27. AP8 Why do brains go wrong? Who decides?

All the world is mad but you and me, and even you are a lit­tle strange..” Unbal­anced men­tal states range all the way from depres­sion to killer crazy. In Aus­tralia in any given year 4 mil­lion peo­ple will expe­ri­ence a men­tal ill­ness, and 1 mil­lion Aus­tralians have a dis­abling psy­chi­atric dis­or­der. The favoured treat­ments of the age are most­ly phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal. How smart is this?

26. AP8 The Trust Problem. Some people and some countries have it. Some don’t. Why?

Whom do you trust? In a soci­ety, less trust = more laws. Sig­nals of trust change between cul­tures, and even social class. In some coun­tries pub­lic trust is almost zero. Also, can a “Face­book friend” or a face from TV be real­ly trust­ed? An Inter­net romance? For some, reli­gion sig­nals trust­wor­thi­ness. What is your solu­tion for build­ing trust in a com­pli­cat­ed world?

21. AP8 Count your lucky stars

What part does luck play in the suc­cess of indi­vid­u­als, enter­pris­es and coun­tries? Think of exam­ples. From pol­i­tics to careers to find­ing the love of your life, there has nev­er been more advice avail­able, yet at the end of the game, some peo­ple seem to have been lucky and oth­ers not. Why is this so? Can you real­ly do much about it? 

20. AP8 What is the best way to fund research, and what kinds of research should be funded?

There are many kinds of research and many kinds of peo­ple involved in research. Some­times what seems use­less at the time can have huge con­se­quences a gen­er­a­tion lat­er (and some­times not). Some research results which seem a tri­umph at the time are show use­less by lat­er devel­op­ments. A career in research requires ded­i­ca­tion and tal­ent, but is high­ly risky in terms of per­son­al and insti­tu­tion­al suc­cess. How can all of the­se fac­tors be bal­anced?

19. AP8 A Universal Basic Income. $400 per week indexed to the CPI

Pay every­one $400 per week (cur­rent age pen­sion), rich or poor, indexed to the CPI. Gov­ern­ments print the mon­ey (they do now), and the mon­ey goes around. You have an econ­o­my. Employ­ers pay a mar­gin above the UBI to attract work­ers if they want them (over­all prob­a­bly cheap­er for them than now). A true mar­ket then con­trols most work­ing con­di­tions, not the cur­rent black­mail. Cen­tre­link (now a failed orga­ni­za­tion) not need­ed. Tax sys­tem sim­pli­fied. Automa­tion tak­ing jobs doesn’t mat­ter. Health costs fall. Peo­ple can choose to learn, grow and think. Free uni­ver­si­ty & tech (like Ger­many). Employ­ment for sat­is­fac­tion, more mon­ey and/or career inter­est.

18. AP8 Prisons: so what is to be done?

It costs … tax­pay­ers $109,782.60 a year – or $301.60 each day — to keep a pris­on­er “on the inside”, accord­ing to the Aus­tralian Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty Com­mis­sion. Alter­na­tive­ly it costs $49,700 – less than half — to provide that pris­on­er with rent, food, a small four-cylin­der car and mon­ey for any degree in Aus­tralia for a year”. [Bris­bane Times 28 Febuary 2016]

17. AP8 What is right and what is wrong in the training of medical doctors?

Com­ment: some­where out there in med­ical-land there is a use­ful answer for many med­ical ques­tions, but expe­ri­ence (mine at least) sug­gests that odds of find­ing a GP who knows is often slim. For some­one with basic research skills, good answers tend to come bet­ter (and more cheap­ly!) from “Dr Google”. Also Dr Google soon shows up where the sci­ence is not set­tled (most issues), but doc­tors rarely do. Nor will they debate the evi­dence.

