William H. Calvin
The Seattle U version of the lecture on evolving intellect during the last 1% of ape-to-human evolution.
2004 Adamson Lecture in International Studies at
"When Climate Staggers"
for Stanford and the Redwood Neuroscience Institute.
| Books, Articles, and Talks
mostly on brains, climate, evolution, and where we're heading.
may ask, weren't our ancestors gradually getting smarter, as the brain
enlarged threefold in the past several million years? Bigger is smarter, is
better -- why, it seems obvious.
Perhaps cleverness was a by-product? But if the brain-size increase resulted in gradually increasing cleverness (again, the common assumption), note that it didn't gradually improve their tool making. Oops.
Even more to the point, by the time of the mind's "big bang," people who looked like us, big brain and all, had been running around Africa for more than 100,000 years without showing signs of modern behaviors like fine toolmaking. Oops again.
The big brain may (or may not) turn out to be necessary for our kind of intelligence, but it sure isn't sufficient for modernity.
Work in Progress
Some of these are drafts,
others are "looking for homes" as op-ed pieces and the like, please inquire.
Comments always welcome.
god," what a revisionist theologian might want to include from
science, just appeared in
Anfang war (k)ein Gott (Patmos, Dusseldorf, 2004), pp. 175-185.
Looking for an article-length home for the
a creative brain?" is a draft of a book chapter; has a home but comments
the Empty Niches:
-- "Reinventing god," what a revisionist theologian might want to include from science, just appeared in Im Anfang war (k)ein Gott (Patmos, Dusseldorf, 2004), pp. 175-185. Looking for an article-length home for the original English.
-- "Why a creative brain?" is a draft of a book chapter; has a home but comments desired.
the Empty Niches:
The Cerebral Code. 1996
General information for lecture organizers
Upcoming Talks & Trips
*The ones with an asterisk are not properly designed web pages but slides from talks, likely slow to download except on a broadband connection.
On the experimental side of neurophysiology, I have recorded from single neurons in species ranging from sea slugs in vitro to humans in situ. My theoretical work was originally on cable properties of neurons but more recently has been on the emergent properties of recurrent excitatory networks in the superficial layers of cerebral cortex. A quick reference is
"Cortical Columns, Modules, and Hebbian Cell Assemblies," in: The Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks, edited by Michael A. Arbib (Bradford Books/MIT Press), pp. 269-272 (1995).There are glimpses of my research on neurons in the book that George Ojemann and I wrote on cerebral function, Conversations with Neil's Brain, which is particularly suitable for students and general readers. You can now print out some of my research papers as PDF files.
| Evolution & Biological Anthropology|
Like a lot of other people, I've had an interest in the "big brain problem," how evolution reorganized and enlarged the ape brain in the last few million years. Abrupt climate change is an important driver for hominid evolution, and so I've been following paleoclimate studies and the related oceanography since 1984 -- which is how I came to write "The Great Climate Flip-flop" for The Atlantic Monthly. More... And see:
"The Unitary Hypothesis: A Common Neural Circuitry for Novel Manipulations, Language, Plan-ahead, and Throwing?" In Tools, Language, and Cognition in Human Evolution, edited by Kathleen R. Gibson and Tim Ingold. Cambridge University Press, pp. 230-250 (1993).
My New York Times book review is a good introduction to the language aspects. Older webbedreprints include my 1983 Journal of Theoretical Biology throwing article.
The 2002 book, A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change involves paleoanthropology, paleoclimate, and considerations from neurobiology and evolutionary biology. It won the Phi Beta Kappa book prize for "contributions to the literature of science."
My 2004 book,
A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond (Oxford UP), looks back at the simpler versions of mental life in apes, Neanderthals, and our ancestors, back before our burst of creativity started 50,000 years ago in the transition to behaviorally-modern humans.
| Evolution as an on-the-fly Brain Process|
I tend to think that the fancier mental processes (language, planning, music, logic) utilize a form of Darwinian process that operates in milliseconds to minutes. See
|New web pages |
The following web pages have been recently added to this site (the ones with an asterisk* are slides from talks, perhaps slow to download).
W. H. Calvin ©2004
Current One-hour Lecture Topics
Examples of 10-20 minute talks
was interviewed in 20' segments on NPR's
talking about brains, climate, and bounceback.
