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An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 22.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 22, 2020

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,119

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Prof. Pigliucci has a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of science, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism. Prof. Pigliucci has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “for fundamental studies of genotype by environmental interactions and for public defense of evolutionary biology from pseudo-scientific attack.” In the area of public outreach, Prof. Pigliucci has published in national and international outlets such as the New York TimesWashington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Contributing Editor to Skeptical Inquirer. He writes a blog on practical philosophy at patreon.com/FigsInWinter. At last count, Prof. Pigliucci has published 162 technical papers in science and philosophy. He is also the author or editor of 12 books, including the best selling How to Be A Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life (Basic Books). Other titles include Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (University of Chicago Press), and The Philosophy of Pseudoscience (co-edited with M. Boudry, University of Chicago Press). He discusses: postmodernism and fundamentalism; smartest person; and his role model.

Keywords: Carl Sagan, doctorates, Elon Musk, fundamentalism, kindness, Massimo Pigliucci, postmodernism, Pythagorean Theorem, Stoics, truth, Virtue Ethics.

An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness: K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York (Part Four)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let us say someone is a postmodernist, and let us say someone is a fundamentalist ideologue…

Dr. Massimo Pigliucci: …that is an interesting combination. Okay [Laughing].

Jacobsen: Two separate people, they ask the question, Mr. Pigliucci, what is truth?” They would ask this to you knowing that you have a secular humanist background, an atheist background. Of course, I know there is not a necessary overlap between those two words.

Pigliucci: I would give them a short course in epistemology 101. I would say, “Truth is actually a heterogeneous category.” It is not one thing. There are different notions if it, different theories of truth in philosophy.

There is no single answer to the question. It is instructive to look at the options that philosophers have put on the table. One of them is the correspondence theory of truth. Something is true only if it corresponds to the way things are in the world out there.

I mentioned before the example of the relative positions of Saturn and Jupiter to the Sun. Is it true that Saturn is farther away than Jupiter? It is. Why? Because if you check the data, Saturn is more distant from the Sun than Jupiter is. So, to speak the truth about empirical matters, you must find some way to establish – or if not establish then reasonably infer to the best of your abilities — the state of affairs out there.

The correspondence theory of truth is obviously useful in science. I know there are a lot of caveats there, like in order to establish the correspondence, shouldn’t you have a view from nowhere, where you are basically omniscient? No, you do not.

That is why I said, to the best of your abilities. I always start these discussions accepting the notion that we are human beings and, therefore, epistemically limited. I assume your readers and you are perfectly capable of understanding the thing about Jupiter and Saturn.

The correspondence theory of truth applies to everyday matters, too. If I say, ‘I am in New York City, not Rome,” it is (currently) true. Why? Because I live in Downtown Brooklyn. I can turn around the video camera and show you.

That is my window. You can see Manhattan in the distance. What I said corresponds to the best of our knowledge to the truth.

However, there are other concepts of truth that are useful in other areas, such as a coherence notion of truth, which is useful in logic and mathematics.

Consider the Pythagorean Theorem in geometry. Is it true? It is not true in the sense that it is true that I am here in New York. Geometry is the creation of the human mind, it does not correspond to anything out there. You do not need any actual triangle to understand the Pythagorean Theorem.

It is true in the sense that it is coherent. It is what you get out of certain axioms of Euclidean geometry. The coherence concept of truth is also useful in certain human affairs. We said earlier about that a philosophy of life better be coherent, because if it is incoherent, we create obstacles for ourselves, incurring in contradictions.

If I run into a given situation and my philosophy tells me to do contradictory things, what do I do?

In real life, you probably want a combination of those two notions of truth, correspondence and coherence. If you are talking about values, judgments, and prescriptions of what to do and not to do, you are probably using some version of a coherence notion of truth.

If you are asking about facts about the world as it is, then you are using the correspondence theory of truth.

Interestingly, in Virtue Ethics you must use both. Again, let me go back to the example of the Stoics, when they say, “A good human life is one in which you practice the four virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.”

Where did they get that from? The prescription to practice those virtues is internally logically coherent. Chrysippus was the third head of the Stoic school, and a great logician. He was the one who made sure that Stoic principles were internally coherent.

But the philosophy also comes out of a certain understanding of human nature. And understanding human nature is an empirical issue. It is not a priori. Therefore, you can see the Stoic system as a combination of correspondence and coherence.

To live a good life, according to the Stoics, you must study two other things, other than ethics. First, logic. Meaning, you must reason well. Second, what they called physics, which is, essentially, natural science. Why? Because in order to live well you must understand the way the world works.

If you misunderstand how the world works, or cannot think straight about things, then you are not going to live a good life. If you think about it, these two areas of study that influence Stoicism, one is based on the correspondence theory of truth, the other is based on the coherence theory of truth.

2. Jacobsen: One last question, who is the smartest person you know or have met? You have three doctorates.

Pigliucci: As a philosopher, I reject the notion of “smartest person” for a couple reasons. For one, intelligence means different things to different people. Are we talking about intelligence as the ability to solve abstract problems, or intelligence to solve practical problems? They are not the same thing.

The notion of “smartest” implies that there is some sort of linear scale of intelligence, with someone at the top and others at the bottom. That’s hard to believe.

That said, there are some people who I think of as particularly smart in a way that is meaningful and interesting.

Socrates was smart. Actually, he was wise more than smart. He was not necessarily into solving mathematical or scientific problems. But he was certainly a person who seemed to be able to navigate society and culture in an intelligent way. Epictetus is another I would count as smart.

Among our contemporaries, there are individuals who I personally know and think are very smart, but who would not mean anything to your readers or you, because they are not famous. Among people your listeners might recognize I would count Carl Sagan, the astronomer. He was a model of an intelligent person, in my book.

I cannot think of a lot of other examples among people alive now, because most of the people that come to mind are smart in a technical sense, but they are not wise. For instance, Elon Musk is obviously smart in a technical sense. But he is one of the most unwise and obnoxious people walking the earth now. So, do I want him as a role model? No.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: So, I think a good question is, “Who would you pick as a role model?”

3. Jacobsen: Okay. Who would you pick as a role model?

Pigliucci: My grandfather.

Jacobsen: Why?

Pigliucci: He was a kind person. He was always trying to do his best towards other people. It was never about him. It was always about how he would interact with the rest of the family and society. So, my grandfather is my role model.

There are also people I know who have gone through hardship and come out the right way. My friend Larry Baker, who died last year, for example. He was a professor of philosophy. He went through his life after being hit by triple polio when he was young, and still managed to have a successful academic career.

He learned to grade students’ papers with his right foot. That kind of person is inspiring. He was also a nice guy. Role models to me are those who are concerned about others, who can overcome adversity when adversity comes to them, and who, nevertheless, maintain a cheerful demeanour and are a good example for other people.

Are they smart? Yes, in a sense, but not in the sense that most people would think of “smart.”

4. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Pigliucci.

Pigliucci: All right! It was a pleasure.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 22, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/. Image Credit: Simon Wardenier/Massimo Pigliucci.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four) [Online].January 2020; 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, January 22). An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A, January. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A (January 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 22.A (2020):January. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Postmodernism and Fundamentalism, Intelligence, and Role Models of Kindness (Part Four) [Internet]. (2020, January 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-four.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 22.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 15, 2020

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,537

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Prof. Pigliucci has a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of science, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism. Prof. Pigliucci has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “for fundamental studies of genotype by environmental interactions and for public defense of evolutionary biology from pseudo-scientific attack.” In the area of public outreach, Prof. Pigliucci has published in national and international outlets such as the New York TimesWashington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Contributing Editor to Skeptical Inquirer. He writes a blog on practical philosophy at patreon.com/FigsInWinter. At last count, Prof. Pigliucci has published 162 technical papers in science and philosophy. He is also the author or editor of 12 books, including the best selling How to Be A Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life (Basic Books). Other titles include Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (University of Chicago Press), and The Philosophy of Pseudoscience (co-edited with M. Boudry, University of Chicago Press). He discusses: the impacts of the dual-phenomenon of extreme external reliance on authority as opposed to internal dynamic changes based on certain ethical principles built bottom-up; the problem as being about fundamentalism, at root, while also some issues extant with the term “fundamentalist” or “fundamentalism”; and communicating over 5 years ago into the present and the reason for selecting Stoicism.

Keywords: Discourses, Enchiridion, Epictetus, external authority, fundamentalism, Massimo Pigliucci, Marcus Aurelius, mega-churches, philosophy, Stoicism.

An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago: K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York (Part Three)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You mentioned internal change to change others. What about populations grounded in dependency on external authority figures well into their lives? For instance, we see this in a rather prominent phenomenon in your country in the form of mega-churches.

Dr. Massimo Pigliucci: Yes.

Jacobsen: These forms of worship are very simplistic, very colourful, and very vague and, often, lacking in content, but [Laughing] having quite a lot in terms of emotive content. Positive sayings that one can get every week.

How does that impact political discourse and social life when you are talking about virtuous people and making changes in society through internal change? How do those two rub when you are seeing this dual-phenomenon of extreme external reliance on authority as opposed to internal dynamic changes based on certain ethical principles built bottom-up?

Pigliucci: If we had an answer to that question, then [Laughing] we would have a much better society than we do, [Laughing] unfortunately. The danger there, with the situations you are talking about – mega-churches and so on – is what Marx pointed out: ‘Religion is the opium of the people.’

If you follow authority for authority’s sake, on the basis on simplistic reasoning, you, essentially, check out your brain and your ability to think critically. Early on, that is where the trouble starts. But to be fair, it is not just religion.

Jacobsen: Sure.

Pigliucci: There are political ideologies that fall into that category. That is how totalitarianism comes about, very often. I am reading now a fascinating and disturbing book on Mussolini and the rise of Fascism in Italy in the early 1920s, immediately after WWI. You can see people – little by little –  rallying around simplistic ideas and the figure of a charismatic leader.

That has happened over and over in the history of the world. So, I do not think it is fair to blame just religion. Religion is one type of ideology, if followed blindly. But not all religions are like that. There are a lot of religions without charismatic leaders, that do not have a hierarchical structure, where people embrace them in their own personal ways and in a more dynamic.

Again, I think that is why the Stoic project or similar projects are important. Although it is true that going bottom-up is a very slow and painful process.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: But it also works. If I learn something on my own, and I develop something based on my own will to improve as a human being, it will stick. If I learn to simply repeat something that someone else told me, it is not going to stick, because it is not going to be a deep part of my being.

I do think that the bottom-up approaches are good ones. Whether they’re ever going to scale up to all society or not, that remains an open question. Then again, as the Stoics would say, “That is out of my control.” I can only control decisions in my life, not other people’s.

As you know, I put a lot of stuff out there about Stoicism and critical thinking. All sorts of stuff. However, I have no control over how people think or act on these things.

2. Jacobsen: In that expanded sense, does the problem seem as simple as fundamentalism?

Pigliucci: Yes, I think fundamentalism is one label that you can put on that. The problem is the word “fundamentalist,” nowadays means a very specific thing. So, I never, for instance, hear that word applied to political ideological positions. But it does.

In terms of origin, the word “fundamentalism” goes back to the publication of several books in the early 20th century in the United States, called The Fundamentals. They were meant to bring back a basic Christian religion: forget about those sophisticated things the theologians tell you, let’s go back to the basics.

In that sense, I like going back to the basics. If they mean: basic critical thinking, basic philosophical meanings of what it is to have a good life.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: I do. One of my favourite books is one by Epictetus, called the Enchiridion. It is going back to the basics [Laughing]. In this sense, it is a [Laughing] fundamentalist text. However, as I say, today, that word means something different. So I would stay away from it.

Narrow ideology, or blindly following an ideology, whether political or religious, is what the real problem is.

3. Jacobsen: Why pick Stoicism? We communicated, originally, 5 years ago. That is about the time that you began to take on Stoicism. Why?

Pigliucci: It was a combination of things at a stage in life at the time. It was a period where I was emerging from a mid-life crisis. Personal things happening, normal things, like my father dying and my wife divorcing me, a new job, moving to a new city.

However, all those things happened in the same year. Any psychologist will tell you that one of those is disruptive enough. All of them in the same year is a serious blow. Obviously, there are worse things in the world, but still!

That put me in the mood of looking for different answers to my question about how to live my life and make the best of it, the best of my time on Earth, answers that were different from what I had assumed before.

I started my life as a Christian, a Catholic. Then I left the church as a teenager. After that, I considered myself a secular humanist. Secular humanism has been a background condition for me. But it never provided guidance on how to live my life day to day, or in general, frankly. It was there. But it was not very useful.

That point in life also happened to be the time when I switched careers, from science to philosophy. So I started looking into philosophies of life more seriously. It was obvious to me, at least, that a satisfactory answer would come from the general area of virtue ethics, because it focuses on improving your character, making sure that you are making decisions that are meaningful to you. Virtue ethics teaches you how to interact with others in a constructive, positive way. So I started looking into it more seriously.

The first author to consider was Aristotle. He had a lot of interesting things to say, but he did not really click with me. He came across as a little aristocratic, based on if you had health, wealth, and even a bit of good looks, then your life is fine.

It did not seem right. Certainly, if you have those things, then your life is better. But to say that if you do not have those things then your life is not worth living, that seemed a bit much to me.

So I moved on to Epicurus, who is popular among secular humanists, and whose philosophy is also a type of virtue ethics.

