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Interview with Benoit Desjardins

2023-01-06

Author(s): Benoit Desjardins & Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/09 (Issue #208)

Abstract

Professor Benoit Desjardins, MD, PhD, FAHA, FACR is an Ivy League academic physician and scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Mega Society, the OlympIQ Society and past member of the Prometheus Society. He is the designer of the cryptic Mega Society logo. He is member of several scientific societies and a Fellow of the American College of Radiology and of the American Heart Association. He is the co-Founder of the Arrhythmia Imaging Research (AIR) lab at Penn. His research is funded by the National Institute of Health. He is an international leader in three different fields: cardiovascular imaging, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. He discusses: growing up; extended self; family background; youth with friends; education; purpose of intelligence tests; high intelligence; extreme reactions to geniuses; greatest geniuses; genius and a profoundly gifted person; necessities for genius or the definition of genius; work experiences and jobs held; job path; myths of the gifted; God; science; tests taken and scores earned; range of the scores; ethical philosophy; political philosophy; metaphysics; worldview; meaning in life; source of meaning; afterlife; life; and love; father; financial stability over artistic fulfillment; French-Canadian Catholic culture; not a very religious family; the priest who cursed the family; the wife, kids, and happy marriage of 34 years; “Pure Mathematics, Artificial Intelligence, Formal Philosophy (Logic), and Theoretical Physics”; a big Fellowship from the Canadian Medical Research Council; an M.D. degree, a PhD degree, half a dozen Masters; the scores on the Mega Test and the Titan Test; the pluses and minuses of the Mega Society; the feud between ‘Mega Society East’/ Mega Foundation of Christopher Langan and Dr. Gina Langan and the Mega Society decades ago; the most entertaining test; a recluse prior to and in some of high school; the smartest person; the most creative person; a hacker and cybersecurity specialist; VPNs and encrypted email systems; the highest paid position or specialization in medicine; God as an invention; a social democracy like Canada; Tim Roberts stuff; 5-sigma intelligence; more forceful with the recommendations to patients; advancements in medicine; greater value of the state; metaphysics; post-positivism; scientific theories; “Grand Challenges”; funeral; remembered; hopes for your children; and the community of the high-I.Q.; fonder memories; areas of specialization; pure mathematics; Atheism; some of the influences on this atheism; the Catholic high school education; children’s and your wife’s association with spirituality and religion; each of the degrees’ subject matter; the OSCP test; Prof. Tao; da Vinci; physicians; Canadian society; hacked; religion; education in critical thinking; and American scientific illiteracy.

Keywords: academic physician, Benoit Desjardins, intelligence, Mega Society, science, University of Pennsylvania.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When you were growing up, what were some of the prominent family stories being told over time?

Dr. Benoit Desjardins: Nothing interesting. A very ordinary family, trying to stay afloat financially. I found out on my wedding day that my father was adopted, which added mystery to the family for the first time in my life. But I chose not to investigate further out of respect for his wishes.

Jacobsen: Have these stories helped provide a sense of an extended self or a sense of the family legacy?

Desjardins: No, not much of a legacy. My family history did, however, make me prioritize financial stability as one of my main goals in life.

Jacobsen: What was the family background, e.g., geography, culture, language, and religion or lack thereof?

Desjardins: French Canadian, catholic, I grew up in Montreal. I was a first-generation college student, although I never really attended college and was fast-tracked directly to medical school and graduate school. We were not a very religious family. A priest had cursed my mother to get a physically disabled child when she was pregnant with me because she missed mass, and my parents then dissociated from the church. I was fortunately not born with any handicaps.

Jacobsen: How was the experience with peers and schoolmates as a child and an adolescent?

Desjardins: Not great. I was not good with human interaction. I was a bit of a recluse, although I did attend school but did not have many friends. I went to an all-boys high school. I only became comfortable interacting with girls a few years after high school. Now I have a wife and kids. Happily married for 34 years.

Jacobsen: What have been some professional certifications, qualifications, and trainings earned by you?