The The San Francisco ten-minute The
The San Francisco ten-minute
To browse a
copy of one of my books, click on a cover for the link to amazon.com.
A Brief History of the Mind, 2004
|This would ordinarily be the section labeled TEACHING but I seem to teach the general public rather than undergraduates.|
|William H. Calvin
from the University of Chicago Press. It's about what sudden climate flips did to human evolution over the last 2.5 million years. It is designed as a travelogue, and reads as if it were a seminar by e-mail. The trip starts at Darwin's home outside London, visits southern and eastern Africa, and then flies over the trouble spots in the North Atlantic Ocean and Greenland. It includes the climate flip mechanisms that I described in The Atlantic Monthly cover story, "The Great Climate Flip-flop."
|Winner of the 2002 Phi Beta Kappa book prize for “outstanding contributions by scientists to the literature of science.” Available at many bookstores as well as:|
University of Chicago Press.
Softcover edition is now out.
|The publisher's selection for the back cover: |
The Virtual Index for my books and articles,
far better than my printed index in most cases:
|William H. Calvin and Derek Bickerton, Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain (MIT Press, 2000), the book we wrote at Bellagio.
Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, the intellectual spectator sport of the last four decades, implies an innate brain circuitry for syntax. That opens up an evolutionary can of worms, suggesting a large step up to human-level language abilities – one without the useful-in-themselves intermediate steps usually associated with Darwinian gradualism. That macromutations were suggested is only one example of the deus ex machina quality of most attempts to explain the origins of language.
A proper lingua ex machina would be a language machine capable of nesting phrases and clauses inside one another, complete with evolutionary pedigree. Such circuitry for structured thought might also facilitate creative shaping up of quality (figuring out what to do with the leftovers in the refrigerator), contingency planning, procedural games, logic, and even music. And enhancing structured thought might give intelligence a big boost. Solve the cerebral circuitry for syntax, and you might solve them all.
The authors offer three ways for getting from ape behaviors to syntax. They focus on the transition from simple word association in short sentences (protolanguage) to longer recursively structured sentences (requiring syntax)....
|AVAILABLE: The US and UK hardcover edition is widely available. The Spanish translation is from Editorial Gedisa of Barcelona. |
Hardcover, ISBN 0-262-032732
Paperback, ISBN 0-262-531984
|The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind, from MIT Press (1996). Unlike the other books, it's more for scientists than general readers. Chapter titles are: The Representation Problem and the Copying Solution, Cloning in Cerebral Cortex, A Compressed Code Emerges, Managing the Cerebral Commons, Resonating with your Chaotic Memories, Partitioning the Playfield, Intermission Notes, The Brownian Notion, Convergence Zones with a Hint of Sex, Chimes on the Quarter Hour, The Making of Metaphor, Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind.||GENERALLY AVAILABLE |
Softcover, US$14.00; ISBN 0-262-53154-2.
The German translation, Die Sprache des Gehirns: Wie in unserem Bewußtsein Gedanken entstehen, is at amazon.de.
|"... in The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind, Calvin lays out a wide-ranging and innovative theory linking the neural structure of the cortex to thought, language, and consciousness." "... a fascinating and readable presentation of a novel and radical approach to bridging the gap between mind and brain."|
--Richard Cooper, in The Times [London] Higher Education Supplement
"[Calvin's CEREBRAL CODE] basic model can be applied to problems such as the sequences needed for body movements and in language, making associations, imagining, and thought pathologies. Finally, he goes for gold with a thought experiment, testing his [cortical Darwin Machine] theory on consciousness and a mechanistic outline for Universal Grammar.... [Calvin's is] a vision that is now all too rare. Right or wrong, his ideas should stimulate many to think more broadly about the dynamic processes of the cortex...."
