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THE IMPORTANCE OF BRAIN RESEARCH FOR THE EDUCATIONAL, CULTURAL, AND SCIENTIFIC FUTURE OF MANKIND J. C. ECCLES* In March, 1968, UNESCO in association with the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) held a week-long symposium in Paris on the very general theme subsumed under the title "Brain and Behaviour ." IBRO was established several years ago and has been supported largely from UNESCO subventions. This recent symposium revealed that there is an increasing interest ofUNESCO in the activities ofIBRO, and it has prompted me to formulate the ideas expressed in this article. Central to the ideals ofUNESCO is the concept that we must strive to foster and develop the fullest possible life for mankind, not just here and now but indefinitely into the future. It is my belief that we will be successful only insofar as we appreciate the nature ofman and plan accordingly . Man is self-reflecting in that he has the ability to objectify himself and to consider the kind of being he is and what he wants to become. Man alone is conscious of himself and is alone capable, as it were, of standing outside ofhimselfand regarding himselfas an object. The whole range of UNESCO's activities, the educational, scientific, and cultural programs for the whole ofmankind, can be subsumed in one phrase: to give the maximum opportunities for the realization of potentialities of all the human brains born into this world. As I come to consider the nature of man, I discover that I have direct access to privileged information about one—namely myself with my self-consciousness. I am not going to use this assertion in order to develop a solipsistic thesis. I shall be at pains to show that I have to recognize an equivalent self-consciousness in all other human beings. My philosophical position is diametrically opposite to those who would relegate conscious experience to the meaningless role ofan epiphenomenon. * Faculty ofHealth Sciences, State University ofNew York, Buffalo, New York 14214. 6l Is it not true that those most common ofour experiences are accepted without any appreciation oftheir tremendous mystery? Are we not still like children in our outlook on our experiences ofconscious life, accepting them and only rarely pausing to contemplate and appreciate the wonder of conscious experiences? For example, vision gives us from instant to instant a three-dimensional picture of an external world and builds into that picture such qualities as brightness and color, which exist only in perceptions developed as a consequence ofbrain action. Ofcourse we now recognize physical counterparts of these perceptual experiences, such as the intensity ofa light source and the wave lengths ofits emitted radiation; nevertheless, the perceptions themselves arise in some quite unknown manner out of the coded information conveyed from the retina to the brain. I hope you feel the wonder ofthis gift ofvision, which adds such riches to our experiences. Perhaps it is easier still to appreciate the miraculous transformation that occurs in hearing—from mere congeries of pressure waves in the atmosphere to sound with tone and harmony and melody. These sensory experiences arise as fleeting patterns of neuronal activities develop in response to the inflow ofauditory information from the auditory mechanism in our ears and are woven in space and time by the transient activation ofcerebral nerve cells. There are over ten thousand million ofthese nerve cells, and with immense connectivity they give the potentiality for an almost infinite variety of patterned operation. There is good reason to believe that spatio-temporal patterns involving tens of millions of these cells must be activated before we experience even the simplest sensation. I hope these simple examples convey some impression ofwhat I mean when I refer to the wonder ofthe conscious life that each ofus experiences. Yet it seems to me that post-Darwinian man has in this age lost the sense ofhis true greatness and ofhis immeasurable superiority to animals. Mankind is sick and has lost faith in itself and in the meaning of existence. There are many symptoms ofthis sickness. It has resulted in various forms ofirrationality, such as existentialism in philosophy and the meaninglessness and formlessness of so much of so-called modern art. This occurs not only in the plastic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 61-68
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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