Desjardins: My path was unusual. I was fast-tracked to medical school in Canada because of my exceptional intellectual abilities, skipping college. But medical school did not satisfy me intellectually. So, after medical school, I received a very prestigious Award to pursue four simultaneous graduate degrees in the US, combining Pure Mathematics, Artificial Intelligence, Formal Philosophy (Logic), and Theoretical Physics. I called this my “intellectual interlude”. I then completed the medical curriculum (internship, residency, fellowship) to earn a living as an academic physician. So, I have an MD degree, a PhD degree, half a dozen Masters, and medical post-graduate training certificates. I also completed several additional certifications on the side, like recent certifications in hacking and cybersecurity. I love to learn new things, and these certifications force me to learn new fields very thoroughly.

Jacobsen: What is the purpose of intelligence tests to you?

Desjardins: Their purpose is to attempt to evaluate intelligence. I just take those tests for fun as I love to solve complicated problems.

Jacobsen: When was high intelligence discovered for you?

Desjardins: It was in high school since I was pretty much a recluse before that.

Jacobsen: When you think of the ways in which the geniuses of the past have either been mocked, vilified, and condemned if not killed, or praised, flattered, platformed, and revered, what seems like the reason for the extreme reactions to and treatment of geniuses? Many alive today seem camera shy – many, not all.

Desjardins: It usually depends on the mindset of the society in which they live. If it is not open to new ideas or non-traditional ideas, geniuses get vilified, sometimes imprisoned (e.g., Galileo), or killed (e.g., Socrates). On the other hand, if it values new ideas and risk-takers, geniuses get praised or platformed (e.g., Gates, Jobs, Musk).

Jacobsen: Who seem like the greatest geniuses in history to you?

Desjardins: One hundred billion humans ever lived on Earth, so out of those, there were quite a few geniuses throughout history. Here are a few: Socrates, Galileo, da Vinci, Einstein, Darwin, Newton, Aristotle, Turing.

Jacobsen: What differentiates a genius from a profoundly intelligent person?

Desjardins: Extreme creativity and long-term focused effort characterize genius. Profoundly intelligent people are much more common, and most don’t amount to much in life.

Jacobsen: Is profound intelligence necessary for genius?

Desjardins: Profound intelligence is usually a left-brain process. Extreme creativity is usually a right-brain process. So no, it’s not necessary.

Jacobsen: What have been some work experiences and jobs held by you?

Desjardins: The main path I followed is that of an Ivy League academic physician and scientist. But I have always pursued multiple sidelines in parallel. For example, one of my current sidelines is being a hacker and a cybersecurity specialist.

Jacobsen: Why pursue this particular job path?

Desjardins: Early in my life, I sought an intellectually challenging career, which generated good financial security income. However, I quickly realized that such a career did not exist or was very difficult to find. So, I decided to pursue two careers in parallel. I picked academic medicine to generate income and pursued many other activities in parallel to provide an intellectual challenge.

Jacobsen: What are some of the more important aspects of the idea of the gifted and geniuses? Those myths that pervade the cultures of the world. What are those myths? What truths dispel them?

Desjardins: There are many myths. For example, the myth that gifted people always do well in school. But, unfortunately, the structure of the education system is not always appropriate for many geniuses, who either do poorly in school or drop out (e.g., Einstein).

Jacobsen: Any thoughts on the God concept or gods idea and philosophy, theology, and religion?

Desjardins: God was an invention of prehistoric man to explain what he could not understand. Eventually, science explained more and more and made God and religion irrelevant. As for philosophy, it is a field that helps sharpen critical thinking, analysis, and writing. Therefore, everyone should take courses in philosophy, unless one aims for a job not requiring much thinking, like a farmer or a US congressman.

Jacobsen: How much does science play into the worldview for you?

Desjardins: I earn a living as a physician and scientist, so much of my worldview is based on science.

Jacobsen: What have been some of the tests taken and scores earned (with standard deviations) for you?

