Donald MacCrimmon MacKay was born in Caithness Scotland in the northern fishing village of Lybster in 1922. He studied physics at St. Andrews University graduating in 1943. Following three years of service with the British Admiralty he pursued postgraduate research into the limitations of high-speed electronic analogue computers receiving a Ph.D. in 1951.
MacKay’s work with early computer technology led him to study the differences (rather than the similarities) between the human brain and computers. His research in this field contributed to developments in early information theory and the theory of brain organisation. From 1946 to 1960 MacKay lectured in physics at Kings College London. He moved in 1960 to the University of Keele in Staffordshire where he helped to establish the renowned Department of Communication and Neuroscience where he continued with his research until he became Emeritus Professor in 1982.
In 1986 MacKay delivered his course of Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow under the title ‘Under Our Own Microscope: What Brain Science Has to Say about Human Nature’. He died the following year from lymphoma. His lectures edited by his widow Valerie with content assistance from his friend Professor Neil Spurway of the University of Glasgow were posthumously published under the title Behind the Eye in 1991.
MacKay’s principal publications include: Analogue Computing at Ultra-High Speed (1962); Freedom of Action in a Mechanistic Universe (1965); Information Meaning and Mechanism (1969); The Clockwork Image (1974); Science Chance and Providence (1978); Human Science and Human Dignity (1979); Brains Machines and Persons (1980); and The Open Mind (1988).