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Karl Pribram MD


It was 1960, I was attending a week long seminar at Piaget and Inhelder's laboratory in Geneva. I heard that John Eccles was visiting Richard Jung in Freiburg – not so far away. Arrangements were made for a visit: I had long wanted to meet Eccles and to have an opportunity to discuss with Jung his micro-electrode work at the same time was irresistible. Jung and Eccles were cordial and we had a most productive meeting during which many of my questions were answered.

For the evening we went to the Schwartzwald for beer and dinner. After a sufficient number of beers, I asked Eccles: “You have written such a marvelous book on neurophysiology (Eccles 1952) – how could you end it with a really horrible chapter espousing dualism? Eccles straightened his lanky frame and we spent the remainder of the evening discussing the merits of dualism (as opposed to my monism which Eccles wrongly interpreted to mean that I was a materialist reductionist).

I had thought that Eccles' dualism was merely that his Catholicism was showing. Although this was a correct assessment, he convinced me that he had a thoroughly-thought-through sophisticated position. From then on, he sent me every philosophical paper that he delivered and/or published. We discussed in some detail the chapters of his book with Karl Popper “The Self and its Brain” (1977) before it was published. I remained an ontological monist but was convinced that there is a place for an epistemological dualism – or as Popper preferred, for a pluralism (Pribram 1986). The current paper provides the philosophical capstone of the “argument” that developed over the 40 years of discourse.

Before I detail this philosophical point of view, one anecdote is worth recording. Eccles, Roger Sperry and I were at a conference on consciousness (Globus et al 1976) representing the brain scientists while the rest of the group were philosophers. Eccles presented his most recent data and noted that he had entered the field of brain science in order to tackle the mind/brain issue. I always admired his enthusiasm and willingness to point out what the deeper problems were and how his beautiful data addressed these fundamental issues. He was in fine form that morning. The philosopher who discussed Eccles paper was, from my point of view, a disaster. He stated: “there is nothing that experimentalists can do in the laboratory that has any bearing on the philosophical problem. That has to be solved by philosophers.” I never saw Eccles so angry. It was lunch-time; he took me by the hand and said: “Karl we must do our own philosophy.”

Instantiation of Eccles Interactive Dualism:

What I want to do here is to show how one can instantiate both sides of Eccles' Brain/Mind interaction and then go beyond these instantiations. On the brain side of the interaction, Eccles clearly defines what he is proposing: there are structures of fine fibers and their connections (synapses) that make up units he called dendrons. But on the mind side of the interaction, he postulates undefined units called psychons. Psychons are presumed to operate on synapses by way of quantum processes.

My claim is that we have good evidence that Eccles' dendrons make up receptive fields in cortical sensory units. (Pribram 1991). Dendrons are composed of pre-synaptic teledendrons, synapses and post-synaptic dendrites. They compose the fine fiber structure wherein brain processing occurs. As sensory generated receptive fields they can be mapped in terms of wavelets, or wavelet-like patterns such as Gabor Elementary Functions. Dennis Gabor (1946) called these units Quanta of Information. The reason for this name is that Gabor used the same mathematics to describe his units as had Heisenberg in describing the units of quantum microphysics. Here they define the unit structure of processes occurring in the material brain.

However, Gabor invented his function, not to describe brain processes, but to find the maximum compressibility of a telephone message that could be sent over the Atlantic Cable without destroying its intelligibility. The Gabor function thus describes both a unit of brain processing and a unit of communication. Brain is material, communication is mental. The same mathematical formulation describes both. The elementary structure of processing in Eccles' material dendron is identical to the elementary structure of processing of a mental (communication) psychon. There is a structural identity to the dual interactive process.