The reason for his popularity among humanists is his treatment of religion. He was skeptical of gods, an afterlife, and so on. He was not an atheist. But he was still very skeptical of the whole thing. He was a materialist, an Atomist.

Epicurus does have a lot of good things to say. He resonated more than Aristotle. Then I hit the big snag, which is: the major goal of an Epicurean life is to stay away from pain. People often think of Epicureanism as a pleasure seeking philosophy but it is mostly about avoiding pain. Epicurus defines the highest pleasure as the complete avoidance of pain.

There is nothing wrong with avoiding the feeling of pain. But one major source of pain is social and political involvement, according to Epicurus. And he is right! But I do not think I could live a life without a social and political dimension. I think Aristotle was right there, when he said that human beings are essentially political animals.

At about that time this thing happened on my Twitter feed. I saw “Help us celebrate Stoic Week!”

Jacobsen: Stoic Week” [Laughing].

Pigliucci: [Laughing] I thought, what the hell is Stoic Week? And why would anyone want to celebrate the Stoics? I was curious. I remembered reading Marcus Aurelius when I was in college, and translating Seneca from Latin in high school.

I also remembered that Stoicism is a type of virtue ethics. And it clicked immediately. Stoic Week happens every year around October or early November. You sign up, download a booklet, and start reading about Stoicism.

You read some of the texts and practice some of the exercises. Every day, you focus on a different area of Stoic philosophy. It can be meditation (for instance, by way of journalism) or physical exercises (for instance, mild self-deprivation, like fasting).

The very first day was about Epictetus. I started reading the Discourses, and it was “Wow!,” who is this guy? Why did I never hear about this before?

Epictetus was, in fact, a highly influential philosopher throughout the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and early modern period. But then he went into an eclipse at the beginning of the 20th century, which is why it is not taught in college or graduate school. I did a Ph.D. in philosophy and never heard of the guy. It is kind of strange [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: He speaks plainly, no nonsense, but also with an interesting sense of humor. Sometimes, he gets in your face and frankly tells you things as he sees them. He does not mince words. It was kind of a shock. “Wow! I better pay attention to this.”

After Stoic Week, I committed myself, as if I were going on a diet, to stay on Stoicism for another month or two, which led to an end of the year. Then I committed to stay on for another year. And here we are, more than 5 years later, I still practice [Laughing].

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 15, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/. Image Credit: Simon Wardenier/Massimo Pigliucci.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three) [Online].January 2020; 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, January 15). An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A, January. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A (January 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 22.A (2020):January. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Imposed Morality and Inculcated Ethics, Fundamentalism as the Central Problem, and the Choice of Stoicism 5 Years Ago (Part Three) [Internet]. (2020, January 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-three.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 22.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 8, 2020

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,407

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Prof. Pigliucci has a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of science, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism. Prof. Pigliucci has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “for fundamental studies of genotype by environmental interactions and for public defense of evolutionary biology from pseudo-scientific attack.” In the area of public outreach, Prof. Pigliucci has published in national and international outlets such as the New York TimesWashington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Contributing Editor to Skeptical Inquirer. He writes a blog on practical philosophy at patreon.com/FigsInWinter. At last count, Prof. Pigliucci has published 162 technical papers in science and philosophy. He is also the author or editor of 12 books, including the best selling How to Be A Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life (Basic Books). Other titles include Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (University of Chicago Press), and The Philosophy of Pseudoscience (co-edited with M. Boudry, University of Chicago Press). He discusses: cognitive limitations, consciousness, and qualia; mystical thinking; speculative metaphysics and religion; human rights as a new stoic; and bottom-up and top-down ethics and the implications for human life.

Keywords: consciousness, ethics, Massimo Pigliucci, mystical thinking, new stoic, qualia, religion, speculative metaphysics.

Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights: K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York (Part Two)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: With these cognitive limitations, how would you apply that to problems such as consciousness and qualia? I know you have attacked the distinctions that are attempted to be made between hard and soft problems.

Dr. Massimo Pigliucci: Yes. I think the hard problem is a misunderstanding, probably. I know a lot of people have gotten a lot of mileage out of it.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: I do not get it. I think it is what philosophers call a “category mistake.” It is asking the wrong question. The problem of consciousness is the problem of how a piece of matter organized in a certain way – the human brain and nervous system – can produce first person impressions, such as the feeling of seeing color.

Again, we may not get to solve it. But if we do, the solution will come from neuroscience. It will not come from quantum mechanics, because the fundamental physics is too low of a level of description for what we are talking about; it does not tell you anything relevant about consciousness.

Yes, brains are made of cells, which are made of molecules that are made of quarks. Absolutely, it is the same for a bunch of other things. I am made of quarks as well. But try to come up with a quantum mechanical description of human physiology and anatomy, good luck with that.

The solution to the problem of consciousness will be compatible with fundamental physics. Whatever we come up with, it better be compatible with fundamental physics. But I do not think that it will come from fundamental physics.

At the same time, I think this hard problem is not something that science cannot solve because it involves a first-person perspective. Let us assume for a minute that neuroscientists can tell you, mechanistically, how an arrangement of neurons and chemicals and so forth causes or triggers what we call first person experiences. Then there is nothing else to be added.

The fact that you say, “Yes, but I still have a first-person experience, a third person description cannot simulate or make me have a first person perspective,” is true. It is also irrelevant. The problem is the one I just stated. How is it possible that a bunch of matter organized in a certain way, with certain characteristics, makes it possible for certain beings to have first person experiences?

Obviously, only individuals can have first person experience. But that is a problem. It would be like saying, “I described everything there is to know about how bicycles work. But that, in and of itself, is not enough for you to drive a bike. You have to try it on your own.”

True!

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: But it does not mean that a scientific description of bicycles is missing anything. It just means that human beings, being what they are, if they just read about bicycles, they will not be able to ride one [Laughing]. We must make the mistakes in order to learn.

There is no mystery there. What irks me about the hard problem of consciousness is that these are people who, on the one hand, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the question itself, but, on the other hand, they propose alternatives that do not stand up to any scrutiny at all.

So, what? Are we supposed to be dualists?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: Dualism went out with Descartes, “Oh! But I am not talking about substance dualism. I am talking about property dualism.” Whatever! It still puts consciousness squarely outside of the physical universe. I am sorry [Laughing]. I do not think anything is outside of the physical universe [Laughing]

If you go there, you already lost me. You are not doing anything interesting as far as I am concerned. Also, they get into bizarre issues. Let’s talk about David Chalmers, for instance.

Chalmers has, for years (!), said, “Science will not have a solution to the problem of consciousness.” Then he proposes panpsychism, where consciousness is fundamental. In other words, he invented a problem that is not there and came up with a solution that goes against everything we know about how the world works.

It’s like, “Wait, what?! How does that even go?” I don’t understand why people take this stuff seriously.

2. Jacobsen: When do not sufficiently skeptical scientists step into forms of mystical thinking? In the sense that, if they are approaching the problem of consciousness as a non-technical problem, they attribute some form of magical property to it.

How do they tend to think about this when you are reviewing some of the things they write, they say?

Pigliucci: They are just bad scientists [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: Remember, scientists are human beings. We are subject to all the foibles and cognitive biases and personal preferences for ideologies as every other human being. There is this notion, which many scientists, themselves, put forth, that science is objective. Science is not objective. It is no more objective than any other human endeavour. That is one of the reasons, I think, why Max Planck said, ‘Science does not make progress because people change their mind. It makes progress one funeral at a time.’

Because the older generation dies. A new one comes up with innovative ideas. They are familiar with it, and so on and so forth. Scientists make the same mistake as everyone else. Science as a human activity is  special not because of the supposed objectivity of scientists.

What make science special as a human activity is two things.

First, there is a real world out there. You must continue to confront this world as you conduct science. You can come up with any idea that you want. But if it does not work out and keeps failing, then, eventually, you must face the music.

This was, for instance, the case with Lysenko’s genetics during the Cold War. It was in the Soviet Union. Lysenko, for ideological reasons, as it turns out, rejected Darwinism and Mendelian genetics, and, instead, opted for some form of Lamarckian genetics.

Soviet crops failed. People starved [Laughing]. There is a real world out there. It will stop you.

This will not happen to the Chalmers of the world because they think about things like Philosophical Zombies. You will never have a philosophical zombie in front of you. You say, “Oh crap! I was wrong about this.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: That is the difference between speculative metaphysics and science. That is one reason science works well. The other reason is that there is a high premium on science to show that other people are wrong.

So, one of the best ways to make a career in science is to show a big shot is wrong. Darwin, Newton, Einstein, you name it. If you can show, as a young scientist, that one of the lofty ideas is incorrect or wrong, then hey! You made it. You will probably get a Nobel Prize. There is a competition to show others wrong. It makes science work.

There is a premium in philosophy too, to show that other people are wrong. Unfortunately, philosophy, by its nature, talks about possible and coherent worlds, not real worlds. Therefore, there is, as you know, the Chalmers type of argument.

The p-zombies argument was about conceivability. Is it conceivable that I am talking to you and nothing is going on there in my mind? Sure, it’s conceivable, but conceivability is such a low bar. All sorts of things are conceivable. I can think of notions that are obviously impossible. People have been conceiving the notion of squaring the circle for, literally, two millennia until someone proved that this is impossible.

Conceivability is such a low bar. I do not know why people are wasting their time with it.

3. Jacobsen: When it comes to speculative metaphysics with even lower bars, what are your thoughts on religion?

Pigliucci: Good if you have it [Laughing]? I suppose.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: Not for me [Laughing]. Religion, that is. It depends on what we mean by the term. It is an interesting cultural phenomenon, obviously. It helps many people get their lives together and adds meaning to those lives.

But when someone says, “There is a Creator God who started the universe,” then that it is worse than speculative metaphysics. There is no reason to think that it is the case. If you want to believe it, go ahead. But make no mistake, it is the same as believing in philosophical zombies.

4. Jacobsen: [Laughing] what do you think about a framework of ethics to do with human rights and their implementation in the world, especially as a new stoic?

Pigliucci: The concept of human rights is fundamental. It is important. So long as we agree rights are not some thing out there in the world, that is, they are not objective properties of the world, they are made up by human beings. So, when somebody says, “We have a right to choose…” (fill in the blanks), I want to know what they mean. The only way I can make sense of that is that we have agreed in society that people have a right to x. Outside of that, if you think that human rights somehow exist in some mind independent or objective fashion, my answer is the same as Jeremy Bentham’s: nonsense on stilts. Very tall nonsense.

Rights are human concepts. They are very important human concepts, but human concepts, nonetheless. Ethics is a human concept, a human creation. I do not believe in moral truths to be “discovered.” Moral truths are invented, not discovered. Some of them work much better than others.

You can adopt some frameworks for morality that are going to lead to disaster, in terms of human flourishing. Other frameworks are going to work much better. That, I think, is the way to judge ethical frameworks. Also, how internally coherent they are. Presumably, you do not want philosophical frameworks that are obviously incoherent.

But the crucial criterion is: does your preferred ethical framework bring about human flourishing? That is the reason for my interest in Stoicism. First, yt is highly internally coherent. The Stoics put a lot of effort into that. They were good very good logicians, after all.

For me, at least, Stoicism also just works, in terms of providing me a way to navigate tricky situations in life and to help build meaning, focusing on what I find important in life – and what I should pursue in my life. Still, I would never say, ‘Stoicism is the only way to do that.’ There are plenty of other – both religious and non-religious – philosophical systems that do just as well.

In fact, with two colleagues of mine, Skye C. Cleary and Daniel Kaufman, we are about to put out a collection of essays. It comes out January 7th, I think. It is called How to Live a Good Life. It is a collection of 15 essays written by people who practice a given religion or a philosophy of life.

Each author talks about this in terms of their experience with the philosophy. They explain their philosophy of life or religion. I think all 15 and more are valid approaches. One may work better for some people and not for others. It is a matter of personal choices. This, however, does not mean that every conceivable philosophy of life works fine.

Nazism, to take the obvious example, is also a philosophy of life. But I do not think that it is a good one. I do not think it leads or yields human flourishing. I think, if you follow it, that you are mistaken. But not mistaken in the same sense if you thought Saturn was closer to the Sun than Jupiter. The latter is a fact of nature, it’s out there, and it can be verified. Whether Nazism is a good or a bad philosophy of life, it is not in the same sense.

Of course, philosophies of life are constrained by facts of human nature. One of the things that I like about Stoicism is that it takes seriously the notion of human nature. The Stoics say, “We need to practice an ethics conceived as the practical study of human nature.” Now, for the Stoics, the two most important aspects of human nature are that we are capable of reason and that we are highly social animals.

From which they derived the fundamental axiom of their philosophy: a good human life is one in which we use reason to improve human society. I can get behind that because I am, in fact, a being – a living being – capable of reason and who is highly social. If I was missing one or both of those properties, it would not make sense to me. It would be like “What are you talking about?”

5. Jacobsen: If we are looking at Big Bang cosmology, evolutionary theory, or a human rights ethic, all of them work bottom-up and from a technical, empirical perspective rather than top-down and mystical, magical.

Pigliucci: Right.

Jacobsen: What about the social, political, and economic consequences of a system of thought asserting a top-down framework of ethics, of the origin and development of things – living and non-, and then using that as a political force in life?

