Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Maintaining a Sense of Perspective and Proportionality During the COVID-19 Pandemic



I thought long and hard about posting something about the current pandemic. The flurry of social media posts about the subject often add to the confusion and panic rather helping and adding clarity. So it is with some hesitation that I post this blog entry. But I decided to write and post my thoughts here on my blog so I can reflect back on them later, when the dust has settled a bit, and see if my thoughts and insights were on or off target, etc.

Before we narrow in on the effort to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 specifically, let us start with a “big picture” perspective on some of the mortality risks human populations face in general in this precarious world of ours.

I suggest we start by acknowledging the realities of 3 very common causes of mortality- cancer, cardiovascular disease and traffic accidents.

Last year in the world approximately 10 million people died of cancer. The vast majority of people who died of cancer were older persons (age ≥ 60). Some of these deaths could have been prevented (but arguably not avoided completely) by smoking cessation, cleaner air, better diet and more exercise, early detection, and more effective cancer treatments.

Heart disease and stroke killed approximately 17 million people last year. Again, the vast majority of people who died from CVDs were older persons (age ≥ 60). Some of these deaths could have been prevented (but arguably not avoided completely) by smoking cessation, cleaner air, better diet and more exercise, early detection and more effective treatments.

Road traffic accidents cause over a million deaths worldwide every year. Some of these deaths could be prevented by improvements in vehicle design/safety, road infrastructure and driving regulations (preventing impaired driving) etc.

Cancers, CVDs and traffic accidents can overwhelm any country’s healthcare resources if they are not sufficiently funded and developed. Suffering a stroke, developing cancer, or getting into a serious car accident, can be a sentence to a premature death for people that live in countries that lack the medical expertise and resources to help these patients. But even in the most affluent countries, lengthy waits for seeing an oncologist or receiving cancer treatment means that many patients die before receiving the kind of diagnostics and treatments that could have possibly prolonged their lives. This happens every single day, everywhere in the world (though it is obviously a more pronounced problem in less affluent countries, and for less affluent citizens within richer countries).

What I note above are simply facts about the world today. I do not think they are particularly contentious statements. But pointing them out, and reflecting upon them, is, I believe, helpful because they remind us of the reality that, in a world with suffering and disadvantage and limited resources, rationing, priority setting and trade-offs are inevitable.

A sage society will (1) take empirically-informed, cost-effective measures to try to mitigate the risks of preventable suffering, disease, disability and death. And a sage society will also (2) pursue the fair distribution of the treatments needed to alleviate these disadvantages once they are manifest.

Now let us add a new unknown risk into this complex mix- COVID 19 , a newly discovered coronavirus.

There are over 1415 species of infectious organisms have been identified as causing disease in humans. And the discovery of COVID-19 adds yet one more to this list. As a newly discovered virus it raises many uncertainties (e.g. about its transmission and mortality risks, and the possibility of developing a new vaccine or treatment) and this uncertainty is what makes it such a significant public health threat.

The evidence to date suggests that most people infected with COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. This is good news. However older persons and those with comorbidities (such as cancer and diabetes) will be at risk of developing more serious illness, including death.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. At the moment, there are no vaccines or treatments for this new infectious disease.

How does the health threat posed by COVID-19 compare to the flu? In the US, for example, the flu season from October 2019 to March 14th brought the following:

38,000,000 – 54,000,000 flu illnesses
17,000,000 – 25,000,000 flu medical visits
390,000 – 710,000 flu hospitalizations
23,000 – 59,000 flu deaths



The seasonal incidence of influenza is often approximated as 5%–20%

How many people will get COVID-19? And what is it’s death rate? These are very important questions, with lots of conflicting information and (for now at least) some unknowns. How many people will be infected in a given population will depend, in large part, and how soon and effective protective measures (e.g. social distancing, closing schools, quarantines for those infected or at higher risk (travel)) were in place. And the reported death rates for COVID-19 vary. This study suggests it has a death rate of about 1.4% (at least in China).

