Before then, though, he decided to get training in electrophysiology and Neuroscience and arranged for a 2-year period at the University of Otago where he graduated Bachelor in Science in Eccles, who would be awarded the Nobel Prize for his studies of synaptic transmission. Ainsley and Eccles remained close friends and Ainsley often recounted that his decision to spend two years with "Synaptic Eccles" as he was then known in New Zealand, was the turning point of his scientific career.
Sir John Eccles
In Ainsley moved to the United Kingdom for what became a one-way trip. He joined the Rowett Research Institute of the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, an agricultural research facility where he started his pioneering studies on the sensory innervation of the stomach. This work not only led to his PhD from the University of Aberdeen in but also to the beginning of his interest in recording the electrical activity of the thinnest afferent fibers in the vagus nerve, the unmyelinated afferent fibers.
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Ainsley Iggo is best known for his seminal studies of cutaneous nociceptors, which he carried out throughout the late 50's and 60's in parallel with those of Ed Perl in the United States. These studies provided strong support for a specificity interpretation of pain mechanisms in the periphery, which brought both Iggo and Perl into a clash with the pattern theory interpretation of pain led by Pat Wall. The two groups were irreconcilable throughout their lives even though evidence accumulated that both theories, specificity and pattern, had their positive and negative aspects.
In fact, motor-neuronal inhibition is the basis for the paralysis that prevents us from moving during even our most animated dreams. In , I had presented my work on hypothalamic lesions at the Tokyo Physiological Conference, in a sleep session chaired by none other than Eccles. I was surprised, and a bit hurt, at how little interest Eccles took in the evidence that sleep—and, by implication, dreaming—was actively controlled by the brain.
At that time, however, I did not know he was a dualist. To my astonishment, which continues to this day, Eccles went to the blackboard and drew this diagram:. During my active teaching days at Harvard, in the early s, I met Jeffrey Saver, a medical student.
After graduating from Harvard College, Saver used a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship to interview scientists around the world about their religious beliefs. As previously mentioned, Eccles was a strong adherent of the electrical theory of neural transmission and, as such, an opponent of the soon-to-be prevailing chemical model. The title suggests that both Eccles and Popper believed in something more than material causality. Because all information enters the nervous system as a physical stimulus, it follows that, to enter or arise from a brain, information must also be physicalized.
As I read or write, the words are rendered by my visual brain or the motor cortex, and my writing hand, as physical objects. The meaning that arises from them or the associations they inspire are all emergent properties of my brain. There is no requirement for dualism in accounting for sentience, the sense of self, or the written word. In particular, he learned to intensify his dreams by sleep deprivation. Dreaming duration and intensity then increase. At age 66, he was still a bundle of energy.
I have a vivid recollection of him walking rapidly up and down the corridors, basking in his fame and celebrity. This same REM-off property is shared by other chemically coded modulatory neurons, the serotonergic and histaminergic neurons of the brain stem. We proposed that it was these changes in chemical activity in the brain that determined the difference between dreaming and waking consciousness.
Embarks on neurological research
It was clear that the mind was not separated from the body in sleep, as Eccles had claimed only 10 years earlier. Now no reasonable doubt exists that we sleep because the brain changes its state, and we dream when that change in state assumes certain physiological dimensions. The consequences are both profound and far-reaching for science as well as for religion.
All available evidence is that consciousness, including what we might call spirit or soul, is a brain function. What does the Eccles story tell us? On the positive side, it says that great science can be done by people who have strong religious beliefs. In the end, when facts contradict our cherished beliefs, each of us decides, with only intellectual honesty to guide us, whether our beliefs or the facts are dispensable.
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In , he was named "Australian of the Year. Eccles was widely read and presented in his Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology, a sweeping view of the scientific understanding of big questions, starting with the origin of the universe and ending with human consciousness and the issues surrounding the relation of mind and brain. At every step he took pains to point out the essential mystery underlying the scientific answers, and to assert his view that scientifically based materialist explanations were intrinsically incomplete and unable to provide meaning to life.
In his specialty of neuroscience, he was a forceful and nearly singular voice upholding the view that the human mind included a part existing distinctly from the physical brain and not explainable as an epiphenomena of that brain. Eccles was born in Melbourne, Australia.
Studies in Physiology
After the war, he became a professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand. From to , he worked as a professor at the Australian National University. From , until his retirement, he was a professor at the University at Buffalo. He retired in After retirement, he moved to Switzerland and wrote on the mind-body problem. They had four sons and five daughters. Two of his sons are also scientists. One is a radar meteorologist. One of his daughters, Rosamond, has collaborated with him in much of his neurophysiological research.
Obituary: Sir John Eccles | The Independent
They also collaborated in their research. In the early s, Eccles and his colleagues performed the research that would win Eccles the Nobel Prize. To study synapses in the peripheral nervous system, Eccles and colleagues used the stretch reflex as a model. This reflex is easily studied because it consists of only two neurons : A sensory neuron the muscle spindle fiber and the motor neuron.
The sensory neuron synapses onto the motor neuron in the spinal cord. When Eccles passed a current into the sensory neuron in the quadriceps, the motor neuron innervating the quadriceps produced a small excitatory postsynaptic potential EPSP. When he passed the same current through the hamstring, the opposing muscle to the quadriceps, he saw an inhibitory postsynaptic potential IPSP in the quadriceps motor neuron.
Although a single EPSP was not enough to fire an action potential in the motor neuron, the sum of several EPSPs from multiple sensory neurons synapsing onto the motor neuron could cause the motor neuron to fire, thus contracting the quadriceps. Apart from these seminal experiments, Eccles was key to a number of important developments in neuroscience.