--Jennifer Altman, in New Scientist (23 November 1996)
|How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now in the Science Masters series from Basic Books in the USA (1996) and Weidenfeld and Nicolson in the UK. There are 12 translation editions (including Japan and China). A Book of the Month Club selection. It expands on the Scientific American article to address the evolution of consciousness, intelligence, and language. The chapter titles are What to Do Next, Evolving a Good Guess, The Janitor's Dream, Evolving Intelligent Animals, Syntax as a Foundation of Intelligence, Evolution On-The-Fly, Shaping Up an Intelligent Act from Humble Origins, Prospects for a Superhuman Intelligence.||AVAILABLE: The US and UK editions are out in paperback.|
|"[HOW BRAINS THINK], part of the Science Masters series, offers an exquisite distillation of his key ideas. He's a member of that rare breed of scientists who can translate the arcana of their fields into lay language, and he's one of the best. There are other, competing theories for explaining consciousness. But Mr. Calvin, so lyrical and imaginative in his presentation, draws you into his world of neural Darwinism and inspires you to read more." |
--Marcia Bartusiak, in New York Times Book Review,
(17 November 1996)
"Nothing in showbiz right now is as thrilling as the debate surrounding consciousness. Darwinism decentred the body. The new debate is scarier: it decentres the mind. This goes down badly at dinner parties. Quote, say, Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained over dinner, within seconds your guests will have worked themselves up into an orgy about light bulbs having souls or Psion organisers writing Shakespeare.
-- Simon Ings, in New Scientist (8 March 1997)
"Calvin is fizzing with ideas and this is a provocative, stimulating book."
-- Sunday Times (London)
"This book sets out what we know about our brains with remarkable skill."
-- Financial Times (London)
The Hungarian, German, Romanian, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Chinese, Taiwan, and UK editions of How Brains Think are available.
Conversations with Neil's Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language (Addison-Wesley, 1994), co-authored with my neurosurgeon colleague, George Ojemann. It's a tour of the human cerebral cortex, conducted from the operating room, and has been on the New Scientist bestseller list of science books. It is suitable for biology and cognitive neuroscience supplementary reading lists. Chapter titles are A Window to the Brain, Losing Consciousness, Seeing the Brain Speak, If Language Is Left, What's Right?, The Problems with Paying Attention, The Personality of the Lowly Neuron, The What and Where of Memory, How Are Memories Made? What's Up Front? When Things Go Wrong with Thought and Mood, Tuning Up the Brain by Pruning, Acquiring and Reacquiring Language, Taking Apart the Visual Image, How the Brain Subdivides Language, Why Can We Read So Well? Stringing Things Together in Novel Ways, Deep in the Temporal Lobe, Just Across from the Brain Stem, In Search of the Narrator.
|AVAILABILITY widespread (softcover, US$12; ISBN 0-201-48337-8). German and Dutch translations.|
Authors Guild reprint editions of the first six books are available.
| How the Shaman Stole the Moon (Bantam 1991; Authors Guild reprint 2001) is my archaeoastronomy book, a dozen ways of predicting eclipses those Paleolithic strategies for winning fame and fortune by convincing people that you're (ahem) on speaking terms with whoever runs the heavens.
SUPPLEMENT: "Leapfrogging Gnomons" describes how to survey a 700-km north-south line without modern instruments.
|Available in an Authors Guild reprint edition through amazon.com and other booksellers. |
Also in German translation.
|The Ascent of Mind (Bantam 1990; Authors Guild reprint 2001) is my book on the ice ages and how human intelligence evolved; the "throwing theory" is one aspect. All chapters are now webbed.
My Scientific American article, "The emergence of intelligence," (October 1994) also discusses ice-age evolution of intelligence.
The German translation, Der Schritt aus der Kälte, is now available. The Authors Guild reprint edition is available through amazon.com and other booksellers:
|The Cerebral Symphony (Bantam 1989; Authors Guild reprint 2001) is my book on animal and human consciousness, using the setting of the Marine Biological Labs and Cape Cod.||There are German and Dutch translations. The original English is now available in an Authors Guild reprint edition via amazon.com and other booksellers: |
|The River That Flows Uphill (Sierra Club Books 1987; Authors Guild reprint 2001) is my river diary of a two-week whitewater trip through the bottom of the Grand Canyon, discussing everything from the Big Bang to the Big Brain. It became a bestseller in German translation in 1995.||German and Dutch translations are available, and the original English version is available in an Authors Guild reprint edition through amazon.com and other booksellers.|
|The Throwing Madonna: Essays on the Brain (McGraw-Hill 1983, Bantam 1991, Authors Guild reprint 2001) is a group of 17 essays: The Throwing Madonna. The Lovable Cat: Mimicry Strikes Again. Woman the Toolmaker? Did Throwing Stones Lead to Bigger Brains? The Ratchets of Social Evolution. The Computer as Metaphor in Neurobiology. Last Year in Jerusalem. Computing Without Nerve Impulses. Aplysia, the Hare of the Ocean. Left Brain, Right Brain: Science or the New Phrenology? What to Do About Tic Douloureux. The Woodrow Wilson Story. Thinking Clearly About Schizophrenia. Of Cancer Pain, Magic Bullets, and Humor. Linguistics and the Brain's Buffer. Probing Language Cortex: The Second Wave, and The Creation Myth, Updated: A Scenario for Humankind.|
Note that my throwing theory for language origins (last 3 essays) has nothing to do with the title essay: "The throwing madonna" essay is a parody (involving maternal heartbeat sounds!) on the typically-male theories of handedness.
