From Boxer to Philosophy Professor: an Interview with Dr. Richard Grego

by Jeremy Johnson

by Nicholas Fuller

Philosophy and spirituality in the context of consciousness studies has been a passionate, and intellectual pursuit of mine for many years. Authors and philosophers from Ken Wilber, to Alan Watts, to William Irwin Thompson, line my bookshelf and the folds of my mind. I recently enrolled in a philosophy course for my college degree, sadly, not to further deepen my understanding of the self and the world around me, but to simply fulfill a mandatory Humanities credit. Imagine my surprise when I read my professor’s self-introduction where he detailed his interest in consciousness studies.

I found a kindred spirit in his post, and decided to do some research on him. It wasn’t long before I was on the message boards, reaching out to him for an interview. He replied very quickly, an oddity among online professors, and with great fervor. The interview was e-mail based, and spread over the course of a couple of days. Its brevity is matched only by its depth, and I hope that you find it as intriguing as I did. I have formatted the interview in a standard question and answer format for easier viewing than the original email-based context.

Nick: Dr. Richard Grego joins us today for an interview about how he came to pursue his path in notonly studying, but teaching philosophy. Doctor, would you mind giving a description of yourself for the readers?

Dr. Grego: I am a Professor at Daytona State College where I teach courses in Philosophy, World Religions, and Cultural History. I hold an MA degree in History and an MA degree in Philosophy, and a Doctorate in the History of Ideas with a specialization in Philosophy. My research interests, of late, include things like metaphysics, cross-cultural concepts of mind, consciousness and self-identity, the relationship between religion and science, cultural history, existentialism and Asian philosophies–and a lot more too. I currently serve as Faculty Advisor to several student Clubs/Associations at [Daytona State College], am Co-founder of the Center for Interdisciplinary Writing and Research, the Faculty Senate President [at the college], I research/publish a scholarly paper once in a while, [and I] serve on the Executive Committee of the Criminal Defense Investigation Training Counsel.

Nick: That’s quite an extensive resume! Your mix of academia and criminal defense positions seem an unusual mixture. Can you elaborate on what exactly you’ve done in the past before becoming a professor?

Dr. Grego: Prior to becoming a professional philosopher, I was a professional boxer, a criminal investigator for the State Office of Probation/Parole and the Office of the Public Defender, a polygraph examiner, and a private investigator.

Nick: Can you describe your path to becoming a professional philosopher? It’s not everyday that a former professional boxer and state investigator wakes up, rolls over, and declares “I want to dedicate my life to thinking, writing, teaching and talking about existence!”

Dr. Grego: To try to answer your questions succinctly: My philosophical path has been my own calling, I suppose–Not as a professional occupation, but rather as a natural consequence of my spiritual disposition. I majored in philosophy in college (along with history–as a second major) while I began my boxing career (not sure why I picked that sport–maybe because it was so unsuited to me–like a Jungian ego-shadow) and when I graduated with my BA, I was so disillusioned with higher education that I wanted to do something unique and adventurous. Since the French Foreign Legion wouldn’t take me, I got a job with a big Private investigation Firm in NYC that did a lot of work for major international corporations. I did some background investigations and then started doing undercover [work]. I also made some money as a sparring partner for top professional boxers training for big fights (my own trainer was ex-champ Floyd Patterson, who made a profound impression on me). After a while though, I began to miss academia and went back for a graduate degree in history, then went back to investigating (Probation and Parole Dept this time), Then back to grad school (Doctorate in Philosophy) then back to investigating/polygraph examining (Public Defender and the private sector) and teaching (courses in Philosophy/Critical Thinking/Ethics/History at Indian River State College/Barry University, as well as criminal investigation, surveillance, interviewing/interogation at the Criminal Justice Institute and as Academic Director for the CDITC, and polygraph science for the International Academy of Polygraph). –So that’s how I’ve integrated the diverse life odysseys that I mentioned in one (relatively) integral experience.

Nick: In doing some research on you, I found that you will soon have a paper published in the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, in which you wrote An Evolving Dialectic: Contesting Conceptions of Nature in American Philosophy. Can you talk a little about the concept behind this piece, and what it covers? (without violating any publication rules, of course)

Dr. Grego: The article on American Philosophy and Nature was actually submitted to the History of Intellectual Culture journal, and was withdrawn from JGAPE (at least I sure hope it was, as I’ll be in big trouble if it isn’t) and is on the evolution of the conception of nature in American philosophy from transcendentalism in the early/mid 1800′s through idealism in the late 1800′s to pragmatism in the early/mid 1900′s, with reference to historian Donald Worster’s notion that the view of nature in American culture changed radically during this time. He theorizes that nature initially was seen in more heroic, aesthetic, mythical ways earlier in US history and gradually came to be viewed more as a commodity or resource for exploitation by the 19th century, and I apply this theory to the evolution of the idea of nature in American philosophy through this time, and find that Worster’s theory pretty much holds true.

