Calvin, William H. 1939-
Calvin, William H. 1939-
(William Howard Calvin)
PERSONAL: Born April 30, 1939, in Kansas City, MO; son of Fred Howard (an insurance executive) and Agnes (Leebrick) Calvin; married Katherine Graubard (a neurobiologist), September 1, 1966. Education: Northwestern University, B.A., 1961; graduate study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1961–62; University of Washington, Seattle, Ph.D., 1966.
CAREER: University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, instructor, 1967–69, assistant professor, 1969–73, associate professor of neurological surgery, 1974–86, affiliate associate professor of biology, 1986–92, affiliate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, 1998–2005, affiliate professor emeritus, 2005–. Visiting professor of neurobiology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1978–79.
MEMBER: International Association for the Study of Pain, International Brain Research Organization, International Society for Human Ethology, International Astronomical Union, American Physiological Society (fellow), American Association of Physical Anthropologists, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (state president, 1973–74), American Geophysical Union, Society for American Archaeology, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Biophysical Society, Society for Neuroscience.
AWARDS, HONORS: Travel grants from National Academy of Sciences, 1966 and 1971; National Institutes of Health grants, 1971–84, senior fellow, 1978–79; Phi Beta Kappa book prize for science as literature, 2002, for A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change; Kistler Book Award, 2006, for A Brain for All Seasons.
(With George A. Ojemann) Inside the Brain: Mapping the Cortex, Exploring the Neuron, New American Library (New York, NY), 1980.
The Throwing Madonna: From Nervous Cells to Hominid Brains (essays), McGraw (New York, NY), 1983, revised edition with a new preface, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
The River That Flows Uphill: A Journey from the Big Bang to the Big Brain, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
The Cerebral Symphony: Seashore Reflections on the Structure of Consciousness, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
(And photographer) How the Shaman Stole the Moon: In Search of Ancient Prophet-Scientists: From Stonehenge to the Grand Canyon, illustrated by Malcolm Wells, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
(With George A. Ojemann) Conversations with Neil's Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1994.
How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now ("Science Masters" series), Basic Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
(With Derek Bickerton) Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2002.
A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.
(And photographer) Almost Us: Portraits of the Apes, BookSurge.com, 2005.
Contributor to books, including Tools, Language, and Cognition in Human Evolution, edited by Kathleen R. Gibson and Tim Ingold, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1993, and The Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks, edited by Michael A. Arbib, Bradford Books/MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995. Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Psychology Today, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Natural History. Member of editorial board of Journal of Theoretical Neurobiology, 1982–.
SIDELIGHTS: Neurobiologist William H. Calvin presents seventeen essays about the structure and function of the brain in his book The Throwing Madonna: From Nervous Cells to Hominid Brains. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Maya Pines was impressed by the author's success in making his complex subject matter accessible to the general public: "Mr. Calvin writes in the tradition of scientists who offer readers a great deal of information in bite-sized essays that are easy to read." Beginning with the title essay, which unfolds the author's intricate theory on the role that women played in the brain's evolution, Calvin discusses a wide variety of subjects involving the brain. One article considers how the law can deal with a brain-damaged, emotionally unstable president; another compares the workings of the computer to the functioning of neurons in the brain, a discussion Pines praised as "unusually vivid." Pines concluded: "For anyone interested in biology and evolution, this book will prove appealing."
In The River That Flows Uphill: A Journey from the Big Bang to the Big Brain, Calvin "takes as his subject virtually everything that a neurobiologist … might muse upon while rafting through the Grand Canyon in Arizona," wrote Dennis Drabelle in the Washington Post. As he journeys down the Colorado River, the author ponders not only the nature of the brain but also such diverse topics as the evolution of birds' feathers and flight, the ecological effects of nuclear war, and philosophical questions, such as the meaning of consciousness, that attracted him to the study of neurobiology. "Calvin retains a child's wonder at the world," Lee Dembart wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "He writes of scientific puzzles and human puzzles, and his most frequent thought is 'Why?'" Drabelle also noted that the author "conveys not only scientific concepts but the verve of thinking them through."
