Sir John Eccles (1980) - The Human Person: A scientific and a philosophical Problem

Thank you very much for your kind introduction. I want to also express my greetings to Count and Countess Bernadotte, distinguished visitors, fellow laureates and fellow scientists and students. Now, in consideration of the human person it is necessary to begin with an attempt to define the usage of the terms consciousness and self-consciousness. I regard self-consciousness as our highest mental experience. It implies knowing that one knows. And of course that's initially introspective but then by communication with others we recognise that this is objective. An objective property of our own self. The experience of self-knowing. Now you have to ask what then is consciousness and how can we distinguish. And I would say that this is at lower levels than self-consciousness. We can speak of an animal as conscious when it is capable of assessing the complexities of its present situation in the light of past experience and so can arrive at appropriate action, exhibiting intelligence and memory. There is no indubitable test for consciousness. But it is generally accepted that birds and mammals display conscious behaviour when they act intelligently and emotionally and are able to learn appropriately. So now we can well ask when did self-consciousness come. And there are the experiments with the chimpanzees showing them a coloured patch on their face with a mirror and they can exhibit that they can use the mirror image to take the colour off their forehead. This is by Gallo, but it's doubtful how much that is really reliable a test for self-consciousness. And then there were initially very high hopes from a study of language and teaching of chimpanzees to use sign or symbol language. That we could get them trained to some more primitive human linguistic performance. It turns out though, the summary of the situation now is that that has failed. A recent book called "The Language of Apes" or "Speaking of Apes" makes that very clear I think. What they do is they can use language simply pragmatically to get desirables. But they never ask questions. And they have no concept of self. They don't recognise time. They don't recognise the future, they don't know that there is death in store for them. They don't recognise number and so on. I think we can say that there's no evidence that the chimpanzees have cognitive experiences in this way we have associated with a self-consciousness. So we can ask the question then when did self-consciousness come in hominid evolution. Now, we come now to the first slide. And I'll just go quickly through some of these. You're all familiar with the evolution from Australopithecine with these small skulls here. Up through to Neanderthal. And finally to homo sapiens sapiens there. And this is now a much more complete record still than that. And when did that, in that whole sequence, when can we say that animals had self-consciousness, these hominids. I think when they displayed shall we say something like caring for others, a feeling of self which probably comes in at that stage. And this only occurs right up here in the late Neanderthal period, 70,000 years ago where they buried their dead and even put flower burials and so on. So all of these we don't think, there's no evidence yet that they had real self-consciousness. It only came quite late at say 80,000 years ago. And then the skull was as big as ours. Next slide please. And here is just a plotting of skulls, here is millions of years ago. And here is australopithecines and some homo habilis, homo erectus. And it wasn't until we got right up there, Neanderthal man with a skull rather bigger than ours. That we have indubitable evidence of consciousness. So it came quite late. And I think amazingly late and we don't know why that is so. Now next slide please. One of the strange things about this, this is evolutionary plotting here. Biological evolution has to be distinguished from cultural evolution in this whole story of the human person. And we have phenotypes built by genotypes. This is in the evolutionary process. And so you have animal brain with pseudo altruistic behaviour. But not till we get to here do we get, with language and altruistic behaviour learned here. Our brain is built by evolution and genetically with a propensity for language but we will never speak or never exhibit any human qualities unless we learn them. The brain is ready for it but not automatically as I will say. The human person has to be created even after the full brain is built. So the next slide. This just shows you Neanderthal skulls here, homo sapiens, they're very similar. I'm sure that if we had a Neanderthal man available we could get him through the university courses and all the rest of it. I think he had a quite high intelligence. But of course had almost no culture, he had to be brought up to that cultural level. So now we come to the question of a human person, which is the theme of my talk. We have the experience all the time of self-consciousness, knowing that we know a manual can't define person by two statements, a person is a subject who is responsible for his actions and a person is something that is conscious at different times of the numerical identity of itself. They are minimal statements, Popper and I have recently written a 600 page book on "The Self and its Brain". And Popper describes the self-consciousness as the greatest of miracles. And I think I would agree completely with him. It is the greatest of miracles. That continuous ongoing self inner illumination that we call consciousness is