In the US, the flu has a reported death rate of approximately 0.1%. Many experts suggest that COVID-19 is 10 times as lethal as the flu. And that statistic alone demonstrates why it is a significant threat to population health.

As noted on my blog all the back in 2006, rational decision-making is much harder to achieve when ignorance and emotions reign supreme. We have seen two extremes of the emotional response to COVID-19 domestically in Canada. People hoarding supplies (like face masks and toilet paper) at the panicked end of the spectrum, and people socializing (in violation of the prescriptions of social distancing and self-isolation) as if there was no reason to alter their behaviours at all at the apathetic/aloof end of the spectrum. These behaviours show us that we, as a culture, were unprepared for this pandemic (despite the repeated warnings from epidemiologists that a major pandemic in the future was a certainty).

My observations of this episode to date has lead me to two general conclusions. The conclusions concern the complexities of the trade-offs involved in navigating policy decision making about COVID-19. My second conclusion is that I believe this pandemic will teach us some harsh learning lessons, lessons that, if we take seriously, will lead to important benefits in the future in terms of helping us be better prepared for the next pandemic.

Conclusion #1:

COVID-19 makes vivid the reality of the complexity of trade-offs that must be managed when implementing public health measures. Social distancing, self-isolation, travel bans, closing non-essential businesses, etc. all impose significant economic burdens on a society. Some pundits argue that we shouldn’t spare any costs to prevent potential COVID-19 deaths, but that is certainly not the attitude we take to any other cause of mortality- cancer, CVDs, traffic accidents, violence, suicide, the flu, etc. Some degree of cost-effectiveness has to be figured into the equation, if for no other reason than the reality that imposing financial hardship (e.g. unemployment) or fixating so much on COVID-19 can have significant health and economic risks for the population. We may inadvertently increase different risks of harm by trying to mitigate the risks of COVID-19. Bottom line, there must be a sense of proportionality and an awareness of the need for reasonable trade-offs of different sorts.

Furthermore, this pandemic also raises the complex issue of how we balance the trade-off between liberty and public health. Quarantining infected patients until they are no longer infected is one thing, but how far can/should the state go in terms of recommending/compelling isolation for those with no symptoms of the infection? Authoritarian regimes do not make individual autonomy and liberty a priority, and thus they might be able to implement more effective preventative measures than free and democratic societies. Does this mean liberal democracies should consider sacrificing liberties like freedom of mobility to help guard against higher infection rates? And how long can a government realistically expect the citizenry to comply with self-isolation directives before they will defy them. Humans are social beings, and cannot be locked up indefinitely before mental health, and even potential civil unrest, because real and significant problems. Just the fear of a potential lockdown itself leads to panic buying, which then exacerbates the predicament.

I believe history will judge a liberal democracy’s response to COVOID-19 along three distinct measures- the potential deaths we averted/could have averted by the measures we did /did not pursue, the economic costs of those measures, and the potential costs to liberty.

The sage response to COVID is to avoid treating any one of these 3 measures as “sacred values”- values that are inviolable and cannot be balanced against other pressing societal goals and aspirations. Yes we all want to survive this pandemic, but we also want to remain an economically sustainable society and a free society. The key is to find the reasonable balance, and that is not easy when there is so much uncertainty as there is at present. When we look back in history we will be judged by all 3 of these measures- did we save lives? Did we do so in a fiscally responsible way? And did we respect people as free and autonomous social agents?


Conclusion #2:


I conclude by noting what I think are some of the potential positives that might emerge from this pandemic:

(1) At the level of individual citizens, an improved preparedness for future pandemics. So less non-compliance with measures like social distancing, less hoarding of supplies, less irrational fear, etc.
(2) A boost in R&D for vaccines and treatments for infectious disease
(3) Greater collaboration between countries (e.g. travel bans, etc.) and within countries (e.g. states/provinces) in responding to infectious disease threats.

