More About the Author
Maxwell R Bennett AO
Maxwell Bennett is Professor of Neuroscience and holds the first University Chair for 'research recognized internationally to be of exceptional distinction' He graduated in Electrical Engineering and did his doctoral research in Zoology at Melbourne University. He then turned to the brain sciences and was appointed to the second Personal Chair at Sydney University, after Lord May, at which time he was awarded the largest personal Centre of Research Excellence by the Australian Government. His over 300 papers are concerned with research on synaptic connections between nerve cells in the brain. This research led to the discovery that novel transmitters exist at synapses, the first to be identified in fifty years, for which he received the major award in biology and medicine in Australia, the Macfarlane Burnet Medal of the Academy of Sciences. His subsequent discovery that molecules exist at synapses which guide their reformation after nerve injury was recognized by an invitation to give the opening Plenary Lecture to the World Congress of Neuroscience in 1996 as well by appointment in 2000 as an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO). Professor Bennett has written seven books concerned with the history and philosophy of the brain and mind, of which the most recent are, with his colleague Peter Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, Neuroscience and Philosophy and History of Cognitive Neuroscience. These have created much interest as indicated, for example, by a recent invitation to give a talk on this subject at the United Nations in New York on the date of 9/11. Amongst the organizations he has initiated to promote science and brain research are the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, the main lobby group for science in Australia, the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience, as well as Brain and Mind Research Asia/Pacific. Professor Bennett founded the Brain and Mind Research Institute seven years ago, and with the raising of over $80 million and four juxtaposed buildings, now has seventeen research professors concerned with the amelioration of diseases of the brain and mind.
1. Contributions to Neuroscience.
For sixty years it was thought that nerve terminals release only two substances (noradrenaline and acetylcholine) that control the cells on which they make connections. Bennett showed that there are at least two other substances released and now over thirty have been identified. One of these was identified as ATP, which has now been shown to play a major role in the generation of pain following nerve injury as well as in the immune systems control of inflammation. This has resulted in contemporary pharmacology having as a main aim the blocking of ATP so as to ameliorate pain. Bennett also discovered that nerve terminals reform connections on other cells after a nerve injury at sites that have specialized molecules on their surface for triggering the terminals to stop growing and form a synapse. These synapse formation molecules have recently been recognized. This holds out great hope for reconstructing nerve connections after an injury. Bennett's research also revealed that there are silent synapses, in which nerve terminals are physically present but do not release transmitters. This has had important implications for changes in the brain responsible for learning and memory. As a consequence of this research on synapses the Australian Academy of Sciences conferred on Bennett in 2000 the major award in biology and medicine, the Macfarlane Burnet Medal, and the University of Sydney its first University Chair, for 'research recognized internationally as of exceptional distinction'. In addition, in 2001 he received the Distinguished Achievement Medal of the Australian Neuroscience Society, only the second time it had been awarded for research in the 25 year-old history of the Society and was elected President of the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience.
2. Contributions to the history and philosophy of the Brain and Mind Sciences.
Bennett is the leading neuroscientist on the history and philosophy of brain and mind research. The main theme of his philosophical work, primarily with his colleague Peter Hacker, is that the brain sciences have distorted the use of language in attributing our psychological capacities as in thinking, remembering, perceiving etc to the brain rather than to the person whose brain it is; the brain being necessary for us to express these abilities, but it is we who express them. This Mereological Principle has had profound implications for how we view ourselves. In his historical work Bennett has followed the evolution of our ideas concerning the functioning of the different components of the brain and their organization from the time of Aristotle to the present. He has shown how fundamental ideas arise in this area through a combination of research, prejudice and irrationality and of how strong hypotheses concerning brain function are often abandoned for extended periods of time in favor of less logical hypotheses. Bennett's most recent works include The Idea of Consciousness (1998), History of the Synapse (2000), Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (2003; with P.Hacker); Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind and Language (with D.Dennett, J.Searle and P. Hacker; 2006); and History of Cognitive Neuroscience (2008, with P. Hacker). Recognition of his stature in this area was afforded in Christmas 2005 when he was invited by the American Philosophical Association to give a plenary presentation at their annual meeting in New York, the first neuroscientist to be so invited.
3. Contributions to the founding of new organizations to promote Brain and Mind research.
Bennett has a deep commitment to the amelioration of diseases of the brain and mind. To this end he established the major research/clinical facility in Australia for the treatment/research of those suffering from these diseases, 'The Brain and Mind Research Institute' at Sydney University. The first stage of this was opened by the Governor of NSW (Professor Marie Bashir ) in 2004, the second stage by the Prime Minister of Australian, the Honorable John Howard in June 2006, the third stage by the Premier of NSW the Honorable Morris Iemma in February 2007, the fourth stage by the Honorable John Howard in 2009 and the fifth stage by the Governor of NSW (Professor Marie Bashir) and the Honorable Morris Iemma in November 2009. Raising over $ 80 million has allowed a complex of four buildings devoted to the amelioration of brain disease through the integrated work of basic brain sciences, clinical and translational research and youth mental health.
Bennett has been responsible for organizing the thirty-six University and Research Institutes that make up the Association of Pacific Rim Universities forming 'Brain and Mind, Asia/Pacific' in 2004-2005. The aim of this is to marshal the great research strengths of these Universities to ameliorate diseases of the brain and mind. His work on the Mental Health Council of Australia (2002-) and as a Director of the Australian Brain Foundation (2004-), of Neuroscience Australia (2002-2005) as well as of the Institute for Biomedical Research (2002-2006) and the International Brain Research Organization (1996-2002) has enabled him to make further contributions to assist those suffering from diseases of the brain and mind.
4. Contributions to the community through explaining the discoveries made in the Brain Sciences and their implications.
Bennett has felt a major responsibility to explain progress made in the brain sciences to the community as well as the ethical and philosophical issues that arise from this progress. He frequently makes invited presentations to, for example, gatherings of Supreme Court Judges, senior business leaders, church leaders and public forums involving dialogue with distinguished guests such as the Dali Lama. In addition, Bennett is a frequent guest in the media, making presentations on questions concerning brain and mind research and its history, such as on John Cade (the discoverer of lithium for the treatment of bipolar manic/depression) and Sir John Eccles (the Australian Nobel Prize winning brain scientist and theorist on the relation between brain & mind). Bennett has been chosen to assist in many Australian Government task forces to advise Ministers of Health, Education and Science on how to best optimize the nations research capacity in the brain and mind sciences and use this for the alleviation of suffering of our fellow citizens. In this regard, on the date of 9/11 in 2009, Bennett gave an invited talk in the United Nations (New York) on 'Brain Function in relation to Criminality'.