To summarize: The structural identity between a material brain process and a mental communication process is provided by the Gabor “wavelet”. The wavelet instantiates and accounts for the dual interactive process that Eccles and Popper are promoting. Eccles places the interaction within the synapse. This is not contradicted by the emphasis on the receptive field properties of the fine fibered pre- and post-synaptic arbors except that the interaction is not limited to the synaptic cleft. Fine fibered membranes are also involved (Jibu and Yasue 1995). This extension overcomes two problems: There is no need to have ineffable, undefined mental processes acting on the synapse; and the energetics involved are brought into the realm of ordinary science. (Mohrhoff 1999; Wilson 1999).

A Monistic Basis for Dualism:

Underlying the interactive mind/matter duality there is a “ground” from which the dual emerges. My claim is that the basis function from which both matter and mind are “formed“ is a potential reality, a flux (or holo-flux, see Hiley 1996). This flux provides the ontological roots from which our experience regarding matter as well as mind (psychological processing) itself become actualized in spacetime. To Illuminate this claim, let me relate a story: Once, Eugene Wigner remarked that in quantum physics we no longer have observables, (invariants) but only observations. Tongue in cheek I asked whether that meant that quantum physics is really psychology, expecting a gruff reply to my sassiness. Instead, Wigner beamed a happy smile of understanding and replied, “yes, yes, that's exactly correct”. If indeed one wants to take the reductive path, one ends up with psychology, not particles. In fact, it is a psychological process, mathematics, that describes the relationships that organize matter. In a non-trivial sense current physics is rooted in both matter and mind. (Chapline 2000, “Is physics and mathematics the same thing?”).

Conversely, communication ordinarily occurs by way of a material medium. Bertrand Russell (1948) noted that the form of the medium is largely irrelevant to the form of the communication. In terms of today's functionalism it is the communicated sample of a pattern that is of concern, not whether it is conveyed by a cell phone, a computer or a brain and human body. The medium is not the message. But not to be ignored is the fact that communication depends on being embodied, instantiated in some sort of material medium. This convergence of matter on mind, and of mind on matter, gives credence to their common ontological root. (Pribram 1986; 1998). My claim is that this root, though constrained by measures in spacetime, needs a more fundamental order, a potential that underlies and transcends spacetime. The spectral basis of both matter and of communication portrayed by the Fourier relationship delineate this claim.

The Fourier Relationship:

The Fourier (1802 ) relationship states that any space-time pattern can be transformed into the spectral domain characterized by interference patterns among a set of waveforms that encode amplitude, frequency and phase. Inverting the transform realizes the original space-time configuration. The transform domain is “spectral” not just “frequency” because the Fourier transformation encodes both the cosine and sine of a waveform allowing the interference between the 90 degree phase separation to be encoded discretely as coefficients.

The advantage gained by transforming into the spectral domain is that a great variety of patterns can be readily convolved (multiplied) so that by performing the inverse transform the patterns have become correlated. This advantage is enhanced in quantum holography (which I have called Holonomy). Lie group theory can be used to describe how, by way of co-variation, (and contra-variation due to movement) various perspectives (images) of an object can form an invariant entity. (Pribram 1991; Llinas 2000). Image processing as in tomography such as PET scans and fMRI are prime examples of the utility of such encoding.

The diagram below provides a summary of what these measurements indicate. The diagram is based on a presentation made by Jeff Chew at a conference sponsored by a Buddhist enclave in the San Francisco Bay area. I had known about the Fourier transformation in terms of its role in holography. But I had never appreciated the Fourier-based fundamental conceptualizations portrayed below. I asked Chew where I might find more about this and he noted that he'd got it from his colleague Henry Stapp who in turn had obtained it from Dirac. (Eloise Carlton a mathematician working with me and I had had monthly meetings with Chew and Stapp for almost a decade and I am indebted to them and to David Bohm and Basil Hiley for guiding me through the labyrinth of quantum thinking.)

The diagram has two axes, a top-down and a right-left. The top-down axis distinguishes change from inertia. Change is defined in terms of energy and entropy. Energy is measured as the amount of actual or potential work necessary to change a structured system and entropy is a measure of how efficiently that change is brought about. Inertia is defined as the angular momentum of mass. Location is indicated by its spatial coordinates.

