William H. Calvin
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON 98195-1800 USA
This what-to-do-about-it lecture (also available as a podcast mp3) for UW oceanography focuses on abrupt climate changes since 1976, how to head off more, and how to use the oceans to sequester enough carbon. Several slides are for the experts, but the rest is suitable for a general scientific audience. Others familiar with the climate story will be able to follow it as well.
The climate talk bio:
William H. Calvin, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, affiliated with the Program on Climate Change. He is the author of Global Fever: How to Treat Climate Change (University of Chicago Press 2008, see Global-Fever.org) and thirteen earlier books for general readers. He studies brain circuitry, ape-to-human evolution, climate change, and civilization’s vulnerability to abrupt shocks.
In Global Fever, he writes: "The climate doctors have been consulted; the lab reports have come back. Now it’s time to pull together the Big Picture and discuss treatment options. At a time when architects are thinking ahead to more efficient buildings and power planners are extolling the virtues of “renewable energy,” the climate modelers have discovered that long-term planning will no longer suffice. Our fossil fuel fiasco has already painted us into a corner such that, if we don’t make substantial near-term gains before 2020, the long-term is pre-empted, the efforts all for naught. We are already in dangerous territory and have to act quickly to avoid triggering widespread catastrophes. The only good analogy is arming for a great war, doing what must be done regardless of cost and convenience."
His climate talk in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People is available in streaming video from the World Bank as are other recent lectures at NASA and Rice University.
How to Treat Climate Change
from the University of Chicago Press (2008).
Recent climate talks
“The Great Use-it-or-lose-it Intelligence Test”about the climate crisis was my Crawford Memorial Lecture at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, audience of 800 from 60+ countries.
1. The climate talk in streaming video (RealMedia*)
2. Color slides in PDF (might wish to download before watching video).
3. Written version (28-page World Bank pamphlet) in PDF.
Obama embraces nuclear power. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and Dr. William Calvin, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, discuss President Barack Obama’s plan to lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil and create more jobs.
[MSNBC, Dylan Ratigan Show, 16 February 2010.]
The Ed Mays interview about climate
mp3 files to download or play
Climate creep and climate leap
The U Vic evening lecture .
I was interviewed for an hour on NPR's The Connection, talking about brains, climate, and bounceback.
William H. Calvin, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, is the author of 14 popular books on science, mostly about brains, evolution, and climate change.
They have been translated into 14 languages. He won the Phi Beta Kappa book prize for science as literature and the Kistler Book Prize. His occasional magazine articles include an Atlantic Monthly cover story, "The Great Climate Flip-flop." Op-ed-sized pieces can be found at wcalvin.dailykos.com.
Books, Articles, and Talks
mostly on brains, climate, evolution, and where we're heading.
|Talks and Interviews
information for lecture organizers
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
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
| 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
GALLERY I have created some e-slide shows from my travels and
More slide shows at:
plus portraits of the great apes.
I have created some e-slide shows from my travels and
Current One-hour Lecture Topics
|This would ordinarily be the section labeled TEACHING but I seem to teach the general public rather than undergraduates.|
University of Chicago Press, 2002
It's my book about what sudden climate flips did to human evolution over the last 2.5 million years, how the climate lurches resonated with punctuated equilibria to pump up brain size.
It is designed as a travelogue, as if it were a seminar by e-mail with a traveling professor. It begins at Darwin's home near London, tours African fossil sites while discussing the evolution of brains, and ends with a flight from Copenhagen to Seattle that flies over the ice cap of Greenland and the vulnerable sites nearby where the Gulf Stream sinks. It includes the climate flip history and oceanographic mechanisms that I described in my Atlantic Monthly cover story, "The Great Climate Flip-flop."
|It was the Scientific American Book of the Month, won
the 2002 Phi Beta Kappa book prize for “outstanding
contributions by scientists to the literature of science,” and won the
2006 Walter P. Kistler Book Award, which recognizes authors of
science-based books that make important contributions to the public’s
understanding of the factors that may impact the long-term future of
many bookstores as well as:
University of Chicago Press.
|The publisher's selection for the back cover:
|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
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
-- 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
Also in German
|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
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.
|amazon.com link for
How societies choose to fail or succeed
"Pollyanna reviews Cassandra?" Unpublished (as usual) letter to
|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
http://williamcalvin.com/img/yellow.gif" width=14 height=14 > Neuro.........
Evolution and such......
And, as a reward for reading this far, some .....
Streaming audio of my GBN talk, "Are humans just
out of beta?"
Streaming audio of my GBN talk, "Are humans just out of beta?"
|William H. Calvin||