Desjardins: I took the Mega test and Titan test in the mid-1990s for fun. My scores on those were good enough to qualify for membership to the Mega Society. Whether they are appropriate tests to measure very high IQs is still an open question, but all similar tests face the same problems. I probably have taken other tests as a kid, but I don’t remember much. I also do puzzles and quizzes whenever they come up, such as Tim Roberts quizzes, and I usually finish first at most of them.

Jacobsen: What is the range of the scores for you? The scores earned on alternative intelligence tests tend to produce a wide smattering of data points rather than clusters, typically.

Desjardins: High enough to qualify for membership in the Mega Society. Narrow range, around five-sigma.

Jacobsen: What ethical philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Desjardins: I take a little bit from each of the main ethical philosophies, depending on the context. Deontological ethics mainly guides physicians, but a utilitarian approach often makes more sense to me.

Jacobsen: What social philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Desjardins: I value the “Live and let live” social philosophy with a set of practical constraints. As long as people’s behavior does not harm others, does not harm the environment, and does not harm the social fabric, let people do what they want to do. If they’re going to hurt themselves, it’s their choice. You can always provide them with the best possible advice to help them realize the consequences of their actions, but in the end, it’s their choice. Physicians use that approach a lot. For example, we inform patients who drink too much or do drugs about the consequences of their actions, and if they chose to continue, it’s not our role to forcibly stop them from harming themselves.

Jacobsen: What economic philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Desjardins: Well, I cannot tolerate the cruelty and exploitative nature of predatory capitalism in the US. I instead value any economic system that provides people with the means to achieve their goals in life and reap the benefits of their hard work while at the same time providing a robust social net to prevent people from falling through the cracks. Canada, where I grew up, is a social democracy that provides all these features and makes sense to me from an economic perspective.

Jacobsen: What political philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Desjardins: I oscillate between social liberalism and social democracy, depending on the context. Their basic policies are often the same. I value the power of the state but do not value as much the power of unions.

Jacobsen: What metaphysics makes some sense to you, even the most workable sense to you?

Desjardins: I have a purely atheistic scientific view of the world, and I do not need metaphysics.

Jacobsen: What worldview-encompassing philosophical system makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Desjardins: As a scientist, post-positivism is the worldview philosophical system that makes the most sense to me. Reality is accessible through careful observation and scientific reasoning. Scientists make theories that can evolve, and they use observation to support or disprove a theory, knowing that all observations have a certain amount of error in them. Thus, science makes steady progress towards understanding reality.

Jacobsen: What provides meaning in life for you?

Desjardins: Three elements provide meaning to my life: my wife and kids, job and research work, and achievements. For the past few decades, I undertook a series of Grand Challenges outside work for personal growth and achievement. Each new Grand Challenge had to meet three conditions: (1) be something I had never done in my life, (2) enable me to grow as a person, and (3) have a well-defined end goal. I have pursued many such grand challenges, such as getting a Black Belt at Tae Kwon Do, earning a Wood Badge with Boy Scouts of America, becoming a pilot, becoming a competitive master marksman, etc.

Jacobsen: Is meaning externally derived, internally generated, both, or something else?

Desjardins: It’s both. In my case, my grand challenges are purely internally generated. However, other aspects such as wife and kids are externally generated.

Jacobsen: Do you believe in an afterlife? If so, why, and what form? If not, why not?

Desjardins: We either get cremated or eaten by worms and get recycled, currently into dirt, but eventually possibly into Soylent Green.

Jacobsen: What do you make of the mystery and transience of life?

Desjardins: Life is a beautiful thing. It appeared by itself out of nothing billions of years ago. It kept evolving until it produced Homo Sapiens, which could colonize and change the planet, and might eventually become interstellar. Science has taught us more and more about the mechanisms of life, so it’s becoming less mysterious with time. The transience of life is a good thing, as otherwise there would be 100 billion people living on Earth, 94 billion of them living in old people’s homes.

Jacobsen: What is love to you?

