William H. Calvin, A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change (University of Chicago Press, 2002). See also http://WilliamCalvin.com/BrainForAllSeasons/after.htm.
ISBN 0-226-09201-1 (cloth) GN21.xxx0
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William H. Calvin
University of Washington
I said in the postscript for my 1986 book, The River That Flows
sometimes feel as if they have been taken over by a book: it develops
a life of its own, proclaims its own imperatives, almost writes itself
once the framework is established; one has to somehow live up to its
present framework is an amalgamation of various European and African
trips, meetings, and over-the-pole flights between 1999 and 2001,
rearranged to suit the thematic development.
It took me several years to discover this e-seminar framework
(I’ve never actually taught a seminar this way), as I tried to
figure out how to utilize my well-edited Atlantic Monthly cover
story, “The great climate flip-flop,” in the more general context
of how our ancestors evolved a chimpanzeelike brain into our
present-day model. The
most significant of the consequent misrepresentations is actually of
me as the narrator. I
certainly don’t write emails which achieve the literary levels that
rewriting and editors can produce.
long interest in the
brain-enhancing aspects of paleoclimate is where that 6,600-word Atlantic
Monthly article came from, though all the brain-related materials
were edited out, to focus solely upon the climate history and their
oceanographic mechanisms. There’s
a problem with doing brain evolution too briefly, as someone (such as
the climate change skeptics who so predictably enjoy being
“tough-minded”) will mistakenly conclude that climate catastrophes
are “a good thing.”
problem I had, in writing the first draft of the Atlantic article
in 1997, was that the facts alone were pretty depressing.
These abrupt coolings were far worse than global warming, and
far more frequent than meteor strikes and major volcanic coolings.
But I gradually realized that I had a much more hopeful
attitude towards the abrupt climate prospects – it wasn’t at all
like my “Why worry” attitude towards the usual potential
catastrophes such as earthquakes, meteors, and Mount Rainier burying
Seattle under a mud flow.
analyzing this mismatch between the bare facts and my gut feelings, I
realized that I’ve seen the practice of medicine change over the
three decades that I’ve been on a medical school faculty, and it
seemed to me that we ought to be able to devise interventions for
climate change that are analogous to what we’ve done with vaccines
and antibiotics – that we stand an excellent chance of being able to
understand what’s going on with abrupt climate change, a good chance
of being able to devise strategies that “buy time,” and a fair
chance of developing a “vaccine” technology that can stabilize the
climate so that it doesn’t pop back into the cool-and-dry mode.
the aftermath of the Atlantic article, when answering letters
to the editor, something else fell in place.
Too many people were trying to simplify things by dwelling on
“the most likely scenario” for the next century.
That’s a classic mistake, one that physicians are trained not
to get trapped by. Medical
schools have institutionalized forums found in few other segments of
our society, just to keep driving this home.
The clinical pathological conference is where the pathologist
reveals the results of the biopsy or autopsy and everyone discusses
what mistakes were made in diagnosis and treatment.
Thinking back, I realized that a lot of mistakes were made
simply because referring physicians hadn’t been able to think beyond
the “most likely outcome.” There,
too, things have changed in recent decades and I have some hopes that
a science of climate will adopt some of the ways of thinking seen in
more developed areas of high-risk management.
the last decade, I’ve also gotten to know a lot of futurists, people
used to thinking about the future – and about how to frame the
issues. That’s where
the last part of this book came from, my attempts to sketch out some
simple-minded interventions and my suggestions for how we can now test
out such interventions on the computer models of climate change.
Stabilizing the climate is one of civilization’s great tasks,
one that deserves much attention in the twenty-first century.
have a lot of people to thank within the geoscience community, those
who have taken the trouble to help educate an interloper from
biophysics and neurobiology. The
easiest to identify is the editor of Quaternary Research,
Stephen C. Porter, because year after year he organized a lecture
series at the University of Washington’s Quaternary Research Center,
which is where I met such people as the glaciologist Hans Oeschger in
1984 (that’s where I first heard about abrupt climate change)
and the archaeologist Glynn Isaac in 1983 (which is where I saw
the shatter-and-search toolmaking demonstrated).
owe particular thanks to William Whitworth, then editor of the Atlantic
Monthly, for twisting my arm back in April, 1997.
At a time when most news media were simply not reporting the
abrupt climate change story, he had gotten wind of it, asked Freeman
Dyson who might be able to write it, and phoned me.
I spent two weeks suggesting climate researchers who could do a
better job, but finally relented – mostly because I had been telling
all my friends that someone ought to write this story for
nonscientists, that it was a scandal that it had gone largely
unreported for ten years despite all the news-feature stories in Science
and Nature. Toby
Lester and the other editors at the Atlantic did a wonderful job
of improving my prose; I hope that not too many of their improvements
were lost in my conversion to the present travelogue format.
find it difficult to get useful feedback on first drafts and so I
especially thank my volunteer readers for commenting so effectively:
Ingrith Deyrup-Olsen, Penn Goertzel, Blanche and Seymour
Graubard, Katherine Graubard, Daniel K. Hartline, Conway Leovy, India
Morrison, Gordon Orians, Sonia Ragir, Susan B. Rifkin, Peter G. Rockas,
and Barbara Sherer. Two of
the anonymous reviewers for the University of Chicago Press were
especially helpful with climate and anthropological detail.
addition, I was aided by useful conversations with (well, it actually
goes back to Melville Herskovits and Louis Leakey in 1959) Richard
Alley, Elizabeth Bates, Wolf Berger, Derek Bickerton, Barry Bogin,
Stewart Brand, Wally Broecker, Peter Clarke, Ronald Clarke, Iain
Davidson, Terry Deacon, Derek Denton, Brian Fagan, Dean Falk, Stephen
Jay Gould, William Hopkins, Richard Hutton, Glynn and Barbara Isaac,
Harry Jerison, Donald Johanson, Kenneth Kidd, Richard G. Klein, Mel
Konner, Kathleen Kuman, Meave Leakey, Elizabeth F. Loftus, Linda
Marchant, John Maynard Smith, William McGrew, Charles Minzel, Jim
Moore, Solene Morris, Toshisada Nishida, Hans Oeschger, Jay Ogilvy,
David Perlmutter, Ray Pierrehumbert, Steve Pinker, Stefan Rahmstorf,
Peter Rhines, Peter Richerson, Duane Rumbaugh, Ed Sarachik, Sue
Savage-Rumbaugh, Margaret J. Schoeninger, Peter Schwartz, Eugenie
Scott, Jeff Severinghaus, Pat Shipman, Eric Steig, Thomas Stocker, Ian
Tattersall, Phillip V. Tobias, Ajit Varki, Frans de Waal, Ed Waddington,
Alan Walker, Robert W. Walter, Peter Ward, Andrew Weaver, Christopher
Wills, Bernard Wood, and Richard Wrangham.
have benefited much from a book-writing stay at the Helen R. Whiteley
Center at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories
and from workshops sponsored by the Mathers Foundation and the
Foundation for the Future.
On to the
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Calvin Home Page
All of my books are on the web. The six out-of-print books
are again available via Authors Guild reprint editions,
All of my books are on the web.
The six out-of-print books
are again available via Authors Guild reprint editions,