Calvin's The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence is his proposal that the human brain, which has grown to four times the size of that of the apes from which it evolved, has done so because of climate change, as it adapted to environment. Calvin studies increased throwing ability by the early hunters who depended on their aim and power to kill their food. As the number of neurons in the brain increased over time, throwing ability improved, increasing the chance of early man's survival. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt Calvin's subject to be compelling in view of current concerns over global climate changes. The critic called The Ascent of Mind "good science and good writing, a study that harmonizes strong echoes from the past and future of our species."
In How the Shaman Stole the Moon: In Search of Ancient Prophet-Scientists: From Stonehenge to the Grand Canyon Calvin theorizes on the ways in which ancient forecasters predicted seasonal changes and such events as lunar eclipses. He camped in Arizona, New Mexico, and on England's Salisbury Plain as he contemplated the possible relationships between religion and science, as practiced by prophets, shamans, and "prophet-scientists." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews wished Calvin "had spent as much time exploring the significance of archaeoastronomers as he does in persuading us of their probable existence. Still, lively and literate science for the nonscientist." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "somewhat technical" but said "some individual sections sparkle."
Calvin wrote Conversations with Neil's Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language with neurosurgeon George A. Ojemann. Neil, an engineer whose epilepsy resulted from a car crash, is a composite of several epileptic patients, and it is through him that the authors view research on memory and language and learning disabilities, and study the connection between brain damage and various disorders, including depression and schizophrenia. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called this exercise "a model of lucid scientific exposition." The book is a first-person account, beginning with Calvin and Ojemann preparing to drill into Neil's head in an attempt to determine the root cause of his epilepsy. They stimulate the cerebral cortex and map the regions that control brain functions. The book contains illustrations and thirty-five pages of notes. Other case examples in the book include President Woodrow Wilson and author Virginia Woolf. Booklist reviewer William Beatty called Conversations with Neil's Brain "informative and lucid."
Calvin wrote How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now for the "Science Masters" series aimed at nonprofessional readers. Calvin describes intelligence, its evolution, and its physiology. Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor said Calvin "hits his stride" as he explains nerve cell anatomy and bundling and the firing of electrical impulses. "Still partially a mystery," wrote Taylor, "intelligence's nature … gets a consummately clear summary in Calvin's hands." Marcia Bartusiak wrote in the New York Times Book Review that How Brains Think "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…. Calvin, so lyrical and imaginative in his presentation, draws you into his world of neural Darwinism and inspires you to read more."
Calvin and linguist Derek Bickerton explore opposing theories in Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain. The book focuses on syntax, or how words are combined in creating sentences. Chomsky proposed that syntax, or language, is an innate capacity of the human mind. Darwinians, however, believe that language evolved by accident or as a mutation. Paul Bloom wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Calvin and Bickerton "believe both Chomsky and Darwin are right, and try to integrate this idea with modern neuroscience to provide a plausible account of how language evolved." The authors propose that language may have first consisted of short phrases with no grammatical structure used to communicate while hunting or foraging, activities necessary to the survival of early hominids, and that from this early form, the more complex syntax developed.
The authors wrote the book while at a conference in Bellagio, Italy, and make frequent references to their surroundings and breakfasts with Susan Sontag. Bloom called Lingua ex Machina "an intellectual tour de force; few other scholars possess the knowledge and confidence to integrate neuroscience, linguistics, and evolution so skillfully. I should add that I don't believe a word of it…. They present a complicated narrative with great authority but fail to make a persuasive case for almost all their claims." Conversely, Booklist reviewer Bryce Christensen felt the authors' speculations "reflect a theoretical daring that defies ideological rigidity and invites cross-disciplinary debate."
In A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change, Calvin examines evidence that the earth has experienced many sudden changes in climate, which may have stimulated leaps in human consciousness. He urges a massive effort to prepare for another such change. Books & Culture reviewer John Wilson described the author as "insatiably curious, and he has a rare gift to pull together learning from diverse fields for a big-picture view…. Whether or not one finds his emphasis on climate persuasive, these pages have a wealth of observation and insight to offer."
