An Interview with Professor David A.M. Bamps

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism

Dr. Knight: You work in the Netherlands, why is that a sacred space for you?

Dr. Bamps: A sacred place is first of all a defined place, a space distinguished from other spaces. I like to prefer J.Z. Smith: he suggested the helpful metaphor of sacred space as a focusing lens. A sacred place focuses the attention on the forms, objects, and actions in it and reveals them as bearers of religious meaning.

In the Netherlands, I enjoy working within the Sinti Community (Gypsy’s), direct family, and followers of the world-renowned jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. In this, music plays a major role. In addition to being an academic, I am also a musician, and I strongly believe in the connecting power of music. That's one of the main reasons I committed to working with a world-renowned Sinti guitarist like Jimmy Rosenberg - we live as brothers today and enter every major stage in the world to bring hope and healing. It is also a biblical reference to my name: “Whenever the evil spirit from God bothered Saul, David would play his harp. Saul would relax and feel better, and the evil spirit would go away.” (1 Samuel 16: 14-23)

Dr. Knight: Could you tell us about your life before higher education?

Dr. Bamps: I was born in Belgium. My earliest passion was music. I started playing the organ since the age of three. Was too small for the keyboard, played on a pillow or telephone books. Since the age of 6, I played weekly in the big church during the Eucharist with the school children (Don Bosco, Alken, Belgium). Meanwhile, I learned to play other musical instruments: drums, accordion, and piano.

Initially, the school didn't interest me much, I was more interested in things that weren't explained at the time. For example, astronomy and chemistry. I remember a funny incident, where I was caught with the adult section in the library. They said: “books for my age were elsewhere”. I responded by stating that “I had already read all of those”.

They took the test. If I could answer three difficult questions correctly from those science books in the children's section, perhaps they could make an exception. So said, so done. I answered all the questions correctly. I received special permission from the librarian to borrow books from the adult department related to this subject. During the so-called final (cantonal) exams of the elementary school, I had distinguished myself sufficiently (primus inter pares), to be allowed to continue studying.

I spent my secondary school years in the renowned Saint Aloysius Institute, with the Assumptionist Fathers (Zepperen, Belgium): formally known as the Congregation of the Augustinians of the Assumption (Latin: Congregatio Augustinianorum ab Assumptione). The congregation had its origin in the College of the Assumption, established in Nîmes, France, in 1843, by the Rev. d'Alzon vicar-general of that diocese.

At the age of 15, I won an important music competition in Brussels and was offered an international contract as a demonstrator for a French instrument factory. But my grandfather, who was a professional musician, decided that I should first obtain a worthy degree at the university. After that, I could still do what I wanted. I did take that advice and earned a master's degree in philosophy, psychology, and law, completed with a Ph.D.

Dr. Knight: Would you please tell us about your work as a Professor of Ethics, Social Psychology, and Juvenile Delinquency at the University of Applied Sciences (UCLL)?

Dr. Bamps: My job consists of teaching and research. ‘Ethics’ is actually ‘social ethics’: it is about the normative theories, and how ethical dilemmas play a role in our lives, including as professionals. We teach students to deal with that. Within ‘social psychology’, I give a capita selecta of the important theories and experiments. The goal is to understand how we behave under the influence of our own thoughts, those of others, and contextual elements. This can be useful when trying to improve our living environment. Within ‘Juvenile Delinquency’ we study the deviant behavior of adolescents. We start from a multi-factor model, to understand this type of behavior. Then we look at possible solutions. It’s all about improving our practice. The described lectures are taught in the 2nd and 3rd bachelor's within the major of social work and child & youth studies.

Dr. Knight: What is Human Contribution to Artificial Intelligence (Engaged and Entrepreneurial European University, E³UDRES²) At your University? And throughout the world?

Dr. Bamps: The starting point of this research track is actually a reversal of how people traditionally look at artificial intelligence. From a transhumanism perspective, it is classically about a human being with limitations, where technology can help overcome certain problems or shortcomings. But that's only part of the story. Within computational models, there is a great need for qualitative data.

