This book has been an almost decade-long project, or if I am to be honest—an obsession. For a couple of years prior to starting to write an actual book, I had been reading voraciously and bombarding the email inboxes of family and friends in an unstoppable compulsion to excitedly share insights I had read, and to provoke debate. My emails attached essays with titles like “Thoughts on the value (or not) of religion” and “elaboration of ideas on uncertainty, free will, non-determinism, emergence, complexity, and religious vs. atheistic/agnostic ideas about the universe” (no-one should ever send an email with a subject line that long!). Eventually several family and friends suggested in desperation that I write a book, probably to shake me off. Fortunately nobody suggested I might need professional mental health help, and nobody suspected I might be having a mid-life crisis, as my behaviour was not dramatically out-of-character. I have always been a little too intense, you see. And I had long been interested in questions concerning the validity and value of religion. I’ll confess here that if indeed it was a mid-life crisis, it was probably as much about needing to wrestle with a large, novel, gruelling challenge (finding my purpose, in this decade of life?) as it was about any existential crisis of belief.
That being said, this project could certainly never have amounted to anything without the support of a great many people. I cannot possibly name them all, but here is a representative sampling. My sincere gratitude to the many others not included here, to whom I am indebted for their help and encouragement along the way.
My wife Karin – for her ongoing love and endless support, and for teaching me so much about how to cope with adversity and profound uncertainty, through her pragmatic, realistic manner. And for compromising on her preference for private introversion to allow me to tell her story. Karin, while unassuming, is also a paragon of critical thinking and a tireless social media campaigner and educator, countering various forms of contemporary nonsense.
My children Micaela, Yael, and Ze’ev, for greatly magnifying my sense of purpose and my motivation to formulate a coherent worldview. Each one of you has greatly reinforced my optimism in the next generation, and my belief in the Flynn effect.
My mother Robyn, for her lifelong love and support, and for instilling an appreciation of the value of community and religious-cultural tradition. And for her feedback on early drafts. In the early stages of this project I had convinced myself that this book would only ever be read by my mother…
My late father, Eric, for his instrumental role in facilitating the launching of my career, and for teaching me to decisively follow through on goals.
My sister Peta and brothers Gary and Kenny, and all of their spouses, for their encouragement and feedback on early drafts and precursor essays. Gary, who lives closest geographically, played a particularly outsized role in his continuous support, frequent feedback and personal investment in this project from its conception to fruition.
My parents-in-law Mel and Ada, for their unconditional love toward me, and for their gift of Karin to my life. And all of Karin’s close-knit family for their devotion and support.
Our many dear friends who were so kind and caring through the ordeal of Karin’s cancer, and whose company we so enjoy in the many better times we have shared together. Many friends have also provided very helpful feedback on portions of the book, and a great deal of encouragement throughout the process (Mike Ruskin warrants special mention for reading a tediously long early draft in its entirety and providing useful feedback).
Michael Shermer, for his ceaseless confidence in me and his enthusiasm for this project from an early stage. Michael has supported this project all the way, believing in its viability even when earlier drafts were rejected by publishers. And I owe a lot of my own gradual progression toward more rigorous scientific skepticism and critical thinking to Michael’s remarkably prolific, talented writings and lectures.
Linn Clark, my indispensable independent editor, for working intensively with me over a period of two years to help improve my writing. The book would have been significantly less readable without her ‘brutally’ honest, highly constructive and meticulously specific feedback.
At Prometheus Books, Steven Mitchell (Editor in Chief), for investing his confidence and the publisher’s resources in this project, Hanna Etu (Editorial Assistant, who seems to do everything), Jackie May Parkison (Copyeditor, who expertly juggles parenting a young child with efficient and meticulously detailed editing, all the while seeming never to sleep), Jade Scibilia (Senior Editor, who pulls it all together), Laura Shelley (Indexer), Mark Hall (Communications Editor and Metadata Manager), Liz Mills (Graphic/Web Designer, for the beautiful book cover design), and a whole lot of other crucial people working busily behind the scenes (people such as Catherine Roberts-Abel, among others), with whom I did not have occasion to work directly.
My publicists Lisa Michalski (Prometheus), Rachel Sentes (independent) and Sam Ruinsky (Penguin Random House Canada) for tirelessly promoting the book.
Ari Zaretsky, Chief of the Department of Psychiatry at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, for his continuous enthusiastic support and encouragement. There are dozens of other valued colleagues and mentors at Sunnybrook and in the University of Toronto Department of Psychiatry whose brains I have picked and who have provided feedback and encouragement. Anthony Feinstein, Ken Shulman, and Benoit Mulsant warrant special mention. Laurie Reznek also invested considerable time in providing detailed feedback on a very early draft.
Several members of the Sunnybrook Media and Communications teams have been extremely helpful during the book promotion process, including Sivan Keren Young, Nadia Radovini, Jennifer Palisoc, Sean Sewell, Kevin Van Paassen, and Ancil London. And Alyson Musial in the U of T Department of Psychiatry Communications Office.
The group of administrative assistants who keep our clinics running as smoothly as possible. Special thanks to Ingrid Sardar, who also is no stranger to adversity.
The countless medical and nursing staff at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre, Princess Margaret Hospital and Women’s College Hospital, who cared for Karin during the several years of her cancer treatment. And the many staff who treated me over a number of years at Sunnybrook and at Toronto Western Hospital for my intermittently extremely disabling musculoskeletal diseases.
Last but most definitely not least, I want to acknowledge and thank the thousands of patients who have let me into their lives over the years, many of whom allowed me to get to know them extremely well. They have taught me most of what I know about psychiatry and about the human condition. They have done so not only through their suffering of adversity or through the involuntary display of subtle or dramatic perturbations of mind and brain, but also by generously sharing with me their deeply considered insights and wisdom about life and the world. I am deeply indebted to each one of them.