Filling the Empty Niches

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William H. Calvin


A niche, in ecology, is all that a species needs to function: the right food, climate, protection from predators, nesting sites, migration routes, and so forth. An empty niche is a proven niche going unused – say, that of the late Stephen Jay Gould. I argue that the popularization successes in an adjacent field, evolutionary biology, suggest that a similar niche is there for popularizing cognitive neuro. The scientist contemplating writing for a wider audience will often assume that others in the field will be critical, that such a writer will constantly have to justify simplifications or omissions. Or that others will be suspicious that the writer is seeking fame via bypassing the long hard grind of academic publication. While such comment surely happens on occasion, the writer is more likely to be nearly invisible within their own field, even if moderately-well-known outside the field. The reason for this invisibility is simple. Scientists are also general readers. They only have so much time to read, and so they mostly read outside their own field until a new grad student suggests your book for a reading list.
popularization of science

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How to Cite
Calvin, W. H. (2006). Filling the Empty Niches. AmeriQuests, 3(2).
Author Biography

William H. Calvin, University of Washington

WILLIAM H. CALVIN, Ph.D., is a theoretical neurobiologist, Affiliate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of a dozen books, mostly for general readers, about brains and evolution. such as A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond and A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change, about paleoanthropology, paleoclimate, and considerations from neurobiology and evolutionary biology, which won the 2002 Phi Beta Kappa book award for science. His book with Derek Bickerton, Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain, is about syntax. His research interests include the recurrent excitatory circuitry of cerebral cortex used for split-second versions of the Darwinian bootstrapping of quality, the four-fold enlargement of the hominid brain during the ice ages, and the brain reorganization for language and planning during "The Mind's Big Bang" which occurred about 50,000 years ago, long after our brains had reached their current size (but we weren't doing anything much different from Neanderthals).