Friday, August 07, 2009

Research Statement (2009)

Every now and then it is useful for a scholar to reflect upon the general direction of their research. This can be done by linking related themes and concerns to help get some "perspective" on the value and importance of the questions that one is trying to answer, considering new directions one might take things in the future, and help one keep track of new ideas and resources worth investigating. I find this exercise very useful in terms of helping to keep my "enthusiasm for research" batteries fully charged! What follows is a statement of the direction of my current and future research.

More than 2000 years ago Aristotle described politics as a normative practical science. He believed that politics was the most authoritative of all the sciences (prescribing which sciences ought to be studied) because the central concern of politics is the good of humans. This ancient conception of the discipline inspires my current research which integrates ethics and political philosophy with the empirical findings of evolutionary biology, genetics and psychology. Aspiring to help bridge the gap between the biological sciences and political theory, I am primarily interested in how our species’ evolutionary history impacts (for better and worse) our ability to flourish, as both individuals and collectively as societies. Two general (related) topics encapsulate this research:

(1) Our susceptibility to late-life morbidity and mortality.

The leading cause of disease and death in the world today is evolutionary neglect. Because the force of natural selection does not apply to the post-reproductive period of the human lifespan, aged persons are highly susceptible to the chronic diseases of aging, like cancer, heart disease and stroke. In an aging world perhaps no other field of scientific research is as important to the health prospects of today’s populations as biogerontology. This science might enable us to eventually modify the biological clocks we have inherited from our Darwinian past, thus permitting humans to enjoy more years of disease-free life. My research focuses on the social and political obstacles that impede aging research and the aspiration to decelerate the rate of aging. Some published work of mine on these topics include:

“Towards a More Inclusive Vision of the Medical Sciences” QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 2009.

“Has the Time Come to Take on Time Itself?” British Medical Journal, 2008

“Aging Research, Priorities and Aggregation” Public Health Ethics, 2008

A Tale of Two Strategies: The Moral Imperative to Tackle AgeingNature’s EMBO Reports, 2008.

And this video expresses my position on this topic:

video

(2) Our potential for happiness.

Political scientists have long asked the question: "Why vote?" But this question presupposes a more fundamental question: "Why do anything?" This latter question requires us to consider what kind of animal humans are. The ultimate (or evolutionary) causes of human behaviour have typically been ignored by political scientists who invoke rational choice theory or focus on the proximate causes of political behaviour. My interest in these topics seeks to integrate political theory with the recent findings of evolutionary biology and positive psychology. Aristotle argued that we are a "political" animal; and Socrates famously claimed that "the unexamined life is not worth living". I believe these sage insights from Ancient Greece actually possess a great deal of empirical plausibility. And my current research explores the similarities between love, play and politics, the goal of which is to help bring to the fore the different range of activities, relationships, institutions, habits and dispositions that a good society ought to cultivate and celebrate if it is to flourish in the twenty-first century. Useful sources that I am utilizing in this research include:

Stuart Brown, Play (see this video)

Barbara Fredrickson, Positivity (also see this video)

Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness (see this video)

Dan Gilbert, Stumbling On Happiness

Josiah Ober, Democracy and Knowledge

John Dewey, Democracy and Education

And the new field of "genopolitics"

In this video I outline the importance of play:

video

So in the spirit of Aristotle's prescriptive vision of politics, I try to make a compelling case for the importance of two new areas of scientific research- (1) the science of aging; and (2) the science of happiness . The knowledge yielded by biogerontology and positive psychology could help us dramatically improve the health and wellbeing of all. And I believe these goals ought to be among our top priorities.

Cheers,
Colin