Professor Edward Slingerland will be with us for a Casual Conversation on Wednesday, May 15 at 5 pm Eastern Time.  Professor Slingerland (“Ted”) was originally scheduled for Sunday, April 21, but Hanover weather intervened: 


              As a direct result of some recent truly awful April weather in Hanover that made it impossible for us to drive to Montreal to catch our flight, my partner and I have had to re-schedule a trip to London that now makes April 21 impossible for me.


Professor Slingerland is Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia with appointments in the Departments of Philosophy and Asian Studies.  His narrative bio can be found here, About — Edward Slingerland , where you will also find a link to his full academic cv (which is extraordinarily impressive).  His connections to Dartmouth are increasing.  In April 2019, he gave an endowed lecture for the Department of Religion:  "Mind, Body, and the Myth of Holism in Early China" | Department of Religion ( .  Professor Slingerland is also a Visiting Professor at Dartmouth and will be officially teaching at the College (half-time) starting in 2026.   His partner is a neuroscientist at Dartmouth.


The topic of our discussion is ethanol, which we know as alcohol, in all its guises: wine, beer, and distilled spirits.  And which topic is the subject of our guest’s book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization (Little, Brown Spark (2021) ISBN 9780316453356.   (I found his book in Stratford, Ontario, in his native Canada, while attending the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and was immediately entranced.)


I would urge you to read this book because Professor Slingerland, employing direct and elegant prose, and with a good deal of humor and wit, deals with the question of why the drinking of ethanol has survived over the eons:


              There are very good evolutionary reasons why we get drunk.  What this means is that most of what we think we know about intoxication is wrong, incoherent, incomplete, or all of the above. . . . This book argues that, far from being an evolutionary mistake, chemical intoxication helps solve a number of distinctively human challenges: enhancing creativity, alleviating stress, building trust, and pulling off the miracle of getting fiercely tribal primates to cooperate with strangers.


The answers posited by our guest may surprise you, but his analysis is thorough, starting with the animal kingdom (members other than us), and the development of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in an aging human.  I will let him explain, but his conclusion is that “[w]e get drunk because we are a weird species, the awkward losers of the animal world, and need all the help we can get.”  In proving up that statement, Professor Slingerland gives the best explanation of the tensions between the Apollonian and Dionysian.   (My introduction to this concept was a discussion of Ibsen by an expert given at a retreat for the Board of Trustees of Baltimore’s CenterStage.  I much prefer Professor Slingerland’s approach.)


But all is not well.  Two developments in ethanol culture and science have changed the calculus of benefits versus harm in ethanol’s place in our society, and the change in the tone of the book about 2/3 the way through reflects this.  A mere blip of evolutionary time ago (@1500 years), distillation was developed and allowed a much more potent form of alcohol to be sold and easily carried (and consumed) by individuals.  And we drink alone much more often, eschewing the social contexts (and rituals) that have been shown to have a moderating effect on the consumption of alcohol.  And our country (with apologies to our several non-US classmates) has a strikingly loose alcohol culture:


America is one of the few places in the industrialized world where having a local pub or café is rare, and where drive-through stores allow an individual to purchase cigarettes, firearms, Slim Jims, and enough alcohol to paralyze an elephant without having to leave the comfort of her SUV.


Our guest urges a balance be struck and has some ideas on how to go about it.   As he states:


Acknowledging the downsides and risks of chemical intoxication, however, is crucial to any comprehensive defense of ecstatic chemical joy.  And chemical joy needs to be defended.


This may be one of the most important Casual Conversations we have sponsored (along with our next CC on hospice care).  I urge you to go to your library and read the entirety of Paula Span’s essay in the April 9, 2024, issue of the NYTs: “Alcohol Use I Rising Among People Over 65: Public health officials are increasingly alarmed by older Americans’ drinking habits.”  She writes:


              Public health officials are increasingly alarmed by older Americans’’ drinking.  The annual number of alcohol-related deaths from 2020 through 2021 exceeded 178,000, according to [CDC data]: more deaths than from all drug overdoses combined.


              An analysis by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that people over 65 accounted for 38% of that total.  From 1999 to 2020, the 237 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths among those over 55 was higher than for any age group except 25- to 34-year-olds.


Be there: for your health and for that of your family, friends, and classmates.  Learn!


Usual rules apply:  Email me at by close of business two days before, Monday, May 13, if you want to join us.


Arthur Fergenson

Event format
Event category