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Robert Hoffman

In memory of my good friend and colleague the late Robert Hoffman, I am very pleased that FSN has decided to post on its website the Club of Rome Theme Paper we co-authored and presented at its Annual Meeting held in Ottawa in September 2013.  The paper examines why the governance of the commons is an appropriate frame of reference for analysing the interrelationships between humans and the biophysical world, and describes the critical role played by Elinor Ostrom and her many colleagues in furthering our understanding of this frame of reference as captured in their Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework.  The more recent discussions of Rob and I over the past decade illustrated how and why the IAD framework and insights of Ostrom, for which she won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, have become even more important for managing the global commons and addressing the climate change wicked problem

Derek Ireland

Here is the paper:

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FSN Seminar – Nov. 18 at 1 pm on Zoom

Planetary Limits: Coming Future Threats?

by Peter MacKinnon

Synergy Technology Management & Faculty of Engineering, uOttawa

November 18, 2022

Youtube link:

Update 1: here are the slides.

Please register in advance for this meeting <deleted as event in the past>

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


Today’s world is faced with a growing range of increasing planetary-scale threats to the environment, the biosphere and humankind. Climate change is the most widely discussed of these threats, yet it is only one of nine interrelated planetary-scale disturbances triggered by human activities over the past two and a half centuries.  

This webinar will explore the emergence and practicality in viewing the Earth’s planetary system through the lens of these planetary limits or boundaries. 

‘Planetary boundaries’ represent human-caused perturbations of Earth systems making them change in a way not accommodated by the environmental boundaries separating the natural changes since the end of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago.  Thus, crossing a planetary boundary comes at the risk of abrupt environmental change. 

The framework is based on scientific evidence that human actions, especially those of the industrialized world, have become the main driver of global environmental change.

The implications of crossing these limits as well as the timing and interdependencies among such crossings will form the basis for discussion in terms of addressing these future threats.


Peter serves as chair of FSN. He has a background as a scientist, business manager, entrepreneur, domestic and international bureaucrat, executive, diplomat, management advisor, and academic; including affiliation with both Telfer and the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa.

He is a pioneer in the commercialization of AI and today is actively involved in ethical and policy issues related to AI, especially as member of the IEEE-USA Artificial Intelligence Systems Policy Committee.  Peter has an extensive background on the forefront of scientific and technological breakthroughs around disruptive technologies and their impacts on society.

His scientific career included working in paleoclimate studies based on ice core and radar data from polar ice sheets.  He served as Chief Glaciologist at the World Data Center for Glaciology at the University of Colorado (Boulder), where he was involved in the development of the concept of Nuclear Winter. 

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FSN Seminar – October 21, 2022 at 1 pm EST

A Meditation on the Corruption of Our Character:

An Attempt to Assess the Dangerousness of Conservative Populist Politicians


Ruben Nelson, Executive Director, Foresight Canada

Youtube link:

Abstract:  In this webinar, Ruben Nelson, one of Canada’s most distinguished Foresight practitioners, will dig into three questions related to the above topic, namely: 

  1. How should we assess the rise of conservative populist politicians in Canada?  
  2. In combination, is the noisy ruckus and the apparent success of Pierre Poilievre, Danielle Smith and François Legault just a new kind of ‘business as usual’?  
  3. Or is it a sign, as Dr. James Alexander Corry, then past Principle of Queen’s University, put it in his 1973 lecture when being honoured by the Royal Bank of Canada, that “Something has gone wrong!”  If the latter, what sense can we make of what has gone wrong?  

Ruben will “draw a long bow” on these questions.  He will suggest that beneath the titillation of much of the political nonsense of our times lies a truly rare evolution in human consciousness and culture.  He also will suggest that such a transition, if it is to be successful, requires a quality of leadership which must be extraordinary.  

Since the development of such leadership is not on the agenda of any sector of Canadian society, we should not be surprised that feckless politicians, as well as those who would use them, have grasped the deep turmoil of our times to advance their own fortunes.  In short, we are in far more and far deeper trouble than these politicians understand.  Sadly, we as citizens share a superficial understanding of the danger we are in.  