We see this in various – or some – sub-denominations in the Christian churches in the United States. We see this elsewhere in the world, whether it is in Hindu nationalism, or in Iran or Saudi Arabia for Sunni and Shia Islam.

Pigliucci: Yes, that is a good question. I do not know if I have a ready answer for it. I tend to be distrusting of top-down ethics. I recognize there is a difference between ethics and law. You must have a top-down system of law in society, because you cannot have everybody behave as they want. The law emerges at a societal level in some fashion. The ancient Romans were very aware of this distinction between law and ethics. They and the Greeks made a distinction between the natural world or Natural Law, if you prefer, and social law, human-made law.

Cicero is probably the most famous author in that sense. My preferred way to think about it is that ethics should be a bottom-up approach. We should be working on our own behaviour, our own character, and then influence other people to do the same.

But it is up to them how to do that. It is up to their efforts. However, because we live in society, we need laws that govern our collective behaviors. Of course, our laws are — ideally, at least — informed by ethical principles.

The question then becomes, “How do you have the two meet in the middle, where ethics comes from the bottom-up and law comes from the top-down?” Cicero’s answer was that you need virtuous legislators.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: Unfortunately, there are few of those around; at least, not these days  [Laughing]. I was in Philadelphia recently. I visited the Museum of the American Revolution. One of the interesting things, despite the limitations of the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is that these were documents written in a top-down fashion, but inspired by virtuous principles.

Yes, they say that men are created equal and women are not mentioned, and blacks of course were enslaved. That is why we had amendments to the constitution later on. The amendments were positive later additions. Still, the American Constitution is a set of legal principles put together by largely virtuous individuals. Would I trust a lot of modern or contemporary politicians in the U.S. and the U.K. to do the same?

Hell, no, and that is the problem. Ethics is a personal matter. Law is a societal matter. But laws are written by individuals. If you get individuals who are unvirtuous to write laws, then you are in trouble.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 8, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/. Image Credit: Simon Wardenier/Massimo Pigliucci.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two) [Online].January 2020; 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, January 8). Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A, January. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A (January 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 22.A (2020):January. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Cognitive Limitations, Consciousness, and Qualia, and Mystical Thinking, and Human Rights (Part Two) [Internet]. (2020, January 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-two.

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Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 22.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 1, 2020

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,347

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Prof. Pigliucci has a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of science, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism. Prof. Pigliucci has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “for fundamental studies of genotype by environmental interactions and for public defense of evolutionary biology from pseudo-scientific attack.” In the area of public outreach, Prof. Pigliucci has published in national and international outlets such as the New York TimesWashington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Contributing Editor to Skeptical Inquirer. He writes a blog on practical philosophy at patreon.com/FigsInWinter. At last count, Prof. Pigliucci has published 162 technical papers in science and philosophy. He is also the author or editor of 12 books, including the best selling How to Be A Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life (Basic Books). Other titles include Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (University of Chicago Press), and The Philosophy of Pseudoscience (co-edited with M. Boudry, University of Chicago Press). He discusses: pivotal moments of becoming more skeptical, and early life; on science, pseudoscience, and skepticism as separate streams in life for him; state of science in America; state of pseudoscience in America; the ‘line’ between science and pseudoscience; psychology, evolutionary psychology, and the lack of an overarching theory in psychology; the definition of cultural evolution; and the difference between mysteries and problems.

Keywords: cultural evolution, evolutionary psychology, Massimo Pigliucci, mysteries, philosophy, problems, Pseudoscience, psychology, Science, Skepticism.

Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems: K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Of course, you are a very prominent skeptic and new stoic, and so on. Let us maybe, do a brief touching on early life and education to provide a context of what you are doing today. What were some early pivotal moments in terms of becoming more skeptical?

Dr. Massimo Pigliucci: Those are different questions. My attitude and interest toward science started very early, as far as I can remember. I was a kid, my family tells me, when I decided to become a scientist.

I wanted to become an astronomer and then switched to a biologist, which is what, in fact, I ended up doing. It is hard to tell where, exactly, that came from [Laughing] because I was so young. I was watching the Apollo 11 landing.

I am sure that had an impact on a five-year-old. My adoptive grandfather fostered this interest through buying me books on science, and eventually my first telescope. It helped in providing a nurturing environment.

The interest in skepticism came later. That is connected to a very specific episode in my life. After my post-doc at Brown University, I took my first academic position as a full-time faculty at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Knoxville is in the middle of the Bible belt.

I was surrounded by creationists.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: My neighbours were creationists. Some of my students were creationists. One of them, in particular, told his fellow students not to listen to what I was saying because, otherwise, they would end up in hell.

This brought to my attention the idea of science and pseudoscience, and attitudes such as creationism. I started doing some outreach. I organized one of the first Darwin Days at the University of Tennessee In 1997 with Douglas Joel Futuyma as a guest speaker.

He later became one of my colleagues at Stony Brook. As I started doing outreach, I was approached by a local skeptic group in Knoxville. They said, “Hey, there are a lot of other people out here trying to do the same thing. Maybe, you want to do stuff together.”

That is how it started. It is still going. I started writing for the Skeptical Inquirer. I wrote two books on the topic. One, specifically on creationism, called Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science. Another one called Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: It was on pseudoscience more generally and the nature of science. That is how it got started.

2. Jacobsen: Why separate the questions in skepticism? Why do those not necessarily come together as a knit package?

Pigliucci: They started out as separate streams of thought based on life experience and trajectory. Most scientists are not interested in pseudoscience. Most scientists just do their job because they like science. Most are not even aware of pseudoscience.

Because I was living in the South and exposed to that attitude to science and evolutionary biology in particular; that is why that second stream came in later. Interestingly, when I made the switch from science to pseudoscience, then the two came together quite nicely.

In the philosophy of science, now, people call this branch philosophy of pseudoscience. I deal with the Demarcation Problem between science and pseudoscience. The two streams are very connected from a philosophical viewpoint. They, definitely, come together.

3. Jacobsen: What is the state of science in America now? What is the state of pseudoscience in America now?

Pigliucci: That is a complicated question [Laughing]. The state of science is “meh, okay.” There is a general vibrant scientific community in the United States in all areas of science, e.g., physics, biology, and so on. There is a significant amount of funding that goes into research.

There are some prestigious research laboratories. The state of science in the United States is pretty healthy. But we have a divided population. About half rejects climate change. About half think autism is caused by vaccines. More than 50% are creationists and reject evolution. 25-40%, I think, believe in astrology and ghosts.

In that sense, the situation is pretty bad. Pseudoscience is rampant in the United States – more so than other Western countries. It is not like people in Western Europe do not believe in nonsense. Many do. But not nearly as many.

But the National Science Foundation puts out surveys every few years on pseudoscientific beliefs in the United States compared to other countries. It is pretty clear the United States is much worse by several percentage points when it comes to accepting pseudoscientific notions.

We have a president, right now, who is a climate changed denier, among other problems that he has [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: I would not even say that that’s the worst. We have an entire party, the Republican Party, who are climate change deniers. Some believe what they say. There are some who do this for ideological reasons or financial reasons.

One of the reasons to deny climate change is because the solutions must include a large effort on the part of the government, especially a worldwide coordination in governmental efforts. Republicans and Libertarians are opposed to that, by definition.

It is an interesting thing that ideological position trumps, essentially, – want to be careful with that word! – other reasons.

One example is vaccinations. The number of people who vaccinate their kids has gone down significantly in several areas of the country. We have seen a resurgence of diseases that were almost wiped out until a few years ago. Pseudoscience has very, very practical and impactful consequences, it isn’t just a question of having some fun talking about people who deny reality. It is really not funny at all. It has consequences for all of us.

4. Jacobsen: What is the line between science and pseudoscience?

Pigliucci: It is not a line as much as a gray area. There are some fields that are obviously pseudoscientific. Nobody with a decent amount of education should seriously consider homeopathy or astrology or anything like that.

It is like, “No, it doesn’t make any sense.” Also, no one with any decent amount of education should question the scientific status of fundamental physics, evolutionary biology, or anything else like that. But it gets more interesting when you get to borderline situations.

Some notions are considered pseudoscientific, but there may be something to it. I do not know. Until recently, I would have put certain claims about paranormal phenomena into that area, e.g., telepathy, telekinesis. Up until recently, it was reasonable to think there might be something in there.

So, doing some research in that area was not an unreasonable thing to do. Now, those are also pretty clearly out. But those cases are far less obvious cases than, say, homeopathy or astrology.

On the science side, there are situations that are also borderline. Do I think evolutionary psychology is a full-fledged science? Not really. The basic idea is fine. The notion that human behaviour evolved in part via natural selection. Sure, human beings are animals. We are not an exception to the natural world.

So, we are not an exception to evolutionary biology either. But whether certain specific behaviours evolved in the Pleistocene, well, that is far more debatable. The evidence is not there. The connection between the claims and the evidence is far shakier.

So, I consider that not quite a pseudoscience, but borderline.

5. Jacobsen: Some prominent researchers in the area make very bold claims. I recall Buss making one claim that – he would hope – in the future evolutionary psychology would drop evolutionary” and just be psychology.”

Pigliucci: That is right. That is a bold claim. Now, that bold claim comes from the interesting reality that psychology still does not have an overarching theory, like physics has General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Evolutionary biology, too, has its general theory. Geology has Continental Drift. Psychology does not. Psychology tried. Freud tried. Then Jung tried to produce an overarching theory for all evidence in psychology. Behaviourists tried too.

They all failed. It is not clear why. Is it because psychology has not had its Darwin or Newton yet? Maybe. Is it because psychology is involving sub-sciences that do not admit of a unifying theory? That is also possible.

So, claims like the one from Buss, wherein evolutionary reasoning will be the reading key for psychology, are not out of the question. The proof is in the pudding. But I do not think it will happen. I think evolutionary psychology will go the same way of the other overarching attempts that have characterized psychology over the last century or so.

Again, I do not go as far as saying that evolution has nothing to do with present human behaviour. That would be silly, honestly. But I do not think biological evolution has a lot to say about that. Modern human behaviour is mostly the result of cultural evolution, not biological evolution.

Now, we can have a different discussion on “What is cultural evolution?” That is an active area of research. Biology, I think, in the case of human behaviour sets certain constraints and allows certain things to happen or not to happen.

But I think most of the behaviours are the product of cultural evolution, not biological evolution.

6. Jacobsen: What is cultural evolution?

Pigliucci: Cultural evolution is a descriptive term for how cultures change. I do not mean simply cultural artifacts, but also ideas and general theories about stuff, and how people think about stuff.

The question is, “How does that work?” There are a lot of ideas in the field. I am going to be somewhat neutral about it, which I think is the reasonable thing to do. Whenever experts in a field disagree, the most reasonable position for someone from the outside is “Okay! You guys figure it out.”

Some people think that cultural evolution is mostly or strongly bound by biological evolution. People like E.O. Wilson. Others are more flexible like the other Wilson, David Sloan.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Pigliucci: Then there are people like me who think biological parameters put constraints on what humans can do and allows us to do certain things and not others.

Culture depends heavily on the fact that we are large-brained mammals, and large brains certainly evolved biologically.[Laughing] There is no question of that. It is a biological characteristic. But I think biological-cultural dynamics are their own thing.

They emerge. I do not mean this in any mystical sense. I mean they result from the biological substrate. But cultural evolution has its own dynamics and its own rules. We still do not know a hell of a lot about it.

Let me give you an example. Food habits, eating. You can make the obvious case. That is biologically constrained. We need to eat as biological organisms. If you do not eat, you are dead. You must eat some things and not others.

You must eat certain combinations of proteins and carbohydrates. If you eat differently, you will get sick or be unhealthy. Great! But this tells you precisely nothing about the gourmet foods that you find in New York City.

Most of these restaurants, or much of the grocery stores nearby, are there because eating is a biological necessity. But biology is no explanation whatsoever for you why we need so many and different restaurants in New York. What is the difference between sushi and Italian restaurants? It is all cultural evolution.

If we do not make that distinction, we make the true but trivial statement: “Well! We have restaurants because we need to eat.” Yes, no kidding.

7. Jacobsen: What do you make of the difference between mysteries and problems?

Pigliucci: A mystery is a problem that we do not know how to attack yet. So, I do not think that there are mysteries in the mystical sense of the word. There are things that we do not understand. There are gradations of understanding.

There are things that we do not understand and do not know how to go about. There are things that we understand and do know how to go about. I am not one of those people who think science will eventually find the solution to every problem. I think that is a silly position to hold. Scientists are human beings. Human beings have epistemic limits. We do not have access to infinite amounts of information or access to all the relevant information.

Let me give you an example, the origin of life, it has been a problem since Darwin. Darwin did not touch it. [Laughing] he did not even go there. He said, ‘Somebody else is going to do that.” There are plenty of theories. There are a lot of books and papers published. If someone tells you, “We understand how life started,” they are either lying or they are deluded.

Some ideas are more plausible than others. Some ideas become more fashionable for some time and then go out of fashion. But nobody really has a clue. Will we ever solve that problem? We do not know. Because the necessary clues are probably gone.

Whatever the early organisms were, they were wiped out by geological changes. Geologists are even questioning the exact composition of the early Earth atmosphere. When you are questioning that, there is really no reason to favor certain theories over others.

