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Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6



Further Reading


The Mysterious Matter of Mind

Chapter Six

The Return of the Whole Person

      Sherrington's search for the mode of action of mind upon brain was continued not only in Canada by Penfield but also by another of his pupils who became a worthy successor, this time in the British Isles, Sir John C. Eccles.
     Eccles, now retired, is considered by many of his peers to be among the world's leading neurophysiologists, and recognition of his stature came in due time when he was made Nobel laureate. For the last twelve years of his long active career in research, Eccles was working in the United States as Director of the Laboratory of Neurobiology at the University of Buffalo Medical School.
     His research led him ultimately to adopt a form of interactionism very much like that proposed by Descartes. However, he reached this position on the basis of experimental evidence rather than armchair philosophy. When he retired, he took the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the fruits of his research.
     Together, Popper and Eccles have now set forth the

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essence of these reflections in a notable volume entitled The Self and Its Brain (referred to earlier).

Evolution of the Mind or Creation?
Two Routes to the Same End

     The format of this volume, The Self and Its Brain, is unusual. Its unique character stems from the fact that while both men agree as to their main proposition indicated in the sub-title, "An Argument for Interactionism," the route which each came to this position was quite different. They disagree with respect to the origin of the conscious mind, and they disagree as to the destiny of it. In the matter of the origin of mind, Popper sees almost certainly an evolutionary origin; Eccles seems to favour some form of creation. In the matter of destiny, Popper holds that we should not commit ourselves beyond the experimental evidence, but should keep an entirely open mind on the question. Eccles is clearly much more committed to the view that the mind or "soul" (as he now calls it) has a destiny beyond the grave for which this present life is strictly preparation.
     Popper's view, in essence, is that soul is an evolutionary emergent somehow arising out of the activity of the brain but, once formed, having a measure of independence which no longer allows it to be fully described in terms of physics and chemistry. He elaborates this view in the first part of the volume arguing, for the most part, on philosophical grounds.
     In the second part, Eccles presents the essence of the experimental findings and some of his conclusions from a more strictly analytical point of view. Here we find evidence of an essentially scientific nature interpreted in support of the interactionist position, a position adopted by both authors.

Experimental Evidence of the Priority
of Will Over Action, of Mind Over Brain

     Eccles refers particularly to the work of H. H. Kornhuber as reported in l974.
(74) Kornhuber discovered the existence of electrical potentials generated in the cerebral cortex following the exercise of will to action and prior to the actual performance of motor activity. Between the conscious act of will and the activity resulting from it, he consistently observed a measurable interval lasting for a few seconds or less. (75)

74. Kornhuber, H. H., "Cerebral Cortex, Cerebellum, and Basal Ganglia: An Introduction to Their Motor Functions," in The Neurosciences, Third Study Program, edited by. F. O. Schmitt and F. G. Worden, Cambridge (USA), Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1973, pp.267—80.
75. Popper, Sir Karl and Sir John Eccles, The Self and Its Brain, Springer Verlag International, 1977, p.283.

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     In this brief but highly significant interval there is a flurry of electrical potentials over a wide area that gradually centres or concentrates the signals which then bring about the movement willed. This takes the form of "a developing specificity of the patterned impulse discharges" until the pyramidal cells in the relevant cortex area are activated to bring about the desired movement. The delay between willing and willed movement is quite measurable. The nature of the will and the resulting willed action correspond.
     The problem remains, however, as to how the neuronal impulses are set in orderly action by the will. One has to assume, Eccles believes, that there is a bridge of some sort "across the interface between the mental world and the physical world."
(76) Eccles admits that it is not yet possible to give a scientific account of the nature of this bridge, but holds that Kornhuber's experiments are presumptive experimental evidence that action can indeed be initiated by the will without the introduction of external stimuli in the chain of events leading from one to the other. Moreover, he feels it important to bear in mind that we have the ability to manipulate mental images without there being any consequent overt movement. It is thus possible to exercise "will" in two different ways: as imagined movement or as actual response by intent.
     Eccles describes Kornhuber's experiments as follows: Elementally simple movements of the index finger were executed by the subject entirely of his own volition, while the very small potentials from the surface of the scalp in the associated control area were accurately timed in respect both to the moment of willing and the moment of responsive movement. The onset of the action potentials resulting from movement of muscles involved in rapid flexing of the finger were used as time markers and compared chronologically with scalp surface potentials. The scalp potentials always preceded the action potentials.

