Memories of Sir John Eccles

Donald E. Watson
The Noetic Journal 1 (1), p. 1 (1997)
I met Sir John only once, but I've felt close to him for decades. In 1960, as a postdoctoral fellow in neurophysiology, I first read his classical book, The Physiology of Nerve Cells. Appreciating the intellect and imagination of its author, I adopted him as a role model—like a father.

Then, several years ago, a friend called to tell me that Sir John would present a talk at UC Irvine's prestigious public lecture series. I haven't attended such showcase lectures for decades, having learned long ago that the honored speakers usually speak to general audiences by reviewing the work that brought them acclaim. But I immediately decided to attend this one, assuming the Sir John would be different.

He didn't disappoint me. Rather than reviewing his past achievements, he discussed his current work. Since the content of the talk was highly technical, few members of the general audience were able to appreciate its fine points. Of course, I was rapt. When he expressed his view that mental activity could cause neuronal activity, possibly by shading the odds of neurotransmitter release through quantum statistics, I made a slight sound, perhaps whispering, "Right!"

Sir John stopped, looked around the audience, picked me out, and asked me to join him on the stage. I was delighted to do so. He put his arm around my shoulder—as a father would do—and invited me to explain why I resonated with his ideas.

I began by expressing the idea that the forebrain acts more like a gas operating under statistical laws than a solid operating under determistic laws. He listened intently, and nodded, prompting me to continue. I asserted that mental activity does indeed cause neuronal activity, but to understand how this occurs, we need to understand it in terms of the universal organizing principle—enformy. (This was the first time I had discussed my enformy theory in public.) By then very attentive, Sir John asked me to elaborate. I explained that under my theory, enformy sustains the organization of all coherent systems—including the living person—and that mental activity is the map to which this organization conforms. Hence, mind organizes brain—and because the relationship is symmetrical and concomitant, brain also organizes mind.

Sir John smiled warmly, shook my hand, and thanked me. Then I asked him for a favor. I had brought my copy of his book with me, and I asked him to sign it. He cheerfully said, "Of course," and wrote a personal inscription for me.

Four weeks ago, Sir John was very much on my mind. I was troubled by a compelling question: "How long will he live?" My question was answered the following week in an email from Richard Amoroso: "Eccles passed away a week ago in the arms of his loving wife."

I am grateful to Sir John for serving as a role model. His soaring intellect and imagination propelled him to persistently pursue his quests. He was not only ingenious and creative, he was gracious, generous, intellectually honest, and supportive of the work of others. But that's not how I know him.

How do I know Sir John? Intimately—as a son would. That is, I know him, not merely facts about him. In terms of traditional psychological theory, I have introjected him—I have incorporated my mental image of him into my own self-image. In terms of my theory, enformy long ago cohered subsets of his and my SELFs in spacetime. That's why I can confidently anticipate meeting him again one day.