beyond imagination, the greatest of all and most wonderful of everything in this universe. Now the next slide. And here is the brain and the human brain and the skull with the speaking areas on the left side and other areas. But large parts of this brain are not given to any particular property. These are the really interesting ones. Now, when you ask the human person, what is the human person, this is going to be a little strange for you but you know you can chop off legs and arms and transplant hearts and do all kinds of things, the person remains. You can take them to pieces almost and yet they remain. So where do we say, which part. Well, you can, even with primates, transplant heads and then the head of course, you can't do much about the body, but the head can go on giving responses. A human head if transplanted, this is a Gedankenexperiment, it's never been done I hope. Would still as it were own the body and not the body the head. So we'll say the head is what's important for us. But then we can lose eyes and hearing and all the rest and still be a person. And so it comes to the brain. Is what we have to fasten on? The material side of a human person is a human brain. But then we have to go further than that because you can take then all parts of the brain apart. Away the cerebellum and large areas at the lower level. Next slide please. And here is a cerebral cortex split with the corpus collosum here in this picture. And here is the left hemisphere, the right, this is the speaking hemisphere. You can take that one away, that hemisphere, excise it and the subject, the person still is identifiable. In fact it's done under local anaesthetic and the neurosurgeons say that the subject goes on talking all the time, while they're chopping off half of his cerebral cortex and taking it out. You can't do it the other way of course. With this one here, it's the end of the person virtually. If it's an older person. A child can recover. So, then the material side of the person is the left hemisphere and special areas of the left hemisphere. Now we have problems of the identity of the self and the unity of the self. We have self-identity and we have unity. These are most important. And then as I will come to later the self is the programmer of the brain and we'll think of this brain as the computer. And we are the programmer. Like a pilot, the self observes and takes action all the time. Acting and suffering, recalling the past and planning and programming the future. Expecting and disposing. It contains in quick succession or all at once, wishes, plans, hopes, decisions to act and a vivid consciousness of being an acting self, a centre of action. So, this is what we mean by the self, using the brain as a computer. To sum up the evidence we can say that the human person is intimately associated with its brain, probably exclusively with the cerebral hemispheres. And is not at all directly associated with all the remainder of the body. The association that you experience of limbs, face, eyes is dependent on the communication by nerve pathways to the brain where the experiences are generated. We have arrived at the threshold of the brain mind problem now. But before that I will ask the question how does a human person come to exist. That's the ontogeny of the human person, with self-consciousness. It is the route that all of us have travelled but much is unremembered. From our earliest babyhood times onwards. So the next slide. This you won't remember, this is in utero, 15 weeks old. These are in the same scale. And already you can see a characteristic human form here with a big brain and the baby when born at 40 weeks has a fully developed brain with all the pathways laid down. Ready for use and it is already hearing quite well and reacting quite well. And in the first months of extra uterine life as you know there's an immense practice of vocal organs by the child. Making noises and crying of course but also practicing to use its various muscles concerned in speech. And so at about one year it begins to make recognisable words like, and simple forms and gradually practices over the next few months and years intensely learning language. This is one of the most remarkable things about a baby. The effort it makes to learn a language and even when alone it is practicing. And by 18 months if you put the mark on the forehead here before a mirror it can recognise itself in the mirror, by 18 months, like a chimpanzee. But then it is doing something much more than the chimpanzee ever does. And here is for example the various Bühler/Popper, linguistic scale for four levels, here. And expressions, calls and cries, all animals mostly do those sort of things. Signal function. Animals can do that quite well, signally for one another for food or for help or what you will. And getting the pecking order, that's all one and two. Now that is also - of course we do that. But then we do descriptive and argumentative. Describing and true or false and of course then the arguing about things. And little children will do that by, certainly before two, they're already moving up into here. A chimpanzee never gets beyond two. It never asks questions which a young child is doing. It never tries to find itself in the world. The earliest stages of function development may be almost entirely pragmatic in a child, asking for things. But soon he is asking questions to find his way into the world. And that's what's called methetic, as distinct from pragmatic. A chimpanzee never uses methetic language, it's only when you get above here that you are using language methetically in a characteristic