Nick: You have mentioned that consciousness studies has been of particular interest to you; what has your particular focus within that philosophical field been? Which authors/philosophers have you been reading in your research into consciousness studies?

Dr. Grego: My interest in mind/consciousness stems from investigation and polygraph science combined with a larger interest in metaphysics and human nature. My doctoral dissertation was on Jiddu Krishnamurti and the Buddhist Monk Thich Naht Hanh, so that’s where my spiritual ground kind of is. However, I’m also familiar with analytic philosophy and the physical/social sciences in this connection and am interested in cross-cultural philosophies of self-identity, free will (particularly in relation to moral responsibility and criminal culpability), cosmology (science and religion) and parapsychology. One of the reasons I interviewed Hoyt Edge [Editor's Note: Dr. Grego interviewed Parapsychologist Hoyt Edge for the Skeptiko podcast. The podcast can be found here] is because I like the work he is doing along some of these lines. Stephan Braude is another active philosopher in the consciousness/parapsychology area who I like.

Nick: Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Did this statement of his have any influence on your path, and did his written works have a connection to your feelings of disillusionment with higher education when you were younger?

Dr. Grego: I actually had a poster of that Krishnamurti quote on my office door at Daytona State College. I do indeed agree with the sentiment. I believe the psychiatrist and philosopher RD Laing also said something like this in ‘The Politics of Experience’ someplace. And yes, it actually did and continues to resonate profoundly with me–For the very reasons that Krishnamurti gave: eg; That our personal and social problems are ultimately spiritual problems whose origin is our delusional understanding of ourselves and our world–the dynamic behind which is the illusion of ego-centrism, dogmatic rationalism, and mindless materialism underwriting a complex psycho-social-economic-political system that, in turn, engenders the illusions that support it. And I’m pretty much just as disillusioned with higher education (which is a part of this delusional and dehumanizing dynamic) now as I was earlier in my life—Sad, I suppose, but there I am–

Nick: What do you like most about Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings? (i.e. His accessibility, his thoughts on mindfulness, engaged Buddhism etc.) Does it apply to your personal practice?

Dr. Grego: [Regarding Thich Nhat Hanh], I think I like his integrated thought on ‘dependant origination’ and ‘emptiness’, the concept of ‘non-attachment’ to self, beliefs, etc that follows from emptiness, the idea of ‘mindfulness’ as liberation from emptiness and a source for authentic insight that follows from non-attachment, and the commitment to ‘ethical/social engagement’, compassion, and justice that follows from mindfulness. Its a comprehensive, authentic, relevant, and integrated rendition of Buddhist thinking.

Nick: What influence does a study of consciousness have on the world problems today? And, looking to the near future, are we going to, or do you think we need to, experience some kind of shift in our consciousness/worldview?

Dr. Grego: I guess the importance/relevance of consciousness studies is multiform—the debate today between adherents of what i see as a reductive dogmatic simplistic materialism-rationalism-scientism that is used to justify a worldview in which we see ourselves as isolated selfish greedy violent animals, devoid of fee will, spiritual potentials, or purpose on one hand, and an attempt to envision a more spiritual-holistic-interrelational worldview in which humanity’s capacity for compassion, cooperation, and transpersonal potentials are appreciated on the other hand, is a contest over what the ultimate fate of humanity and the world is or should be. The advocates of the former view are content with the socio-economic-political state of the world as it is, and use the materialist-rationalist-scientist legacy of the enlightenment to validate this system. The advocates of the multifarious latter views envision a much different kind of world and are often at the forefront of movements involving peace, social justice, environmental protection, etc, which reflect this vision. [Thich Nhat Hanh's] comprehensive philosophy is a good example. (That’s also one of the reasons why I did the second MA degree in environmental philosophy)

In the interest of not taking up too much of the professor’s time, I concluded the interview there. I really enjoyed learning about and hearing from him, and I think that his experience was unique enough that I wanted to share it with you all. Dr. Richard Grego is a man on a vast journey through the cosmos moving between the dimensions of, the physical, as a boxer, the mental, as a private detective, and through the spiritual realm as a philosophy teacher; his path is truly inspiring to me. They say that variety is the spice of life, and I believe Dr. Grego is an entire grocery store aisle of life-spice. I hope that you found inspiration in this, all too brief interview.

If you have thoughts or questions about the interview, or perhaps suggestions for follow up questions for the professor, comment below, and if there’s enough response, I will create a followup interview with your questions. Thank you for your time.