16. AP8 Questions about Cities

Cities are a com­pli­cat­ed and fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject. They pose end­less ques­tions. For exam­ple, as indi­vid­u­als, are our life oppor­tu­ni­ties more defined by par­tic­u­lar cities than par­tic­u­lar coun­tries? How much loy­al­ty and sweat should we invest in a par­tic­u­lar city? What makes a good city? How impor­tant is it for a city to be well-known, and what can they do about it? The UN lists 4,416 cities in the world with a pop­u­la­tion of over 150,000. The biggest (Tokyo and Jakar­ta) have over 30 mil­lion peo­ple. Cities usu­al­ly want to be “rec­og­nized” to attract some kind of advan­tage, usu­al­ly eco­nom­ic. Is this kind of ‘city exhi­bi­tion­ism’ a waste of time? .. and more ques­tions that you can think of.

15. AP8 Narcissism grew like an invasive plant throughout the 20th Century. Now it is in full bloom

First­ly a lot (not all) of “mod­ern” art and poet­ry and even music stopped say­ing much about the soci­eties which host­ed them and became pure­ly self indul­gent, often pompous­ly “abstract”. This mir­rored a lot (not all) of what was hap­pen­ing in many areas of aca­d­e­mic work, and a lot (not all) of what was hap­pen­ing in so-called high finance. When the dig­i­tal cam­era democ­ra­tized imagery, “self­ies” (or the ulti­mate self-indul­gence, sex­ting) became the dom­i­nant form of pho­tog­ra­phy. Now Don­ald Trump stands on top of the Amer­i­can polit­i­cal muck heap and asks to be anoint­ed as the emper­or of self-love. 

13. AP8 Politics and Politicians : a volatile mix?

Pol­i­tics is like med­i­cine: some­times use­ful, even nec­es­sary, in small amounts, but fatal if tak­en in an over­dose. Politi­cians can be a use­ful species but are prone to going fer­al. Democ­ra­cies often elect either medi­oc­ri­ties or con­fi­dence trick­sters because large num­bers of elec­tors share sim­i­lar qual­i­ties. In prac­ti­cal terms, is there a bet­ter way to man­age nation­al affairs?

12 AP8 Half the jobs in Australia will disappear. What then?

Aus­tralia has over 600,000 not-for-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions, and a quick­ly expand­ing “shar­ing econ­o­my” (e.g. Uber, Airbnb, eBay). Most of this is under the radar of news reports. What are the signs that NFP’s and the shar­ing econ­o­my can become a main career path for many when automa­tion destroys half of nor­mal jobs Aus­tralia & Amer­i­ca in the next few years?

11. AP8 What is your understanding of “Active Thinking”? What other kinds of thinking (human or non-human) are found in the known universe?

Over 140* peo­ple have now signed up to the Active Think­ing mee­tup… So let us know (active­ly!) what you expect to hap­pen when you and a 7 oth­er peo­ple get togeth­er in the State Library to think active­ly about a cho­sen top­ic. How do you approach puz­zling top­ics over and above giv­ing a sim­ple unex­am­ined opin­ion? (And just for laughs, how might cyborgs think through things dif­fer­ent­ly?)  Um, what top­ics are you ready to think about active­ly?

[*post­script: Over 500 had signed up by a year lat­er when I dis­con­tin­ued the series Most were ghosts who nev­er came]

22. BAT Start your own business – a mental experiment [Thor]

Imag­ine that you are start­ing a new busi­ness. What would it be? Why did you choose it? Why would you choose a per­son­al enter­prise over work­ing for some­body else (or why wouldn’t you)? What rewards would you be look­ing for? What per­son­al costs would you be pre­pared to tol­er­ate? Would you attempt it alone, or would you look for partner(s)? What are the ways you could fund such a star­tup? Would it be local, or seek a wider mar­ket? .


21. BAT Is the “white noise” of daily media distraction deliberate social control, or just modernity out of control? [Thor]

Every­one has only 24 hours in a day. In many coun­tries the sheer strug­gle to sur­vive occu­pies most wak­ing hours. In some oth­ers, any “free think­ing time” is care­ful­ly manip­u­lat­ed by state direct­ed activ­i­ties, pro­pa­gan­da and cen­sor­ship. A pos­si­ble third mod­el is that rul­ing elites and gov­ern­ments may pre­vent crit­i­cism by dis­tract­ing the main pop­u­la­tion with sports, enter­tain­ment and end­less triv­ial ‘news’.

