. And then the next year I went back and I was a staff person. The next year I went back and I was a assistant. So the assistant field director, the next year I went back, next year I didn't go back. But I did go to Hawaii cause I had to go testify to whale harassment trial. And then the next two years I went back as the field director because they, I had the most experience of anybody and they didn't have any grad students that knew what they were doing. So they needed somebody to keep the project going and knew how to do it. So in 94, 95, I went back as field director.

Shauna Costello (30:02):

And so were all of these little were all of these like little small projects or does it stretch into more of like a full time job rather than just the volunterr

Tom Freeman (30:11):

It was, see whales are seasonal. They only go to Hawaii between January and March or April. Right? So that's when I go, it was January, March or April. In the meantime I started working on a dolphin project that was up the coast and working with spinner dolphins, but I would always go back to Massachusetts and get a job at Fernald. Right. Then I became sort of like this, this hired gun where I would go into case loads and sort of work on a caseload and either straighten things out. And then they stopped having me do that. And I started being what was called a QMRP at that time, which stood for qualified mental retardation professional, basically the case manager.

Shauna Costello (30:48):

Yep. Well read individuals and most like, well-rounded like the types of books that in topics that you and I have gotten into conversations about. So I can like, just imagine the types of things you were reading and looking into yourself during this, during this time period.

Tom Freeman (31:06):

That's an interesting question. You know, I, I, when I travel, obviously I read a lot. Cause it was really interesting when you travel you're outside of your group, right. You no longer group identification. Right. You're you're so you get in these different groups, there's like groups of people that are on the road that start seeing each other at like guest houses and stuff. Cause I didn't want to stay in big hotels. I wanted to stay in like, you know, hostells. Right, exactly. But then there's always like book exchanges there. Right. So I read a lot of John Le Carre. I read a lot of, I read a lot. I had already read a lot of Herman Hesse, but I read a lot of Herman Hesse. I read Faulkner. Um, I read a lot of Doris Lessing. I really re I love Doris Lessings work children and violence series. And the, a lot of that, I read C S Lewis. I read, um, I read some, you know, science fiction as like Asimov and um, and then I was reading, you know, um, gosh, I can't, that's an interesting question. I'll have to remember. I mean, it's, I, I used to read like lots sporadically I used to read. Um, and now I don't, I don't do that so much anymore.

Shauna Costello (32:12):

You're a little bit busy right now.

Tom Freeman (32:13):

A little bit. Yeah. A little bit.

Shauna Costello (32:14):

Yeah. I can just see like the history of stuff that you're reading or have read sitting behind me on your book case.

Tom Freeman (32:21):

A lot of comparative religion stuff. I read a lot of Sufi literature, a lot of, um, like Buddhism, um, a lot of, uh, different, just different religions. I was really interested in different religions. I've been to lots of different like, you know, temples and the kingdom hall for the, you know, basically I, I I'm really interested in the religious experience. So I was reading a lot of that, a lot of philosophy, um, a lot of like DT Suzuki and uh, just, you know, then Krishna Murti. I really liked that stuff. I liked the various, I was just reading all this stuff about people trying to figure out, you know, what is this all about? And, um, I basically came to the conclusion conclusion that, um, nobody really it's a big mystery. Nobody really knows them. We just basically tried to do the best we can, that there's something going on, that there's stuff going on that we can't perceive.

Tom Freeman (33:19):

Cause our perceptual networks are limited and there's stuff going on all around us that we don't know about. And I'm okay with that. And that, uh, I don't think that we have really any clue about what's happening. And so we do the best we can. And science gives us a way to try to, um, understand how the universe works around us, the best that we possibly can. And that's a good thing because it allows us to do things and to affect change and to do things. But I don't think that, um, we've got this all pegged by any, any possible degree. I think there's a lot going on. That is a really interesting, that would be nice to find out about it. That's one of the reasons I was interested in like extra sensory perception because it, it indicates something sort of beyond our current understanding of the, you know, the Newtonian sort of op priori space and time or Linnaeus and continuous or linear and continuous. I don't know that that's exactly right. Cause we keep expanding our knowledge of sort of how things work. And we always, human beings always seem to go into these new areas that really shocked people, you know, their paradigm shifts. And that's one of the reasons Skinner is so interesting is because it's a paradigm shift it's that, you know, our thoughts don't cause behavior, our thoughts, basically our behavior. And so that's a really profound change in terms of seeing our place in the universe.