way begun by quite small children to find out about its world in the cognitive aspect. And they're linked together with the child and why is the child doing it. I would suggest I agree with Descartes in this. It's accounted for the developing self-consciousness of the child in its struggle for self-realisation and self-expression. And you would remember every child is trying to do that. And trying to find its way into the world. I can remember my own early life in this way. Mental development and linguistic development are in reciprocal positive interaction. So this is making the human person. It is done very largely by language and other, of course cultural communications. Now I come, next slide, to the philosophy of Popper, the three world philosophy where we have to now take just a brief look at this. A world one, a world of matter energy, including even human brains, our computer. World two is the states of consciousness or subjective knowledge and all this experience here which we will deal with, deceptions of thinking, emotions and so on. That's your mental experiences. And finally world three is the world of culture, the whole cultural world including particularly language. Not the paper and ink of a book which is here in material things. But the ideas which are coded in the language, that is here. And the same thing with every other thing, you can have a picture, not the picture but the ideas of the artist coded in expression. And available for us. Or think of music, all of this is in the world three. Now, a baby of course at birth has a human brain but it has no world three experience. And my thesis is that in making a human person, a baby is a human being and even a foetus is a human being but not yet a human person. And to become a human person you have to be immersed in the world of culture. If you are not then you remain if you like a human being, a thing, but not a human person. Now, so that is the story then of the development and the next slide will show you how, it's a diagram of mine, world two is the states of consciousness, world three is just diagrammatically showing the whole of culture. And here is babyhood even lower. And by interacting from this primitive self-consciousness through the little bit of language they get you develop this way. And more and more as time goes on you are growing in self-consciousness and in your cultural experience. The two are linked together and you climb up like a ladder. And a baby starts here and even you might say when do you stop climbing, the answer is you go on climbing. I am still climbing my ladder of world two and world three as I get new ideas, new richness as we experience new knowledge and so on. So that is life. The human person isn't something static, it is regressive development. A higher expanded level comes in as we climb up this ladder. But of course the brain is necessary for all of this. For existence and experience. Next slide. And here you see, you're going to see this slide quite a lot, here is the brain. Now, this is my dualistic directionist philosophy, rather like Descartes only I think more sophisticated. This is the surface of the human brain here. And here is, it's a communication flow diagram, not anatomical at all. Here are the various aspects of world two. World two and world one. And as we develop in world two through our association with culture we of course have all the subtle experiences of light, colour, sound and so on. And we have thoughts, feelings, memories, dreams, imagining, intentions and many more you can add. And at the centre the ego, the self or the psyche there. This is a diagram, a communication diagram to show you as it were the outstanding features in this problem of the human self. The brain is necessary and all our communications that we get come through coded information in the brain and are converted into experiences here. Light and colour is not anywhere in the world or in the brain. Only coded information of wave length and so on but it comes experienced as light and colour when it crosses the frontier between world one and world two. Now, just to give you one quick example of what I'm saying. When a child, Genie, who was brought up in extreme privation in Los Angeles with no world three, she was cut off completely from world three till 13 years and eight months old, penned upstairs, isolated and just minimally serviced. She was discovered as a human being but not a human person. She had no language, no knowledge of anything and gradually over the last eight years she has been brought into human personhood by devoted attention of Susan Curtiss. There's a book written about it. It makes my point that you can only become a human person if you are given an environment of world three of culture. That is to say nature gives you the brain but nurture gives you the person. and she had a gap of over 13 years between nature and the beginning of nurture. So, our brain is built by genetic instructions and the person is created by cultural input. And questioning and asking and so on in the way in which a child does right through its earliest life. So, there is of course views, material views of philosophers that all of this can be an illusion or it is just linked with that as some identity. I will briefly mention that this is false and there's a great deal of evidence against it. And the next slide will show you here the representation of brain mind theories, world one and world two and world one M is the part of the brain which has mental states. And world one P is the rest of the cosmos. And you can do, and I don't have time for this now, radical