20. BAT Why do people take up religions, persist with them, and abandon them ? [suggested by Thor]

What­ev­er you think of reli­gions per­son­al­ly, or any par­tic­u­lar reli­gion, they seem to have been around forever amongst (most) humans, and seem unlike­ly to go away entire­ly amongst the species as a whole. Clear­ly though, par­tic­u­lar cul­tures in var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal phas­es have many mem­bers who are attract­ed to reli­gions or sub­sti­tute ide­olo­gies, but tend to drift away from them in oth­er phas­es. At a dif­fer­ent lev­el, wom­en seem to be the most per­sis­tent believ­ers by num­bers, but reli­gious hier­ar­chies are almost always con­trolled by (humour­less old) men…  What is it in human psy­chol­o­gy that gen­er­ates the­se reli­gious phe­nom­e­na?

19 BAT When is censorship acceptable? Justify your argument [proposed by Thor]

Forty years ago the biggest social debates were about the accept­abil­i­ty (or not) of cen­sor­ship relat­ed to sex­u­al­i­ty. Now the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion might be more with polit­i­cal cen­sor­ship. There are many kinds of cen­sor­ship, includ­ing self-cen­sor­ship. Who should be draw­ing the­se invis­i­ble lines in the sand, and applied to what?

16. BAT Is the “white noise” of daily media distraction deliberate social control, or just modernity out of control? [proposed by Thor]

Every­one has only 24 hours in a day. In many coun­tries the sheer strug­gle to sur­vive occu­pies most wak­ing hours. In some oth­ers, any “free think­ing time” is care­ful­ly manip­u­lat­ed by state direct­ed activ­i­ties, pro­pa­gan­da and cen­sor­ship. A pos­si­ble third mod­el is that rul­ing elites and gov­ern­ments may pre­vent crit­i­cism by dis­tract­ing the main pop­u­la­tion with sports, enter­tain­ment and end­less triv­ial ‘news’.

13. BAT How can Australia best arrange its international relationships? [proposed by Thor]

Since World War II Australia’s lead­ers have con­scious­ly posi­tioned Aus­tralia as a client state of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Defence forces are total­ly inte­grat­ed, and for­eign pol­i­cy rarely devi­ates from the Amer­i­can line. Australia’s com­mer­cial cul­ture is Amer­i­ca writ small. Is this Amer­i­can pat­tern­ing the best option for Aus­tralia in the future?

10.BAT Fake It ‘Till You Make It — A viable way to succeed? [discussed 22 September 2014]

It’s all around us. From face lifts to lux­u­ry cars on hire pur­chase, from inflat­ed CVs to exag­ger­at­ed job titles, from com­pa­ny pub­lic­i­ty mate­ri­al to the spin that gov­ern­ments put on their fail­ures and decep­tions. At what point does fak­ery become fraud? Would the world be a duller place with­out it?

6BAT. The work problem [discussed 5 October 2014]

For most ordi­nary peo­ple, their job is not some­thing that they enjoy much. How­ev­er, with­out for­mal work they lose focus, become depen­dent on wel­fare, and become social­ly stig­ma­tized. It seems that increas­ing num­bers of peo­ple will nev­er be able to have secure employ­ment. What is a prac­ti­cal, long term nation­al solu­tion to “the work prob­lem” for ordi­nary peo­ple?

76. The Uses and Misuses of Reason

When can the use of rea­son lead to bet­ter lives and soci­eties, and when can it under­mine them?

