This week on Exploration, Dr. Michio Kaku has Dr. William Calvin on the program to discuss the origins of human intelligence; then, Dr. Jay Olshansky will be on to talk about the science behind the aging process. Tune in for your weekly dose of thoughtful science here, on KKFI–Kansas City’s Community Radio station.
About the guests:
William H. Calvin, Ph.D., (born 30 April 1939) is an American theoretical neurophysiologist and 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. He relates abrupt climate change to human evolution and more recently has been working on global climate change issues (his 2008 book Global Fever).
In his 1996 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 are called “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, in his research monograph The Cerebral Code, 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 one can play a million copies of a compact disc (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 one’s consciousness and generate intelligent behavior. (“Our long train of connected thoughts is why our consciousness is so different from what came before.”)[attribution needed]
In writing about what mind will become, in A Brief History of the Mind he notes, “We will likely shift gears again, juggling more concepts and making decisions even faster, imagining courses of action in greater depth. Ethics are possible only because of a human level of ability to speculate, judge quality, and modify our possible actions accordingly.”
Stuart Jay Olshansky (born in 1954) is a Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Research Associate at the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago and at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The focus of his research has been on estimates of the upper limits to human longevity, exploring the health and public policy implications associated with individual and population aging, forecasts of the size, survival, and age structure of the population, pursuit of the scientific means to slow aging in people (The Longevity Dividend), and global implications of the re-emergence of infectious and parasitic diseases, and insurance linked securities.
During the last 29 years, Dr. Olshansky has been working with colleagues in the biological sciences to develop the modern “biodemographic paradigm” of mortality – an effort to understand the biological nature of the survival and dying out processes of living organisms.
Dr. Olshansky’s work on biodemography has been funded by a Special Emphasis Research Career Award (SERCA) and Independent Scientist Award (ISA) from the National Institute on Aging – awards that were designed to permit him to obtain additional graduate-level training in the fields of evolutionary biology, molecular biology, genetics, epidemiology, population biology, anthropology and statistics; and a research grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration in 1991 designed specifically to create the field of biodemography.
Dr. Olshansky is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences and Biogerontology, he is on the editorial board of several other scientific journals, and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the Gerontological Society of America. Dr. Olshansky is also listed in Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, Who’s Who in American Education, Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare, American Men and Women of Science, and Who’s Who in America.
He was an invited speaker at the December, 2002 President’s Council on Bioethics, Fortune Magazine‘s 2004 Brainstorm meeting, the 2004 Nobel Conference devoted to the science of aging, the Institute of Medicine—2004, the 2005 UNESCO conference on Health and Longevity in Paris, the 2007 United Nations conference on Health and Aging, the 2007 World Ageing and Generations conference in Switzerland, the 2007 and 2011 Global Financial Services CEO Roundtables in Italy, the 2009 Horizon21 symposium on Insurance Linked Securities, the 2010 Insurance-Linked Securities Summit in New York, the 2010 Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, the 2010 AO Foundation conference in Lisbon, the 2011 Sci Foo camp, the Rethink Lecture at the World Ageing and Demographic Forum in St. Gallen Switzerland in 2012, the 2013 ACLI and RERC CEO Roundtables, and he has testified before the trustees of the Social Security Administration where his research has influenced forecasts of the nation’s entitlement programs.
Dr. Olshansky is the recipient of a 2005/2006 Senior Fulbright Award to lecture in France; he is an adviser to U.S. Preventive Medicine; he is a founding member of the HSBC Global Commission on Ageing and Retirement; he is a member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society; he is a member of the Council on an Ageing Society at the World Economic Forum; he is a member of the board of directors of the American Federation for Aging Research; he advised the Pension Advisory Group at JPMorgan; he was on the Program Advisory Group and was a Senior Associate at the International Longevity Center (US); he has been invited to lecture on aging throughout the world; and has participated in a number of international debates on the future of human health and longevity.
Dr. Olshansky is the first author of The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging (Norton, 2001) and A Measured Breath of Life (2013), and he can be seen discussing aging, longevity and centenarians in the new permanent exhibit entitled “You The Experience” at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.