John Freestone

Writer Editor Musician
Harrogate, United Kingdom

About John

Bio

John Freestone overcame severe childhood priviledges to emerge one of the world's lesser-known also-rans. From an early age he applied his inconsiderable linguistic talent to the art of waffling smugly about nothing, although he didn't pursue a career in politics. He survived the rigours of a loving family and private education to embark irresolutely on a science degree at Oxford, where he busied himself with the task of getting as high as possible. By the second year, he realised he could no longer go on frittering money away on education and rent, dropped out and spent the next few years living in other people's houses, claiming to be the reincarnation of Bob Dylan, despite rumours that Bob wasn't dead.

John developed his musical abilities unsteadfastly ever since he left the Dogmatic Reductionist Strait-jacket of Meritocracy (after the drummer called him an "effete ponce"). He went on to become one of the best-known members of a rock band, almost instantly recognised by the others. He made a successful foray into stand-up, on one occasion standing up for over ten minutes. He was offered, but declined, Chairmanship of the Apathy Society.

John held down several demanding jobs over the course of his career, mostly involving moving things about or occasionally pressing a button, but his ponderous rise to insignificance has not been without its challenges. In 1990 he was forced to consult a therapist to address his personal problems, in particular, how to avoid the poverty, boredom and self-loathing that came with a life of extreme indolence. He needed a new direction, a good job, one that involved making a shed-load of money without having to get off his backside. After several sessions, he realised that the answer was giving him eye-contact in the face: he decided to become a therapist. He continues very successfully to think about becoming a therapist to this day.

John has had an interest in Buddhism ever since he learned that "Zazen" means "sitting doing nothing for extended periods". He has made considerable progress in his meditation, gaining many insights into the nature of Reality, Emptiness, and Pastry. He currently lives in a shed on his neighbour's land, and will accept Devotional Gifts.

Areas of Expertise

psychology - health

An idea worth spreading

The Munchhausen Trilemma

I'm passionate about

Joy, the kids, human relationships, international co-operation, the environment, comedy, education, the internet, camping, blogging

Talk to me about

stuff

People don't know I'm good at

secretly whistling

My TED story

...has just started.

