Diego Fontanive founded EOF. His background is in sociology, psychology, and critical thinking. Here we talk, briefly, about some of his background and work.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your background, so people know where you’re coming from?
Diego Fontanive: I never had a religious background. Nevertheless, I grew up in Venice, Italy. The society there has a religious background, Catholic or Christian. My parents were not really religious. But they did send me to the church for a couple of years as a child because they said this would help with social skills.
I do have a background in sociology, psychology, critical thinking, and memetics or the study of memes.
Jacobsen: How did you become more involved with the skeptic movement in general?
Fontanive: I always struggled with the issue somehow. The acknowledgment of how people who are not really that and who can think decently critically can think these things. Even when they claim to be atheists or secular, or even skeptics, we do know critical thinking is an unnatural way to think.
We are biologically prone to be fallacious. Nonetheless, I think we should go beyond critical thinking and try to integrate methods of study such as the study of memes or memetics. This is what triggered me.
Also, I saw people who were people even supposedly trained in critical thinking didn’t actually apply that in their own lives. I think that was the main trigger for me. I grew up in a non-religious family, but throughout the five years in the primary school. I had a teacher. She was religious.
I used to question her a lot. She completely discharged and refused to approach my questions critically. That was probably the trigger. That instead of questioning beliefs that people would rather protect them. Even though, they know in the back of their minds that something is wrong with it.
To explain that in a superficial way, it is existential security. That was a trigger.
Jacobsen: How did this lead to the End of Fear Project or EOF?
Fontanive: I am no longer comfortable with the full name, so that is why we use EOF. End of Fear sounds a bit bombastic and can open the door to misunderstandings. We do distinguish between natural fears, biological ones, such as the fear of others and so to defend oneself and those that are irrational fears.
The thing is to end irrational fear such as fear of God. If Jesus, then the fear of Jesus not loving me anymore, or irrational conspiracy theories. We have a lot of irrational conspiracy theories. Even with the further crazy beliefs, we promote magical thinking.
This is the aim and mission and vision of the project, which is to try and erase irrational fears – true logical fallacy detection, understanding of memetics, and also what I call metamemetics which is the understanding of fallacious and conditioning memes.
Jacobsen: What would you recommend for others to gain a little grounding in skepticism?
Fontanive: I would recommend The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, which explains the relationship between genes and memes. The Selfish Gene explains quite beautifully how memetic evolution cares about its own replication and adaptation and doesn’t care about critical analysis of itself. I would say Richard Dawkins because of his approach.
I would recommend Susan Blackmore. I am not comfortable with Blackmore regarding her approach to spirituality. I believe spirituality is a meme. It doesn’t exist. We have no evidence of it. Spiritual experiences, we can call them merely highly emotional experiences. But I would definitely recommend Richard Dawkins.
Jacobsen: What projects are you going to engage with EOF and others, for yourself?
Fontanive: What I am working on now as a priority alongside initiatives, we are working one-on-one with other people. We have work with artificial intelligence. We are developing programs for high schools and universities, for students and teachers.
The programs are a combination of critical thinking, metacognition, and the understanding of memes. I have done, recently, a speech or lecture at the European Skeptics Congress in Poland. The talk was about metamemetic thinking and the possibility that skepticism could be a meme in terms of many people calling and thinking of themselves as skeptics.
But their priority, cognitively speaking, is to seek a sort of identitarian shelter. For the next 2-3 years, I want to undertake this project for education. It goes back to education.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Diego.
Fontanive: It was a pleasure.
Image Credit: Diego Fontanive.