Bio:  Ruben Nelson has long been fascinated by the many ways we and our world are changing and what this evolutions mean for our future.  He is one of a handful of Canadians who, in the 1960s and ‘70s, pioneered serious futures thinking and its application to the practice of strategic Foresight.  

He has used his insights in every corner and sector of Canada to assist those willing to work with him make reliable sense of their adjacent futures.  Ruben’s research has led him to the view that, if we are to sustain success in the unique conditions of the 21st Century, we must develop new mental maps of where we are in history.  

For over six decades, Ruben has taught philosophy and comparative religion, worked for Pierre Trudeau, helped formulate Canada’s policy on Multiculturalism and been a leader in the Canadian Association for Futures Studies, the International Association for Humanistic Psychology, the World Futures Studies Federation and the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science.  Ruben is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and the World Business Academy.  

Ruben was born and raised in Calgary, educated at Queen’s University, Kingston, Queen’s Theological College, Kingston, and United Theological College, Bangalore, India.  Today, Ruben is Executive Director of Foresight Canada.  He and Heather have been married for 61 years.  They live with their three cats Lac Des Arcs in the Alberta Rockies.  They have two, now adult, children.  


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FSN Seminar – October 13 at 1 pm via Zoom

Welcome back to a new season of Foresight Synergy Network webinars. The first is scheduled for October 13th commencing at 1:00 pm via Zoom. It will be a presentation by Omer Kaya, CEO of Global Advantage Consulting Group of Ottawa on “A New Strategy for Canada’s R&D/Innovation Ecosystem?”.  See below for further information on this event. 

The second webinar will take place at the same time on October 21st.  The presentation will be given by Ruben Nelson, Executive Director of Foresight Canada, on the topic of “The Corruption of Character:  An Attempt to Assess the Dangerousness of Conservative Populist Politicians.”  Ruben lives in Canmore, Alberta. 

A third webinar is planned for the 18th November, same start time, by Peter MacKinnon, Chair FSN, on “Planetary Limits: Coming Future Threats”.

What follows is information on Omer’s webinar, please register in advance for this meeting: <link deleted as event has passed>

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Presenter: Omer Kaya, CEO Global Advantage Consulting Group, Ottawa 

Title: A New Strategy for Canada’s R&D/Innovation Ecosystem?

Abstract: Canada’s research and development (R&D) and innovation ecosystem encompasses thousands of firms, hundreds of academic institutions and programs, dozens of government departments and support mechanisms, and numerous not-for-profits, Indigenous organizations, industry groups and associations. Yet Canada significantly underinvests in R&D — its National R&D expenditures are 57%, Business R&D expenditures are 55%, and Government R&D expenditures are 50% below the OECD average (OECD, latest 2020). While Canada is 8th in innovation inputs, it ranks only 23rd in innovation outputs (Global Innovation Index, latest 2021) — a persisting issue in Canada’s innovation system is our inability to turn innovation inputs into outputs. As a result, Canada is lagging in labour productivity and competitiveness, which impacts Canadians’ standard of living and quality of life. Moreover, Canada risks falling further behind while its international allies forge ahead with new historic investments in research and innovation (e.g., U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act, Inflation Reduction Act, EU Research and Innovation Strategy and Plan, etc.). In this regard, the Federal Budget 2022 moved towards better supporting Canadian enterprise and promoting innovation with an emphasis on increasing productivity — showing signs of change and rethinking the entire approach to innovation. Will anything that’s announced in this budget, help even get Canada back to a baseline that might allow it to compete globally? On the other hand, if such a shift of approach is occurring, what might it mean for the research and innovation community in Canada? Is a new strategy for Canada’s R&D/Innovation Ecosystem, potentially underway? 

Bio: Ömer Kaya is the Chief Executive Officer at Global Advantage Consulting Group. As CEO, Ömer supports public and private sector organizations by executing and leading key aspects of the company including overall business strategy and planning, team leadership, management of processes, programs, and projects, as well as client relationships and partnerships. He has nearly 5 years of experience in the management consulting industry. Ömer had previously worked in academia holding teaching and research positions, and the private sector in sales, marketing, and financial services. He holds a Master of Arts degree in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies from the Faculty of Public Affairs at Carleton University.