A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond examines the archeological evidence for man's evolving intellect. He suggests that certain motor behaviors may have led to the development of higher consciousness in human beings. Reviewing A Brief History of the Mind in the Quarterly Review of Biology, Paul Tibbetts stated that Calvin's work is "controversial, exciting, and—as in all of his writings—eminently provocative."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scholar, spring, 2003, "2002 Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards," p. 143.
Astronomy, October, 1992, Dave Bruning, review of How the Shaman Stole the Moon: In Search of Ancient Prophet-Scientists: From Stonehenge to the Grand Canyon, p. 88.
Booklist, April 1, 1994, William Beatty, review of Conversations with Neil's Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language, p. 1406; December 1, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Conversations with Neil's Brain, p. 598; September 1, 1996, Gilbert Taylor, review of How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now, p. 50; April 1, 2000, Bryce Christensen, review of Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain, p. 1422; February 15, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond, p. 1005.
Books & Culture, May, 2002, John Wilson, review of A Brain for All Seasons, p. 41.
Bookwatch, December, 2004, review of A Brief History of the Mind.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1991, review of How the Shaman Stole the Moon; March 15, 1994, review of Conversations with Neil's Brain; January 15, 2004, review of A Brief History of the Mind, p. 66.
Library Journal, November 15, 1989, Mark L. Shelton, review of The Cerebral Symphony: Seashore Reflections on the Structure of Consciousness, p. 103; November 1, 1991, Elizabeth Salt, review of How the Shaman Stole the Moon, p. 125; April 15, 1994, Carol R. Glatt, review of Conversations with Neil's Brain, p. 105.
Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1987, Lee Dembart, review of The River That Flows Uphill: A Journey from the Big Bang to the Big Brain.
New York Times Book Review, August 21, 1983, Maya Pines, review of The Throwing Madonna; January 6, 1991, Robert Kanigel, "Brained by the Fastball"; April 12, 1992, Chet Raymo, review of How the Shaman Stole the Moon, p. 17; September 11, 1994, Steven Rose, "Who Is at Home in Our Heads?"; November 17, 1996, Marcia Bartusiak, "The Mechanics of the Soul"; April 16, 2000, Paul Bloom, "From Grunting to Grammar."
Publishers Weekly, November 24, 1989, review of The Cerebral Symphony, p. 64; November 9, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of The Ascent of Mind, p. 52; October 4, 1991, review of How the Shaman Stole the Moon, p. 76; April 4, 1994, review of Conversations with Neil's Brain, p. 64; March 27, 2000, review of Lingua ex Machina, p. 59.
Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 1997, Apostles Georgopoulos, review of How Brains Think, p. 459; September, 2001, Jeffrey Cynx, review of Lingua ex Machina, p. 383; December, 2004, Paul Tibbetts, review of A Brief History of the Mind, p. 454.
Science, July 14, 2000, Michael T. Ullman, review of Lingua ex Machina, p. 251; June 28, 2002, review of A Brain for All Seasons, p. 2342.
Science News, April 17, 2004, review of A Brief History of the Mind, p. 255.
Scientific American, January, 1992, Philip Morrison, review of How the Shaman Stole the Moon, p. 147.
Smithsonian, January, 1987, Don Lessem, review of The River That Flows Uphill, p. 128.
Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 2002, review of A Brain for All Seasons.
Washington Post, December 15, 1986, Dennis Drabelle, review of The River That Flows Uphill.
Whole Earth Review, winter, 1987, Matthew McClure, review of The River That Flows Uphill, p. 101; summer, 1990, Howard Rheingold, review of The Cerebral Symphony, p. 18.
BrainConnection, http://www.brainconnection.com/ (February 28, 2006), E. Simon Hanson, interview with William H. Calvin.
University of Washington Web site, http://faculty.washington.edu/ (February 28, 2006), biographical information on William H. Calvin.
William H. Calvin Home Page, http://www.williamcalvin.com (May 12, 2001).