Cheers,
Colin


Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Liberated Mind Blog Review (part 2)

This is part two of my review of The Liberated Mind (part 1 is here). For this post I will cover elements of chapters 6-11.

Hayes starts chapter 6 by noting a flaw that many people make in life- they believe they must always be happy. This is not possible, nor is it a healthy expectation or mindset to have about life. The message of acceptance theory is that “life can be a rich journey, even with its sorrows”. This resonates with me personally as I can recall back when I was a young teen I encountered the insight captured by Robert Frost in his poem “The Road Not Taken”. This poem describes a fork in the road, two paths one could take in life. One path, the easier of the two, is well trodden as most travelers choose the path of least resistance. But Frost decides to take the more burdensome path, the poem concludes:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Having grown up in a household that took athleticism very seriously (my father was an Olympic athlete), the message of leaning into (versus try to avoid) adversity/failure/challenges was something I internalized from a young age. Hayes notes that our culture teaches us to deny or expunge difficult thoughts and emotions. This message resonates with our strong “fight or flight” instincts. But those instincts, which are adaptations that evolved to help guard us against physical threats in the external world, can become maladaptive when reacting to the internal experiences of our mind (e.g. pain and emotions). We are prone to engage in behaviours that protect us from these unpleasant feelings. Hayes notes:

So often, when life is not going well, it’s because we are doing things that give us smaller, sooner benefits at the expense of larger, later ones. The instant gratification of avoidance tricks us into trading away our future. In healthy development, our short-term gains fit with our long-term aims. So the trick is to use our capacity for symbolic thought to choose the short-term behaviours that will lead to the much richer later rewards that come from persisting even when the short-term steps are hard. (97)

Hayes emphasizes the value of the messages inside our pain (messages we don’t hear when hiding from pain). He details his own personal experience of a childhood memory of hearing his parents fighting. Revisiting these painful memories permitted Hayes to cultivate a sense of self-compassion for that little boy- for himself. There was meaning in those painful childhood memories and this helped him understand the roots of his own anxiety. And his desire to vanquish anxiety had prevented him from feeling a deep connection with his original purpose of becoming a psychologist- “I had wanted to do something about people’s suffering. This was not a decision of the head- it was one of the heart” (102). To avoid acknowledging and addressing his childhood pain Hayes instead focused very heavily on professional achievement.

One of the most significant insights from this chapter is that *we hurt where we care*. Attending to painful emotions and feelings is thus extremely important for our self-understanding, something that is stifled when we avoid pain and try instead to distract ourselves with the pursuit of persistent happiness.

In Chapter 7 titled “Committing to a New Course” Hayes details the importance of why Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is called – ACT… “at the end of the day, we are what we do and why we do it” (108). Values are an essential feature of making the critical pivots detailed by ACT. Hayes notes that values are not goals (achievements we are done with once completed), but instead are “chosen qualities of being and doing”. And a critical feature of the liberated mind is that we must make the “values pivot” to turn away from socially compliant or avoidant goals towards those values we have chosen as “our values”.

In Chapter 8 Hayes describes (p. 134) the “Life Compass”, which involves us describing what we really want in the following life domains:

Work
Intimate Relationships
Parenting and children
Education
Environment
Friends
Physical well-being
Family
Spirituality
Aesthetics
Community
Recreation

Attention is then given to the “internal barriers” that stand in the way of us realizing the things we desire in those domains. For example, if one wanted to improve their physical well-being but kept procrastinating about going to the gym. Hayes notes that we must take an honest look at our coping strategies and evaluate whether they are actually means of avoidance and how such strategies are keeping us from making the kinds of progress we would like to make.

In Part 2 of the book Hayes details the avoidance techniques he was prone to utilize before successfully applying ACT in his own life. These included practicing relaxation techniques, trying to think more rationally, having a beer, taking tranquilizers, etc (146). He invites us to derive (in a non-blaming fashion) our own list of anxiety alleviating avoidance strategies and then to ask ourselves if we keep doing what we are doing, is it likely we would get what we are getting? The internal voice of the Dictator from Within might try to rationalize why we should continue with our avoidant habits, but Hayes replies by saying it is time to answer the question- who do you trust, that voice in your mind or your experience?