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

120336
John Freestone
Posted about 2 months ago
Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food
There are two problems with this: 1) "pests" are part of a bigger food chain, so there are consequences to killing them, which can backfire on us and the rest of the natural world; 2) almost exclusively, "pests" quickly evolve immunity to any kind of pathogen, so our attacks on them just breed super-pests, which then require stronger, more toxic chemicals or more genetic engineering tweaks. In our adversarial approach to agriculture, we are doing externally what we have done internally with antibiotics.
120336
John Freestone
Posted about 2 months ago
Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food
"I guess scientifically there is nothing wrong with cannibalism." Brilliant. That's it. This demonstrates the hubris of the GMO protagonists when they say "Genes just mix about in the world anyway, so what's the difference?", and make out like they won the debate if you dare to suggest that there's a difference between GMO and evolution...ignoring the fact that there's enough of a difference for comparison in the first place and a multi-billion dollar bankroll. The protagonists' bodies are going to all end up mixing into the environment when they're dead, so it's precisely the same if I just cut them up into little pieces now and have them for dinner.
120336
John Freestone
Posted about 2 months ago
Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food
Hello Uday. Yes, yes, yes! This is more like it! I congratulate you on your eco-friendly intentions and successes, and wish you all the best with this vital work. But you don't say anything about the method - is that because it's too technical for most, or perhaps to protect your intellectual property?
120336
John Freestone
Posted about 2 months ago
Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food
Of course, but I'm not sure what point you're making - extinction is a good thing, let's have more of it? It's actually pretty direct. With Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops, we can spray the fields with Roundup and wipe everything else off the map.
120336
John Freestone
Posted about 2 months ago
Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food
One of my biggest issues with GM is simply that it is an extension of our already increasing monoculture. It's a more sweeping method of clearing all the things we label pests and diseases and weeds (technically, all the plants of the rainforests could be seen as weeds to be felled and planted with golden rice or palms). We are rapidly destroying the natural world, and at every moment, from the crop geneticists' point of view, the numbers look like a vast improvement - we can feed more people, yay! There are fewer "losses" to "pests", yay! Maybe soon another "pest" species will be wiped out competely, yay! Let us not connect this with the fact that we're living through a major extinction period. In the limit, we could just genetically engineer a single crop that provides all our nutritional needs and grow it hydroponically in the dust that remains. The Earth could just have our two species, all the pests and diseases and other pointless distractions having been done away with. Yay!
120336
John Freestone
Posted about 2 months ago
Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food
Hi Todd, I'm a little confused. You say that GM research is partly funded and tested by statutory bodies, but it's so expensive that only big bad private companies can afford to take it on. Doesn't that equate to a collusion between government and big business to artificially inflate the cost of it and maintain control among the rich and powerful? If we weren't all so scared of GM, and it therefore required much more moderate testing, or if the cost reduced in other ways, could we have smaller, friendlier companies in the game - might that happen? What do you see as the ethical problems with the Monsanto etc. business model? We hear all sorts and I'm just hoping to avoid the "conspiracy theories" Pamela talks of. We hear, for instance, that seeds are deliberately made infertile, so the farmer cannot continue the traditional practise of saving seed for the next season, which has been the basis of all our crop improvements since the late Paleolithic, and instead enslaves them to a seed producer. This seems to me like a kind of enslavement, even if someone delivers your quota of free seeds every year. You are beholden to the producer: they literally hold your life in their hands. This is the point about the "heroin" metaphor. Being given things free doesn't always make them nice. Google comes to mind.
120336
John Freestone
Posted 2 months ago
Dan Ariely: How equal do we want the world to be? You'd be surprised
These questions stimulate thought and discussion, but of much greater importance is what our inequality indicates. Capitalism, industrialisation, and now the digital revolution and globalization have enabled an explosion of human civilization, powered by fossil fuels and at the expense of the capacity of the Earth to sustain us. The whole system is designed to screw the most out of the planet, and most of us still seem to think that's fine. The richest people - heads of big corporations for the most part - are best placed to do most of that and gain more even faster, but we are all involved. We all consume the products the system produces, even poor people. Money brings power, power corrupts, and corruption destroys democracy (and planets). Big business is running most of the world, not governments. The rich have won. So I'm most concerned by the casual comment that none of the respondents were socialists. No-one believed in equality. Capitalism will save the day. Just keep on stimulating growth. Increase wealth generally. Fantastic. Literally. Finite globe - best political system: exponential growth. We're sleep-walking. Equality is probably coming after all, and we're not going to like it.
120336
John Freestone
Posted 7 months ago
Stephen Cave: The 4 stories we tell ourselves about death
That's a very interesting point, but I disagree with part of it. We can't be sure whether other animals are aware of the non-existence that a predator represents to them at some level or not, I would argue, but the fear of the predator (or a precipice, etc.) is obviously there, as you say. I think the distinction, though, is between a rational awareness and an instinctive reaction. Evolution creates the emotion of fear, because those who have such a physical reaction to dangers reproduce more successfully by avoiding the danger. But an animal can fear perhaps without much understanding of what is happening. As intelligence increases to the human level, with abstract concepts and names for things, explanations of where babies come from and dead people go, that's when we can call it a fear of death. Otherwise how far down the evolutionary tree are you going to push this "fear of death"? Do we assume that slugs and snails are aware that if they step on the salt they're going to die? No, but we can observe that they avoid it. Microbes avoid toxins. Are they afraid of death?
120336
John Freestone
Posted 7 months ago
Stephen Cave: The 4 stories we tell ourselves about death
Indeed, lack of structure and unity in his argument would be good reason to doubt it (although does not in itself demonstrate that his conclusions are wrong), but I find it odd you don't say what the problem is that you see - what part is disjointed and unstructured? It doesn't seem that way to me. He suggests four ideas we use to avoid the likely reality that death is what it seems, the end, and mentions a large body of evidence that people are frightened of death, and, when reminded of it, are about twice as likely to express religious beliefs.
120336
John Freestone
Posted 7 months ago
Stephen Cave: The 4 stories we tell ourselves about death
I would be wary of the logic that evolution only produces things that have a "purpose". Evolution does not even always produce things that have an advantage. It often produces a group of "things" (or processes) that are tied up together so you can't have one without another. It is reasonable to assume that humans gained intelligence through evolution because that had great advantages, but it also had the difficult consequence - perhaps a real evolutionary disadvantage - that we asked enough questions about ourselves to face the phenomenon of death. Intelligence eventually led to the industrial revolution, burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels and the current danger of making the planet a wasteland. Evolution doesn't check ahead to see what will be useful. There are many more extinct species than extant ones.