May 1, 2013 - 3:12am

It’s not every day that a 21-year-old student is invited to present a research paper at an international conference.

“It was a really cool and exciting experience,” says Michael Cantwell of Vancouver Island University. “It was nerve-wracking but a very big honour.”

Cantwell, a History and Philosophy student at VIU, presented his research paper about self-deception at the 17th annual Philosophy Undergraduate Research Conference” in Oregon in April.

His professor, VIU’s Dr. Robert Pepper-Smith urged Cantwell to submit the paper to conference organizers for consideration. “I got a call the next day inviting me to make a 45-minute presentation,” says Cantwell.

Cantwell wrote the 3,300 word, 11 page paper for Pepper-Smith’s Philosophy 363 class in Epistemology and Metaphysics.

“It was a topic that interested the whole class. Part way through the semester, we were given an option of writing a paper or giving a presentation as an end-of-year major project,” says Cantwell.

According to Cantwell, self-deception means holding a belief opposite to what reality shows. “There is overwhelming evidence against your belief but you hold onto the belief anyway,” he says. “There’s something at stake for you. It’s the equivalent of lying to yourself.”

Why do people self-deceive? “Because there is some kind of pay off,” he says. “The result from their belief is better than if they held a different opinion.”

“The topic fascinates me,” Cantwell adds. “By understanding what self-deception entails, you are able to recognize a situation before you make an error of sticking to beliefs that are wrong.”

Cantwell drew on concepts from various philosophers and researchers about self-deception but came up with his own original ideas for the paper. According to Cantwell, researcher Bela Szabados wrote one of the best papers in the field about self-deception.

With the presentation under his belt, Cantwell is hopeful that the paper will be published in an undergraduate research journal.

“I hope people can learn something from my paper. That’s what I’m aiming for.”

Cantwell, who graduated from a Christian high school in Campbell River, eventually plans to pursue law school. He chose VIU “because of the small class sizes and accessibility of professors.”

Cantwell married his high school sweetheart last year, Shaylene Cantwell, who graduates from VIU in June with a Bachelor of Arts degree, major in English and Biology.

The couple will return to Campbell River for the summer and work on Quadra Island at a fish processing plant. “I get to spend the entire day next to my wife gutting fish,” says Cantwell. “We do have philosophical discussions. I can argue circles around her, even if I’m not right!”



Janina Stajic, Manager, Vancouver Island University

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