Even if you could postulate certain theories based on the right knowledge of the physico-chemical conditions at that time, you still have no fossil record. You do not know where to begin. Even if, in the future, we were able to replicate life in the laboratory, that still wouldn’t solve the problem, since life could originate in several ways. So, the artificial path may not be the one along which it happened on Earth billions of years ago. I am skeptical of ever answering the origin of life question. It is a mystery to me. But not in the sense of “Oh, it shows the limitations of science. Some God must have put it there…” No! It shows the limitations of being human.

A colleague of mine, Richard Lewontin, is a retired geneticist at Harvard. He once wrote a dissenting article in a book on the evolution of cognition. Lewontin’s comment was that we should get out of the childish notion that if something is interesting, then we will solve it. Sometimes, this is the case. Other times, it is not. The evolution of cognition may be another example, for the same reason.

We can say a lot about cognition. We can say a lot about the neural correlates of consciousness and how the brain produces language. But why did language evolved? Why have we gotten big brains? If you check Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind, by Kevin N. Laland, it is about cultural evolution, the evolution of language, and the evolution of large brains. And, we have no clue! Kevin has his own ideas. He is a great guy. But there is no reason to go one way or the other. He has his preferences as others do.

Here is another case What was there before the Big Bang? Who knows? The Big Bang destroyed what was there before, if there was a before. You can make inferences based on the current laws of nature. But it is all speculation.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 1, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/. Image Credit: Simon Wardenier/Massimo Pigliucci.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One) [Online].January 2020; 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, January 1). Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A, January. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A (January 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 22.A (2020):January. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Interview with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on Skepticism, Science, Pseudoscience, Cultural Evolution, and Mysteries and Problems (Part One) [Internet]. (2020, January 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/pigliucci-one.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 22.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: January 1, 2020

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 7,403

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Cameron Dunkin is the Acting CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada. Dr. Gus Lyn-Piluso is the President of Center for Inquiry-Canada. Doug Thomas is the President of Secular Connexion Séculière. Greg Oliver is the President of Canadian Secular Alliance. Michel Virard is the President of Association humaniste du Québec. Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson is the Vice-President of Humanist Canada. Seanna Watson is the Vice-President of Center for Inquiry-Canada. They discuss: finding the life stance and worldview of humanism; finding the formal institutions and earning leadership positions; backstory of the organizations; important evolutions and individuals of the organizations; and targeted objectives and overall visions entering into the leadership positions.

Keywords: Association humaniste du Québec, Cameron Dunkin, Canadian Secular Alliance, Center for Inquiry-Canada, Doug Thomas, Dying With Dignity Canada, Greg Oliver, Dr. Gus Lyn-Piluso, Humanist Canada, Michel Virard, Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, Seanna Watson, Secular Connexion Séculière.

Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*If no answer existent in the particular question, of the 5 total questions, for the particular leader/interviewee representative of the hierarchs of the humanist or humanistic organization in Canada, then the name does not become included in the responses for the question. Interviews based on open invitations to the leadership for interviews. If not appearing, then the others did not respond to request for interviews. If no appearance in future parts, then no responses provided by interviewees who accepted within the first part, i.e., conflicting demands on attention and time, or organizational resources. All responses in alphabetical order by the first-name first portion or institutional title (in one case).*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s start from the top on a brief personal note. How did you find and come to orient personal life stance and worldview to humanist, or at least humanistic, values in personal and professional life?

Cameron Dunkin, Acting CEO, Dying With Dignity Canada: I have always been passionate about social justice and the pursuit of a more equal society. To me, humanism is embodied by working to ease the suffering of others. This entails creating the circumstances for them to not only survive and meet their needs, but also to walk alongside people as they thrive. This is a thread that’s woven through my work for different human rights causes and continues at Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC), fostering empowerment for people across the country at end of life.

Doug Thomas, President, Secular Connexion Séculière: As a lifelong agnostic, I began to realize that this philosophy, while it clearly defined the path to truth for me, did not address matters of ethics and dealing with human problems. At the same time, I was looking for people with similar ideals and made the connection with humanist philosophers (Epicurus, Russel, etc.). I realized that there was a fit between my ethical thinking and the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s (now Humanists International’s) humanist principles as set out in the Hague document of 1952. From then on, I began to refer to those principles as a guideline for ethical principles when the answer was not obvious from my own ethical ideas.

Greg Oliver, President, Canadian Secular Alliance:  I grew up non-religious. I’m actually 4th generation atheist on my father’s side, though my maternal grandparents were devout Catholics so I had some exposure to religious life. As I grew older and learned more about the world, I very quickly grew skeptical of religious metaphysical claims and the institutions that promoted them. Humanist values took precedence before I even knew what the term meant.

Dr. Gus Lyn-Piluso: I grew up in a Southern Italian family that had experienced fascism and WWII. There was always talk about politics, injustice and religious hypocrisy. Critique of the church (and religion in general) was fair game and I found myself doing the same. When the time came for my confirmation I refused and created a bit of an uproar in my school. My grandfather supported me saying that if they gave me any trouble “there would be hell to pay”.  He survived Mussolini’s Blackshirts and was not afraid to take on a local priest in suburban Toronto. So, my first anti-religious action was really just standard operating procedures for my family and I was adhering to my family’s ethos.

As an undergrad, I was exposed to the writing of John Dewey – one of the signatures of the first Humanist Manifesto. His work gave me the foundation to understand the rebelliousness of my family. Their refusal to sit by as passive onlooker of the public sphere was what Dewey thought real citizenship was about. Democracy for Dewey required informed citizens, who were actively engaged in the decision-making process. True democracy required a skeptical attitude, and a thoughtful process of discovery. This “method of intelligence” is the scientific process democratized, allowing all citizens to engage in an on-going educational process that saw knowledge, personal reflection, and political action all part of the democratic citizen’s role.

So, my education, from early childhood on, lead me to a humanist worldview.

Michel Virard, President, Association humaniste du Québec: Two events oriented me. First, In 1980, out of necessity, I co-created a kindergarten together with about a dozen concerned parents. We all had small children (2 to 5) and it was obvious the offering at the time was for «Baby parking lots» and nothing more. This was at a time the Quebec government became open to NFP kindergartens staffed with trained childcare professionals and draw the framework to create them. We were among the very firsts to take advantage of this opportunity. Our Kindergarten was “Les Copains d’abord” (Chums First, if you will) and has evolved into a famed  CPE (Centre de la petite enfance) and is still operating, 39 years later, still with a long waiting list. It was with a legitimate pride the original pioneers feted the 25th birthday of the Les Copains d’abord in 2005.

Since my landing in Montréal, in 1966, I had been puzzled by the apparent credulity of many Quebecers and was set to do something about it. I was dreaming of creating a real science museum in Montréal but that didn’t materialize. Thus the second event was the discovery in 1992 of a skeptic group, Les Sceptiques du Québec, founded barely four years before. This is where I learn the ropes of an NFP. I became administrator, played the evening show host and lent my business office to the board up until 2002, I think.

Parallel to this, the remnants of my Catholic upbringing had essentially evaporated by 1990. I had become an atheist many years before, since age 14, in fact, but I continued to pay lip service to my parents’ religion until their death. By 2003, both my parents were deceased and I felt free to do what I now wanted to do: create the first truly atheist francophone association in Québec.

Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, Vice-President, Humanist Canada: I owe it all to fundamentalist Christianity, the U.S.-Vietnam War, and my mother. You see, after living a somewhat wildlife in young adulthood (during which time I was conceived) my mother decided to convert to the Church of Christ (Christian). She became very devout. We prayed without ceasing, and on our knees. We had to memorize bible scriptures and successfully recite them, chapter and verse, before our evening meal. She accepted my stepfather’s proposal for marriage only on the condition that he become a Christian. He had been a member of the United Church of Canada, but apparently, that did not count. In fact, the only other Christians on the planet were the Disciples of Christ and they were “fallen away” because they allowed instrumental music in their church services. I determined to wash away my sins through baptism at the age of 12, and found, afterward, that I had higher status in the church than my mother. I could lead the congregation in prayer, lead the singing and even preach from the pulpit, but my mother could not because she was a woman. My stepfather became secretary of the church elders, but my mother could never become an elder. I thought this odd because she was the most devout of all of us.

The congregation of which we were members was sustained by missionary activity from a church in Abilene, Texas. Half the Church of Christ Christians in the world hailed from Texas, and as a boy I considered it odd that half of the saved in heaven would speak with a Texas drawl. Then one day, a new missionary came to minister to our congregation and he had a bumper sticker that read “Kill a Commie for Christ.” I had already taken a somewhat different position on both the U.S. invasion in Vietnam and the morality of killing.

Years later my daughter, then age 6 or 7, told me she liked watching “the Simpsons” because they taught her how not to be. I guess you could say that the Church did the same for me. In searching for a higher and more universal morality I began espousing humanist values before I became acquainted with the concept in university. A few years after graduation I was invited to join the board of the Saskatchewan Association on Human Rights and I remained on that board for nearly 20 years, much of that time as its president.

Seanna Watson, CFI-Canada: My family background is Jewish, but mostly tending towards a humanistic/social justice approach to life.  As a teenager, I was interested in figuring out how to answer the questions of life.  As a girl geek interested in math and science, I was very unpopular at school.  I encountered a group of evangelical Christians who welcomed me despite my background and inclinations, which convinced me that there must be something to the claims of Christianity.

Over the subsequent decades, conflict between the tenets of my religion vs my commitment to evidence and rationalism resulted in me becoming increasingly more liberal in my approach to Christianity, focusing on community building and social justice.  As I continued readings in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience, I finally came to the point where there was an irresolvable conflict between my religious faith and rationalism, so I had to accept the fact that I had become an atheist.

2. Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, how did you find your organization, become involved, and earn your way to the highest levels of leadership in it?

Cameron Dunkin, Acting CEO, Dying With Dignity Canada: When I was in grade 9, I worked in a seniors’ home assisting residents and keeping them company. It was a formative experience for a young person, and I learned a lot while serving coffee and tea and helping people with their walkers. It was transformative to understand, at a young age, how the ever-present possibility of death affects people’s lives. In my 20s, I became a caregiver for a family member who had experienced a decline in health. Although her eventual passing was difficult for her family and friends, it was a “good death.” This person had access to treatment, was surrounded by people who advocated for her, and retained a certain amount of control over the circumstances of her death. That kind of peace is what I want for everyone.

The opportunity to contribute to Dying With Dignity Canada’s work is exciting, as the organization has been so instrumental in fighting for human rights and shaping the discourse around end-of-life choice in this country. After the 2016 passage of Bill C-14, Canada’s assisted dying law, DWDC’s work continues to fight for equal access to medical assistance in dying (MAID), eligibility for the procedure, support for patients, clinicians, and their families, and education for communities across the country. We are working to ensure that every person in Canada has access to a “good death” as they define it.

Doug Thomas, President, Secular Connexion Séculière: As a part of my internet research regarding the IHEU, I discovered the Humanist Association of Canada (now Humanist Canada) and its local affiliate The Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph, Cambridge Humanist Association (now the Society of Freethinkers) and joined in order to have a community. Subsequently, I became involved in the leadership of both organizations. Earning one’s way to leadership was not difficult since, unfortunately, most secular humanists, like other human beings, seem reluctant to take on responsibility so it is a matter of stepping up to do jobs most people don’t seem to want. Once I took on the responsibility, I discovered that the membership of Humanist Canada did not have the same vision for promoting the rights of secular humanists as I did. This led to my leaving the organization to form Secular Connexion Séculière with Barrie Webster.

Greg Oliver, President, Canadian Secular Alliance: It was 2008, and at that point, I had become quite interested in religion and politics. I’ve always had a particularly strong contempt for illegitimate authority, and found theocracy quite odious. To me, it was obvious that while individuals should be free to worship as they please (provided of course that they don’t harm others), that government institutions should be strictly neutral with respect to religion. As I began to learn more and more about Canada’s political landscape, I realized it wasn’t the perfect secular liberal democracy I had hoped for. While the challenges we face are minuscule in comparison to many countries around the world, there was still much room for improvement. This prompted me to reach out to Justin Trottier, who at the time was running the Centre for Inquiry Canada.  At the time CFI was pursuing charitable status, so their capacity to engage in political advocacy was restrained. So along with several others, we founded the Canadian Secular Alliance, an organization whose sole purpose was to advocate for the separation of religion and state in Canada. By 2011, I was the President of the organization.

Michel Virard, President, Association humaniste du Québec: I didn’t “find” an organization because there was none. I created it. Actually, by 2003, I was in touch with Bernard Cloutier and Pierre Cloutier (no relation), I knew both of them from the Skeptic Association. We had regular meetings in a restaurant on St-Denis street when we discovered a new movement started in California: the Brights. It defined itself as “a constituency” and nothing more.  Pierre Cloutier created the Bright web site and it is still online.  I managed it for a time. But it was not going anywhere so we looked at something else.

Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, Vice-President, Humanist Canada: The idea of universal human rights flowed from secular understandings of the nature of humanity grounded in the Enlightenment, but the human rights movement has evolved to largely rely on simplistic heuristics rather than deeper understandings. Let me give you an example. Affirmative action, as originally implemented in my province, was centred on applied scientific research into every situation where an identified minority was underrepresented in an occupational group. If the problem involved discrimination, then that would be demonstrated in the affirmative action study and remedial action would be taken ensuring equality of opportunity. If the problem was a lack of educational attainment, then affirmative action would be focused on increasing educational skills so that more members of the targeted group would be qualified for the occupation in question. If the problem was a lack of interest because of a lack of role models, then appropriate role models would be brought to targeted communities to alert students to potentialities. If the problem was that graduates were choosing other options not available to other workers in the occupational group, as indeed happened with respect to graduating indigenous teachers in my province, then nothing needed to be done. We must respect the right of the individual to make their own best choices.