In Chapter 9 on "The First Pivot: Defusion- putting the mind on a lease" Hayes details a cognitive fusion questionnaire which can help us assess our cognitive flexibility. The chapter also contains a number of exercises (many somewhat amusing), such as disobeying on purpose (e.g. while walking say "I cannot walk around this room", and giving your mind a name and singing about our sticking thoughts). These will help us get some distance from, and perspective on, our judgmental thoughts. More advanced exercises include social sharing. These defusion techniques, Hayes contends, can help us find a sense of freedom and connectedness with others.

Chapter 10 covers my favourite topic- the self (and the art of perspective taking). Hayes draws a contrast between our "conceptualized self" (which is ego-driven) and the "transcendent self". As social primates, we deeply desire a sense of belonging, of being heard and included in a group. By when this sense of belonging is employed in the service of protecting our ego, it can prove to be unhealthy as we tell ourselves lies to protect our ego (e.g. that we are a victim). The key second pivot of cognitive flexibility is learning how to invest our desire for a sense of belonging towards the "transcendent self" vs the ego of the "conceptualized self". The transcendent self is the sense of self we are aware of when we engage in cognitive perspective taking. Hayes starts the chapter off by asking us to recall a childhood memory. Doing this helps connect us to our transcendent self, and Hayes details how ACT can help us connect with a deeper sense of self. These include:

1. applying defusion methods to undermine attachment to the conceptualized self. (175)
2. becoming aware that we can hold our thought in awareness (e.g. "I am not my thoughts")
3. cultivate habits of perspective-taking through exercises that involve shifting perspectives in time, place and person.
4. use this sense of self to build a healthy sense of belonging and interconnection with others.

The chapter details things like rewriting one's story. The point of doing such exercises is not to write a positive story (e.g. "I am a happy person" or "I have learned from all past mistakes"), but rather to become aware that we are always story-telling. "We are creating a narrative that is but one of many possible narratives" (182).

The next installment of this review should appear in about a month.

Cheers,
Colin



Friday, February 21, 2020

Podcast Interview

A recent podcast interview with Ben Charland:



Cheers,
Colin

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Review of A Liberated Mind (Blog Post #1)



This winter/spring I have organized a local reading group for 20 people interested in collectively working through the book A Liberated Mind by Steven Hayes. Here is his TedX talk.

I will post a number of substantive posts on here as I work my way through the book, to help frame some topics for that group discussion and to enable the other 120+ members of the Philosophy Meetup group interested in virtually following along with the reading group if they can’t attend in person.

So why read A Liberated Mind? I believe everyone could benefit from reading this book. The book will benefit those simply looking to live a more happy and meaningful life, as well as those who struggle with anxiety, rumination, stress, depression, loss, etc. In reality everyone is at risk of the latter, so following the insights and advice in this book could help prevent unnecessary human suffering by helping us better weather the adversity that life (inevitably) brings to each of us.

One distinctive feature of this book is that it is not simply another “self-help” book. Steven Hayes is one of the world’s most cited psychologists with over 40 books published and 500+ journal publications. He is the originator of ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), and the insights brought together in A Liberated Mind draw from over 1000 scientific studies on the effectiveness of ACT. In others words, this book is at the cutting edge of the science of personal growth and wellbeing. It is worthy of our serious attention, which I plan to do by posting a serious of blog posts on it over the coming months.

Let us begin with chapter 1 titled “The Need to Pivot”, which is a critical chapter in that it lays out the topics and terrain to follow.

