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William H. Calvin

William H. Calvin, Ph.D., (born 30 April 1939) is a Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is a well-known popularizer of neuroscience and evolutionary biology, including the hybrid of these two fields, neural darwinism.

In his book How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now, Calvin writes as an advocate of the idea that brain-based darwinian processes are what provides brains with what we call "consciousness" and "intelligence". Calvin starts with the harmless division of brain processes into two types, those that depend on "cerebral ruts" (hardware) and those that dance more freely through the brain and so are able to function like "software".....Calvin usually calls these "firing patterns". Calvin's more audacious step comes when he suggests that the pattern of action potentials in any particular neocortical minicolumn can be replicated and spread through the cortex like a piece of software code and be "played" on the millions of other minicolumns in the same way you can play a million copies of a CD on a million CD players......the key difference being that while all CD players are designed to do basically the same task, the various cortical minicolumns can all have their own unique "ruts" and the copies of the firing patterns are not exact duplicates. This allows for a "cerebral symphony" rather than just a million-fold amplification of the same tune and a "survival of the fittest" process whereby those firing patterns that resonate best with the existing pool of "ruts" will dominate our consciousness and generate intelligent behavior.


  • The Throwing Madonna
  • The Cerebral Symphony
  • The River That Runs Uphill
  • The Cerebral Code
  • Conversations with Neil's Brain (with George Ojemann)
  • How Brains Think
  • Lingua ex Machina (with Derek Bickerton)
  • A Brain for All Seasons

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