Desjardins: Love is an emotion that binds people to each other. I never thought of it more deeply or philosophically. But I express it regularly. For example, I’ve bought roses for my wife every month since we started dating, and I have not forgotten any monthly roses in the 37 years we have been together.

Jacobsen: Was there any lead-up to finding out about the adoption of your father? Or was it mentioned nonchalantly, almost casually, at the wedding?

Desjardins: My father’s sister was a troublemaker, so I did not invite her to the wedding. My father’s mother was angry about it and did not come to the wedding. My father was furious about these two absences, got drunk, and made the big reveal at the wedding.

Jacobsen: What career paths were considered for you, as you selected for financial stability over artistic fulfillment (or something else like this)?

Desjardins: I initially had planned a double career: one to generate income and one to provide intellectual fulfillment. I studied many combinations and assessed which were realistic. I was a hacker, so I strongly considered math & computer science for intellectual satisfaction and medicine to generate income. I was fast-tracked to medicine in Canada. Then I completed four simultaneous graduate degrees in the U.S. after I was awarded one of Canada’s most prestigious fellowships. It was challenging to do graduate-level training (especially in pure mathematics) without ever having done undergraduate training.

Jacobsen: How was French-Canadian Catholic culture in Montreal at the time – for family background?

Desjardins: It was fine when I grew up. Not a very big part of our lives. I already knew that I was an atheist at a very young age. The Quebec religious and cultural revolution had already happened, and religion was fading away in the province. I did attend a catholic high school but was never abused by any priest or teacher, probably because of my lack of sex appeal.

Jacobsen: When you say, “Not a very religious family,” what is “religious” in this sense?

Desjardins: We attended church at Christmas. I was baptized and did first communion and confirmation. I got married in a church. That was the limit of my family’s involvement with religion.

Jacobsen: For the priest who cursed the family to have a physically disabled child for missing Mass, this tells a bit about some of the church culture of the time. I will ad. In fact, you were born with prodigious intellectual capacities. The priest was very wrong. The Catholic God may vetoed or inverted the priest’s curse – so to speak. Any other stories, good or bad, with the church before leaving?

Desjardins: This happened before I was born. I have not heard of any other stories from my family.

Jacobsen: Congratulations on the wife, kids, and happy marriage of 34 years, what helps make for longevity in a marriage?

Desjardins: Always treat your wife like a queen, with unconditional love, and understand that nobody is perfect.

Jacobsen: Why select “Pure Mathematics, Artificial Intelligence, Formal Philosophy (Logic), and Theoretical Physics” as the simultaneous graduate degree path? Certainly, other disciplines may have been on the table for offer within the four-fold path. Just curious, you had financial stability, probably, by that time, so intellectual fulfillment seems like part of the purpose there.

Desjardins: I was poor during my graduate training. I lived off my Canadian Fellowship money. The tricky part was finding a clever way to not pay for any of the graduate degrees using my Fellowship money: this involved research assistantships and other duties. I only paid half the tuition for one term for my Pure Mathematics degree at CMU. For everything else, I found ways not to have to pay. These four fields had always interested me intellectually, and they meshed very well together.

Jacobsen: What was the title of the “very prestigious Award”?

Desjardins: It was a big Fellowship from the Canadian Medical Research Council. I forgot its exact name. It was about 40K per year, which was good money if I remember well.

Jacobsen: With “an M.D. degree, a PhD degree, half a dozen Masters, and medical post-graduate training certificates. I also completed several additional certifications on the side, like recent certifications in hacking and cybersecurity,” what are some synoptic statements to be made about each expertise or the inter-relatedness of the disciplines too?

Desjardins: Some people collect stamps. I collect degrees. The MD degree was for financial stability. The simultaneous graduate degrees were part of an “intellectual interlude,” where I did everything I wanted to do that medical school did not cover. The additional degrees and certificates were just extensions into areas in which I developed an interest later in life.

Jacobsen: What were the scores on the Mega Test and the Titan Test to enter the Mega Society?

Desjardins: 45, enough to get in.