Hayes starts by noting a paradox of the modern world— with all the advances that have been made to improve the quality of life for humans (e.g. reductions in mortality across the lifespan, improvements in material prosperity, democratization, greater toleration and inclusion, technological advances that make things more convenient, etc., etc. ) life should be getting so much easier for humans. And yet, sadly, this is not the case- “too many of us struggle to live meaningful, peaceful lives full of love and contribution” (3). Living longer lives does not mean we are living happier lives. The latter is the domain of the behavioural sciences.

Why is there this disconnect between the great strides of progress made on so many fronts, and the persistence of so much human suffering and anguish? Hayes’s answer is that the pace of changes in the external world have outpaced the changes to our internal (psychological) world. “We have not risen to the challenges of being human in the modern world” (4).

As technology has forged ahead, our culture and minds have not adjusted. For example, we walk around this world with high tech devices in our pockets that can connect us to countless humans with the touch of a button- connecting to work, to family, to potential new partners, to celebrities, to Presidents, etc. Our attention and energy can be intensely and dispersedly invested, but often at a cost of being present to what is around us in our actual physical environment, or how we are feeling internally.

A Liberated Mind encourages us to be aware of where our attention and energy is focused, and to harness our negative and positive thoughts to develop “more effective patterns of living and behaving, or being and doing”. Hayes notes that it takes time to resolve problems, there is no quick fix. However, he does maintain that we can “pivot” (change direction) quickly, with dramatic changes early on.

Chapter 2 is entitled “The Dictator Within”, Hayes details how our inner voice can try to help us escape, avoid or diminish anxiety. People can pursue chemical, cognitive, situational, emotional or behavioural tactics to do this. Hayes provides the following examples:

Trying to think more rationally
Practising relaxation tips
Have a beer
Joke
Overprepare
Distract yourself with music


Not all of these will strike us as obviously misguided, but Hayes argues that the problem with the Dictator from Within is that it sends a toxic message- that anxiety is your enemy and you must defeat it.

In Chapter 3 “Finding a Way Forward” Hayes details the history, and progress, of psychotherapeutic interventions- from Freud and existential therapy, to the "first wave" of behaviour therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. The “third wave” came, contends Hayes, with a central shift from the focus on *what* you think and feel to *how do you relate to* what you think and feel- “learning to step back from what you are thinking, notice it, and open up to what you are experiencing” (57).

Chapter 4 is “ Why Our Thoughts are so Automatic and Convincing”. The storytelling we tell ourselves, and others, is often distorted to protect our self-image. Suppose (these are my own examples, not Hayes's) someone was passed over for a new job they really wanted, or they were recently dumped by their partner, we might hear them invoke the following kinds of distortions when recounting these life developments:

“I didn’t really want that job”
“I didn’t get the job because of my age/gender/ethnicity, etc.”
“My partner left me for another person”
“I was completely blind-sided when my partner suddenly announced our relationship was over!”

Hayes lists the following types of distortions (p. 75-6) we tell when we lie:

-You leave the whole story out.
-You exaggerate, maybe just a little.
-You tweak details to be consistent with the image you want to convey.
- You deny hard truths.
- You ignore what doesn’t fit with your current story
.

So in my examples of the job and breakup, the person telling the distorted story might leave out details like the fact that, during the job interview, they couldn’t adequately answer questions about their competency or qualifications for the job. The jaded partner might neglect the reality that their partner had unmet needs in their relationship, needs the partner had repeatedly communicated to them until they eventually became so resentful they invested their emotional energies elsewhere and checked out of the relationship, etc.

Why do we lie? We want to be accepted by others, we compare ourselves to others, and the imperative to protect our self-image leads to many distortions in the stories we tell to ourselves and to others. The inner voice of the Dictator can reinforce these harmful stories we tell ourselves, thus stifling the development of the helpful thoughts and insights needed for psychological flexibility.