Global Advantage Consulting Group Inc. (GACG) was established in 2002 and has been operating in Canada for over 20 years. GACG has completed over 700 assignments since its creation, primarily in the areas of science and technology, innovation, commercialization, economic development and trade. The firm helps public and private sector organizations to understand and navigate research and innovation ecosystems, to develop growth strategies and new collaboration networks, to assess and develop new business models, to design new support services for industry, to enter new commercial markets, and to design measurement systems to monitor performance. See: for further information on Global Advantage.  

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FSN Seminar – July 29 at 1 pm EST via Zoom

Youtube link:

Please join us on July 29 at 1 pm by registering to the following zoom link:
<deleted as event has passed, you can watch it on YouTube – see link above>

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


Nothing but a “vague residue”: Synthesizing Ideological Violence and Social Figurations

A vague residue. Is that how humans recollect greater social changes resulting from their social interactions, known as social figurations? According to Norbert Elias, who developed the Civilizing Process, we are so focused on the individual social level that we are oblivious to social processes that influence these figurations, which he likened to a dance:

A dance can be any style – the tango, a waltz, rock ‘n roll – but it remains a dance. Dancers may join in, sit out, re-engage or leave, but the dance continues with unplanned structure and process. While independent of any one dancer, the dance is not independent of the collective – those who come together.

It is the effect of these social figurations that are of interest; I like to describe them as ripples in the water: Throw a handful of pebbles in the water and each creates a ripple that, as it fans out, impacts other proximate ripples. From this, alterations occur that are driven by conditions – the number of pebbles, ripples, and environmental elements, like wind, shoreline or other barriers and interferences. The common elements that create repeat alterations, but in social interactions, are the focus.

Both vivid metaphors emphasize how figurations, floating above and beneath an invisible line between individual and group, result in unplanned, yet structured, social change from the predictability from group behaviour.

But why is answering – or even asking – the above question important in the context of present-day sociology?

Understanding social figurations and their role in forming groups, societies, and nations creating long chain social change can permit us to shift our analytical eye from the individual to social along with environmental conditions surrounding them that may hint at causality. By looking to other areas for answers, novel approaches may be developed as social policy, rather than social programs, to address this social phenomenon that has confounded scholars for centuries.  

Here, ideological violence is the phenomenon of focus. It has woven its way through history for thousands of years and in many nations, and enjoyed substantial debate on whether particular incidents are legitimate acts of violence, state monopolies of violence, violence in colonization and civil conflict, or terror-motivated acts meant to move an ideological agenda. Underscoring the concept of legitimacy, the phrase “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” rings relevant and the conundrum of social violence persists.

For that reason, modern scholars have struggled to identify root causes of ideological violence, and still after every incident that makes the headlines the first question is, what caused this individual or group to resort to violence? Presumably, if we continue to look in the same place – to the psychology, demographics and environmental impacts of individuals – we will likely continue to arrive at the same answers, or lack thereof. Conceptually, it may be argued that ideological violence develops from alternate social standards that have mutated from the accepted social habitus through an unconscious formulation.

The aim of this webinar is to provide a synthesized overview of social conditions with the incidence of ideological violence in selected nations over specific time periods by using the theoretical concepts of Elias’s processual theory. It is the core of Elias’s process theory that is of particular interest in examining the phenomenon of ideological violence: social life and the world around us are natural reflections of human tendencies, emerging from social interactions, social bonding, and developing social habitus, social codes and group identity. Additionally, the applied goal is to reveal an alternate research area for ideological violence prevention and acknowledge issues embedded in existing Countering/Preventing Violent Extremism (C/PVE) programs and to supplant them with social policy approaches.

Heavily relied upon, these C/PVE programs were hastily developed after the attacks of 9/11 by US and allied nations to identify individuals at risk of extremist violence using characteristics and behaviours that may signal radicalization or may precede a violent act. In recent years, these programs have been found to employ controversial techniques and simple psychological criteria and proxies, such as individual religiosity, political activism and “feelings of alienation/hopelessness/futility”.