Jacobsen: What are the pluses and minuses of the Mega Society?

Desjardins: All high I.Q. societies are controversial societies with controversial entry requirements. But it’s the best available requirements, with no suitable alternatives. I enjoy getting regular updates via their mailing list about significant developments in areas of interest, like when someone proves a critical theorem or obtains a huge scientific result. I don’t have time to keep track of all the fields. I also enjoy the quizzes/competitions for high I.Q. people. I usually finish first and get some prize money. It keeps my neurons active as I get older.

Jacobsen: What seemed to have happened with the feud between ‘Mega Society East’/ Mega Foundation of Christopher Langan and Dr. Gina Langan and the Mega Society decades ago? Duly noting, the Langans lost the legal battle over the name, as stipulated on the Mega Society website. One of several in a career of losses, in fact.

Langan’s current research program comprises hypothesizing about logic, the Coudenhove-Kalergi white genocide plan, theology, the I.Q. of Koko the gorilla and Somalians, metaphysics, 9/11 as a cover to prevent the world finding out about his Theory of Everything (ToE), Intelligent Design and evolution combined, the role of Jews and bankers and multibillionaire technologists in global affairs, philosophy, the reality of Jesus & Satan, math, Demonology, world religions, the role of literal magic in the operations of the CIA, set theory, more about some Jews, linguistics, issues with inter-ethnic couplings, ontology, the harms of vaccines and the sociopolitical conspiracies around getting a vaccine, epistemology, how spelling his name wrong “can be interpreted as a passive-aggressive form of sacrilege,” and more.

Desjardins: I briefly interacted with Mr. Langan and decided to stay as far away from him as possible.

Jacobsen: What has been the most entertaining test taken by you? What has been the most difficult test taken by you, and why that test?

Desjardins: Titan and Mega were by far the most entertaining tests. The most challenging test was the OSCP test in hacking. It’s a 24h test, and it’s challenging to stay awake for 24h doing intense hacking.

Jacobsen: What did you do as a recluse prior to and in some of high school?

Desjardins: I read a lot about everything at the library.

Jacobsen: Who is the smartest person known to you?

Desjardins: Probably Prof Terence Tao from UCLA.

Jacobsen: Who is the most creative person known to you?

Desjardins: If we consider everyone in history, then Leonardo Da Vinci.

Jacobsen: As a hacker and cybersecurity specialist, what are the things people should keep in mind to keep privacy and personal information safe?

Desjardins: Keep in mind that anybody can get hacked. Use a layered approach to privacy. You should encrypt your most private digital information with military-grade symmetric encryption and a complex password that you cannot remember but that you can reconstruct. Be very wary of phishing emails. You must keep many backups of your data stored in different media and air-gapped from the internet. Use a VPN whenever you connect to public WIFI. I have two VPN software on my laptop, as some do not work with some networks.

Jacobsen: Are VPNs and encrypted email systems useful in the last questions regard, too?

Desjardins: Definitely. For business-related confidential emails, use the secure communication tools your company provides.

Jacobsen: What is the highest paid position or specialization in medicine now? Because I have no idea at this point.

Desjardins: Hospital CEOs and Health Insurance CEOs are the highest-paid people in medicine and earn millions. Physicians make orders of magnitude less money. The American society exploits physicians and treats them like slaves.

Jacobsen: If “God was an invention of prehistoric man to explain what he could not understand,” what does this state about the significant majority of the world’s population adhering to this “invention”?

Desjardins: 50% of the world population is on the left side of the Bell curve, and most of them are religious. There is also a strong cultural aspect to religion.

Jacobsen: Where could a social democracy like Canada improve itself?

Desjardins: There is always room for improvement in every system. Some of the rules in Canada should be less rigid. I was a victim of this rigidity on several occasions. For example, after my intellectual interlude in the U.S., I was not allowed back to Canada to complete my post-graduate medical training. They had changed the Canadian training access rules during my stay in the U.S. I had to emigrate to the U.S. to complete my medical training. In 1987, they hired me to be chief of radiology at the Montreal Heart Institute, which I accepted. I decided to un-accept the position when the Quebec government did not allow my kids to continue their education in English after two failed appeals against their decision.