Think­ing point: The Attor­ney Gen­er­al, George Bran­dis has just declared that argu­ments for cli­mate change are irra­tional and that those who assert it should take a lesson from Voltaire … http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/climate-change-proponents-using-mediaeval-tactics-george-brandis-20140418-zqwfc.html#ixzz2zDYtpzHx

75. When Do Means Justify Ends? [proposed by Thor]

Soon­er or lat­er every­one — indi­vid­u­als, gov­ern­ments, com­pa­nies — has to make choic­es about whether to put aside cer­tain val­ues to achieve a desired end. Michael Pas­coe, an Aus­tralian finan­cial jour­nal­ist, has recent­ly dis­cussed this at http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/comment-and-analysis/abandon-principles-and-pay-the-price-20140331-35tz4.html

74. Learning “grit” is the best way to beat failure and succeed (?) [proposed by Thor]

Every­one fails at some­thing soon­er or lat­er. The impor­tant thing is how they han­dle fail­ure. A recent edu­ca­tion­al fad in Amer­i­ca is to teach stu­dents “grit” (http://www.npr.org/2014/03/17/290089998/does-teaching-kids-to-get-gritty-help-them-get-ahead ). How have you man­aged your fail­ures, and has fail­ure made you a bet­ter per­son?

71. How can we raise the success rate in education without lowering the academic bar? (proposed by Stephen)

 Addi­tion­al bil­lions have been spent on edu­ca­tion with­out a marked improve­ment. Some argue for and again­st exams, and oth­ers argue for a com­pe­ten­cy based assess­ment method. Oth­ers argue that it is the qual­i­ty of teach­ers that is the key fac­tor, whilst oth­ers argue that based on the con­cept of the bell curve there will always be those who are at the upper end and those at the low­er end. What do you think?

70. What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century? (proposed by Bill [topic 12], modified by Thor) — discussed 11 January 2014

The 20th Cen­tu­ry revolved polit­i­cal­ly around com­pet­ing inter­pre­ta­tions of Cap­i­tal­ism, Com­mu­nism, Social­ism and Fas­cism. The­se are all ways to orga­nize the lives of peo­ple on a large scale. Are real alter­na­tives or new inter­pre­ta­tions like­ly to emerge in the chal­leng­ing years ahead? What might they look like?

68. What does it mean to be a good person? (proposed by Annette Faith Dexter)

 Have there been any out­stand­ing­ly good peo­ple in human his­to­ry, or have the life sto­ries of those held up as good (e.g. Gand­hi, Moth­er Tere­sa, the Dalai Lama, Mar­t­in Luther King) been “pho­to­shopped” to suit the pur­pos­es of oth­ers? Do our con­cepts of what is good pro­gress over time any­way, such that what once was moral­ly out­stand­ing (e.g. oppos­ing slav­ery) is now mere­ly nor­mal?

67. Eugenics is the only reasonable strategy available to us, given the fact of evolution (proposed by Dominicus)

Humans are not sta­t­ic. Evo­lu­tion is an ongo­ing process. Humans will inevitably change over time from var­i­ous selec­tive pres­sures on sur­vival and repro­duc­tion. That much is cer­tain. Equal­ly cer­tain is the fact that the indi­vid­u­al and col­lec­tive deci­sions of humans will have var­i­ous direct and indi­rect effects on this grad­u­al change. The only ques­tion that remains is to decide whether we wish for our influ­ence on our con­tin­ued evo­lu­tion to be ran­dom, dis­or­gan­ised and entire­ly unin­ten­tion­al (remain­ing in denial of the facts due to the stig­ma on eugen­ics), or to make our influ­ence very delib­er­ate, care­ful and cal­cu­lat­ed.
The fact is that (whether we like it or not) we are faced with the ques­tion of how we want to change our species, and denial of this will only mean that we leave the des­ti­na­tion of our species to pure chance, which doesn’t seem like a very respon­si­ble or intel­li­gent respon­se to me.

65. Creating Meaning in Life (discussed 30 Nov. 2013 — proposed by Annette)

Humans have a short phys­i­cal exis­tence on a plan­et that will even­tu­al­ly cease to sup­port life at all. In this con­text, what strate­gies should humans use to impart mean­ing to their own lives? Some pos­si­bil­i­ties are list­ed. Which of the­se have you used, and how effec­tive have they been? Are dif­fer­ent approach­es appro­pri­ate to dif­fer­ent stages of life? 

