Switzerland pays homage to Eccles

John Eccles' grave in the Ticinese town of Tenero-Contra (Rolf Amgarten) John Eccles' grave in the Ticinese town of Tenero-Contra (Rolf Amgarten)

Switzerland is paying homage to the life and scientific work of Nobel Prize winner, John Eccles.

This content was published on January 4, 2003 - 11:13

A new foundation aiming at continuing his research has opened its doors in Ticino, where the Australian-born neuroscientist spent the last years of his life.

Eccles was born in Melbourne on January 27, 1903, and dedicated most of his life to neuroscience and research into the communication among nerve cells.

Together with his wife Helena, Eccles moved to the Ticinese town of Tenero-Contra 30 years ago. He died there on May 2, 1997, at the age of 94.

Nobel Prize

In 1963, Eccles received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to understand the ionic mechanisms of synaptic transmission in the brain.

To remember his life and work, the new foundation - set up in Locarno-Riazzino - intends to continue Eccles' research, which was an important part of his life.

His widow is to honorary president of the foundation and Silvio Leoni, a Ticinese entrepreneur with a PhD on Eccles' work, presides over the organisation.

Karl Popper

Together with the philosopher Karl Popper, Eccles published a revealing account of his research in 1977. In their book 'The Self and Its Brain' the two authors investigated the body-mind problem.

The book proposes and defends some highly controversial hypotheses concerning the interaction between the body and the mind.

In his book Eccles, who was very religious, came to the conclusion that every person has a non-material mind or self, which acts upon our material brains. He claimed that there was a mental world in addition to the physical world and that the two interact.

Mental units

However, Eccles' theory of these "mental units" called "psychons", which he claimed formed our consciousness, was also a very controversial one.

Critics argued that the mechanism of a single transmission of a nervous impulse does not necessarily give a complete insight into the creation of our consciousness, which is made up of millions of neurons and billions of synapses.

Nowadays, Eccles' theory is no longer taken seriously, but the questions he sought to answer are still relevant to our society - hence the new foundation.

His many outstanding contributions to neuroscience were recognised by numerous honorary degrees, prizes, awards and memberships of academies and universities.

However, the activities of the neuroscientist, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this month, were restricted by illness for the last three years of his life.

Eccles' work is considered to have had a profound influence on the medical treatment of nervous diseases and research on kidney, heart and brain function.

swissinfo, Gerhard Lob, translated by Billi Bierling

Key facts

John Eccles was born in Melbourne on January 27, 1903.
He died in Tenero-Contra on May 2, 1997.
He dedicated his life to the research of the relationship between body and mind.
In 1963, Eccles received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

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