|Japanese translation available, and the Authors Guild reprint edition is available through amazon.com and other booksellers:|
|Inside the Brain (NAL, 1980; Authors Guild reprint 2001), co-authored with my neurosurgeon colleague, George Ojemann, is back in print. Note that it was effectively replaced by our Conversations with Neil's Brain. except that space limitations caused us to omit the subcortical aspects which are prominent in Inside the Brain. The Authors Guild reprint edition is available through amazon.com and other booksellers.|
The Long Summer
How Climate Changed Civilization
Basic Books, 2004.
My advance appreciation for the book jacket:
Just as the many worldwide droughts may have pumped up brain size in human evolution, so they are shown by Fagan to have repeatedly pumped cultural evolution in the last 15,000 years to give us first agriculture and then the governments needed to collectively manage irrigation and grain storage. Now, when we are top-heavy with cities, another such great drought could instead trigger a profound collapse. If you are concerned about the future of our civilization, Fagan’s book must be read and understood.
Soul Made Flesh:
The Discovery of the Brain and How It Changed the World.
Free Press, 2004
From my forthcoming review:
In Soul Made Flesh, you see the first big 17th-century steps toward understanding how the brain makes mind. Carl Zimmer, the science writer who wrote Evolution, the book that accompanied the eight-hour television series, has now written a fine intellectual history of what came to be called “experimental philosophy.” It is full of drama and insight that begins in William Harvey’s time with the flowering of physiology and the beginnings of the Royal Society in London.
Daniel C. Dennett|
The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
[W]e human beings, unlike all other species on the planet, are knowers. We are the only ones who have figured out what we are, and where we are, in this great universe. And we're even beginning to figure out how we got here. – Daniel Dennett [p.2]
My advance appreciation for the book jacket:
To understand is to "stand under," to view the underpinnings. To find a useful standpoint for free will and determinism has been fraught with slippery footings and fear. Dennett tries viewing free will as an evolutionary emergent, able to expand further - or to shrink when novel choices cannot be imagined, judged, or carried out. Freedom Evolves is wonderfully clarifying about the evolutionary and cognitive issues involved in our responsibility for making moral choices.
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
I quite like Pinker’s book and think that some of the reviews (such as the one in Nature) are off the wall in misreading it. This is not a rehash of nature-vs-nurture but a much broader and deeper book about three beginners’ mistakes (my term, not Pinker’s): The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine. Pinker’s concern is not only that they appear to be factually wrong but that the policies based on them are likely to do more harm than good. Some choice quotes:
You can see why some people are going to have strong feelings on the subject of human nature. But Pinker’s is a humane and thoughtful book, and deserves all the attention that it gets.
|This section expanded so much that it now has its own "page": The Bookshelf. It runs heavily to the likes of the Three D's (Darwin-Dawkins-Dennett), leavened by a little Tom Stoppard. |
Favorite Web Sites
Evolution and such......
And, as a reward for reading this far, some .....
of my GBN talk, "Are humans just out of beta?"
The GBN talk,
"Evolution on two time scales," in streaming audio.
"The more serious failure" on airport security, a
2001 letter in the
This page has been accessed times since 1994.
WHY IS THIS PAGE SO LONG? So that, by the time you want to jump to something, it
has loaded while you were reading.
Streaming audio of my GBN talk, "Are humans just out of beta?"
The GBN talk, "Evolution on two time scales," in streaming audio.
"The more serious failure" on airport security, a 2001 letter in the Washington Post.
This page has been accessed times since 1994.
WHY IS THIS PAGE SO LONG? So that, by the time you want to jump to something, it has loaded while you were reading.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
copyright ©2004 by William H. Calvin