In Chapter 5, “The Problem with Problem Solving”, Hayes argues that the Dictator from Within can be quite the rule maker. These rules are often unconscious attempts to gain control over life circumstances that cause us anxiety. With a lengthy list of rigid rules to guide us, the adversity and unpredictability of life seems less daunting right?! Well this comes with a price- psychological rigidity. Hayes identifies what he calls the three C’s of inflexibility:

Confirmation effect: we distort our experiences to fit our rules.

Coherence effect: because an accurate assessment of the causes of a situation can be extremely complicated, our minds typically invoke grossly simplified explanations that fit our rules.

Compliance effect: we follow rules to earn social approval.


To help elucidate how these effects can create rigid rules that keep people from achieving what they really want, I will apply them to a hypothetical example of a divorcee (“Greg”) who has remained single for many years, but deep down he desires partnership and a healthy relationship. Despite this desire, Greg seems unable to commit to a new relationship because the Dictator from Within conspires to keep Greg in the safe zone of “you can’t get hurt again if you remain single!”

Greg’s unhealthy marriage ended 8 years ago. The divorce took a big toll on Greg, emotionally, physically and financially. This traumatic experience has lead to his Dictator from Within generating a few rules:

General Rule (the prime directive): Be very guarded about getting romantically involved with a new woman. You don’t want to get hurt again!

This “meta-rule” has lead to Greg internalizing a number of more specific rules in dating:

1. Don’t date anyone that lives in his hometown (Greg’s unconscious brain tells him “You can’t get too close to someone if they don’t live close to you!”)
2. Focus exclusively on physical, rather than emotional, intimacy in dating (Greg’s unconscious brain tells him “You can’t get your heart broken if you don’t have any emotional connections in dating!”)
3. Don’t date anyone for longer than 3 months! (Greg’s unconscious brain tells him “If things get too serious you will end up in another failed marriage. So put a stop to it, NOW!”)

Greg has internalized too many rules to list here …


When Greg repeats his pattern of pulling away from women in early dating he tells himself (as well as friends and family) many distortions and lies. When asked why he is still single, Greg’s answers track a number of “distortion effects”:

“There are no good singles in the dating pool!”
“The single life is too good to give up!”
“I am too busy with work!”

The distortions Greg engages in reflect the coherence effect. It is much simpler for Greg to explain why he has remained single for years by noting the constraints on the number of available single women, or the scarcity of free-time he has. But the reality of Greg’s circumstances are much more complex. He is not emotionally ready for a new relationship because he still has pain/guilt/trauma/etc. from his divorce he must attend to before being ready. And Greg’s insecure “attachment style” can be traced back to childhood experiences and the model of attention and care he internalized from his parents. Rather than face the unresolved emotional issues “from within”, Greg’s brain provides a simple casual explanation for his dating woes- limited dating pool, not enough time, etc. – explanations that requires no introspection and growth on his part.

And finally Greg’s brain is swayed by the compliance effect. He does (unwittingly) seek out the approval of others. When his parents ask why he has remained single for so many years he takes pride in saying “I am so busy focusing on work!” (and yet in reality Greg is unhappy and unfocused at work!). Signally his virtue of “industriousness” wins the approval of his family. But when talking to his single friends, Greg’s explanation for remaining single is “I am having too much fun living the bachelor life!” When among his single guy friends, Greg believes his womanizing ways wins him some respect. The three C’s work in tandem to keep Greg’s defences of self-protection in check, at the cost of his emotional maturity and growth (and, ultimately, finding a great partner and rewarding relationship).

That wraps up a summary of the first 5 chapters of A Liberated Mind. Next month I will post a review of the next 5 chapters of the book.

Cheers,
Colin

Saturday, January 25, 2020

New Article Forthcoming in Preventative Medicine



20 months ago I participated in a very informative, interdisciplinary workshop on human happiness and well-being at Harvard University. The conference organizers put all the brainstorming conclusions together to come up with some expansive, multi-disciplinary recommendations for measuring well-being. I was very delighted to learn today that the paper that came out of this project has been accepted for publication in Preventative Medicine.