materialism, panpsychism, epiphenomenalism, identity theory, they're all materious theories of the mind. And the essence of them all is that they deny that mental events can have any action upon the brain. That is the brain is a self-enclosed operating physical universe, the computer and that the programmer in the mind can do nothing. Now, as distinct from that dualist interactionism, here is the programmer who then is working here in world two you see, in interaction with the brain, both ways. Next slide. And so this is then the essence of the materious theories that there's nothing effective crossing between mental events and the brain. That by taking thought you cannot bring about action. This is all an illusion. There are various cover ups for this but it's not for me at this occasion to argue it out. And I can give you then just a few arguments for a moment against the materialist theories of the mind. Which are believed in by most philosophers and almost regrettably most neuroscientists. But because, why? Because they think that it is impossible, against the second law of thermodynamics to have a flow of energy across between the mind world, non-material world and the material here of the brain, the special sensitive areas of the cerebral cortex. But I will point out that this is information that is flowing, not energy. And therefore it is not against the second order of thermodynamics. Information may in fact by subtle ways be transferred across here by altering in micro levels here as we'll see the operations of nerve cells up and down. No net in change at all but just a change in their performance. Now, when we come to the theories, the next slide please. And I'll go quickly over these. All of these materialist theories of the mind do something, except radical materialism, these ones here do something very strange. They claim to be in accord with natural law but in fact they are giving something quite other than natural law, namely they're giving conscious experiences to the brain. And nowhere in natural law will you find such a statement, the emergence of this strange non-material entity, consciousness or mind. You will never see it in books and physics and chemistry and so on. And there's no statements either that at a certain degree of complexity of the brain there would be the development or emergence of consciousness associated with the brain. So, therefore the materialist theories who assume consciousness be associated with the material events, get no support from natural science as it now is. And secondly they also assert that there is no action back from world two upon world one, that by taking thought or by reacting or consciousness you can cause any appropriate evasive reaction or what you will in life. You see that's against evolution. Brain has developed and with it consciousness, enormously in evolution. And at the same time a biological evolution can only come about if the mental states are effective in causing appropriate reactions of the animal. Otherwise they would be outside the natural selection process of evolution. And so again the materialist theories of the mind, assuming there's no way back from world two to the material world are against biological evolution. And finally of course they give rise to the idea of a materialist deterministic performance and none of us in fact believes that we are completely determined, we all believe we have the will to do what we wish within limits. The ability to do that and that is denied by all the materialist theories of the mind. So, in this whole business of being a human person, I find that the materialist theories of the mind, that top four there, have failed. And therefore I would go to the dualist interactionist theory with Popper and now think of the brain as a computer, an instrument and a lifelong servant and companion. It provides us as programmers with our way into the world and from the world. Next slide please. And so, here in this big diagram here, here is the brain here, here is the world out here, these are all the lines of communication, motor and sensory to muscles and receptors. We are in this diagram you see up here in the conscious self, world two is receiving from the brain and giving to the brain all the time and connecting to the brain here and so on down to the world. This is a dualist interactionist diagram. It's a diagram really of the human person in action in the world. And so next slide. We come back here then and it's all this part of the brain that is especially concerned as we know from neurology with this mental events. And so one has to think of this computer, the brain, with all special properties of receiving and giving and then communicating to the conscious self. Now, how can we think of this? Well I can only briefly go through this side of it. This is the cerebral cortex, it covers about 2,500 square centimetres. About that size, 50 by 50 centimetres. It's about 1/3 of a millimetre thick. And that is the total material side of what is concerned in our problem. Now we can look at the, next slide, with the most recent techniques, give you something, I'll have to just mention it, because I'm talking scientifically also. This is the surface of the brain here, diagrammatically shown. Here is the 1/3 of a millimetre thick and there are modules. The latest radio tracer work shows that it isn't just 10,000 million nerve cells in a great sheet. But it's arranged in segments or modules of about 2,500 cells in a module. And they communicate specifically to other modules and those to others and so on. So we have a great opportunity for great network of