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New book authored by Turlock native Philip Hansten examines ‘premature factulation’

POSTED November 24, 2009 11:06 p.m.
Pharmacist and professor Philip D. Hansten has a long history of questioning conventional wisdom. As a student at Ceres High School many years ago he and fellow students questioned a “fact” doled out by coach Al Brenda. The coach asserted that his athletes should not hamper their athletic prowess at any competition by engaging in any sexual activity four days prior to. When Brenda walked away Hansten and his friends debated the matter before dismissing the notion as pure nonsense.
Hansten, now a Seattle professor, recounts the incident in his new book, “Premature Factulation: The Ignorance of Certainty and the Ghost of Montaigne,” published by Philoponus Press. The book a subject he calls “premature factulation,” or the “process of drawing conclusions and making decisions without facts and logic.” He decided to write a book to “counter this certainty that everyone has.”
Hansten probes man's tendency to be “ignorantly certain of things.” His book looks at how this tendency came about and ways to recognize it and avoid it. He feels most everyone tends to blindly rely on “facts.” The tendency of all people, he says, is “to come to conclusions first and then try to shoehorn the evidence to fit the conclusion.”
“Everybody commits premature factulation — even people who write books about it,” he said. Hansten admits that he tends to jump to conclusions about politics and social issues. He is not especially kind towards conservatives, saying they, more than liberals, tend to engage in “ignorant certainty.” In particular he is critical of former President George W. Bush and the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, saying Bush “relied upon fiction to prove its facts in this case.”
He does fault liberals, too. Hansten said many liberals will judge church goers as “idiots” without even knowing them. He also said that liberals “have trouble waffling and dithering and not making decisions.”
The Ceres native identifies over 50 cases of “premature factulation,” resulting from bumper-sticker philosophy, conventional wisdom, devalued criticism, feigned piety, perspectivism, preconceptions, rationalization, scientific naïveté, and/or self-interest.
“Humans have a need for certainty. It probably did have survival purposes. Our earliest ancestors needed to be certain about things rather than not dither around about something. Our society and world are so complicated we use old methods that worked in the past and they don't work very well today.”
Hansten says that the early 21st century finds us “in the grip of pundits and pontificators who never met a complex problem they couldn't solve before breakfast.”
His interest in the subject did not occur at Ceres High necessarily. After becoming a noted expert in the science of drug interactions, Hansten repeatedly saw a gap between what people knew and what they thought they knew in the drug field. He noted that of specialists in other medical fields would “over and over again say stuff that was wrong.” He began seeing “ignorant certainty” at work in other areas and decided to write a book about how to prevent it from happening.
“It’s rare to hear someone say, ‘I’m not qualified to comment,’” said Hansten. “That would be a more honest approach.”
Hansten implores his reader to adopt a philosophical outlook that focuses on reason to understand “the importance of both heart and head for addressing the timeless questions facing humankind.”
Hansten’s foray into western philosophy included studying writings of great Greek thinkers and the famous American and European philosophers of the 16th century and beyond. That's when he discovered Michel de Montaigne, a renowned 16th century French essayist and philosopher who was a central figure in arguments about ignorant certainty.
Montaigne himself learned that ignorant certainty is fundamental to the human condition.
Hansten also refers to the opinions of philosophers, writers, and even comedians to show the diverse implications of “premature factulation.”
He believes his book has appeal for a variety of “general, intelligent” readers, including academics, attorneys and professionals in all fields, as well as progressives, liberals, and even conservatives.
“To be honest, some people find it too deep,” Hansten admits.
Hansten's book looks at the role of illusions, rhetoric and erroneous thinking and then provides remedies such as accepting reality, cultivating humility and contemplation.
The book retails for $19.50 and is available online at www.Philoponus.com or www.Amazon.com.
Hansten grew up in Turlock and came to Ceres when his father, Herman Hansten, became a teacher at Walter White Elementary School in the 1950s. Philip graduated from Ceres High in 1961. He attended Modesto Junior College and earned his Doctor of Pharmacy from U.C. San Francisco. Dr. Hansten served as professor of Pharmacy at Washington State University and University of Washington. He also worked at Stanford University School of Medicine's Division of Clinical Pharmacology.
Hansten now teaches a class, The Nature of Scientific Truth at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Hansten has published numerous articles on drug interactions. He has also lectured world wide, and he is now increasingly immersed in studying philosophy.

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