The Mysterious Matter of Mind

     In each case, the subject initiated "these movements at will at irregular intervals of many seconds, extreme care being taken to exclude all triggering stimuli" [emphasis mine]. (77) It was possible to average from these experiments 250 records of the potentials evoked at

76. Ibid., p.285.
77. Ibid., p.283.

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each of the several sites over the surface of the scalp. It was found that a "readiness potential" began as a rule about 0.8 seconds before the onset of the muscle action of potential specific to the response. It is rather like the effect of the non-specific warning command given by a sergeant saying, "Company. . ." before giving the specific command which is to follow. It seems to warn that the will is about to act upon the mechanism. No such warning signal or "attention-getter" seems to be involved when action is involuntary. Consciously willed action takes time to be set in motion.
     Eccles summarizes Kornhuber's results as follows:

     The trained subjects literally do make the movements in the absence of determining influences from the environment, and any random potentials generated in the relaxed brain would be virtually eliminated by the averaging of 250 traces. Thus we can regard these experiments as providing a convincing demonstration that voluntary movements can be freely initiated independently of any determining influences that are entirely within the neuronal machinery of the brain. If we can regard this as established for elementally simple movements there is no problem in extending indefinitely the range of consciously willed or strictly voluntary actions.

     Eccles observes that "many other movements of limbs have been investigated with similar results, and even vocalization." (79)
     The evidence seems to indicate that "will" initiates a preparatory signal in the brain which is then responsible for the desired movement. Demonstration of interaction can therefore be replicated and always in the same sequential relationships.

The Basic Problem: The Nature of the Interface

     Eccles is quick to point out, however, that the outstanding problem which remains lies in the nature of the voluntary control mechanism which bridges "across the interface between the self-conscious mind on the one hand and the modules of the cerebral cortex on the other."
(80) The connection from there on in, from cortex to motor neurons, seems clear enough. All we can now say is that experimental evidence of interactionism does indeed exist.

78. Ibid., p.294.
79. Ibid., p.283. An avenue of light on the relationship between thought and action that Eccles does not mention might be the finding, known for some years, that unspoken thought is nevertheless accompanied by small detectable movements of the vocal chords. When the congenitally deaf think (those who use sign language), these same potential movements can be demonstrated in the finger muscles rather than in the vocal chords. In reviewing A. N. Sololov's Inner Speech and Thought [Moscow, 1968], Katherine S. Harris observes that electromyographic indicators of this sort may simply represent some kind of "overflow phenomenon." This would seem to be further evidence of interactionism — the flow of thought initiating vocal expression involving muscular activity that is not only unwanted but as far as possible suppressed [Science, vol.176, 1972, "Book Reviews" under "Silent Articulation."] See also J. C. Nunnally and R. L. Flaugher, "Psychological Implications of Word Usage," Science, vol.140, 1963, p.775.
80. Ibid., p.294.

