Obscured by clouds being unavailable, Febble has kindly stepped into the breach. Thanks, Febble!
How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?
I had been an active participant in other online communities, including Daily Kos and Democratic Underground, and became embroiled in the controversy over the 2004 US presidential election – in particular, whether the exit polls, which showed Kerry ahead, indicated that the election had been massively hacked. The topic came up in the Science and Skepticism forum on IIDB, and Don Alhambra, with whom I shared a lab, roped me in. And it was such a glorious change to discover an internet community where people actually listened to evidence and argument and weighed them up, instead of coming to the conclusion they wanted and then picking the evidence to suit. Then I moved into the Evolution/Creation forum, and couldn’t believe the sheer density of scientific expertise, from so many fields, that was on tap.
What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?
I still occasionally post at DKos and DemocraticUndeground (especially if exit polls come up), but mostly at Rants n’ Raves, and now at Talk Rational. I’m interested in biological and neuroscience topics, but also in philosophy and religion. And I can’t resist wading in when people make bad statistical arguments.
If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?
That’s a difficult choice, but if it was a really interesting tropical island, I’d have to go for someone who knew a bit about biology. So I think I’d pick Oolon Colluphid, who isn’t a biologist as such but knows a heck of a lot of interesting stuff, and could also maybe teach me Greek if we were stuck there for long enough. And someone sane and sensible and practical who could organize shelter and rescue would be good, so I’d pick Christina Mirabilis, and she’s fun too. And then it would be good to have someone I could have interesting arguments with, which could be any one of a great many people, but I think the bottle is going to point to….His Noodly Appendage. Because he has the least tolerance for bullshit of anyone I’ve ever met.
Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?
Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter. David B got me to read Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves about a year ago, and it literally changed my life. I changed from dualist to monist half-way through the book. Then I read I am a Strange Loop by Hofstadter, and found it both inspiring and moving.
What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?
I don’t know about verse, but the story of the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians is horrible. There are more horrible stories in the bible, but religious people actually seem to think that one is uplifting somehow. I was very proud of my three year old when he was disgusted by it.
If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?
That you need to believe in God to behave morally.
Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?
Well, I like the IPU because she is self-contradictory, being both pink and invisible. Any self-respecting deity has to both exist and be non-demonstrable.
So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?
I’m a post-doctoral researcher in cognitive neuroscience, investigating inhibitory control of action in ADHD, using EEG and fMRI, and computational modelling. I used to be a musician, though, so I still do some playing (what’s called “early music” – I play the viola da gamba). And we just bought a narrowboat, so I’m hoping we will be spending lots of weekends chugging along the inland waterways of England at 3 mph.
What’s your favourite book, and why?
That’s difficult, because I have so many books I love to return to. But I think I’ll pick Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I find something new to think about every time I read them, and yet the plot rattles along and keeps me turning the pages even though I know exactly what happens next.
What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?
Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (the entire opera). I know it by heart, because when I was a secondary school music teacher I put it on once, and memorized every part. On long journeys I sing the whole thing, arias and choruses, dances and overtures, although I feel a bit silly at traffic lights, and have to hum.
What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?
Get the papers from my PhD published!
What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?
Single malt whisky, preferably Islay. I don’t know about the table, but it doesn’t take much to put me out for the night.
Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?
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