Eccles, John Carew (1903–1997)


John Carew Eccles (1903–1997) was one of the leading neurophysiologists of the twentieth century. A student and collaborator of Charles Scott Sherrington, he devoted most of his scientific life to the study of the processes of excitation and inhibition in the nervous system, and for this he shared the Nobel Prize with Hodgkin and Huxley in 1963. Eccles was a protagonist of the controversy over the nature of synaptic transmission, and in this connection, he developed a neat hypotheticodeductive epistemological stance under the influence of Karl Popper's falsificationism. Eccles held strong philosophical convictions: while methodologically a reductionist, he was fiercely opposed to the materialistic philosophy underlying most of contemporary brain science and developed a dualist‐interactionist account of brain–mind relations.

Keywords: neurophysiology; integrative action of the nervous system; mind/brain problem; dualism; Popper; falsification; inhibition; synaptic transmission; science and religion; neuroscience

Figure 1. A diagram of a proposed scheme for the ‘direct’ inhibition of the so‐called monosynaptic reflex (Reproduced with permission from Eccles et al., © Australian Academy of Science). Impulses entering the cord from the afferent fibres coming from extensor muscles (Ext. Ia AFF.) make direct synaptic contact with the extensor motoneurons (E). Through an axon collateral, the afferent impulse activates a class of short‐axon cells (INT. NUC., intermediate nucleus), which in turn inhibit the motoneurons innervating the flexor muscles. Note that white synaptic knobs are only excitatory, while solid black synaptic structures are exclusively inhibitory. The interpolation of an interneuron, then, affords a clear scheme of the neurophysiological substrate of antagonistic reflexes and of the basic mechanism of coordination of movement.


Eccles JC , Fatt P and Landgren S (1953) The direct inhibitory pathway in the spinal cord. Australian Journal of Science 16: 130–134.

Eccles JC (1975) Under the spell of the synapse. In: Worden FG , Swazey JP and Adelman G (eds) The Neurosciences: Paths of Discovery, pp. 159–179. Cambridge (MA): MIT University Press.

Eccles JC (1980) The Human Psyche. Berlin‐Heidelberg: Springer Verlag.

Further Reading

Bacq ZM (1975) Chemical Transmission of Nerve Impulses: A Historical Sketch. London: Pergamon.

Bennett MR and Hacker PMS (2003) Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Oxford: Wiley‐Blackwell.

Dale HH (1954) The beginnings and the prospects of neurohumoral transmission. Pharmacological Reviews 6: 7–13.

Eccles JC (1936) Synaptic and neuromuscular transmission. Ergebnisse der Physiologie 38: 339–444.

Eccles JC (1953) The Neurophysiological Basis of Mind: The Principles of Neurphysiology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Eccles JC (1957) The Physiology of Nerve Cells. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Eccles JC (1970) Facing Reality. Berlin‐Heidelberg: Springer Verlag.

Eccles JC (1978) The Human Mystery. Berlin‐Heidelberg: Springer Verlag.

Popper KR and Eccles JC (1977) The Self and its Brain. An Argument for Interactionism. Berlin‐Heidelberg: Springer Verlag.

Valenstein ES (2005) The War of the Soups and the Sparks. The Discovery of Neurotransmitters and the Dispute over How Nerves Communicate. New York: Columbia University Press.

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De Sio, Fabio(Mar 2016) Eccles, John Carew (1903–1997). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002776.pub2]