A. Com­pete with oth­er humans (e.g. for sta­tus)
B. Care for oth­er humans (e.g. as a human­i­tar­i­an)
C. Max­i­mize close con­nec­tions with oth­er humans (e.g. with a love part­ner)
D. Max­i­mize pos­i­tive sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ences (e.g. “be hap­py”)
E. Align your­self with what you believe to be a high­er pur­pose (e.g. pol­i­tics)
F. Adhere to a set of rules/standards (e.g. moral pre­cepts)
G. Attempt to cre­ate some­thing that will out­live you (e.g. art) 
H. Invest in the next gen­er­a­tion of humans (e.g. your bio­log­i­cal off­spring)
I. Oth­er approach­es?

64. How far should we go in raising an indifferent public’s awareness of important social, moral or political issues? (discussed 14 December 2013; proposed by Mehdi)

Some believe “igno­rance is bliss”, and the more they know the more they get wor­ried. On the oth­er hand we def­i­nite­ly can’t be indif­fer­ent about many things. From a social per­spec­tive, through which we try to man­age our rela­tion­ship with oth­ers in a friend­ly man­ner, what is the bor­der­line between legit­i­mate wor­ry (which leads to tak­ing action) and indif­fer­ence (which pre­serve peace of mind, at least in the short term)? Is it moral­ly per­mis­si­ble to encour­age oth­er peo­ple to wor­ry about cer­tain issues, say glob­al warm­ing, human rights, ani­mal rights, etc. to pre­cip­i­tate effec­tive action? Should we con­sid­er them self­ish if they are innate­ly not con­cerned about such issues, or mere­ly show token agree­ment?

61. Marriage laws–how broad should they be? (proposed by Annette)

Mar­riage laws–how broad should they be? Gay mar­riage is a cur­rent top­ic in many coun­tries around the world, and it is like­ly that it will even­tu­al­ly become the norm in most West­ern coun­tries. What oth­er forms of mar­riage might we be pre­pared to accept? Polygamy is a form of mar­riage that is tech­ni­cal­ly not legal in Aus­tralia, but is infor­mal­ly accept­ed. Should polyg­a­mous mar­riage be legal and if so, with­in which lim­its? How would the legal sys­tem need to change to accom­mo­date polyg­a­mous mar­riage?

60. Recreational drugs–should they be decriminalized? (proposed by Annette)

Recre­ation­al drugs–should they be decrim­i­nal­ized? In 2001, Por­tu­gal became the first Euro­pean coun­try to abol­ish crim­i­nal penalties for per­son­al pos­ses­sion of drugs, includ­ing mar­i­jua­na, cocaine, hero­in and metham­phet­a­mine. (This goes well beyond poli­cies adopt­ed in Hol­land, which has not legalised soft drugs, but does not enforce the exist­ing laws.) Is decrim­i­nal­is­ing drugs a good idea? What would be the effect if it were done in Aus­tralia?

59. Coal seam gas–a technology for a green future? (proposed by Annette)

Coal seam gas–a tech­nol­o­gy for a green future? Most pro­jec­tions of future ener­gy use include an increas­ing pro­por­tion of nat­u­ral gas as part of an effort to reduce green­house gas emis­sions. Nat­u­ral gas is increas­ing­ly pro­duced by “frack­ing”, and has already led to a decrease in US CO2 emis­sions, but it is a con­tro­ver­sial method. Should we allow frack­ing in order to mit­i­gate green­house gas emis­sions? Is it bet­ter for us to use coal seam gas, than direct­ly mine the coal?

57. Trust — Caution — Suspicion -> What is a healthy balance of these in personal relationships, a community, a workplace, between nations? (proposed by Thor)

Amer­i­ca has obvi­ous­ly just gone into sev­ere trust deficit with NSA inter­cept­ing everyone’s pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Is this just about coun­tries though? Is the “trust index” drop­ping every­where, even at a per­son­al lev­el? How do cul­tures dif­fer in this?