communication in the brain. And of course receiving from the periphery as well into this immense structure. So that is just a brief look at that side of it. And next I'll look at, next slide, one of those modules, next slide, it looks like this. Here is again about a ¼ of a millimetre across, three millimetres deep. And a multitude of cells as shown here. I don't want to go into it, just to show you that we do know quite a lot about, this is St. Agatha of Budapest drawing, the most advanced diagram there is of the detail communication. But the cells are tremendously densely packed and there are several pyramidal cells there and there's another one up there and so on. But lots of other cells communicating within, exciting and inhibiting. And it's the inner life of this about which we know almost nothing. At the most there are three or four investigations so far on this. People are frightened of it. They like easy problems. But this is the most important problem in the universe. What is going on in this special selected modules of our brain because this is where the mind brain interaction occurs, in the modules. And with that we have just the call for much more work. So the next slide. And so you can think of, here looking on the surface, module going to module to module. In this way each one communicating to perhaps 50 others and receiving from 50 others. It's like a 50 dimensional network. Tremendously complicated beyond all chance of ever building a model of it. The next slide. Now we can look at the surface of modules, they are separated off here and in this diagram I can think of the brain as rather like a TV screen. If I were to strip off my skull and look at it there, I could think of it as the modules there, about four million modules. A TV screen has no more than 1 million spots on it, as you can see flickering like this. And our modules and our brain, because of a communication I have got a flickering scintillating performance, some are brilliantly alive, some are not refining, some are half, but much more than that we have an immense scintillating display in our brains. And this is happening all the time we're awake, and even when we're asleep. And it is this that somehow or other, the mind is leading out from and receiving to. Giving to this pattern. You know think of a brilliant part here, as on a TV screen, you can pay attention to that but the potentiality of this is unimaginable. We have four million of these about in our brains scintillating to perform. A piano has 88 keys and the same parameters, you make the whole of piano music, with 88 keys, units only. Our brains have four million equivalent keys to a piano. And you can imagine then what potentiality there is in a brain for storing, receiving, creating and reacting in every possible way. It is your computer. And I think incomparably wonderful, beyond anything imaginable. And we read out from this computer of ours. According to attention and interest, something you're listening to and you're not rejecting all visual experience. And then some areas here you are attending to and you are changing them and so on, acting and reacting. How do you do that? You've been learning from babyhood. A baby is beginning to learn to use its computer from birth. And it's been going on throughout life, in this incredible life. We all are doing it all the time. Learning to make the most of our brains, to change them, to read out from them and to extract meaning. It's meaning that we are interested in. Next slide. And the meaning of what is presented to us. And so here is the way, these are the same little modules here shown in section and there are four million of them and this you can imagine is a diagram. But we are scanning over the whole immense territory of these modules for action. And trying to get meaning. Trying to get some appreciation of what is coming in, specially related to our interests. And yet we have a unity about it all. That's the surprising thing, the brain can be this immense diverse structure and yet it is a unity because it is this self-consciousness mind gives us the unity. Scanning the psyche, scanning over the surface and putting it all into a unity of one kind or another. And it's not in the brain the unity, it's in the mind. Now, this is the explanatory power of dualist interactionism that I have talked to you about and I have written several books on this recently. And so it's hard for me to stop. But I get towards the end of the story now. And a point about it is now, this human person that we know ourselves to be is something quite unique and how did it come to be. Next slide. This is just to show you the unity. If you look at this figure it can either be a staircase or an overhanging cornice. If this is the near side it's the staircase, if that's the near side it's an overhanging cornice. The same pattern in the brain is given two different meanings. It's just a simple exercise in meaning that you get in this way. And you've all seen this and are familiar with it. The next slide shows you something, I can't really give you a good picture of but this is an impossible figure. But if I had something to cover up you would see that it's, if you cover up one end, I don't know whether I can, it's not quite big enough. There it looks like three tubes. If I cover up the tubes it's just a square and to put it together it's impossible. And that just shows you how we struggle for meaning. And we're very defeated when we can't get meaning out of a picture. And this was the great artist Escher who had made a very good point of that. Now this, next slide please, and so we come now to