Largely rejected by academics, these techniques can have dangerous implications and risk branding innocent individuals as terrorists. Ineffectiveness aside, the misuse of C/PVE programs has also been rampant – surveillance and informant recruiting, charges of racial-bias targeting Muslims, refugees and immigrants and unsophisticated – bringing about human and civil rights criticisms.

Now begs the question: Is the individual level the only viable focal point to reveal elements that influence ideological violence? Considering how ideological violence manifests as a social phenomenon, its sociogenesis alone infers the existence of social conditions that warrant exploration. Just as meteorologists can deduce the probability of specific weather events from certain environmental conditions, the social strata that emerge from social figurations may hold similar, valuable contributions.  


Valarie Findlay is currently in her second year of Royal Roads University’s Doctorate in Social Sciences program. Born in Ottawa, Canada and having spent many years in the US, she has a Master of Terrorism Studies and a Master of Sociology. Her doctoral research area focuses on synthesizing ideological violence and social figurations, guided by Norbert Elias’s Civilizing Process theory.

For the past seven years she has focused her academic efforts in becoming a “student” of Elias’s main theory by interpreting and applying his concepts from his major texts, Beyond the Civilizing Process. With her prime sociological interest in group behaviour and habitus, she shifted from individual psychological elements that influence violent behaviours to how groups interact and the social conditions around them that may influence conflict and violence, in order to develop more effective social programs and policy to prevent and counter ideological violence.

On her professional side, Valarie has worked in US and Canadian national security and intelligence for over twenty years and has specialized in cybersecurity and technologies as tools in ideological movements and recruitment. She sits on several North American intelligence, cyber and law enforcement committees and has studied various investigative and interviewing disciplines, such as inductive, psychological, physiological and predictive profiling. She is also a past member of the Canadian Association Chiefs of Police/CATA eCrime Council, the American Society for Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP), AFCEA Cyber Committee (Washington DC) and research fellow with the National Police Foundation, affording her the opportunity to collaborate with some of the brightest academics and experts in applied science.

As a side project, she has developed and commercialized a risk intelligence software solution, TIGIR, that provides comprehensive assessments on government and industry assets and data that includes organizational risk derived social vulnerability and quality of life indices. TIGIR was granted its a US patent last year and is currently in Canadian patent examinations.

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FSN Seminar – June 29th at 1 pm EST via Zoom

Update 2: Attached updated slides

Update: here are the slides

We are pleased to introduce our next talk of the 2022 season, led by Guy Stanley and Stephen Fanjoy, on the authoritarian challenge to US liberalism.

Register in advance for this meeting:
<deleting as event has passed>

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

The “Deep Right” Authoritarian Challenge to Contemporary Liberalism: How Secure is US Liberalism?

Since the last FSN meeting about the US post-Trump (2020), here’s where we are: 

War in the Ukraine, an imminent global food crisis, energy crisis exacerbating an already threatening climate crisis, economic uncertainty, and a political crisis challenging the liberal institutions of the West. Is this what a general breakdown of management capacity and world leadership looks like? Is populist authoritarianism the next “normal”?

Consider that the world’s most powerful democracy, the United States, consciously founded its institutions on the explicit if imperfect application of Enlightenment principles to its governance. Yet today powerful political forces have abandoned those principles – especially those of anchoring political speech and policy in  verifiable facts. Instead, power is regularly pursued through the industrial production of lies and distortions, under cover of which powerful domestic and foreign economic and anti-democratic interests pursue their aggrandizement.  

A political force once thought to be marginal  and “extreme” – right wing populism- is manifesting in the US and around the world as a significant electoral force. In the US it is the new heart of the GOP and  its MAGA (Trumpist) segments. Accompanying  this upsurge are important ideological aspects which make it a particularly dangerous threat to institutions of liberal governance. For example, the most recent DHS threat warnings places domestic white supremacy terrorism at the head of its list. 

A fundamental question poses itself: can a system of institutions based on the Enlightenment’s privileging of objective facts and democratic individualism adequately defend itself against technology-driven systems of deception, social division and political corruption?