This is the first time in my 20 year academic career that I have a journal publication that is not a single authored publication. Participating in this collaborative process was a fascinating learning experience for me. An edited book volume, with a new chapter contribution from me on positive biology and well ordered science, will also come out of this event in the next year or so.

Here is the abstract of the forthcoming article:

Measures of well-being have proliferated over the past decades. Very little guidance has been available as to which measures to use in what contexts. This paper provides a series of recommendations, based on the present state of knowledge and the existing measures available, of what measures might be preferred in which contexts. The recommendations came out of an interdisciplinary workshop on the measurement of wellbeing. The recommendations are shaped around the number of items that can be included in a survey, and also based on the differing potential contexts and purposes of data collection such as, for example, government surveys, or multi-use cohort studies, or studies specifically about psychological well-being. The recommendations are not intended to be definitive, but to stimulate discussion and refinement, and to provide guidance to those relatively new to the study of well-being.


Cheers,
Colin

Monday, January 06, 2020

CRISPR-baby Scientist Receives Prison Sentence

Nature reports on the latest development in the CRISPR-baby case:

A Chinese court has sentenced He Jiankui, the biophysicist who announced that he had created the world’s first gene-edited babies, to three years in prison for “illegal medical practice”, and handed down shorter sentences to two colleagues who assisted him. The punishments put to rest speculation over whether the Chinese government would bring criminal charges for an act that shocked the world, and are likely to deter others from similar behaviour, say Chinese scientists.


Cheers,
Colin

Monday, December 23, 2019

2019 Year in Review



As another year wraps up I am feeling reflective and will offer a brief summary of my 2019 in review.

Academically, I was very pleased to have this paper come out in print in Rejuvenation Research. The argument is that senescence poses one of the most significant threats to human freedom this century.

I also have 4 different book chapters finished this year that will be out in print next year. One is on the topic of the ethics of memory modification for soldiers to reduce the risks of PTSD, the second on positive biology and well-ordered science, the third a critique of Rawls and ideal theory, and the fourth a virtue epistemological account of toleration. So it has been a year of spreading myself intellectually, covering different topics from different theoretical perspectives. Fun stuff!

It was also a very busy year for me with teaching. I taught just over 600 undergraduates and approximately 20 graduate students in 2019. I taught in all 3 semesters this year, offering a graduate course in the School of Policy Studies in the spring/summer term in addition to my regular 2/2 load in the fall and winter terms.

It was also a very successful first year for the Philosophy Meetup Kingston group I launched last December. Within a year membership grew to 130 members! Over the past year I organized over 30 events. We had vibrant debates on the following topics: the Happy Life vs the Meaningful Life, Death and the Ethics of Assisted Dying, Immortality, Trump will be impeached, The Evolution of the Adult Self, Future Generations, Justice, Food, Punishment, Personal Identity, Luck, Religion, Democracy and the Trolley Problem.

In addition to the Philosophy Meetup Group, I also launched a new Men's social support Meetup group, which meets monthly and currently has 17 members. This group has been a very positive influence in my life as well.

This year I also ran, for the 5th straight year, my Political Philosophy Discussion Group for male inmates over the summer months. As always it was a deeply enriching experience. We debated the issues of justice, civil disobedience, punishment, the state of nature and human nature.

It has been just over a year since the passing of my father, the most avid reader of this blog. The first year of grieving his passing has been a catalyst for reflection and personal growth. My relationship with him continues, I always hear his voice in my head encouraging me to tackle new projects and develop new ideas. But I miss his presence dearly. I have come to an emotional place in the grieving process where I feel gratitude, peace and loss, all simultaneously.

What are my plans for 2020? I hope to make some serious headway on a major research project that has been in the works for the past 5 years- a new book on play and a realistic utopia. Having now completed a lengthy list of disparate invited contributions, I intend to devote the bulk of my research energies to the study of the biology of play, utopian political thought, and positive psychology. Looking forward to a new year! All the best to everyone.

Cheers,
Colin