The heuristic that was applied by human rights tribunals was that such studies were not needed because whenever a group was underrepresented this indicated discrimination. To justify this heuristic the concept of systemic discrimination was broadened to include invisible discrimination that we cannot actually measure but is assumed. This has led to the establishment of quotas based on ascribed group membership irrespective of educational, aspirational and motivational variables. Equality of opportunity has been replaced with equality of results.

Humanism was attractive to me because it had not, philosophically, lost sight of the nature of the human person as a unique and volitional individual. I have argued that the self that embodies that ideal pre-dates the Axial Age of the first century B.C.E. (see: Free Will). I was influenced by Dr. Pat Duffy Hutcheon who had simultaneously won Humanist of the Year awards in both Canada and the United States. Pat and I had many conversations about the philosophy of humanism, and she also mentored me with respect to my first published academic journal articles. I was also interested in developing the humanist community, and I was trained as an officiant in 2002. I was content to provide weddings, conduct research and publish the occasional article from my base in northern Saskatchewan, but then in 2014 then-president Eric Thomas invited me to run for the HC board. It so happened I had recently finished a decades-long stint as a director of our local Indian and Metis Friendship Center and was open to a new volunteer experience. I became vice-president two years later.

Seanna Watson, Vice-President, CFI-Canada: I should perhaps note that my education and my entire work career has been as an electrical engineer (I am now retired) and almost all of my involvement both with religious groups and with humanist/atheist/secular groups has included some aspect of serving as a lay leader and/or volunteer.  My personal inclination has always to become involved in the operations (and sometimes leadership) of groups in which I am a member.

In any case, having embraced my loss of faith, I was now faced with irreconcilable philosophical differences with a community that I (and in fact my entire family) had been an integral member of.   Looking for a group that I hoped would offer community support as well as the opportunity to be involved in social justice locally, nationally, and globally, I came upon the Humanist Association of Ottawa (at the time part of Humanist Canada).  I was encouraged to discover that this was a place where I could find common ground with people who shared my love of rationalism, skepticism, and philosophy, but also were interested in working towards building a better world – not because God said so, but just because they thought it was the right thing to do

3. Jacobsen: What is the backstory of the organization – its history, the rationale for its title and existence, and its original leadership?

Cameron Dunkin, Acting CEO, Dying With Dignity Canada: This interview comes at an exciting time, as 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of Dying With Dignity Canada. The organization started at a grassroots level, with a small number of dedicated volunteers banding together in a basement to fight an injustice they saw in society. They stood up for those who were suffering across Canada, even when the discourse around medically assisted death was cloaked in fear, secrecy, and stigma. The right to die movement has also influenced and intersected with other critical moments in the history of human rights. After returning from working in Kenya, I transitioned into work in HIV/AIDS advocacy in Canada. I began to understand the history of the AIDS crisis and that period in history’s role in increasing people’s awareness of suffering.

Our co-founder, Marilynne Seguin, worked with patients who did not yet have the legal access to a medically assisted death (including those suffering from HIV/AIDS) over her career as a nurse. She was dedicated to what have emerged as the pillars of our work: education, access, support, and eligibility at the end of life. She was guided by people’s experiences with suffering and lack of control over their deaths. In her book A Gentle Death, written in 1994, she wrote, “It is perhaps ironic that, through thinking about death, both patients and health-care professionals have acquired increased respect for human life.” Though that passage was written 25 years ago, we still find that to be the case today. Increasing options at the end of life only means more opportunities for quality treatment, palliative care, and the choice to access medical assistance in dying (MAID), if a patient chooses it.

Center for Inquiry-Canada as an Organization (Seanna Watson and Dr. Gus Lyn-Piluso): CFI Canada was initially started in 2006 as a branch of the US-based Center for Inquiry, in co-operation with members of two Toronto groups, the Toronto Secular Alliance (initially started as a University of Toronto student group), as well as the Toronto Humanist Association (part of the Humanist Association of Canada).    Justin Trottier was CFI Canada’s first executive director.  Subsequent Executive Directors leading CFIC include Michael Payton, Derek Pert, and Eric Adriaans.

Doug Thomas, President, Secular Connexion Séculière: Barrie Webster and I had the same discomfort with the lack of political action in Humanist Canada up to 2011. That year, we formed Secular Connexion Séculière1 specifically to engage in political action and lobbying. Our three goals were:

  1. to lobby government to eliminate systemic discrimination against atheists in Canada,
  2. to act as a communications hub for atheists in Canada, and
  3. to represent Canadian secular humanists to the world.

We spend most of our efforts on goal number 1, lobbying governments to eliminate systemic discrimination against Canadian atheists. Goal number 2 – acting as a communication hub or nexus for atheists in Canada is still a work in progress. We have left Goal number 3 “on the books, but since Humanist Canada is already doing this, we have not been active on it.

From the beginning, we wanted the organization to be national and felt that it should communicate as much as possible in both official languages, hence the bilingual title. We are particularly pleased with “Connexion” since it is a legitimate word in both languages. In English, it means the same as the modern spelling – a connection; in French, it means a nexus or place for many connections.

SCS has always had a small footprint, in terms of leadership – the bare minimum for legal purposes. This is partly by design, but also a result of reality. The number of non-believers who feel comfortable committing publicly is pretty small.

1 Originally Secular Connexion Séculaire until a retired government translator pointed out the Séculaire was French for something happening every hundred years and suggested Séculière.

Michel Virard, President, Association humaniste du Québec: At about the same time, two Quebec organizations, the Mouvement laïque québécois and Les Sceptiques du Québec, attempted to redefine themselves as atheist organizations. Following internal opposition, both failed in their attempt and had to revert to a  non-committed religious status. They could not officially become atheist organizations.

This is when Bernard Cloutier and I decided to “do something about it”: a truly atheist organization. Bernard, being fairly wealthy, had in mind a “Foundation” where voting rights would be proportional to the sums invested in it but I had in mind an «Association» of equal members.  We ended up by having both. Both of us were professional engineers and seasoned businessmen retired or on the verge of retiring. We hesitated on the name we should select for our two organizations. The first idea was to call our organizations «libres-penseurs» (Free-Thinkers) but the name was already squatted in Quebec by one website (wo)manned by Danielle Soulière. Although she would later join us and is the current proof-reader of our magazine, Québec humaniste, at the time, this was perceived as an unnecessary obstacle. We looked farther. From the American Brights forum, we received one suggestion: why not «humanist»? At the time, we were completely ignorant about what was a modern «humanist» so it was quite a discovery for us. We found the term was used mainly within Northern Europe, the British Commonwealth and the USA and in no Latin country. There was already a Humanist Association of Canada but it was purely an English speaking organization with essentially no members in Quebec. We looked at what Humanist associations were doing elsewhere and we liked it, so Humanist imposed itself without much further thinking. Still, we flirted for a while with the Center For Inquiry of Paul Kurtz but CFI insistence on having a French-speaking Quebec affiliate with an English name (no translation was allowed) killed the deal right from the start.

Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, Vice-President, Humanist Canada: Our first president was Dr. Henry Morgantaler who is widely credited for being the man who almost single-handedly overturned Canada’s abortion laws. This tradition of social activism within a human rights framework has continued to this day with recent campaigns to legalize doctor-assisted suicide, outlaw so-called “conversion therapy, and to defend humanists who have been jailed for their activism in other countries. The organization has concurrently maintained a focus on separating church and state. Unlike the United States, Canada has not had such a tradition as can be seen by extensive public funding accorded to Roman Catholic schools, hospitals and social services. A historical review of our magazines and newsletters would reveal a decidedly anti-clerical stance.

The philosophy of humanism is centred in a belief that there is a reality that exists outside of ourselves and that human perception and reason is capable of discerning that reality without reliance on supernatural means. Thus our support for science and our challenging of religion flows from a desire to debunk ignorance and superstition. The philosophy of humanism assumes human agency emphasizing critical thinking and evidence as necessary to exercise agency.  Unfortunately, this anti-dogmatic stance leads to a plethora of different possibilities. A former president, Dr. Robert Buckman, once despaired that organizing humanists are a lot like herding cats.

4. Jacobsen: What have been pivotal moments – and who have been seminal individuals – in the – ahem – evolution of the organization?

Cameron Dunkin, Acting CEO, Dying With Dignity Canada: After 40 years, Dying With Dignity Canada has seen enormous gains in the right to die movement. We’ve been involved in ground-breaking court cases with the aim of increasing access to the right to MAID, including the Truchon and Gladu case in Quebec that ruled criteria in the provincial and federal laws were too restrictive in September 2019. Pivotal moments in the right to die movement in Canada include Sue Rodriguez’s 1993 challenge to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the 2015 Carter decision, and subsequent 2016 passage of Bill C-14.

2020 will also mark the mandatory Parliamentary review of Bill C-14, Canada’s assisted dying law, and we hope Parliamentarians of all stripes will step up to ensure the law is amended to ensure equal access for all. There are still hurdles to overcome in access and eligibility, and in the way, the law is being interpreted across the country. We’re fighting for the rights of those in the Assessed and Approved category, as well as the right to advance requests for people suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other degenerative conditions. All through our organizational history, we have been supporting people through navigating their legal options and providing education on what they can control and understand about their deaths.

So many people have contributed to where DWDC is today — it’s the volunteers and supporters who have made our work, and our successes, possible throughout our history. I am inspired by the passion of our volunteers across Canada, as well as the staff, board, and partners who are dedicated to making the end of life a less fraught and dehumanizing experience.

Center for Inquiry-Canada as an Organization (Seanna Watson and Dr. Gus Lyn-Piluso): Dr. Robert Buckman and Dr. Henry Morgentaler, both deeply respected and valued for their contributions to healthcare (particularly women’s health and rights), humanism and human rights, worked with local humanists Don Cullen, Ron Burns, Jim Cranwell and George Baker to lay the essential foundation of this new group.  Other individuals in leadership positions in CFIC include Nate Phelps, son of anti-gay activist Fred Phelps.

Eric Adriaans joined the organization as Executive Director in 2014.  During Eric’s tenure, CFIC sponsored Bangladeshi refugee Raihan Abir, who had been part of the Mukto Mona blog network https://www.macleans.ca/news/world/in-toronto-a-bangladeshi-editor-pays-tribute-to-his-murdered-colleagues/.  CFIC also became the only secular group working with the Conservative government’s “Office of Religous Freedom” (this work continues as CFIC representatives have been consulting with the current government’s “Office of Human Rights, Freedoms, and Inclusion”).

Sandra Dunham joined CFIC as Executive Director of Development in 2017.  CFIC currently has 10 branches across Canada, from Victoria, BC to St John’s, NL, as well as an online “Virtual Branch” connecting members of the secular community who do not have physical access to attend branch events.

Doug Thomas, President, Secular Connexion Séculière:

May 2011 – Secular Connexion Séculière formed – somewhat based on the ideas of Freedom From Religion Foundation in the US.

February 2016 – SCS registered as a Lobbyist with the Government of Canada. This legitimizes our contacts with Parliamentary Committees, Ministers of the Crown and MPs.

April, 2017 – SCS added advocates in each region of Canada: BC and The Yukon,

Alberta and The Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nunavut, Ontario and Québec, Maritimes.

April, 2019 – SCS registered as a lobbyist with the Province of Ontario to legitimize our lobbying efforts with the Ontario Provincial Government. This is intended to be the first province/territory to be so registered with others to follow.

Greg Oliver, President, Canadian Secular Alliance: In the early years, we focused much of our efforts into researching violations of religion and state separation and developing sensible and morally coherent policy positions. There were many significant contributors, but extra acknowledgement is due to Leslie Rosenblood, whose contributions have been indispensable since our founding. Since then we’ve met with dozens of politicians across the political spectrum to promote our ideas (with varying degrees of success). More recently, we’ve focused on legal challenges. We have intervened on two successful cases at the Supreme Court of Canada (with more on the horizon). And we also led a coalition of organizations in a successful campaign to repeal blasphemy law from the Canadian Criminal Code in 2018.

Michel Virard, President, Association humaniste du Québec: Bernard created the Fondation humaniste du Québec in December 2004. In June 2005, Bernard Cloutier, Normand Baillargeon and I signed the Letters Patent of the Association humaniste du Québec (AHQ). We were the three original administrators of the AHQ. After a year or so, Normand and Bernard disagreed on a side point: whether or not we should have our own publishing house. Normand, a famed philosopher, left and no longer participated in the administration of the Association but I remained in good terms with Normand up until now: I republish all his articles on education on our Facebook page and he invited me once on a Radio-Canada talk show he was co-animating.

Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, Vice-President, Humanist Canada: In the mid-1990s Hutcheon warned us of the dark side of multiculturalism leading to tribalism and societal fragmentation. This was pivotal in that humanists were being warned to look deeper into concepts we have traditionally supported, that cultural evolution can bring about unexpected consequences. Later in that decade, the Ottawa Humanists led by Simon Parcher won the legal right to solemnize marriages in the province of Ontario, and this program was transferred to the Humanist Association of Canada. This pivotal development placed an emphasis on servicing the humanist community. Although humanist organizations have not yet won the right to solemnize marriage outside of Ontario, humanists in some provinces provide other ceremonies and in at least one other province in-house marriage commissioners perform weddings. Humanists have increasingly developed as a sense community through hospice care, mutual support, social opportunities, and in-house education.