the end of my story. There is this ego or cell psyche here which is us and how did we come to be. I maintain that the brain is built by genetic instructions and infinitely variable. We are given a computer as it were at birth but who are we, what is this programmer. And I maintain and this is again a very important thing, that this is not explicable in scientific terms, this unique personal existence. That we are not explained by genetics or by evolution. Our brains are the computer but the programmer is other. This is in fact the doctrine which I will call a doctrine of divine creation. Somewhere either between the growing foetus, between conception and birth, the inner core of my unique individuality was given a computer and that is me, the human person. And I've grown through life as a programmer with my computer, working with it in infinitely variable ways developing it and so on. It is my most intimate companion. I propose that the programmer is divine creation therefore and each of us is created as a unique psyche or programmer and is given for life a unique computer – our brain. And that is what my story has been about, how we can make more and more use of this wonderful gift of life and a life in which we have this wonderful instrument, the computer of our brain. Now what happens then with the disintegration of the brain or the computer, with death? We have lost this wonderful instrument. All of this is gone. Is this world two, is there nothing for that, is that also ended. It is not in the matter energy world. And I believe that we have properties there that are special, like we do carry memories I think and thoughts and feelings in world two as well as in the brain. And when this is disintegrated, I maintain we have reason to hope that something is left, our programmer has something left. And can in fact even discover its identity in some other existence yet to come. I think the divinely created psyche should be central to all consideration of immortality and of self-recognition. So I finish with this message. Man has lost his way ideologically in this age. It is what has been called the predicament of mankind. I think that science has gone too far in breaking down man's belief in his spiritual greatness as exemplified in the magnificent achievements of culture. And has given him a belief that he is merely an insignificant animal that has arisen by chance and necessity in an insignificant planet lost in the great cosmic immensity. This is the message given to us for example by Monod in "Chance and Necessity". I think the principle trouble with mankind today is that the intellectual leaders, many intellectual leaders, are too arrogant in their self-sufficiency. We must recognise the great unknowns in the material make up and the operation of our brains and in the relationship of brain to mind in all of the wonderful events of our human personhood. And we have to accept, and I would say the possibility of another life after this destruction of our brain, our computer. We don't know what this wonderful gift can be. We regard life as a wonderful gift. But we should be prepared for some other existence. Each of us can have the belief of acting in some unimaginable super natural drama as Schrödinger said. We should give all we can in order to play our part. Then we can wait with serenity and joy for the future revelations of whatever is in store after death. Thank you. Applause.

Sir John Eccles (1980)

The Human Person: A scientific and a philosophical Problem

Sir John Eccles (1980)

The Human Person: A scientific and a philosophical Problem

Comment

As a Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine in the autumn of 1963, Sir John Eccles missed the 1963 Lindau medicine meeting and was first invited to the medicine meeting in 1966. He accepted the invitation and lectured on the functioning of the neural machinery in the central nervous system, a topic close to the research which had been rewarded with a Nobel Prize. As with a certain subset of the Nobel Laureates, it seems that Sir John then fell in love with the Lindau Meetings, because he returned for all the medicine meetings for almost 30 years and lectured at each of them. On top of this unusual participation, he also lectured at the 1980 chemistry meeting, the present lecture. One might think that this was connected with his initial interest in the chemical signalling system in the nervous system. But in 1980, the retired Sir John, now living in nearby Switzerland with his wife Lady Helena, had changed his interest to the so-called mind-body problem, on which he would publish extensively until his death. Books by Sir John, one with the philosopher Karl Popper as co-author, have titles as ”The Self and its Brain”, ”The Human Mystery” and ”The Human Psyche”. They treat one of the most difficult problems we can think of, the problem of self-consciousness, the highest mental experience as described by Sir John in the lecture. There are several parts of the problem, one having to do with the theory of evolution. When did self-consciousness appear in the early pre-human beings that eventually became homo sapiens? Another part of the problem is connected with the brain as a computer, how does the machinery work? Also, is it sufficient to have a powerful computer? Since there has been some fundamental breakthroughs recently in our understanding of how the brain can adapt itself to new knowledge, in a sense re-build itself, it would have been wonderful to have Sir John lecture again at the next medicine meeting in 2014! Anders Bárány

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