The right-left axis distinguishes between measurements made in the spectral domain and those made in spacetime. Spectra are composed of interference patterns where fluctuations intersect to reinforce or cancel. Holograms are examples of the spectral domain. I have called this pre-spacetime domain a potential reality because we navigate the actually experienced reality in spacetime (Pribram 2004).

The up-down axis relates mind to matter by way of sampling theory (Barrett 1993). Choices need to be made as to what aspect of matter we are to “attend”. The brain systems coordinate with sampling have been delineated and brain systems that impose contextual constraints on sampling have been identified (Pribram 1959; 1971). The down-up axis relates material (e.g. brain) patterns to mental processing by way of communication, the ubiquitous emergent “information processing” so dear to neuroscientists (Pribram 2004).

Of Matter and Mind:

One way of interpreting the “Fourier” diagram is that it indicates matter to be an “ex-formation”, an externalized (extruded, palpable, concentrated) form of flux. By contrast, thinking and its communication (minding) are the consequence of an “internalized” (neg-entropic) forming of flux, its in-formation.

Flux, measured as spectral density, is here defined (see Pribram and Bradley 1998) as change or lack thereof, basic to both energy (the amount of actual or potential work involved in altering structural patterns) and inertia (measured as the angular momentum of mass). David Bohm (1973) had a concept similar to flux in mind which he called a holomovement. He felt that my use of the term “flux” had connotations for him that he did not want to buy into. I, on the other hand, felt holomovement to be vague in the sense of asking “what is moving where?” We are dealing with fluctuations; in the nervous system, with oscillatinghyper- and depolarizations that are mapped as local field potentials characterizing the receptive fields of the fine fibered parts of the system.

There are two important conceptual advantages to this formulation: 1) ineffable mind becomes in-formation defined by Gabor and Shannon's quantitative descriptions related to thermodynamics; and 2) the realization that matter as we experience it is an ex-formation, a spacetime conceptualization, defined within a specific mind set.

This resolution of the mind/matter issue is based on an identity of structure, not aspects encoded in linguistic usage. I am not dealing with mind-talk and brain-talk as in multiple aspect approaches. Rather, I am specifying the structures and their transformations that underlie the mind/matter relationship.

Both materialists and mentalists might well be unsatisfied with this resolution of the mind/brain issue. Materialists, caught in the current scientific dogma that insists on searching for efficient causes to the exclusion of formal and final causes, could well say: ”But isn't it the brain that causes the mind”, Crick's “astonishing” hypothesis. My reply: but it is our genetic and social heritage that “causes” brain patterns --- even as we get to know how memory becomes constituted by de-repression of DNA, and by sensory input and motor output to and from the brain.

Mentalists will most likely bemoan the degradation of the mystical, the holy, the ineffable into mere in-formation, the form within. But as I have repeatedly claimed (e.g. 1997) it is this form that has no boundaries: as below so above. Our ability to understand holography and the holographic aspect of quantum theory, is the key to providing a scientific rendering of the mystical. In holography, every”thing” is every”where”. It is this view, obtained without the focusing properties of the lenses of our sensory apparatus, that can provide a beginning for scientific rendering of mystical insights. The endeavor is essential to healing the schism between the two cultures: the humanities and the sciences.


Susan Blackmore in her recent comprehensive text on Consciousness (2003) dismisses Eccles' dualism as irrelevant to current discourse on mind/brain issues. As I have indicated, this is due to two related flaws in Eccles' view: the lack of definition of “psychons” and the manner in which ineffable mind addresses the material brain. From my standpoint, Eccles, refused, despite many relevant conversations, to acknowledge the body of evidence that has accrued in experimental psychology. There is a science of behavior and a science of psychology. Both have much to say about mind. Thus there was no excuse not to try to find a unit of behavior such as the “reflex” or the “act” as the basis for the psychon and then relate this unit to what we know about its instantiation in the nervous system.

