copyright ©2000 by William H. Calvin and Derek Bickerton
Webbed Reprint Collection|
William H. Calvin
University of Washington
William H. Calvin
I majored in physics at Northwestern University (B.A., 1961), spent a year at M.I.T. and Harvard Medical School absorbing the atmosphere of what eventually became known as neuroscience, then went to the University of Washington to do a degree in physiology and biophysics (Ph.D., 1966) working under Charles F. Stevens. I subsequently stayed in Seattle, on the faculty of the Department of Neurological Surgery, a wonderful postdoctoral education as well as a home for my experimental work on neuron repetitive firing mechanisms, from lobster neurons in vitro to human cortical neurons in situ. After a 1978–79 sabbatical as Visiting Professor of Neurobiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, my interests began to shift toward theoretical issues in the ensemble properties of neural circuits – what eventually became Darwin Machines – and to the big brain problem of hominid evolution. Friends in psychology, zoology, archaeology, and physical anthropology tried hard to educate me as I stumbled into their fields during the 1980s. While I am now an Affiliate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington, I am no more a psychiatrist now than I was a neurosurgeon before. Pressed for a specialization, I usually say that I’m a theoretical neurophysiologist trying to work out the neural circuitry for higher intellectual function – and that periodically leads me astray into linguistics and into the interrelationship between abrupt climate change and human origins.
Although I graduated from the University of Cambridge, England in 1949, it wasn’t until the 1960s that I entered academic life, first as a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and then, after a year’s postgraduate work in linguistics at the University of Leeds, as Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of Guyana (1967-71) – the "Senior" was perhaps due to my being the only linguist in the entire country! It was there that I developed a long-lasting interest in creole languages, and this, after a year at the University of Lancaster in England, brought me to Hawaii, where what is locally called "pidgin" is in fact a creole. For twenty-four years I was a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii, having meanwhile received a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Cambridge (1976). My work in Hawaii, and in particular my discovery that creole languages were produced by children from unstructured input in a single generation, led me to wonder where language had originally come from, and how it had developed to its present complexity. This led to an apprenticeship similar to Bill’s – a learning experience that involved struggling with a variety of unfamiliar disciplines. But I’m a card-carrying autodidact, and I’ve always found boundaries oppressive, whether of countries, institutions, or academic disciplines. Crossing them has given me some of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
About the Artist
Mark Meyer, who did the cover art, is also a neurobiologist in the Department of Zoology at the University of Washington. Other examples of his art, and guides to his recent paintings, can be found at http://3dotstudio.com.
Terrence W. Deacon of Harvard Medical School and Boston University kindly photographed the bonobo and human brains that appear on the cover; we have kept their relative sizes unchanged. The Daniel C. Dennett quote is from Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness (Basic Books, 1996), p. 147.
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