John Eccles (neurophysiologist)

John Eccles (neurophysiologist) bigraphy, stories - Australian neurophysioloigst

John Eccles (neurophysiologist) : biography

27 January 1903 – 2 May 1997

Sir John Carew Eccles, AC FRS FRACP FRSNZ FAAS (27 January 1903 – 2 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 with Andrew Huxley and Alan Lloyd Hodgkin.


  • Mr John Eccles (1903–1929)
  • Dr John Eccles (1929–1944)
  • Prof. John Eccles (1944–1958)
  • Sir John Eccles (1958–1990)
  • Sir John Eccles AC (1990–1997)

Personal life and death

Eccles had nine children. Eccles married Irene Eccles in 1928 and divorced in 1968. He married again in 1968 to Helena T. Eccles and they were married until his death. Eccles died on 2 May 1997 in his home of Contra, Switzerland. He was buried in Contra Switzerland.

Eccles was a devout theist and a sometime Roman Catholic, and is regarded by many Christians as an exemplar of the successful melding of a life of science with one of faith. A biography states that, "although not always a practising Catholic, Eccles was a theist and a spiritual person, and he believed ‘that there is a Divine Providence operating over and above the materialistic happenings of biological evolution’…"


In The Understanding of the Brain (1973), Eccles summarizes his philosophy: "Now before discussing brain function in detail I will at the beginning give an account of my philosophical position on the so-called ‘brain-mind problem’ so that you will be able to relate the experimental evidence to this philosophical position. I have written at length on this philosophy in my book Facing Reality. In Fig. 6-1 you will be able to see that I fully accept the recent philosophical achievements of Sir Karl Popper with his concept of three worlds. I was a dualist, now I am a trialist! Cartesian dualism has become unfashionable with many people. They embrace monism in order to escape the enigma of brain-mind interaction with its perplexing problems. But Sir Karl Popper and I are interactionists, and what is more, trialist interactionists! The three worlds are very easily defined. I believe that in the classification of Fig. 6-1 there is nothing left out. It takes care of everything that is in existence and in our experience. All can be classified in one or other of the categories enumerated under Worlds 1, 2 and 3.

Fig. 6-1, Three Worlds

1. Inorganic: Matter and Energy of Cosmos Subjective Knowledge Records of Intellectual Efforts
2. Biology: Structure and Actions of All Living Beings; Human Brains Experience of: Perception, Thinking, Emotions, Dispositional Intentions, Memories, Dreams, Creative Imagination Philosophical, Theological, Scientific, Historical, Literary, Artistic, Technological
3. Artifacts: Material Substrates of human creativity, of tools, of machines, of books, of works of art, of music. Theoretical Systems: Scientific Problems, Critical Arguments

"In Fig. 6-1, World 1 is the world of physical objects and states. It comprises the whole cosmos of matter and energy, all of biology including human brains, and all artifacts that man has made for coding information, as for example, the paper and ink of books or the material base of works of art. World 1 is the total world of the materialists. They recognize nothing else. All else is fantasy.

"World 2 is the world of states of consciousness and subjective knowledge of all kinds. The totality of our perceptions comes in this world. But there are several levels. In agreement with Polten, I tend to recognize three kinds of levels of World 2, as indicated in Fig. 6-2, but it may be more correct to think of it as a spectrum.

FIG. 6-2, World of Consciousness