This book collects the first section of Gifford Lectures delivered by the distinguished neuroscientist, Sir John C. Eccles, at the University of Edinburgh 1977–78. This opening series was later followed by a collection entitled The Human Psyche, which builds upon the final three lectures given here. Beginning with a reference to Sherrington’s noted lectures given forty years earlier, Eccles argues that, given the advances made in terms of knowledge, problems have to be revisited. One of the key issues Eccles aims to consider more starkly is the mind-body, as well as the wider question of the place of humanity in light of new knowledge around cosmology. In terms of structure, Eccles begins at the grandest scale before moving inward. Thus, the first lectures move from the idea of the universe, its formation and future collapse, the condition and nature of the solar system and the fossil record of Earth. From there, the lectures move on to consider evolution, and human cerebral evolution more specifically. After examining the development of the brain, Eccles gives a historical overview of the development of human language, culture and values, moving fluently from Neolithic stone artefacts and early Sumerian literature to discussing how culture has evolved through time. The next lectures become more specific still, tracing the lines of contingency down from the scale of a galaxy to the creation of a sense of self.
The final lectures return to neuroscience, as Eccles explores the ways in which the neocortex develops, the role of conscious perception and memory, before closing with a re-examination of the mond-body problem wherein Eccles advances a strong dualist interactionist theory. Despite the outline of scientific explanation, Eccles reiterates a commitment to the idea of Divine Providence, arguing that even the most sophisticated scientific theories provide ample evidence for the idea that the universe is made as the home of humanity. With this in mind, the second series of lectures seeks a means of responding to this, and bringing together theology, science and philosophy in fruitful dialogue.