This session will examine this question, mainly as it pertains to the US,  in light of current trends, events and ideas.


Guy Stanley has been active with the Foresight Synergy Network for many years. Born in Toronto, he holds an MA and Ph.D. in international history (LSE 1974) and a BA (History & Pol. Sci.) from the University of Victoria (1967).  His career combined consulting with Fortune 500 multinational firms and international organizations with university teaching and research in Geneva, New York, Montréal and Ottawa. Guy was Director of the IMBA program at the University of Ottawa (2000-3) and Director of Technology & Innovation at the Conference Board of Canada. (2004-7) He taught international commerce at McGill and HEC, Montréal 1991-2007 and worked with l’Ecole polytechnique de Montréal (2007-8). His latest book, Rebuilding Liberalism, Dundurn Press, was published in July 2019. He lives in Beaconsfield, QC.

Stephen Fanjoy is a member of the Foresight Synergy Network organizing committee and a management consultant specializing in strategy, primarily in the domain of business software, including cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence and medical devices. He is an avid analyst of technology, political history and ethics. Stephen has previously presented to the FSN community, ”Technology and Democracy, Self-correcting or Collision Course?” and co-led a series of workshops on technology, democracy and autocracy. He is a graduate of the Dalhousie University School of Business and a Certified Management Consultant (CMC).

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FSN Seminar – April 25 at 1 pm via Zoom

Here are the slides –

Link to recording on youtube:

Please register in advance for this meeting:
<deleted as event has passed, please see recording above>

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

TitleHarmonia Universalis: Perennial Wisdom and Future Design

Abstract: This presentation provides a review of the concept of harmony over the past 2,500 years, spanning classical Chinese and Greek civilization and into the modern era. Topics in physics, neuroscience, psychology, computer science and design. Implications are considered for sustainability design and global politics. If we want a harmonious future, we should design for it.

Bio: As an assistant professor of Human-Centered Design at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), The Netherlands, Derek Lomas researches design for wellbeing, the design of AI systems to support wellbeing and the role of resonance in interaction design. 

He has a bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Science (YaIe University), a master’s degree in Design (UC San Diego) and a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction (Carnegie Mellon University). He lives in Amsterdam with his family.

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FSN Seminar – March 17 at 1 pm EST via Zoom

We are pleased to introduce our second speaker of the 2022 season, Professor David Wolfe of the University of Toronto’s Innovation Policy Lab.

Recent years have taught us many things but one of them is the importance of successful innovation. The challenges of today and tomorrow are complex and coming fast. While Canadian research is world class, our performance at translating to commercial success through innovation that grows our economy and helps Canadians and the world is much less than we should expect. 

Please join us on March 17th to learn more about Canada’s innovation challenges and opportunities by registering in advance for this meeting:
<Deleted as event has passed>

Link on youtube for recording:

Canada’s Innovation Challenge: Current State of Industrial R&D in Canada

David A. Wolfe, PhD

Professor of Political Science and Co-Director, Innovation Policy Lab

University of Toronto

This presentation will discuss both the extent and the sources of weakness in Canada’s innovation system. The shortcomings of Canada’s innovation system are well documented in a series of recent reports on the state of innovation in the Canadian economy, particularly those from the Council of Canadian Academies, including its most recent report Competing in the Global Innovation Economy. The reports underline Canada’s failure to keep pace with some of its leading competitors. What is less evident is why Canada has failed to improve the performance of its innovation system over the past 40 years. Neither is it clear why Canada’s political institutions have failed to respond to the combined challenge of globalization and rapid technological change with a more effective policy framework to improve the innovative performance of domestic firms. The urgency of both these questions is accentuated by the growing strength of the platform economy and the rise of what the OECD labels ‘superstar firms’, as well as the pressures of climate change. The presentation will include some working hypotheses about why Canada has lagged the other members of the G7 in this respect and present some ideas about what needs to be done.