Shauna Costello (34:53):

It still is.

Tom Freeman (34:55):

It still is.

Shauna Costello (34:56):

It's funny to think about it still is to this day to people.

Tom Freeman (34:59):

Oh, for sure. It's funny because if you look back at like Copernicus, right? When, when Copernicus has concluded, you know, that the earth was not the center of the universe, the sun doesn't go around the earth years. It goes around the sun. Right? Well, 50 years later, geo Donald Bruno was burned at the stake for basically preaching Copernicus. So it took a long time. People think that, Oh, everybody got that. And then it just, everybody understood that the, you know, the earth was not center of the universe, it took like centuries for and people still to this day, think the earth is flat. You know? So it's, if these things take a while that these big shifts in perspective, um, take a while to sort of infuse into society, you know, same with Einstein, the whole realm, you know, people started were saying everything is relative when I was growing up. Oh, everything is relative. Well, that's straight out of Einstein from like 75 years ago.

Shauna Costello (35:51):

I know that's still one of my answers to somebody asks me anything that's relative. Right. Just depending on the situation.

Tom Freeman (35:59):

It's about where you're looking at it from, you know, it depends on your perspective. So yeah. So anyway, after all that, you know, I eventually, um, I was in Massachusetts, I was playing in a rock band. I was playing Griffel then almond brothers. I was doing all kinds of stuff, but yeah,

Shauna Costello (36:17):

That also doesn't surprise me at all. Tom and I have also connected on her, loves her eclectic music as well.

Tom Freeman (36:26):

Yup. I've been in bands that played everything from like, you know, Bob Dylan and the Beatles to the MyVision orchestra. So it's a, you know, try to play miles Davis stuff. But then I say trying it not very well, but, um, so anyway, um, having met the person that would eventually be my wife in Borneo, we were in, in letter contact. We were writing letters to each other for a long time. And, uh, she came to visit me in Hawaii before she, she got up, she decided to get out of her career and she was working in like defense industries, computer stuff in Washington, D C and she didn't want to do that. She wanted to work out in the wild. And so, um, in any case, she came before going to school, she went to, went back to grad school and Yale school of forestry.

Tom Freeman (37:14):

And before going to grad school, she wanted to come to Hawaii and take a trip. And so I said, Hey, come see me at the whale project. And she came to visit and we realized, um, we should probably be together. And, um, so after that it took, it took a while. Cause we kept being on different continents cause she's off studying gorillas in Africa or studying Sapelo monkeys in Argentina and I'm in Hawaii or, you know, so it took us a few years, but then we finally got married and uh, in, um, 19, 1996,

Shauna Costello (37:50):

I was gonna say, don't get this wrong.

Tom Freeman (37:52):

So we've well, yeah. I moved to Florida, Kathy. We had gotten a job in Florida working for the nature Conservancy, doing land reclamation and stuff and doing GIS. She does like mapping and stuff. And so she had moved to Florida. I was in Massachusetts and I kept visiting her and we were on the phone every night. And so realizing I could do what I do, which is, you know, working in the area, especially at that time of developmental disabilities, because most of my experience was with adults with developmental disabilities, um, that I could do that pretty much anywhere. Versus she had gotten a job after she got out of grad school, working for the nature Conservancy here in Florida. And it was like her ideal job. So I decided, okay, I'll move to Florida. And uh, in the interim I went to before moving down here, cause I moved here in December of 95, we got married in 96. Uh, I went to a FABA conference, Florida association behavior analysis conference in 95, which is where I met Jose. And cause somebody I had worked with at Fernald introduced me to Jose,

Shauna Costello (38:59):

Thank you for listening to thought leaders from operant innovations. Join us in a couple of weeks. As we continue our talk with Tom Freeman to see where he thinks the field of behavior analysis is going and where he would like to see it go as always, if you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please email us at


Leave a reply