Charles Scott Sherrington

English footballer, neurophysiologist and Nobel Prize recipient (1857–1952)

Sir Charles Scott Sherrington OM GBE PRS (27 November 18574 March 1952) was an English neurophysiologist, histologist, bacteriologist, and a pathologist, Nobel laureate and president of the Royal Society in the early 1920s. He received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian in 1932.

Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns.
Ladawan ni Charles Scott Sherrington


  • The brain is a mystery—it has been—and still will be. Not that we do not know many facts about it. The facts we know have indeed greatly multiplied in recent years, but they all fail to give us a key to the mystery of how it creates—if it does create—our thoughts and feelings; that is, said more concisely though less concretely, our mind.
    • "Mystery of Mysteries: The Human Brain". The New York Times (December 4, 1949), Section SM, p. 19 (opening paragraph of article)

Man on his Nature (1940)

Man on his Nature: The Gifford Lectures, Edinburgh 1937–8 (Cambridge: The University Press, 1940)
  • Natural science is a branch of knowledge by general consent not primarily based on the a priori. It […] observes and endeavours by observation to follow and trace the 'how' of what happens in Nature. It proceeds further to generalize about this 'how'. It tries to decipher something of it in the past and to forecast something of it in the future. Above all it expends its utmost pains on attempting to describe the 'how' fully and accurately by first-hand observation at this present.
    • Ch. 1: "Nature and Tradition", pp. 2–3
    • In the 2nd edition (Cambridge University Press, 1951), p. 2 (entire quote), the second sentence reads: "Natural science observes and endeavours by observation to follow and trace the 'how' of what happens in Nature." There is no intervening material and hence no ellipse.
  • Today Nature looms larger than ever and includes more fully than ever ourselves. It is, if you will, a machine, but it is a partly mentalized machine, and in virtue of including ourselves it is a machine with human qualities of mind. It is a running stream of energy—mental and physical—and unlike man-made machines it is actuated by emotions, fears and hopes, dislikes and love. It bids fair to be master of this our planet—'it looks before and after'. To what or to whom does it owe this eminent and seemingly unique status? It answers unhesitatingly that it owes it to itself. But to the semi-divine assembly which looks on, that answer would be impertinent but for its saving ignorance. We may suppose that if they hear it the stars smile. Human thought is left wondering. What is it all for? Man is too small and too perishable to be the object of this whole. A counsel is 'let us endure and be quiet'—a counsel which is the easier to follow because it seems all that there is for us to do, at least at the present moment.
    • Added in the 2nd edition (1951), Ch. 1: "Nature and Tradition", p. 30
    • The "semi-divine assembly" and the smiling "stars" allude to the intelligences that purportedly moved the celestial spheres and the celestial bodies in classical and medieval cosmology. Sherrington discusses them briefly in Ch. 1 and at greater length in Ch. 2.
  • The scientific journey has no end. It has only halting places—points at which the traveller can look round and survey.
    • Ch. 3: "Life in Little", p. 72
  • The 'motion' of an energy-system is its 'behaviour'. Various types of organization of system produce on that basis various types of behaviour. A grey rock, said Ruskin, is a good sitter. That is one type of behaviour. A darting dragon-fly is another type of behaviour. We call the one alive, the other not. But both are fundamentally balances of give and take of motion with their surround. To make 'life' a distinction between them is at root to treat them both artificially.
    • Ch. 3: "Life in Little", pp. 88–89
  • The gap between 'the State' and 'a machine' is not so wide.
    • Ch. 6: "A Whole Presupposed of its Parts", p. 187
  • The influence of mind on the doings of life makes mind an effective contribution to life. We can seize then how mind counts and has counted. That it has been evolved seems to assure us that it has counted. How it has counted would seem to be that the finite mind has influenced its individual's 'doing'. Lloyd Morgan, the biologist, urged that, 'the primary aim, object, and purpose of consciousness is control'. Dame Nature seems to have taken the like view.
    • Ch. 6: "A Whole Presupposed of its Parts", p. 201
    • The Lloyd Morgan quote is from his An Introduction to Comparative Psychology (London: Walter Scott, Ltd., 1894), p. 182
  • [M]an's life of all lives is the most completely and fully bound to earth because life's experience, wholly earthly, is in man's case the most complete and full. […] Man is the most, not the least, earthly of all creatures.
    • Ch. 7: "The Brain and its Work", p. 215
  • In the great head-end which has been mostly darkness springs up myriads of twinkling stationary lights and myriads of trains of moving lights of many different directions. It is as though activity from one of those local places which continued restless in the darkened main-mass suddenly spread far and wide and invaded all. The great topmost sheet of the mass, that where hardly a light had twinkled or moved, becomes now a sparkling field of rhythmic flashing points with trains of traveling sparks hurrying hither and thither. The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns. Now as the waking body rouses, subpatterns of this great harmony of activity stretch down into the unlit tracks of the stalk-piece of the scheme. Strings of flashing and travelling sparks engage the lengths of it. This means that the body is up and rises to meet its waking day.
    • Ch. 7: "The Brain and its Work", pp. 224–225
  • In the training and in the exercise of medicine a remoteness abides between the field of neurology and that of mental health, psychiatry. It is sometimes blamed to prejudice on the part of the one side or the other. It is both more grave and less grave than that. It has a reasonable basis. It is rooted in the energy-mind problem. Physiology has not enough to offer about the brain in relation to the mind to lend the psychiatrist much help.
    • Ch. 9: "Brain Collaborates with Psyche", p. 283. 2nd edition (1951), in Ch. 10: "Earth's Alchemy"
  • A vast number, perhaps the numerical majority, of animal forms cannot be shown unequivocally to possess mind.
    • Ch. 9: "Brain Collaborates with Psyche", p. 284. 2nd edition (1951), in Ch. 10: "Earth's Alchemy"
  • [A]s followers of natural science we know nothing of any relation between thoughts and the brain, except as a gross correlation in time and space.
    • Ch. 9: "Brain Collaborates with Psyche", p. 290. 2nd edition (1951), in Ch. 10: "Earth's Alchemy"
  • Biology cannot go far in its subject before being met by mind.
    • Ch. 9: "Brain Collaborates with Psyche", pp. 291–292. 2nd edition (1951), in Ch. 10: "Earth's Alchemy"
  • Science is the fruit of patient toil, sifting out facts and in search of more facts. It has no tilt against religion as such. It knows its own field to be vast, but also knows it limited.
    • Ch. 10: "Earth's Alchemy", p. 301
  • Mind, for anything perception can compass, goes therefore in our spatial world more ghostly than a ghost. Invisible, intangible, it is a thing not even of outline; it is not a 'thing'. It remains without sensual confirmation, and remains without it for ever. All that counts in life. Desire, zest, truth, love, knowledge, 'values', and, seeking metaphor to eke out expression, hell's depth and heaven's utmost height. Naked mind.
    • Ch. 11: "Two Ways of One Mind", p. 357
  • And the pursuit whose quest is Nature's understanding, has this among its rewards, that as it progresses its truth is testable. Truth is a 'value'. The quest itself is therefore in a measure its own satisfaction. We receive the lesson that our advance to knowledge is of asymptotic type, even as continually approaching so continually without arrival. The satisfaction shall therefore be eternal.
    • Ch. 12: "Conflict with Nature", p. 400. In 2nd edition (1951), Ch. 12 titled "Altruism"
  • Natural knowledge has not forgone emotion. It has simply taken for itself new ground of emotion, under impulsion from and in sacrifice to that one of its 'values', Truth.
    • Ch. 12: "Conflict with Nature", p. 404
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