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     Much of what follows in Eccles' treatment is an attempt to map out the problem itself by consideration of current knowledge about the second stage of interaction. The basic problem of the first stage, the mind/brain interaction, still remains.
     The last third of the volume is a verbatim record of a series of taped discussions between the two men in which their essential agreement on the reasonableness of the interactionist position is made very clear. Toward the end, however, a clear difference of philosophical approach is indicated by the fact (announced in the Introduction written jointly by the authors) that Popper allows no transcendental leanings to colour his thinking, whereas Eccles is clearly willing, and indeed committed, to belief in God and a destiny for the soul beyond death.
     We thus have in this volume the interesting case of two highly informed and intelligent men reaching substantial agreement about the nature of the mind/brain relationship but agreeably disagreeing as to the origin of the self-conscious mind and its destiny after death. The points of disagreement served the excellent purpose of sharpening the debate, largely because both men had profound respect for the other's personal bias. One wishes we could all debate such important issues with the same kind of courtesy and restraint!
     Insofar as Eccles felt free to follow Penfield in "stepping across the boundary" without abandoning the exercise of "critical judgment," his observations at the end tend to open up broader avenues of discussion and to carry the subject matter of this present study beyond the cold hard facts of the laboratory and into the realm of metaphysics.
     Eccles became fully persuaded as a result of his experiments that mind was not an emergent out of brain but somehow an independent observer and user of it. He speaks of the mind as manipulating the brain, of being its master not its servant. The mind searches the brain's store of engrammed information and integrates what it extracts from that store. It is an active search, not just a passive engagement. It can select from the information it scans in the brain and blend the information it acquires into a meaningful whole, rejecting

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some of the information and modifying it according to its own will. This deliberate process, imposed upon the output of the brain, contributes in turn to the circuitry and capabilities. Hence the title of the volume itself, which was originally planned as The Self and the Brain, was by mutual agreement between both authors rewritten as The Self and Its Brain. The brain is seen as being acted upon by the mind in a purposeful way and as being programmed uniquely by its attached mind merely by reason of the fact that the mind itself is programmer and programs into the brain only what interests it.

Eccles: Mind is Autonomous and in Control

     Eccles sees mind and brain as a clear-cut dichotomy (81) and goes so far as to equate self-conscious mind with an entity called soul. (82) He rejects the parallelist view (83) as an evasion of the problem. The mind is not merely a viewer of a TV screen who has no control of the TV program. The mind is an active observer which can select the program, change the channels, adjust colour, and even take part in the original programming. There is, he believes, substantial evidence of an active influence of the self-conscious mind upon the neuronal machinery. The mind has no interest in the firings of individual nerve cells any more than the viewer is concerned normally with the functioning of resistor transistors, condensers, or the circuitry of his own TV set. Such firings of individual nerve cells provide the mind with no useful information in themselves, though another mind may be deeply concerned in the event of malfunctioning of the mechanism. It is the collective communal operation of the large number of neurons that has to be the basis of the intelligible and useful readout. (84) This readout is normally a readout upon demand and is integrated by the mind into a meaningful message. The brain's TV "picture" is only a picture because the mind makes it one.
     The mind is by constitution rarely a spectator only, and even then only for brief periods. As a rule it is highly involved. This is especially true in creative thinking and in times of deliberate recall. Eccles agrees entirely with

81. Ibid., p.471.
82. Ibid., p.560.
83. Ibid., p.474.
84. Ibid., p.477.

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Popper's remark in this connection: (85)

     I remember is equivalent to I succeed in remembering. So only at the moment at which its activity leads to a success is the self really a spectator (and nothing else). Otherwise it is constantly, or almost constantly, active.

     Eccles reverted later to the parallelist view and observed: (86)

     We can turn now to other aspects of the basis for our strong dualistic hypothesis. I want to mention just briefly that we have to assume that our self-conscious mind has some coherence with the neuronal operations of the brain, but we have furthermore to recognize that it is not in a passive relationship. It is an active relationship searching and also modifying the neuronal operations. So this is a very strong dualism and it separates completely our theory from any parallelistic views where the self-conscious mind is passive. That is the essence of the parallelistic hypothesis.
     All varieties of identity theories imply that the mind's conscious experiences have merely a passive relationship as a spin-off from the operations of the neural machinery, which themselves are self-sufficient. These operations give the whole motor performance, and in addition give all conscious experiences and memory retrievals. Thus on the parallelistic hypotheses the operations of the neural machinery provide a necessary and sufficient explanation of all human actions.

Popper: There is an Active "Ghost in the Machine"

     With this overall assessment of the situation Popper agreed — a fact which suggests that Eccles' dualism is not the result of his wishful acceptance of the utility of a spiritual world, since Popper statedly doesn't admit any such world. Nevertheless, he thus far agrees with Eccles as to say with respect to the above: (87)

     That is exactly what I tried to express when, with a feeling of despair, I said in Oxford in 1950 that I believe in the ghost in the machine. That is to say, I think that the self in a sense plays on the brain, as a pianist plays on a piano or as a driver plays on the controls of a car.