5. Jacobsen: As one of the leaders in the national freethought community, what were the targeted objectives, and overall vision, for the organization entering into its leadership role?

Cameron Dunkin, Acting CEO, Dying With Dignity Canada: I see Dying With Dignity Canada at the forefront of revolutionizing healthcare in Canada. We are expanding end-of-life options that include but extend beyond MAID. This includes palliative care, advance care planning, and ensuring equitable access to assisted dying. I want to prioritize open communication and education that addresses fears and worries about what the choice to access to MAID means for people across Canada. We’re taking stock of the Canadian healthcare landscape and the ways that judgement and misinformation can have very serious consequences for people’s lives, and are also working towards improved legislation, education for patients and providers, and support for patients and their loved ones. Ultimately, opening up conversations around death and grief, and doing so with compassion, will empower people to live their lives to the fullest.

Center for Inquiry-Canada as an Organization (Seanna Watson and Dr. Gus Lyn-Piluso): CFIC’s  Vision is to build a world where people value evidence and critical thinking, where superstition and prejudice are eliminated, and where science and compassion guide public policy.

CFIC’s Values:

  • CFIC was founded by Humanists and continues to follow the principles of Humanism, as outlined in the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Amsterdam Declaration of 2002.
  • CFIC is committed to a just society and supports opportunities to improve social justice
  • CFIC believes that all humans have a right to be treated fairly. We will defend the human rights of all persons, especially those protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act.
  • CFIC promotes diversity, as a means of achieving more interesting conversations and more inclusive outcomes.
  • CFIC is committed to active citizenship with a process based on robust dialogue rooted in sound evidence.
  • CFIC believes that rationalism (critical thinking) is the basis for all good policy and decision making.

CFIC’s Mission:

Centre for Inquiry Canada fosters a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values

CFIC has 4 main areas of focus:

Secularism, Scientific Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Building Community

CFIC’s Goals:

Critical Thinking: Educate members, the public and the government to interpret information effectively.

Scientific Skepticism: Improve science literacy in the public and government in order to promote decision making based on good science.

Building Community: Improve members’ access to the community through “on the ground” and virtual branches.

Secularism: Promote neutrality on matters of religious belief.

Enabling Activities:

Communications: Create a coordinated communications strategy that raises our public profile and engages our members.

Fund Development: Raise sufficient funds to stabilize and expand CFIC.

Partnerships: Develop mutually beneficial partnerships that increase our membership; benefit our members and further our mission.

Administration: Create processes which allow for the seamless transfer of key tasks and timing as a volunteer and paid personnel transition between role

(CFIC’s complete strategic plan is available here: http://centreforinquiry.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/CFIC-Strategic-plan-final.pdf)

Doug Thomas, President, Secular Connexion Séculière:

SCS has always focused on eliminating systemic discrimination against atheists in Canada. We specialize in lobbying MPs, MPPs, and bureaucrats to change laws that perpetuate that discrimination.

That means we tend to work in the background, cultivating allies and contacts at all levels of government. Since 2011 we have learned a great deal about how to do this and how to develop contacts and allies.

We also attempt to promote conversations among secular humanist leaders, with limited success. That said, the national organizations seem to fly in a sort of loose, informal formation, supporting each other when they take any kind of action. For example, the elimination of Section 296 (anti-blasphemy) of the Criminal Code of Canada was a shared cause among all the national and some local organizations. There was no particular co-ordination; we just seem to put pressure on different parts of the government at the same time.

When Le Mouvement Laïque Québécois was successful in supporting Alain Simoneau in his court challenges to opening prayers at the City of Saguenay council meetings, SCS not only recognized the achievement, but made sure that our regional advocates understood the nationwide implications of the Supreme Court decision and that they confronted any local councils that were engaged in the practice.

We think it important that organizations like SCS work in concert with other organizations and we are always open to co-ordinating efforts. We may be a leader in one area while other organizations are leaders in others.

Greg Oliver, President, Canadian Secular Alliance: We have an intentionally narrow mandate. We are non-partisan and separation of religion and state is our sole objective. We’ve always felt this approach would build the largest number of supporters and maximize the probability of achieving our objectives. Though we have come to appreciate that progress can be frustratingly slow in politics, we are committed to continuing this fight over the long-term to make Canada a better place for all, regardless of religious (or non-religious) worldview.

Michel Virard, President, Association humaniste du Québec: After September 11th, 2001, it became apparent that religious fanaticism could be much more than annoying: it could be lethal on a large scale. I think I was not alone in thinking that, unless we take religious threats seriously we, Free-Thinkers, may not survive for long.  As Voltaire put it: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” But the enemy was not circumscribed to Saudi Arabia, it was everywhere and took multiple forms. The roots of fanaticism is mostly ignorance, not only ignorance of facts but more importantly, ignorance of proper thinking, what we call «critical thinking».  So, our endeavour would be an attempt at increasing the level of critical thinking in our society, which, for us, meant the French speakers within Quebec.

We have been doing that for the last 14 years, mostly with movie screenings and lectures, but also through our magazine, webpages, youtube sites and Facebook page. But that’s not all, we have been actively pursuing three other goals either directly or through sisters’ organizations: the separation of state and churches in our institutions, the right to die with dignity and the removal of discrimination against atheists in Quebec, especially in the Quebec Civil Code but also within the Criminal Code of Canada.

Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, Vice-President, Humanist Canada: It is the mandate of Humanist Canada to provide a unifying forum to like-minded secularists across the country, but that has proven difficult. Let me give you an example. Humanist Canada is a national organization that has been legally solemnizing marriages in our largest province for over two decades. Humanists in two other provinces have applied to solemnize marriages in those jurisdictions, but have been turned down on the grounds that they are not religions. Yet the regulations in those, and other, jurisdictions hold that where a national organization solemnizes marriages in at least one other province, and has local adherents, that organization can solemnize marriages locally. One would think that the national and local organizations could work together on this issue, but the local organizations are jealous of their independence. One is reminded of Buckman’s cats.

In my opinion, it is vital that humanists, secularists, freethinkers, atheists and agnostics unite to save our civilization. There is a threat to our existence that is greater than global warming, it is the abandonment of science and reason. First, let us take some credit. We are part of a tradition that largely shook off the shackles of superstition permitting us to discover more closely how the universe actually works, and this has permitted technological advance that has, as Steven Pinker meticulously documents, give us a civilization that is healthier, more long-lived, more peaceful and law-abiding, with greater literacy and democracy than any prior civilization. We have even confounded Malthus. In our wake, we have dragged religious fundamentalists, such as those of my childhood, into the 21st century. Faith healing and prayer are no longer considered to be the equivalent of medicine and surgery. We have become proficient at debunking creationists, but the threat has been joined from two new directions.

In 2012 a toddler, Ezekiel Stephan died of bacterial meningitis. His parents believed in naturopathy and tried to treat him with garlic, onion and horseradish. They called an ambulance only after he had stopped breathing. A jury of their peers convicted them of child neglect, but they won a new trial on appeal. For the re-trial, they chose a judge without a jury. Amazingly, the judge ruled that reasonable parents could attempt alternate therapies. If you believe that there is a thing called “western medicine” and that there are alternative therapies, then your mind has been colonized by pseudoscience. In reality, there is only medicine and some therapies have been proven to work and some have not. But pseudoscientific anti-vaccination belief is so prevalent that diseases such as whooping cough and measles are making a comeback in many areas and some parents are even afraid to protect their children from the flu. This is not just an attack on medicine, it is an attack on science and reason.

Science has been undermined even in our universities where the philosophy of postmodernism, which holds that there is no “reality” that is not socially constructed, predominates. Since science is a “white male way of knowing” and that truth is arrived at “through the discourse of knowledgeable people (Strong, 2002, p. 221), science cannot be used to settle disagreements and who is knowledgeable will be determined by the acceptance of their conclusions. Hence censorship, rebranded as “de-platforming” becomes essential in establishing and maintaining a coherent canon. This begins to sound a lot like a religion with tenured professors who are dismissed for being politically incorrect, in effect, suffering ex-communication.

We humanists have a long history of being outsiders to the formal operations of power, but nonetheless, we have had had a gradual and profound influence on the public discourse through perseverance. We will need all of that to withstand the renewed attacks on science and reason, and it is essential that we do so, because the challenges facing humanity are immense.

References:

Pinker, S. (2018). Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress: Penguin.

Strong, T. (2002). Collaborative ‘expertise’ after the discursive turn. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 12(2), 218-232.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, everyone.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Cameron Dunkin, Acting CEO, Dying With Dignity Canada; Dr. Gus Lyn-Piluso – President, Center for Inquiry-Canada; Doug Thomas – President, Secular Connexion Séculière; Greg Oliver – President, Canadian Secular Alliance; Michel Virard – President, Association humaniste du Québec; Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson – Vice-President, Humanist Canada; Seanna Watson – Vice-President, Center for Inquiry-Canada.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 1, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One) [Online].January 2020; 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, January 1). Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A, January. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A (January 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 22.A (2020):January. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Humanism in Canada: Personal, Professional, and Institutional Histories (Part One) [Internet]. (2020, January 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/humanism-one.

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An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven)

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 21.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Seventeen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: December 22, 2019

Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,893

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

His Lordship of Roscelines, Graham Powell, earned the “best mark ever given for acting during his” B.A. (Hons.) degree in “Drama and Theatre Studies at Middlesex University in 1990” and the “Best Dissertation Prize” for an M.A. in Human Resource Management from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England in 1994. Powell is an Honorary Member of STHIQ Society, Former President of sPIqr Society, Vice President of Atlantiq Society, and a member of British MensaIHIQSIngeniumMysteriumHigh Potentials SocietyElateneosMilenijaLogiq, and Epida. He is the Full-Time Co-Editor of WIN ONE (WIN-ON-line Edition) since 2010 or nearly a decade. He represents World Intelligence Network Italia. He is the Public Relations Co-Supervisor, Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and a Member of the European Council for High AbilityHe discusses: Issue VIII; 12th Asia Pacific Conference on Giftedness; Gwyneth Wesley Rolph, electrical stimulation, and charlatans; a book review on Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them; “Hyper-operating Life Forms”; “Being” by Eric Anthony Trowbridge; “‘Atheism’ as a Logical Negation of ‘Theism’” by Phil Elauria; “Leopards in the Sky: Foreword” by Dr. G.A. Grove; Alan W. Ho or Alan Wing-lun who wrote “The Angel and the Cherry Tree”; and some concluding materials of WIN-ONE Issue VIII.

Keywords: Alan W. Ho, AtlantIQ Society, British Mensa, editor, Eric Anthony Trowbridge, G.A. Grove, Graham Powell, Gwyneth Wesley Rolph, Phil Elauria, WIN ONE, World Intelligence Network.

An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein: Editor, WIN ONE & Vice President, AtlantIQ Society (Part Seven)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*A small mix-up, thus, Part Seven published after Part Eight.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Issue VIII continued with the growth trajectory of the membership to 33 high IQ societies. The intriguing addition was IQID for the young. How important was the inclusion of younger members of the community for the member societies? One devoted to them alone.

Graham Powell: This was set up by Evangelos Katsioulis, his first talk at the 12th Asia-Pacific Conference on Giftedness explaining about it, especially as many parents attended that conference with their gifted children. I think it was a good idea, though restrictions on access to websites which (rightly) protect children, means that the group has not been as active as I would wish in an ideal world.

2. Jacobsen: Dr. Evangelos KatsioulisDr. Manahel ThabetMarco Ripà, and others took part in the 12th Asia Pacific Conference on Giftedness. What were the main attractions of the conference? How did the book, by you, complement the in-person event? What have been the reactions from the community over the book and the event?

Powell: The workshops and presentations were varied and always of interest. On the opening day, Professor Howard Gardner gave an inspiring talk, one which was beamed in from his office in Harvard. The facilities were superb and I was proud to have contributed to it, the certificate now sitting proudly on the wall where I am living, which happens to be Dubai once more. I have also worked recently in Abu Dhabi, so it was doubly pleasing to visit some of the places I had researched all those years ago. The e-book was about the events at the conference, plus the scientific program of events organised to accompany the conference and which inspired youngsters to explore their great interest in various scientific exploits. I also advised on the program followed at that event, so was also doubly pleased about the success of it. I am still in contact with parents who sat with me during presentations and who attended my presentations too. I looked somewhat like Steve Jobs at the time, which they still joke about. The friendMathematially, inclusive atmosphere at the conference was a life-changer for many of the people who attended. I am immensely proud of all the people I managed to get to attend and participate during what was just four days in July 2012. The e-book also gave information about the places of interest to visit, like the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari World on Yas Island and, of course, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, Dubai. The book helped make for a rounded experience for the attendees and the timetable of events at the conference was a very useful guide to help people focus on what was most meaningful for them.

3. Jacobsen: As described in the article by Gwyneth Wesley Rolph, electrical stimulation remained important as an area of research and practice, and pseudo-practice through charlatans and snake oil salesman. How did Rolph pitch this article to you? Any idea as to the state of the research now?