56. The Precariously Employed — that’s you, today or tomorrow — A Search for a New World Order (Proposed by Thor)

New writ­ing by Thor: “The Pre­car­i­ous­ly Employed — that’s you, today or tomor­row — A Search for a New World Order”. This is a work in pro­gress. Revi­sion and exten­sion is like­ly. The top­ic is immense, but immense­ly impor­tant. Ideas and con­tri­bu­tions are wel­come… see http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/Precariat.htm

53. What is creativity? How can it be taught? How is it important? And should creative, arts and performance skills be a compulsory part of the education curriculum? (proposed by Bill & Thor; discussed September 8, 2013)

Politi­cians and man­age­ment gurus tell us end­less­ly that inno­va­tion is crit­i­cal to nation­al sur­vival. Yet inno­va­tion requires cre­ativ­i­ty, and cre­ativ­i­ty needs a mind­set which does not usu­al­ly spring from accoun­tants and process work­ers. In fact, the most dynam­ic part of many economies world­wide is (and always has been) found in arts, music, film, per­for­mance skills, inspired writ­ing (imag­i­na­tive or non-fic­tion), and fine design of all kinds. Should the­se activ­i­ties be pure­ly for an elite, or should they be fund­ed and nur­tured for every­one with­in the nation­al edu­ca­tion frame­work?

[This top­ic incor­po­rates ele­ments from Top­ics 24 and 32]

45. Is love an evolutionary instinct? Is there more to it? (proposed by Bill) — discussed 3 November 2013

Is love an evo­lu­tion­ary instinct? I.e., is it an innate, uncon­scious impulse that has been encod­ed into our genes over mil­lions of years as a mech­a­nism to ensure the sur­vival of (the whole or indi­vid­u­al mem­bers of) the species? Or is there more to it? Is there anoth­er way to explain it? Do all ani­mals expe­ri­ence love?

35. Is embryonic stem cell research ethical? (proposed — Bill)

Embry­on­ic stem cell research may offer rev­o­lu­tion­ary med­ical treat­ments because the embry­on­ic stem cell is the only cell we know of that can dif­fer­en­ti­ate itself into any oth­er type of cell, and can repli­cate itself indef­i­nite­ly. How­ev­er, embry­on­ic stem cell research is con­sid­ered con­tro­ver­sial because some con­sid­er that a blas­to­cyst (a fer­til­ized egg), from which embry­on­ic stem cells are obtained, is a human being.

34. Is English the most important language in the world? (proposed — Soon; discussed 23 August 2013)

Is Eng­lish the most impor­tant lan­guage in the world? Is all lan­guage trans­lat­able? Which parts of which lan­guages are incom­pat­i­ble with oth­er lan­guages and how do dif­fer­ent groups of indi­vid­u­als deal with that? Will glob­al­iza­tion accel­er­ate the loss of cer­tain native lan­guages? What are the con­se­quences of focus­ing on learn­ing the dom­i­nant lan­guages and not focus­ing on pre­serv­ing native lan­guages?

33. What’s beyond democracy? (proposed — Soon) discussed on 13 July 2013

Is there any alter­na­tive gov­ern­ment struc­ture bet­ter than democ­ra­cy? What’s beyond democ­ra­cy? Is it impor­tant to have everyone’s voice being heard or is it the major­i­ty opin­ion that counts? Does the whole vot­ing sys­tem rep­re­sent a nation? What if vot­ing is not com­pul­so­ry in Aus­tralia?

32. Do the arts matter? (Proposed — Soon)

Do the arts mat­ter? What does Arts Edu­ca­tion means to Aus­tralians and how do the Arts for­mu­late the char­ac­ter of a Nation? Can the arts inspire change, pro­voke thoughts in human life or are they a com­plete waste of time? Is it just extra mon­ey spent sat­is­fy­ing our need for enter­tain­ment? Is Arts edu­ca­tion as impor­tant as Sports edu­ca­tion in shap­ing a nation’s wealth and health? Or is Sport more mean­ing­ful than Arts?