Jacobsen: What makes Tim Roberts stuff challenging, intellectually fun?

Desjardins: They are well-designed fun problems. I usually solve almost all of them. I then show them to my physician friends, who usually cannot solve any.

Jacobsen: What do you think would really need to be done to measure 5-sigma intelligence with a much, much smaller margin of error in the final assessment – speaking less in terms of obvious things like larger sample size, more in terms of the character of the problems proposed?

Desjardins: I think this is a complicated problem that we will likely never solve. All the tools we have are imperfect.

Jacobsen: When is it appropriate to be more forceful with the recommendations to patients in medicine?

Desjardins: For example, when thousands of Americans poisoned themselves by ingesting disinfectants to kill the coronavirus after Trump suggested it, it would have been a good idea for physicians to tell their patients not to swallow disinfectants. But very few physicians realized that Americans were so scientifically illiterate.

Jacobsen: With advancements in medicine, what are the top 5 things everyone can practice for a higher probability of a longer healthspan and lifespan?

Desjardins: Don’t smoke, maintain your weight to avoid type II diabetes, keep your blood pressure within the normal range, eat healthily and exercise. It is not rocket science. I follow only two of those, sadly.

Jacobsen: What is the greater value of the state? What is the lesser value, though still value, of unions?

Desjardins: The greater value of the state is to ensure a decent quality of life for everybody and not let people fall through the cracks. The U.S. does a miserable job at this. The value of unions is not to let big companies exploit workers. Full-time workers should not need food stamps in addition to their pay, as some poorly paid exploited U.S. workers require to stay afloat.

Jacobsen: Without a need for metaphysics, what, if it arises in any conversation, has been a response to you, where you “have a purely atheistic scientific view of the world”?

Desjardins: I live in an Ivy League environment surrounded by people who share the same worldview, so they simply agree.

Jacobsen: How do you define post-positivism?

Desjardins: It’s like Natural Selection for knowledge. All researchers are biased, which affects their observations, and therefore cannot see the world objectively. But researchers are part of a research community that criticizes each other’s ideas, and the ideas that survive intense scrutiny remain and get progressively closer to objective truth and reality. It is how science makes progress these days.

Jacobsen: Do scientific theories progress slowly or in stages, more often, in the modern period, e.g., late 20th century to early 21st century? Although, you mentioned “steady progress.” I want to delve a bit more into this, as you’re a properly trained practitioner and an intelligent person.

Desjardins: Steady progress with an occasional breakthrough. Most scientific contributions are incremental these days. But there is such a massive number of scientists and money for science that science evolves quite rapidly in several areas. Just take, for example, the rapid development of RNA vaccines (at my institution) to address the COVID pandemic.

Jacobsen: With these “Grand Challenges,” what one feels the most fulfilling?

Desjardins: Probably my Black Belt at Tae Kwon Do. I pursued it with my twins, and it was a wonderful, shared family experience. We all earned our Black Belts at the same time.

Jacobsen: Have you planned your funeral?

Desjardins: I’m working as a physician in the U.S., which is well known as the country with the most inhuman treatment of its physicians. We all saw this during the pandemic. I suspect I will die on the job, given that many of my close U.S. physician colleagues have been killed or become physically disabled due to their work conditions. Once I die on the job, I wish to be cremated.

Jacobsen: How would you like to be remembered?

Desjardins: He was a great husband and a great father.

Jacobsen: What are your hopes for your children?

Desjardins: I want them to leave the U.S. and return to Canada before the U.S. collapses. They will have a great life in Canada.

Jacobsen: What has the community of the high-I.Q. given you?

Desjardins: It keeps my neurons active.

 Jacobsen: That’s a very dramatic reveal at the wedding. At least, it spices life up a bit, I suppose. Any fonder memories come to mind rather than those featuring the dramatis personae? Something unmentioned. 