Powell: I knew Gwyneth was interested in this field of work, her life about to change as she applied to go to university and followed a course in neuroscience. I have met Gwyneth several times and the first occasion was around 20 months after the conference in Dubai. I hope to see her again as she pursues a PhD in a field related to intelligence and neurophysiology. It was really as a dilettante that Gwyneth ‘pitched it to me’, as you express it, which is not to underestimate Gwyneth’s serious intentions and reading upon the subject. I am currently involved in neuro-feedback, which has a solid base of research and development behind it, with continuous technological advances taking place. That area of biological feedback is proving useful in addressing ADHD and on improving more serious conditions, such as post-stroke recovery and stress management.

4. Jacobsen: Dr. Greg A. Grove wrote a book review on Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them by Angeles Arrien and Jeremy P. Tarcher from 1992. Do these five shapes – the circle, the cross, the spiral, the square, and the triangle – represent truly universal human shapes, i.e., those mathematical objects reflected in visual patterns recognized as basic shapes with applicability, as a set, throughout all human “art,” “culture,” “intrapersonal perceptions,” “thinking,” and “time”? It seems bold as a claim, but it may, in fact, be true.

Powell: I know Greg believes these forms are significant, the analysis of colour also interesting him. I have participated in several of Dr Grove’s own tests based on this kind of analysis and to a certain extent the results have been indicative of my own feelings and approaches to aesthetics. The Lüscher Colour Test I enjoyed doing in the eighties and it was fascinating because the results varied according to my mood at various points in time. Images in literature also follow this idea, the circle, for example, being an image in Dante Alighieri’s great poem Inferno, his nine circles of Hell. I read that the Pyramids are meant to concentrate energy, gemstones too, which have a consistent molecular structure. Perhaps the most interesting research I have read about is the Japanese scientist who analyses the effect of emotion on snowflake formation. The effects on structure are wondrous to behold!

5. Jacobsen: “Hyper-operating Life Forms,” for those unfamiliar with the references, can seem mystifying. However, in essence, it can seem rather dark in the end. What was the inspiration for the poem?

Powell: I read about “Quants” and the big initial investment in a programme to create a research centre in America akin to CERN in Switzerland. That funding, however, was later withdrawn and the surplus of doctorate holders who emerged from university expecting a job at the research centre got sidelined into doing work towards stock exchange prediction and the creation of algorithms and formulae to facilitate that. The most famous was the work by Black and Scholes, the unfortunate outcome of the confidence in prediction and the transferring of debt across the globe being the financial meltdown which we are only just emerging from, though for many, it’s a continuous struggle, which the poem touches on.

6. Jacobsen: In “Being,” by Eric Anthony Trowbridge, it opens, rather humorously, with the famous definition of “is” or the query about its meaning by former president Bill Clinton. Making the distinction between myself as embedded in the universe and individuated, and dasein as factual and actual/ontic and ontological/being there and being itself, through the clear example in the hammer, the nail, and the hammerer, I enjoyed this piece, where being simply isn’t existence but more than it: “…it is, well, being..” What was the response to this particular piece from others or yourself?

Powell: I had no hesitation in putting this piece in the WIN book “The Ingenious Time Machine”. It has a timeless quality and Eric is, indeed, an amusing guy. It was a very useful introduction to the work of Heidegger, something taken even further later on by Paul Edgeworth. “Being and Time” is a difficult opus to read. I think people appreciated the assistance and enthusiastic appraisal of some of the considerations in it.

7. Jacobsen: “‘Atheism’ as a Logical Negation of ‘Theism’” by Phil Elauria provided an interesting depiction of the nature of the fundamental content of and logical relation between theism – “‘God (or Gods) exist’ or the even weaker claim, ‘I believe that God (or Gods) exist.’” – and atheism. In short, if p equals “God (or Gods) exist” or “I believe that God (or Gods) exist,” then ~p (not p) equals “God does not (or Gods do not) exist” or “I believe that God does not (or Gods do not) exist,” where ~p remains the born state/natural state and P becomes the acquired state/unnatural state of a human being as a propositional belief, in accordance with “classical logic,” with an ontological statement about the world. Does this argument convince you? Or does the argument miss elements of the perennial, longstanding topic of no gods, gods, or God?

Powell: Phil is rather good at precise, logical arguments. I don’t think he concerns himself too much about the perennial, longstanding topics of gods, no gods, or of God, and in that, looking back, Phil and I were rather similar at that point in time. I still do not wish to deny anyone the right to believe in a higher power, which many call God. It has, however, taken on a rather beautiful aspect in my life recently because the woman I love very deeply believes that our meeting was condoned by God – by ‘higher powers’, as she expresses it. If this is so, that a higher power is something akin to what Lena and I are experiencing each day, and did from the moment we met, well, so be it. It is something “supra-logical”. How we all manage that supra-logical, loving existence is, to me now, a large part of the philosophy of our finite existence.

8. Jacobsen: “Leopards in the Sky: Foreword” represents another piece by Dr. G.A. Grove to both provide some content and to plug a collection of 22 stories in one book by Dr. Grove. He states Freud, in statement of the conscious and the unconscious, hinted at the preconscious while Einstein provided due acknowledgement to the preconscious, not necessarily in a Freudian or psychoanalytic sense. Dr. Grove continues in “The Used Bookstore” and “Café a la verse.” The first with an interesting note about mysticism and intrigue, and following the preconscious indicators. The second a sweet note with a similar frame of intrigue behind it, but from a different angle. Dr. Grove is a good writer. What comes to mind on the reflection of the preconscious from Freud and Einstein?

Powell: Greg sent me the whole book, which was kind of him, and we have talked at some length over the years about the preconscious self, especially regarding creativity and the resolution of deeply-held problems and anxieties. I write most of my poetry in a preconscious state, one which often comes after writing numerous notes, almost as a brainstorming session; either that, or I just let the emotions stir and simmer for a period of time, the poem eventually emerging as a necessary measure to keep restore calm. I consider the best ideas come, as Einstein notes, in this state of mind.

9. Jacobsen: Alan W. Ho or Alan Wing-lun wrote “The Angel and the Cherry Tree.” A cute and enjoyable, almost, child’s story or a tale of finding the inner strength to change, to grow. What were some original thoughts upon receiving this?

Powell: Alan is, in the best sense, kind of childish in his ways, retaining a quite original view of the world, or at least a deeply questioning one. I met him in London shortly after he submitted this story. It reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s short stories. I think it would make an excellent tale to be told orally, much in the Irish tradition of ‘The Craic’.

10. Jacobsen: Dr. Grove wrote the “4HT Inventory” to tap into interests and preferences. There is the “G.P.R.Powell Sudoku” as well. Ho wrote “Codin’ Code Al Coda,” too, or more properly composed. Elisabetta di Cagno wrote “1996” with an editorial note about the “very strong language.” Intriguing, as of late, I note previous notions with modern linguistic preferences happening in some texts. For example, a previous cautionary note in some of the contents of books contained a “Disclaimer” while newer versions aim at a similar, though different and academic-bureaucratic-administrative culture influenced, idea with “Trigger Warning.” When do editorial notes seem appropriate for particular submissions? No doubt, the content remains sharp, stark, and saturated with “very strong language.” I agree. It makes the narrative powerful and appropriate to the content about drugs, the army, hallucinations, and the like. The article is really a… trip. When you first received this piece, “1966,” what was the reaction to it? Any responses from the public readership?

Powell: Elisabetta is a good friend and she is guarded about her work, so stipulated that it should have the ‘warning’. I felt rather honoured to have her story given for publication and duly obliged in every way to accommodate her opus. It also arrived at the last moment before publication, so was placed rapidly, yet precisely, near the end. She wished to have her autobiographical note included too, so that is a coda to the piece, a coda to the magazine. All that remained to position after her contributions were the pages with the answers to the puzzles. Nobody complained about the language. All in all, I thought the VIII edition a fascinating addition to the WIN ONE series of magazines.

11. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Graham.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Editor, WIN ONE; Text Editor, Leonardo (AtlantIQ Society); Joint Public Relations Officer, World Intelligence Network; Vice President, AtlantIQ Society.

[2] Individual Publication Date: December 22, 2019: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven) [Online].December 2019; 21(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2019, December 22). An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A, December. 2019. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A (December 2019). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 21.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 21.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 21.A (2019):December. 2019. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Graham Powell on the Asia Pacific, Mathematical Objects, “Dasein,” Atheism-Theism, and Freud and Einstein (Part Seven) [Internet]. (2019, December 21(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/powell-seven.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 21.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Seventeen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: December 15, 2019

Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,580

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Dr. Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC is a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact at McMaster University. He is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. The British Medical Journal or BMJ had a list of 117 nominees in 2010 for the Lifetime Achievement Award. Guyatt was short-listed and came in second place in the end. He earned the title of an Officer of the Order of Canada based on contributions from evidence-based medicine and its teaching. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2012 and a Member of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2015. For those with an interest in standardized metrics or academic rankings, he is the 15th most cited academic in the world in terms of H-Index at 245 and has a total citation count of more than 261,883 (at the time of publication). That is, he has among the highest H-Indexes, or the highest H-Index likely, of any Canadian academic living or dead. He discusses: ‘controversies’ over ordinary red meat intake and processed meat intake; coffee drinkers, reactions of the media; the GRADE approach in general; the GRADE approach applied to NMAs; making the research more precise; intellectual humility; and research in 2020; limits of automation intervention; technology and new advancements in medicine; and more advice to prospective medical students.

Keywords: anesthesiologist, Canada, evidence-based medicine, Gordon Guyatt, GRADE, McMaster University, medicine, NMA, P.J. Devereaux, red meat.

An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE: Distinguished Professor, Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, McMaster University; Co-Founder, Evidence-Based Medicine (Part Five)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I want to start a little bit more on a deep conversation on some of the recent research that has come out, which doesn’t have to do about “Branded Diets” as we talked about before.

It has to do with moderate red meat intakes and the previous recommendations to reduce those more. However, when you did a more GRADE-based approach, the recommendations came out that people are pretty much okay with their red meat and processed meat intake.

Can you walk us through some of the research there? And why and the previous research was not as robust? And why the GRADE research is better??

Distinguished Professor Gordon Guyatt: Perhaps, a slight correction, what you said is “people are okay to eat their meat,” not quite right. Our results were not very different from other people’s results.

So, they come largely from observational studies. Observational studies look at people who eat varying amounts of red meat and compare them to people who eat less red meat. Those observational studies show a relative increase of 10-15% in bad things happening.

Bad things being cardiovascular events, cancer, and cancer deaths. However, two things, I will go into it a little more. Whether the red meat is actually causing the heart disease or the cancer is uncertain, we would call this “Low Quality Evidence.”

Moreover, if it is true, the absolute effects are very small. In other words, for instance, if 1 were to stop one’s red meat intake by 3 servings per week, and average folks in Western countries eat about 3 servings of red meat a week, so, more or less, eliminating red meat for most folks, and if you did this for the rest of your life, you would reduce your cancer deaths by 7 in a 1,000.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Guyatt: Which most people would probably think is a small effect. So, there’s 2 things. First of all, the causal relationship is uncertain. Second, the effect, if it exists at all, is small. When you say, “It is okay to eat your read meat,” that depends on your attitude on a small, and some consider it a very small, and uncertain effect.

If you were the person who would say, “Well, it may be uncertain and the effect may be small. But I want to protect my health in any way that I possibly can,” then the message isn’t, “It’s okay to eat your red meat.” It should be, “You better cut down or starve.”

It really depends on your attitudes. We call them values and preferences. I will go back. We did a number of systematic reviews. We did systematic reviews of red meat and cardiovascular risk, red meat and cancer, and dietary patterns and cancer and cardiovascular.

They were consistent in showing 10-15% relative increases in those events for those people who ate more red meat rather than less red meat. Our results were not really that different. We did it more rigorously. We got all the studies available.

We did the GRADE approach. Our results were not that different. Our results were different in their interpretation. The nutritional epidemiologist before said, “On the basis of these observational studies, we conclude red meat causes cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

But the problem from the GRADE perspective is the problem with all observational studies. Germane to the nutritional world. I will give an obvious example, which everyone gets, easily, in terms of the problems with observational studies.

Let’s say you ask a question, “Are hospitals dangerous places?” You compare what happens to people in hospitals to people out of hospitals. You find that many more people die in the hospital. You, therefore, conclude that hospitals are dangerous places.

But if you want to avoid a premature death, then you should avoid the hospital. Most people understand there is a logical problem with the reasoning. It is more difficult to get that there is the same logical problem with red meat and these same bad events.

In other words, just as it isn’t that the hospital kills people, it is that the people in the hospital are different from the people who aren’t. Similarly, it may well be that the red meat does not causes cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is that the people who eat the meat are different from the people who don’t eat the meat.

There are a number of ways people who are in hospital – they’re sicker, clearly – are different than people out of hospital.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Guyatt: Here there may be a number of ways people are different, there may be a number of things going along with eating meat. Because the criminals in terms of the problems may not be the red meat but the things that go along with them.

What we saw in the dietary pattern studies support the hypothesis that it is, maybe, something else, secondly, maybe, they exercise differently. Or, maybe, they are more likely to live in areas where there is more pollution.

Or, maybe, their smoking is different, and so on and so forth. There may be things other than the red meat that are, in fact, causing it, just as there are things other than being in the hospital that causes you to be more likely to die in the hospital.