     This called forth from Eccles the following summary of his own personal conclusions based on

85. Ibid., p 488.
86. Ibid., p.494.
87. Ibid., pp.495—96.

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many years of active research: (88)

     As a challenge, I will present a very brief summary or outline of the theory as I see it. Here it is. The self-conscious mind is actively engaged in reading out from the multitude of active centers at the highest level of brain activity, namely in the liaison brain. The self-conscious mind selects from these centers according to attention and interest and from moment to moment integrates its selection to give unity even to the most transient conscious experiences. Furthermore, the self-conscious mind acts upon those neural centers, modifying the dynamic spatio-temporal patterns of the neural events. Thus in agreement with Sperry, it is postulated that the self-conscious mind exercises a superior interpretative and controlling role upon the neural events. [emphasis mine]

     To this Popper replied: (89)

     I think that is very good. The only place where perhaps one should seek to make it even stronger is where you speak of the liaison brain; namely, we could make it stronger by making it clear that the liaison brain is, as it were, almost an object of choice of the self-conscious mind. . . .
     So I go even a little further than you in my interactionism, in that I look at the very location of the liaison brain as being the result of interaction between the brain and the self-conscious mind.

Mind as an Evolutionary "Outcrop": A Biologically Irrational View

     Subsequently in the course of this dialogue, Eccles made what seems to be a very important observation for those who propose that self-consciousness was an advantage to its possessor and was therefore an evolutionary outcrop that was favoured by selective pressures. Apart from the fact that many forms of life below man — forms which can hardly be credited with self-consciousness — seem to have a far better chance of survival than man does, the derivative of self-conscious mind seems unlikely for another reason. (90)

     There is on the parallelist view no biological reason whatsoever why the self-conscious mind should have evolved at all. If it can do nothing. what is the evolutionary meaning of it? . . . .  It can only have survival value if it can do things. [emphasis mine]

88. Ibid., p.589
89. Ibid. pp.559—560.
90. Ibid., p.516.

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     Of course, if mind can act upon brain in this dualistic sense as an independent force, then will can act upon matter without being rooted in the matter it is acting upon. Such a concept raises disturbing possibilities in physics and, in fact, could, as Eccles himself suggests, involve a veritable transformation of physics. (91) Eccles quotes an observation by Erwin Schrodinger in 1967 apropos of such a contingency: (92)

     The impasse is an impasse. Are we thus not the doers of our deeds? Yet we feel responsible for them, we are punished or praised for them, as the case may be. It is a horrible antinomy. I maintain that it cannot be solved on the level of present-day science which is still entirely engulfed in the "exclusion principle" (i.e., the exclusion of all forces save physical ones). . . .  The scientific attitude would have to be rebuilt. Science must be made anew.

     At the close of this dialogue there are questions that carry us beyond the range of science and perhaps even beyond the range of philosophy. Thus Eccles says: (93)

     I wanted to stress this pre-eminence of the self-conscious mind because now I raise the questions: "What is the self-conscious mind? How does it come to exist? How is it attached to the brain in all its intimate relationships of give and take? How does it come to be? And in the end, not only how does it come to be, but what is its ultimate fate when, in due course, the brain disintegrates?"

The Origin of Mindedness Remains a Mystery

     So he observes that the poignant problem confronting each person in his life is his attempt to become reconciled with his inevitable end in death. The inevitability of death affects man uniquely because in his development he has become self-conscious. In his book Facing Reality Eccles made the following observation, which he now quotes: (94)

     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.

91. Ibid., p.543.
92. Schrodinger, Erwin, What Is Life? and Mind and Matter, Cambridge University Press, 1967, pp.131—32.
93. Popper, Sir Karl and Sir John Eccles, The Self and Its Brain, Springer Verlag International, 1977, pp.552—53.
94. Eccles, John C., Facing Reality, New York, Springer-Verlag,, 1970, p.83.