Desjardins: There were plenty of fonder memories in my early life, but nothing interesting to the readers. You know, getting puppies and stuff like that.

Jacobsen: What were the areas of specialization when doing graduate school? I do not mean the disciplines themselves, e.g., “Pure Mathematics, Artificial Intelligence, Formal Philosophy (Logic), and Theoretical Physics.” I mean the topics within the disciplines studied, e.g., the area of logic, the area of medicine. Also, why not pursue a CEO position within medicine to make even more money rather than make a lot of money, though less than a CEO, and in slave-like conditions?

Desjardins: Well, for Pure Mathematics, it’s your general graduate degree covering all basic areas. For Artificial Intelligence, I focused on the applications to healthcare and basic A.I. theory. For Theoretical Physics, I enjoyed quantum physics and mathematical methods. For Formal Philosophy, I focused on standard and non-standard logic, formal learning theory, formal discovery theory (my dissertation), and philosophy of science. I studied everything in those four fields relevant to theoretical artificial intelligence.

I was not born with the business gene. I developed a few computational tools over the years, and I was strongly encouraged to start a company to make money out of those tools. I had no interest in starting a company and decided to make the tools available for free to the medical community. Doing an MBA (a degree in greed) is undoubtedly an option for someone who collects degrees, but I have no interest in business.

Jacobsen: Why was pure mathematics the hardest? Why does pure mathematics seem to require such high levels of g?

Desjardins:  Graduate-level pure mathematics builds on a full undergraduate-level mathematics curriculum that I never pursued. They did not allow me to register for that graduate program initially. They felt it was impossible for someone without an undergraduate degree in mathematics to complete a level 1 (top institution) graduate-level pure mathematics program. So, I made a deal with them. I asked which first-term pure mathematics graduate course was the hardest. They told me it was Advanced Abstract Algebra. I asked the program director, “if I take that course and do well in it, could I get into the program?” He said yes. It was challenging without an undergraduate background, but I got used to it and did well enough. So, they allowed me to enroll. None of those pure mathematics courses were easy, and many were an exercise in frustration. But I pulled through, somehow.

Jacobsen: What age was Atheism ‘it’ for you?

Desjardins: In early elementary school, when I first learned about religion. The concept of an invisible entity controlling our lives seemed ridiculous to me, and worshipping it sounded even more ridiculous.

Jacobsen: What were some of the influences on this atheism, or lines of thought within the mind of a profoundly gifted young Canadian?

Desjardins: None. I concluded by myself from the very start that religion made no sense. I was not exposed to any atheist group, and the public internet as we know it today did not exist at the time. Religion was starting to fade away in Quebec, which helped a bit.

Jacobsen: What were the benefits, and not, of the Catholic high school education?

Desjardins: It was better than public school. This specific high school also included a strong sports component, and my parents wanted me to become more active, besides reading and playing chess.

Jacobsen: What are your children’s and your wife’s association with spirituality and religion if I may ask?

Desjardins: They vary from strong atheism to mild religiosity.

Jacobsen: Are there fundamental interrelationships between each of the degree’s subject matter? In that, there is a theoretical and empirical foundation unifying the study of each, or these were, just that, a collection of stamps as degrees.

Desjardins: I did not start graduate school by doing four simultaneous degrees. For the first term, I just did artificial intelligence related to medicine. But during that term, I was exposed to formal philosophers with a solid logic and theoretical background. They had an incredibly deeper understanding of everything in the field. They operated at an intellectual level to which I had never been exposed. I was genuinely impressed by them, and I wanted to acquire the same skills, so I got into logic and then pure mathematics. Theoretical physics was just for fun. But all the degrees involved skills relevant to theoretical artificial intelligence, so they were not a collection of random degrees. They also involved topics in which I had a long-time interest.

Jacobsen: What is the OSCP test in hacking?