There’s one set of observational studies that highlights the issue. That is, the intake of antioxidant vitamins. So, as it turns out, big, nicely done observational studies of antioxidant vitamins showed that people who take antioxidant vitamins have less cardiovascular disease and less cancer than people who don’t take antioxidant vitamins.

It’s true! People who take antioxidant vitamins have less cardiovascular disease and less cancer than people who don’t take them. It just has nothing to do with antioxidant vitamins. So, when people have done the randomized trials of antioxidant vitamins, all the people who believe in the observational studies are saying, “For sure, we are going to show a reduction in cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

No reduction, zero! Zero reduction in cardiovascular disease and cancer. So, just like the people in the hospital are different than the people out of the hospital, that explains their increased risk of dying. The people who take antioxidant vitamins are different from the people who don’t take antioxidant vitamins.

It is those differences in the people rather than the antioxidant vitamins, which are responsible for the decreased cardiovascular risk and cancer. So, we are, for that reason, using a technical term, “confounding,” which means that the exposure of interest is associated with other differences in people that may, in fact, be responsible for the finding.

In the GRADE framework, we are mistrustful of observational studies. So, observational studies start as low-quality evidence. They, generally, end off as low-quality evidence.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Guyatt: If they have other problems, they may even be very low-quality evidence in the GRADE framework, which is high, moderate, low, and very low. Now, sometimes, there may be some things about the observational studies that make us raise the quality of the evidence and make results more trustworthy.

A great example of that is smoking and lung cancer. What makes us sure or very convinced that smoking causes lung cancer is that the relative effect is gigantic, in other words, it’s 10 times the relative effect if you’re a heavy smoker.

If you’re a heavy smoker, you have 10 times the chance of getting lung cancer than if you don’t. Secondly, there is a dose-response gradient. You smoke a little bit. Your risk goes up. You smoke a moderate amount. Your risk goes up more. Your smoke a lot. Your risk goes up even more. You smoke a ton. You have a very high risk.

So, it is those two things. To illustrate the difference, let’s say, you do not eat any red meat. Your risk of cancer is 1%. If you eat, according to the results of the studies, three servings of red meat a week, your risk goes up 1.15%.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Guyatt: Whereas with smoking, if your risk is 1%, and if you smoke heavily, the risk goes up to 10%. So, in those instances, when you have a very large relative risk like that, confounding cannot explain it. So, we believe it.

The relatively minor risk with red meat is very easily explained by confounding. So, where we disagree with the others in the nutritional community by applying the GRADE approach, we are much more skeptical of the results of observational studies and only consider low-quality evidence, and are not ready to declare red meat causes cardiovascular disease and cancer.

It might! It might. But the evidence is only low-quality. Previous authors have ignored the issue of the absolute effect. They have only presented the relative effects. They ignored or haven’t event calculated, in most cases, the absolute effects.

So, the other thing is, even if it is a true causal relationship, as I have just told you, the absolute effect is very small, and I gave you an example. Those are the two ways that we did things differently. By the way, we also looked at the randomized trials, which, further, have their own problems and only provide low-quality evidence.

But they have no association with the red meat in the bad outcomes at all in the most trustworthy randomized trials. Bottom lines: skepticism about whether there is a causal effect. If it is there, it is very small.

We also did a systematic review of looking at people’s values and preferences. We looked at how people like their red meat. Perhaps, no surprise, people like their red meat and are reluctant to give up their red meat.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Guyatt: Most people would want a convincing effect of some magnitude before giving up their red meat. Some would give up their red meat with a convincing effect of small magnitude. Most people would want something more than that.

That then led to the recommendation, a weak recommendation because people’s values and preferences differ if you’re only considering health effects.

2. Jacobsen: I recall some commentary by you. It had not to do with antioxidant intake, but with coffee drinkers and then some of the rather large claims about the health effects, positive health effects, of it.

Is the similar notion or set findings there too?

Guyatt: Sadly, you are about to uncover the limitations of my memory. I haven’t looked at coffee studies in a while; and I don’t really remember them. It would be the same issue. People who drink coffee.

In fact, most of us can say this by looking around us. People who drink coffee are different than the people who are abstainers. It might be any of the differences that are responsible for the different health outcomes.

3. Jacobsen: After the research with the GRADE approach on average levels of red meat intake and processed meat intake, by North Americans, say, there were mixed reactions in the popular media in general with varying levels of commentary too.

Some more emotive. Some questioning the studies legitimacy and validity. What were some of those? How would you respond to some of those commentaries?

Guyatt: You say there were varied responses. Overwhelmingly, the responses were hostile, I would say. In some cases, intensely hostile, and in some cases, verging on the hysterical, what are the responses?

The responses are really much as what I have just told you. Okay, I will tell you one. The response, “Observational studies are untrustworthy for the reasons that were said. Even if there is a true effect, which there may not be, the effect is very small. And when you look at people’s value and preferences, people are attached to their red meat. The evidence suggests people would be reluctant to reduce their red meat. Unless, there was really compelling evidence to do so.”

That is fundamentally our response.

There is one other thing. Some of the critics claim, “Nutrition should have different rules. GRADE is designed for randomized trials. Nutrition with its observational studies should have a different set of rules.”

Our answer to that. I try to illustrate it. Picture two bodies of evidence, that are identical. They are observational studies. Same number of studies. Same sample size in the studies. Same safeguards against bias. As far as one can tell, in terms of their credibility, they are identical bodies of evidence.

One is looking at the nutritional intervention in which there’s never going to be adequate randomized trials because of he obstacles. The other is a drug for which there will be randomized trials. But in terms of their credibility, sample size, risk of bias protection, and so on.

Is the credibility that you would give to causal inferences from those two bodies of evidence the same?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Guyatt: Or is it because in one you can do randomized trials and another is one in which you cannot? This is dealing with an area of study called Epistemology, which is how we know things. To us, it is profoundly illogical to say, “Two identical bodies of evidence, the strength of inference differs on whether you can do randomized trials or not.”

Something outside of the evidence should not determine the credibility of the evidence. So, we would argue rather strongly that one is making an epistemological error by saying, ‘We have different standards of knowledge for one body of evidence over another because what is possible in terms of randomized trials.

4. Jacobsen: When it comes to the GRADE approach in general, are the same critiques repeated when similar large-scale studies are done?

Guyatt: In general, and I should say I am sympathetic to this, the folks who do public health and toxicology, and, in this case, nutrition, have reservations about the GRADE approach. Their reservations are based on the fact that their evidence will seldom be better than “low.”

That makes them unhappy. But if I were in their position, I’d be unhappy too.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Guyatt: Because you want to sell your public health intervention, e.g., putting fluoride in the water or getting the public to stop eating red meat. Then someone says, “What is the quality of evidence supporting the advocacy for this public health position?”

They say a little embarrassed, “Oh, it is low-quality evidence But we still think that you should do it.” Not a particularly happy position to be in. But unfortunately, that is the way it is. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t act.

Perhaps, we should act on the basis of low-quality evidence. But it is low-quality evidence. These communities with low-quality evidence without randomized trials tend to not be enthusiastic about the GRADE approach.

5. Jacobsen: How are Network Meta-Analyses (NMA) linking up to the GRADE approach?

Guyatt: Historically, meta-analyses, systematic meta-analyses, compared Treatment A to Treatment B. It was a standard comparison. Starting 15 years ago, it started more and more with people presenting the same problem.

If you have 10, or in the case of antidepressants 25, different treatments, then they will seldom be compared A versus B, B versus C, and so on. A lot of the time there will not be a lot of parity comparisons.

A lot of people start to think, “Wouldn’t there be some nice way to summarize the evidence, so we can take all 25 treatments and say which ones are the better ones and the best one?” The statisticians went to work. They made a statistical methodology that compares A versus B and through C.

A versus C shows a big effect. B versus C shows no effect. A is probably better than C. These statistical methods have been around a decade or more. It is early in the game in terms of a new statistical approach.

So, there is lots of work going on now. A few years ago, 2014, maybe, it became very evident that the GRADE approach was needed with NMAs. When we first came up with the initial GRADE guidelines in 2004, it was based on dozens, perhaps hundreds, of examples that we applied GRADE.

It was pretty solid right from the beginning. With respect to this NMA, GRADE guidance was needed, but we hadn’t applied this in nearly so many vases. But we did offer it. Since then, as a result, we knew it was going to happen.

As we applied it more and more, we have refined guidance. There are, at least, 3 other articles out that provide updates and refinement to the GRADE applied to NMA. Bottom line, we have this new statistical approach.

It raises challenges for deciding on the quality and certainty of the evidence, to which GRADE has responded.

Jacobsen: When we’re talking about antioxidants and coffee, and the users thereof, those who come out healthier when using them. Rather than general statements, has or could NMA with a GRADE approach tell us in more detail? They exercise. They eat better, etc.

Guyatt: Probably not, or we’d be no further ahead, then you’d say, “It is the exercise.” But maybe, it isn’t the exercise.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Guyatt: The people who exercise are different than the people who don’t exercise is a whole host of ways in a similar way it is harder to do it.

6. Jacobsen: What are some of the next steps in making the research more precise?

Guyatt: The next step is to realize that sometimes: you never know. This is one of those times that we will never know. We may not like that. But we argue, “Better to recognize the best evidence you have is low-quality than to pretend you know when you don’t know.”

7. Jacobsen: [Laughing] would that be a good principle moving forward with intellectual humility, the old one?

Guyatt: Yes, I think so.

8. Jacobsen: [Laughing] so, we are in the end of the year. We did a review of some of the work being done for you. What are we looking forward to in 2020 in terms of some of the next steps in terms of the research?

Guyatt: In research in general, there are thousands of things ongoing. Immediately coming to mind is the work my colleague P.J. Devereaux is doing with perioperative medicine. It is really exciting and might make a big difference.

It has to do with monitoring after surgery. So, I think I told you at that last conversation that the complications of anesthesia have gone down 100-fold since the start. The reason: you have an anesthesiologist sitting by the bedside monitoring every aspect of the condition.

As soon as he or she notice something wrong on the monitor, they are able to react immediately. Then the patient finishes in the O.R. All these monitors are taken off. Then they go to a ward, where a nurse may look after them once every few hours.

We go from this intense monitoring reducing complications by 100-fold to in essence an unmonitored situation. So, we’ve eliminated – not eliminated – or next to eliminated bad things happening in the O.R.

Once people are in the O.R., bad things start to happen. What potentially allows us to do something is the changes in technology, which is relatively inexpensive, and allows people to wear these things for a long time, it may be that instead of walking around checking this patient, that patient, the next patient.

By the end of 8 hours, you have checked all the patients, but the first patient hasn’t been checked for an hour. The nurses can sit at the nurses’ station with the monitors in front of them. After 10 minutes, they can look at the monitors and then go back to the first monitor. In a much, much, much shorter period of time, you can pick up when something is wrong.

You can call the doctor. There are a number of actions that can be taken. I think that really could change the picture. Maybe, not quite in the same way with monitoring with the anesthesiologist with the bedside, but a lot; also, as it turns out, according to P.J. Devereaux’s research, 30% of the bad things that happen, like deaths, after surgery happen after people go home.

A surprising thing, I think most of us were surprised at that finding. Solution, they keep wearing the monitors when the bad events happen. So, I think P.J. says, “I want to cut post-operative mortality in half.”

He might just pull it off.

It, of course, would be a gigantic event. That’s, maybe, in the world of people who I work with, the most exciting potential.

9. Jacobsen: You mentioned something as one subtext to that. When you have an anesthesiologist by the bedside of a patient, followed by a nurse, followed by a nurse checking the readouts, say, there’s an automation of some healthcare there.

Where does that borderline hit where you will still need someone like an anesthesiologist or someone like a nurse to do consistent monitoring of a patient in those cases?

Guyatt: Always, until, we can teach patients to monitor themselves. There will always have to be someone who can understand the outputs.

10. Jacobsen: Any developments on the technology side that you know that are making things even more deep into that field?

Guyatt: The short answer is: what I know about all of this is what P.J. Devereaux has told me, so, the details are there. Certainly, the thing will go, “Beep! Beep! Beep!”, when something is not good. But [Laughing] someone will have to look at the thing if there is a problem.

11. Jacobsen: To any prospective medical students, they will look for various experts in different areas, or take advice. You have been doing this your whole professional life. Let’s take a note from a veteran.

What do prospective medical students need to know and have going into medical school?

Guyatt: I would like to think that they would, ideally, have a fair bit of intellectual curiosity, and they, ideally, would genuinely care about other people. One way to put it: if you cannot treat every patient as if it is your mother or father, of someone who you dearly care about, perhaps, medicine isn’t the right career for you.

The caring about people and being ready to make some degree of always putting the patient above, “It is late in the day. It is time to get for dinner. I do not feel like getting up early this morning,” or taking a short cut is tempting.

It is to care enough that you would put the patient first. I don’t know. That is the prime attribute that I would like to see.

12. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Guyatt.

Guyatt: Alright, good!

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Distinguished Professor, Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, McMaster University; Co-Founder, Evidence-Based Medicine.

[2] Individual Publication Date: December 15, 2019: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five) [Online].December 2019; 21(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2019, December 15). An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A, December. 2019. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A (December 2019). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 21.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 21.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 21.A (2019):December. 2019. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Distinguished University Professor Gordon Guyatt, OC, FRSC on Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake, Smoking, Antioxidants, NMAs Combined with GRADE (Part Five) [Internet]. (2019, December 21(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/guyatt-five.

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In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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