Moreover, no practice benefits from an oversimplification of reality. Society and human behavior are complex, and it is important for technology to know this human complexity. A paradoxical fact in this regard is the power of imperfection. If we were to improve society, from a maximization of what all can do better according to the rules of art, at some point we cross a threshold, where we dehumanize the world.

This produces unexpected and sometimes very destructive consequences. Within my research, I focus on the problem of predictability. If the world or certain systems become too predictable, destructive forces arise that we should try to avoid. I try to write research projects in collaboration with European research teams where we boost regional technology.

These are practice-based projects and innovative-economic objectives. At the same time, I also use these studies to anticipate the dangers of technology, “perfection” and provider, as outlined in more theoretical articles.

Dr. Knight: You are a member of the Advisory Board of Ethics (KU Leuven) what aspect of life does that call you to?

Dr. Bamps: It is important that science can happen, but not unconditionally. I like to watch over the boundaries of what can and cannot happen, and what should happen. The normative aspect of life is not a dead letter. We must be careful in exploring our world and in creating new means. I always compare it to a drug. In Greek it is described as a “pharmakon”: it can both cure someone and poison someone. This requires balance and wise insight with experience. For me, that evokes certain aspects of life, where we have to be an equilibrist.

Dr. Knight: What does the work on the Faculty of Laws, MaastrichtUniversity entail?

Dr. Bamps: The research work there is very interdisciplinary and lies on the borderline between law, philosophy, psychology, and technology. My scientific thinking exercise was also very innovative and special because I was trying to set up experimental studies with the goal of investigating the morality of the future and describing a hypothetical form of society that would emerge with it. I like to play with thought experiments. To give an example, I described the characteristics of what I called a ‘dashboard society’. It is a society where technology has evolved to the point where it can provide citizens with a data-driven morality. With this setting, I suggest that we are behind a curtain of science (not of ignorance). I can greatly enjoy completely reversing philosophical premises (of John Rawls, for example), and seeing what comes out. That’s the academic work I do, with a twist. Dr. Knight: Does your research involve teaching? If so is it for doctoral-level students? Dr. Bamps: At the university college, the pillars of research and teaching are basically separated organizationally, but there is a recommendation to intertwine teaching and research. I also try to do that by telling students from the first source what I myself have found during research and experiments, but also by offering them research topics, which they can explore during theses, theses, and final papers, themselves. Within the framework of the European Network University (E³UDRES²), Ph.D. students participate in this kind of research and can obtain a doctoral degree after a successful defense.

Dr. Knight: What would you want our readers to learn from your interview? Dr. Bamps: I hope they understand the complicatedness of my life but also appreciate it. It is through a cross-fertilization of efforts, inspiration, interdisciplinary studies, multiple research areas, and networking that I can deliver the work I do. Every link is important in this process. I believe in a better world, but we have to do our best, and sometimes dare to think of non-cerebral extensions and tools. They can evoke a new morality that is not necessarily bad. We might do better to manage the world, and calculate the consequences of our actions. Dr. Knight: Do you know/believe the scope of Artificial Intelligence in our society at the present time? Dr. Bamps: The most difficult problem with artificial intelligence is described in Latin as: corruptio optimi pessima. Meaning: Corruption of the best becomes the worst. I don't see a panacea in technology, but it can help. It solves problems, but it also creates new ones. We will almost have to develop an art form to balance this new (out of the) world order. I do not rule out the emergence of a higher form of consciousness. Perhaps we need this consciousness to take a step further in our development, also spiritually. Perhaps there will come a point of singularity where we no longer understand how it works. I just don't know if we can keep the trust then. Therefore, we should always be cautious and try to anticipate possible omens. Coming events cast their shadows before them.

Dr. Knight: Thank you for helping us to understand more deeply the kind of research that you do and what your life is like.

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