David A. Wolfe is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Co-Director of the Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. From 1990 to 1993 he served as Executive Coordinator for Economic and Labour Policy in the Cabinet Office of the Government of Ontario. From 2009 to 2014 he was the Royal Bank Chair in Public and Economic Policy at the University of Toronto. He has served on three Expert Panels for the Council of Canadian Academies. He recently completed a six-year SSHRC-funded partnership grant on Creating Digital Opportunity for Canada. He has been a Research Associate for the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and is the editor or co-editor of ten books and numerous scholarly articles. He is currently a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Council of Canadian Academies.

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FSN Seminar – March 8 at 1 pm EST

It certainly has been a busy and eventful start to 2022, between Omicron, convoys and upsetting geopolitics! Nonetheless, we hope that you and yours are doing well. 

We are very pleased to introduce our first speaker of the year. While pandemic simulation modeling is a practice that is nearly a century old, Gabriel A. Wainer of Carleton University will introduce us to some latest method innovations and explain how they have been applied to the challenge of understanding the spread of COVID-19. 

We look forward to seeing you on the 8th! See event details below!

FSN Seminar – March 8 at 1 pm EST

Cellular Models to study the spread of COVID-19


Gabriel A. Wainer

Professor, Department of Systems and Computer Engineering

Carleton University

<deleted as event has passed>


Simulation models based on the traditional Susceptible-Infectious-Recovered (SIR) equations have been used to predict the pandemic dynamics. These models are being used at present to predict the spread of the disease in most countries worldwide. Studies of COVID-19 are based on theoretical methods for infectious disease dynamics, which show how the disease spreads. The original model has been used since 1927, and it classifies the individuals involved in the transmission of the disease into those that are Susceptible to the virus, those who are Infectious and finally those who have Recovered. The SIR model was extended and adapted numerous times to study the progression of other diseases and advanced new techniques. For instance, modern models include equations to represent Exposed individuals (SEIR model). More recent advances defined for modeling the SARS epidemics included behavior for the latency of the disease, and the effect of quarantines. Similarly,  studies have investigated the effects of vaccination and isolation. These advanced models use network dynamics, ordinary differential equations, finite equation theory, and other theoretical studies on infectious diseases. Although these theoretical methods are useful to define the theory of disease, sometimes they are difficult to apply in practice.

As we have seen in the past few months, these methods, based on differential equations, are useful to predict the number of infected individuals, and to devise different global policies to control the pandemic. Nevertheless, these methods cannot be easily adapted to include newly available information on the disease, or to combine them with real world data on demand. Consequently, large teams of experts need to work together on models of the disease and their simulations, provide results with limited precision. Another major limitation of the theoretical models under use is the inability for mixing the results of the mathematical models with visualization tools and advanced graphical interfaces (including Geographical Information Systems – GIS -, Building Information Models – BIM -, and spatial diagrams). Such visualization tools are normally in high demand for better analysis and decision-making.

We will introduce and explain the main characteristics of a concept called the Cell-DEVS formalism and will show how to model complex cell spaces using Cell-DEVS with application to COVID-19. We will present different examples of application for simulation of the spread of disease and discuss open research issues in this area. We will then focus on simple models of SIR applied to COVID-19 and will show how to include the models of spread of disease at a geographical level, as well as discussing the definition of models for indoor spread using integration of BIM software and GIS.


GABRIEL A. WAINER received the M.Sc. (1993) at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Ph.D. (1998, with highest honors) at UBA/Université d’Aix-Marseille III, France. In July 2000 he joined the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton University (Ottawa, ON, Canada), where he is now Full Professor. He is the author of three books and over 450 research articles; he edited four other books, and helped organizing numerous conferences, including being one of the founders of the Symposium on Theory of Modeling and Simulation, SIMUTools and SimAUD. Prof. Wainer is the Editor-in-Chief of SIMULATION, member of the Editorial Board of IEEE Computing in Science and Engineering, Wireless Networks (Elsevier), and Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation (SCS). He is the head of the Advanced Real-Time Simulation lab, located at Carleton University’s Centre for advanced Simulation and Visualization (V-Sim). He is a Fellow of SCS. For more information see:


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FSN Seminar – November 12 at 1 pm EST

The Long View of Science


Gord Deinstadt

Zoom info:

Register in advance for this meeting: <removed as event has passed>

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


Update 2: Here is the recoded video –


Update 1: here are the slides


This webinar has as its main objective correcting some common misconceptions, for example: 

  • That religion and science have always been enemies 
  • That “real” science began with Galileo, and 
  • Linked to the above, that science is strictly a product of Western civilization. 