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     Later he says: (95)

     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?

     Eccles concludes that science has gone too far in breaking down man's belief in his spiritual potential and giving him the idea that he is merely an insignificant material being in the frigid cosmic immensity, (96) a phrase perhaps inspired (if that is the word) by Jacques Monod's bleak picture of the future in his Chance and Necessity.
     The following morning Eccles felt it desirable to sharpen the issue by saying:

    If [mind] is an emergent derivative of simply a brain developed to the highest level in the evolutionary process, then I think, we give way finally to a view that makes the self-conscious mind simply a spin-off from the highly developed brain. . . .
     My position is this. I believe that my personal uniqueness, that is, my own experienced self-consciousness, is not accounted for by this emergent explanation of the coming-to-be of my own self. It is the experienced uniqueness that is not so explained. . . .
     So I am constrained to believe that there is what we might call a supernatural origin of my unique self-conscious mind or my unique selfhood or soul; and that gives rise of course to a whole new set of problems.
     By this idea of supernatural creation I escape from the incredible improbability that the uniqueness of my own self is genetically determined. There is no problem about the genetic uniqueness of my brain. It is the uniqueness of the experienced self that requires this hypothesis of an independent origin of the self or soul, which is then associated with a brain, that so becomes MY brain. [emphasis mine]

Brain, Not the Cause of Mind, but the Conditioner

     The brain is not, therefore, the physiological cause of the self, but, as Viktor Frankl put it, it does condition it. (98) There is a great difference between causing and conditioning.

95. Ibid., chapter 5.
96. Ibid., p.558.
97. Ibid., pp.559—60.
98. Frankl, Viktor, in discussion of J. R. Smythies's paper, "Some Aspects of Consciousness" in Beyond Reductionism, edited by Arthur Koestler and J. R. Smythies, London, Hutchinson Publishing Group, 1969, p.254.

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      The position which both Popper and Eccles take is one of interactionism, the mind governing and employing the brain as a necessary device for its own conscious purposes, but also being in turn influenced by the brain's efficiency, limitations, genetic endowment, and healthy or diseased condition. The brain is limited in its programming by the mind: the mind is limited in its program by the efficiency and capacity of the brain as a machine. There is an interaction but there is a separation between the two parties to the arrangement. The mind, if Eccles is right, is not an emergent, a spin-off, an "arm" of the brain. It exists in its own right.
     Penfield found himself driven by the evidence to ask similar fundamental questions and quite independently came tentatively to rather similar conclusions.
     He questioned what becomes of the mind following death. Without a brain, the mind is finally robbed of the instrument essential to its operation. What happens then? All that can be said with any certainty is that the brain has not yet fully accounted for the mind, and perhaps mind can carry on afterwards without it.
     If mind is dependent on brain for its operation insofar as that operation requires some form of energy, whence would that energy come from in the absence of brain? Penfield suggests that perhaps the disintegration of the brain in death sets the mind free to tap some other form of energy. Unless this is so, it would seem that after death, mind must vanish. Can it establish connection with "another source of energy" outside the measurable world?
     Penfield seems to have in mind a new source of energy and a new source of life. This is not to be equated with pantheism, for the mind itself seems to have acquired a self-conscious personal identity that persists even when gross damage is done to the brain.
     He cautiously suggests that perhaps even during life some of this new energy comes directly from God Himself.

Origins and Destinies

     The mind of man is such that the idea of personal annihilation by death is both hard

99. Penfield, Wilder, The Mystery of the Mind, Toronto, Little, Brown & Co., 1975, p.88.
100. Ibid., p.89.

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to conceive and hard to accept. We have seen that mystery surrounds origin of the mind, and mystery assuredly surrounds its destiny. Since it seems impossible for us to achieve certainty in the matter of origin by scientific means, there is even less likelihood of achieving certainty in the matter of destiny by scientific means. Where, then, shall we continue the search, since it is inevitable that we shall do so?

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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