John Carew Eccles

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The more we discover scientifically about the brain the more clearly do we distinguish between the brain events and the mental phenomena and the more wonderful do the mental phenomena become.

Sir John Carew Eccles (27 January 19032 May 1997) was an Australian neurophysiologist who won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the synapse. He shared the prize together with Andrew Fielding Huxley and Alan Lloyd Hodgkin.


  • I can now rejoice even in the falsification of a cherished theory, because even this is a scientific success.
    • As quoted in the Introduction of Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963) by Karl Popper

Facing Reality (1970)[edit]

Facing Reality : Philosophical Adventures by a Brain Scientist (1970) ISBN 0387900144
  • I believe that there is a fundamental mystery in my existence, transcending any biological account of the development of my body (including my brain) with its genetic inheritance and its evolutionary origin. … I cannot believe that this wonderful gift of a conscious existence has no further future, no possibility of another existence under some other unimaginable conditions.
    • p. 83
  • Our coming-to-be is as mysterious as our ceasing-to-be at death. Can we therefore not derive hope because our ignorance about our origin matches our ignorance about our destiny? Cannot life be lived as a challenging and wonderful adventure that has meaning yet to be discovered? (95)
    • Ch. 5.

The Self and Its Brain (1977)[edit]

The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism (with Karl Popper)
  • I have read a great deal now on the neurological side and much on the anthropological side and on the philosophical side and we have had all these discussions and all the time I have the feeling that something may break. I mean that some little light at the end of the tunnel may be sensed or some flash of insight may come. I of course know very well that there is no guarantee it will come, but I have already got myself into this state of expectancy that something will come to my imagination which has some germ of truth about it in this most difficult field.
    • p. 467

Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self (1989)[edit]

  • I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition … we have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.
    • p. 241

How the Self Controls Its Brain (1994)[edit]

  • The more we discover scientifically about the brain the more clearly do we distinguish between the brain events and the mental phenomena and the more wonderful do the mental phenomena become. Promissory materialism is simply a superstition held by dogmatic materialists. It has all the features of a Messianic prophecy, with the promise of a future freed of all problems—a kind of Nirvana for our unfortunate successors.
  • The materialist critics argue that insuperable difficulties are encountered by the hypothesis that immaterial mental events can act in any way on material structures such as neurons. Such a presumed action is alleged to be incompatible with the conservation laws of physics, in particular of the first law of thermodynamics. This objection would certainly be sustained by nineteenth century physicists, and by neuroscientists and philosophers who are still ideologically in the physics of the nineteenth century, not recognizing the revolution wrought by quantum physicists in the twentieth century.
  • Induction was shown to be untenable as a scientific method by Popper in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959). Instead, advances in scientific understanding come ideally from hypothetico-deductivism: firstly, development of a hypothesis in relation to a problem situation, and secondly, its testing in relation to all relevant knowledge and furthermore by its great explanatory power.
  • The concept of substance leads to a materialist aspect of the mind. I speak instead of the spiritual existence of the self without mentioning any 'substance' properties. The great problem is 'how the self controls its brain'. This is dualistic, but not in terms of two substances. Instead it relates to the two worlds of Popper.
  • The hypothesis has been proposed that all mental events and experiences, in fact the whole of the outer and inner sensory experiences, are a composite of elemental or unitary mental experiences at all levels of intensity. Each of these mental units is reciprocally linked in some unitary manner to a dendron … Appropriately we name these proposed mental units 'psychons.' Psychons are not perceptual paths to experiences. They are the experiences in all their diversity and uniqueness. There could be millions of psychons each linked uniquely to the millions of dendrons. It is hypothesized that it is the very nature of psychons to link together in providing a unified experience.
    • He here refers to his proposal in "A unitary hypothesis of mind-brain interaction in the cerebral cortex" (1990); published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B 240, p. 433 - 451

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