However, as I have attempted to show here, we need not throw out the dualist baby with the undefined, ineffable bathwater. (This reminds me of a story. The first time I heard Eccles give an extended lecture, I was surprised that he kept talking about the “brine”. Why should Eccles have become so interested in the cerebro-spinal fluid? After about a half hour it dawned on me that it was the brain in KIWI dialect that was being considered!) There is a rich harvest to be reaped from taking mind/brain dualism seriously and to transcend it when possible. In fact, most of the stances taken toward the issue have some merit. It may well come about that the mind-brain gap will not so much be bridged as filled with data and their interpretation. I hope that John Eccles' as well as my own laboratory and theoretical contributions (Pribram 1998) will be seminal in this respect.


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Blackmore, S. Consciousness: An Introduction (2003) Hodder and Stoughton, London

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in physics. Part B. Implicate and Explicate Order in physical law. Foundations of Physics, 3, pp. 139-168

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mathematics? Physical Reports 315, 95-105e

Eccles, J.C. 1952 The Neurophysiological basis of Mind Oxford University Press, Oxford

Eccles, J.C. (1958) The physiology of imagination. Scientific American, 199:135-146

Fourier, J. (1807) Sine and Cosine Series for an Arbitrary Function In Joseph Fourier 1768-1830 Ed. and annotated by I. Grattan- Guinness. The MIT Press, Cambridge MA

Gabor, D. (1946) Theory of communication. Journal of the iInstitute of Electrical Engineers, 93, 429-441

Globus, G.G., Maxwell, G. and Svodnik, I. Ed. (1976) Consciousness and the Brain Plenum Press N.Y.

Hiley, B.J. (1996) Mind and Matter: Aspects of the Implicate Order Described through Algebra. In Pribram, K.H. and King, J.S. (Eds) Learning as Self Organization: Proceedings of the Third Appalachian Conference on Behavioral Neurodynamics. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, Mahwah, NJ

Jibu, M., Yasue, K. (1995) Quantum Brain Dynamics and Consciousness John Benjamins, Amsterdam

Llinas. R.R. (2001) I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self. MIT Press, Cambridge

Mohrhoff, In The Volitional Brain Libet B., Freeman, A. and Sutherland,K., (Eds.) Imprint Academic, Hoverton, Englande

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Russell, B. (1948) Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits, Simon and Schuster, New York

Pribram, K.H., !959) On the neurology of thinking. Behavioral Science 4, pp 265-287

Pribram, K. H. (1971) Languages of the Brain: Experimental Paradoxes and Principles in Neuropsychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall; Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1977; New York: Brandon House, 1982. (Translations in Russian, Japanese, Italian, Spanish)

Brandon House, 1982. (Translations: Russian, Japanese, Italian, Spanish)

Pribram, K.H., (1986) The cognitive revolution and Mind/brain issues. Ameerican Psychologist, Vol 41, No.5, pp 507-520

Pribram, K. H. (1991) Brain and Perception: Holonomy and Structure in Figural Processing. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Pribram, K.H. (1997) What is Mind that the Brain May Order It?. In V. Mandrekar & P.R. Masani (Eds.) Proceedings of Symposia in Applied Mathematics, Vol. 2: Proceedings of the Norbert Wiener Centenary Congress, 1994 . Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society, pp. 301-329. Reprinted: The Noetic Journal , Vol. 1, June 1997, pp. 2-5.

Pribram, K.H. (1998) Karl H. Pribram in The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography L.R. Squire (Ed.) Academic Press (Harcourt Brace) SanDiego Vol 2 pp 306-349

Pribram, K.H. & Bradley, R. (1998) The Brain, the Me, and the I. In M. Ferrari and R.J. Sternberg (Eds.) Self-Awareness: Its Nature and Development . New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 273-307.

Pribram, K.H. (2004) Consciousness Reassessed. Accepted for publication: Journal of Mind and Matter.

Russell, B. (1948) Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits, Simon and Schuster, New York

Wilson. In the Volitional Brain Libet,B., Freeman,A. and Sutherland,K. (Eds.) Imprint Academic, Horverten, England
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