Desjardins: OSCP is a hands-on hacking course where you initially get exposed to a minimal set of hacking techniques. You then self-learn practical hacking skills by hacking into 50 machines on a virtual network by trial and error, each requiring a different hacking approach. It requires penetration followed by privileges escalation to the root level for each machine. In the final exam, you have 24h to hack into five machines on a virtual network. You must try every hacking technique you know and hope some of them work in the limited 24h of the test while staying awake. Although I have been forced to stay awake for up to 68h in medicine, hacking non-stop for 24h is extremely difficult because of the constant intense intellectual effort. It just burns you out.

Jacobsen: What makes Prof. Tao so smart, or impressively astute with mathematics?

Desjardins: Probably a combination of good genes and training and a well-connected set of neurons. He is the academic that other brilliant mathematicians consult when they get stuck on a problem.

Jacobsen: What aspect of da Vinci seems the most contributive to his creativity?

Desjardins: He was born at the right time in history and with the right set of creative skills for that specific time. I don’t know enough about his life to provide an intelligent answer to that.

Jacobsen: How does American society treat physicians like slaves? We can, as discussed, cover this in-depth a separate educational series here.

Desjardins: I will elaborate in the separate educational series.

Jacobsen: How does Canadian society treat them?

Desjardins: Much better. Canadian society is better educated and has more respect for physicians and scientists. Canadians are not at war with science like in the U.S. Canada is more like Europe. They do not have Fox News in Canada.

Jacobsen: Who are most likely to get hacked, or have attempts at hacking them?

Desjardins: If you think of individual people (as opposed to military installations or government institutions), then political leaders or famous people are more likely to get hacked. Trump got his Twitter account hacked a few times because he used trivial passwords. The actress Jennifer Lawrence got hacked so that they could get naked pictures of her from her cloud account.

Jacobsen: Why does religion, as a statistical tendency and a finding mutually known in psychology based on meta-analyses of I.Q. and religiosity and conservatism, attract more of the left side of the bell curve rather than less of the left side of the bell curve?

Desjardins: I am not an expert on that topic. I might be completely wrong, but this seems to make some sense. People on the left side of the Bell curve accept what they learn in school without much questioning. People on the right side of the Bell curve tend to question more what they learn and can more easily form opinions that are independent and different from that of their teachers. It includes views about religion.

Jacobsen: How much could education in critical thinking help with this problem of negative religiosity infecting public discourse, even politics, and public policy?

Desjardins: It would help a lot, and there is a lot of effort to implement critical thinking as part of the U.S. educational curriculum (e.g., gen-ed courses in U.S. colleges). But this is not easy, and there is surprisingly a solid reluctance to this initiative amongst U.S. students. An anecdote opened my mind to this problem. A physician colleague did part of his training at Harvard and was a mentor in an undergraduate course on critical thinking required for Harvard students. There were many complaints from the students in the class as they could not understand why a course in critical thinking was helpful for their major. If Harvard students don’t get it, how could students in less competitive institutions get it? How could people not attending college get it?

Jacobsen: How does this American scientific illiteracy show itself? In Canada, we have the same with Trinity Western University. The largest Evangelical Christian university in the country, largest private university in the country, is 5 minutes down the road from me, and creates a culture of Evangelical fundamentalism and resultant scientific illiteracy and monocultural prejudice in general, so most cases. 1/4 to 1/5 Canadians are young Earth creationists by title or by stipulated belief systems based on surveys.  

Desjardins: You don’t have to look very far to find recent examples. Just look at the U.S. response to the current pandemic. A large portion of Americans refused to get vaccinated and wear masks. Ignorant and scientifically illiterate governors implemented horrible state policies, leading to COVID cases skyrocketing in red states. It led to over one million U.S. deaths from COVID, more than any other nation on Earth. After Trump suggested it, thousands of Americans poisoned themselves by swallowing disinfectants to try to cure COVID. U.S. judges, who are supposed to be educated and intelligent, forced physicians to administer horse deworming medicine to COVID patients, an act of pure idiocy. Physicians who prescribed this drug for COVID patients were fired for gross incompetence and stupidity.

License

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

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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