These old views have been disproven by historical research over the last 50 years.  The following examples will be explored in this webinar.

Greek philosophers started by teaching Asian philosophy, and in some cases claimed to be holy men similar to the Indian practice. However, it was a unique aspect of Greek culture that non-philosophers treated philosophy as a sport. Entrepreneurs held prize-fights for philosophers, debates in which the audience decided which philosopher should win the purse. From this competitive aspect arose a desire for arguments that would always convince anyone, what we now call “proof”. In the 6th century BCE Thales invented geometric proof. In the 4th century BCE Aristotle developed what we now call logic, that is proof by verbal argument. Neither of these had been developed anywhere before as far as we know.

Another unique aspect of Greek philosophy was the interest in explaining natural phenomena. Like Hinduism, Greco-Roman Paganism was a form of animism so traditionally everything was explained as the work of a spirit. However, Greeks had practical concerns, so they wanted to know about physical mechanisms that they could take advantage of. Hence Greek philosophy turned to physical mechanisms. For example, in the 5th century BC Anaxagoras of Clazomenae found the correct explanation for eclipses of the Sun and Moon. As far as I can determine he was the first to figure it out.

A third great discovery was the deduction that every substance in the world must consist of minute atoms, and that there must be a finite number of types of atoms.

In the 5th century CE the Western Roman Empire fell, after which Greco-Roman culture continued in the Eastern Empire and in various cities of Northern Italy. But learning was not completely lost in other parts of Latin Europe, rather it was taken over by the Catholic Church. In the 11th century the church established a school system (modelled on Plato’s Republic) with parish schools at the bottom and universities at the top. In the universities scientific research continued, carried out by Dominican friars.

In the 13th century Chinese chemists discovered what we now call gunpowder, but at the time it was used for fireworks. Within a century the knowledge reached Europeans who turned gunpowder into a means for propelling projectiles, (i.e., they invented the gun. That knowledge travelled East, and was soon employed by the Mongol Empire. The bi-continental gunpowder revolution had other consequences; in 1453 Constantinople fell to Turkish cannon but Venice continued as the last outpost of the Eastern Empire and refugee scholars from Constantinople helped to promote the Renaissance.

During Galileo’s life the Renaissance was in full swing. Galileo was himself a university teacher and therefore a Dominican friar. Galileo defended Copernicus’ proposal for geocentrism but he was unable to persuade the Church because it seemed that such a movement would defy known physics. (The same argument had been made in pre-Christian antiquity with the same outcome, so this was not Church prejudice.) Eventually Galileo invented a new physics of motion (later mathematized by Newton) which allowed for geocentrism, and the Church permitted him to publish and teach it. In his text Galileo makes mention of several tough physics puzzles, such as predicting the path of a cannonball fired from a cannon pointed vertically in a smoothly sailing ship. In the 1970s Marshall Claggett proved that these puzzles came from medieval texts, hence there was continuity in physics from antiquity right through to Galileo.

Medicine is another science that continued from antiquity to the modern era. Medical doctors continued circulating scientific literature right through the Middle Ages. Up until WWI medical schools still used textbooks written in antiquity by Celsus and Galen.

Chemistry is a special case. There were scientists doing chemistry right through the Middle Ages, but not in universities. Alchemists were both mystics and practical bench chemists. They were disapproved of by the Church but continued their work in private. Meanwhile the schoolmen did no experiments whatsoever but insisted on the ancient four elements. Finally, in the 18th century mainstream scientists including Newton and Lavoisier combined the praxis of alchemy with modern mathematical analysis to create what we now call chemistry. Although this case excludes the medieval schoolmen it still shows continuity, via private practice, from CE 100 right through to the modern era.

Brief Bio:

Gord Deinstadt has degrees in Classics and Philosophy and has taught Ancient Science and Technology at Carleton University on and off since 2007.  For those interested in the course you can find a profile under this course number TSES2305.