Index of Discussion Topics



1.The topics listed below have already been discussed, except for the current topic.


Current topics in the "AP8" series are being discussed by the Adelaide Active Thinking Meetup ( ). This meetup occurs weekly in the Adelaide State Library.


Those topics in the "BAT" series were discussed by the Brisbane Active Thinking Meetup. This meetup occurred biweekly in the Queensland State Library until February 2015, when it closed down. Earlier topics, up to number D75 were discussed at the Brisbane Gentle Thinker's Meetup (which still exists; see


2. The next topic to be discussed will also be included when it is known.


3. Suggestions for new topics can be sent to


4. Together with the topics already discussed below, I have added links to articles and notes which were intended to facilitate discussion. For most of these meetups I prepare some personal notes, also linked here, and/or an actual essay. A number of these essays have received wide subsequent circulation through my repository at


Thor May

Adelaide 2016




Next Topic for Discussion


AP8-27 September 25 , 2016    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?


Past Discussion Topics, plus links   (most recent discussions at the top) 



AP8-26 September 9 , 2016  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?

AP8-25 August 28 , 2016  Donald Trump has won the US presidential election (imagine)!  An attempt to outline some scenarios, blow by blow, over the next four years under a Trump presidential regime. [Australia may be faced with some very  tough choices]

AP8-24 August 14 , 2016  What is fashionable?

What drives fashion – in clothes, ideas, behaviour, motor cars, and all the rest. What forces work to disrupt it? How important is fashion, and to whom?


AP8-23 July 31 , 2016  How are children shaped ?

The kind of world we live in, whether it be work or play or love or even politics and the fate of communities, depends a lot on the experiences we had as children. Can or should this be influenced beyond the family? If so, how and by whom?


AP8-22 July 17 , 2016  Is globalization a failure, or can something worthwhile be rescued?

For a generation globalization has been sold as the yellow brick road to prosperity. What exactly is globalization? Can its benefits be cherry-picked? Where do we go from here?


AP8-21 July 3 , 2016  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?


AP8-20 May 22 , 2016  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?


AP8-19 May 8 , 2016  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.


AP8-18 April 24, 2016  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]


AP8-17 April 10 , 2016  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.


AP8-16 March 27 , 2016  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.


AP8-15 March 13 , 2016 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.


AP8-14 February 28, 2016 How much history should we expect most people to know, and what kind of history?


It is often said that history is written by the winners. You might also say that popular history is written by Hollywood, or Facebook, or whatever political enclave you are living in .. Does any of this matter?


AP8-13 February 14, 2016  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?


AP8-12 January 31, 2016  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?


AP8-11 January 17, 2016  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?


AP8-10 January 3, 2016  Adelaide seems to be a media-challenged city

There are road accident reporters, but there do not seem to be investigative journalists and insightful commentators who interpret the city to itself. What is to be done?


AP8-9 December 20, 2015  When does security become insecurity?


AP8-8 December 6, 2015  The Peculiar Interest of God(s) in Human Morality


AP8-7 November 22, 2015  What are the limits of tolerance? -

Can we reconcile “live and let live” with “drawing a line in the sand”?


AP8-6 November 8, 2015 What is your best list of stupidities? What are your cures?


AP8-5 October 25, 2015 When should collective interests (e.g. those of a state) override the interests of individuals?


Example: Many Americans see “the right to bear arms” as a triumph of individual rights over the collective rights of the state.


AP8-4 October 11, 2015 Is a modern culture without advertising possible or desirable?.


AP8-3 September 27, 2015 Why have men (not women) made the most inventions?" (Support your case).


AP8-2 September 12, 2015 Can Change be Managed? If so, How and Why? If not, well Bye-bye?


AP8-1a August 30, 2015 and  AP8-1b September 7, 2015

Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men”. [Douglas Bader]

How can we interpret Bader’s idea?




BAT13 January 25 , 2015 -  Start your own business – a mental experiment

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? .


BAT12 January 11 , 2015 -  Is the “white noise” of daily media distraction deliberate social control, or just modernity out of control?

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’.


BAT11 December 28 , 2014 -  Why do people take up religions, persist with them, and abandon them ?

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?


BAT10 December 14 , 2014 -  When is censorship acceptable? Justify your argument

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?


BAT9 November 30 , 2014 -  Should University Education Be Free? If not, why not?

With the rocketing prices of tertiary education and the availability of free online open courses, will university education become obsolete? What needs to change in the system to adapt to the new realities of the workplace and technology?


BAT8 November 2 , 2014 -  How can Australia best arrange its international relationships?

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?


BAT7 October 19 , 2014 -  Does travel broaden the mind or just confirm prejudices?


BAT6 October 5 , 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC BAT 6. The Work Problem

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?


BAT5 September 21 , 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC BAT 5. Fake It ‘Till You Make It – A viable way to succeed?

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?  


BAT4 September 7 , 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC BAT4. Multiculturalism is a Flawed Doctrine


Note: Matthew McLean is moderating this meetup topic, and has prepared a thorough set of notes. Please read at


BAT3 August 24, 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC BAT3. Property and life choices .


How does owning (or not owning) real estate, and mortgage debt, influence the behaviour of individuals in their wider lives? What are the consequences of these patterns for whole nations?


BAT2 August 10, 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC BAT1. The Purpose of Education

Is education most commonly treated purely as an instrumental tool (e.g. to get a job), or as a path to self-development, or both? How can a balance between objectives be achieved in public education?


BAT1 19 July , 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC BAT1. What are some illusions that Australians live by?

What are some illusions Australians live by? .. and why would we want to dispense with illusions?
Think of the imaginary countries we live in. Do all those people you pass on the street every day have their heads in the same place that you do? What are some consequences of NOT sharing the same illusions?



D27 5 April , 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC 75. When do ends justify means?

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

D26 5 April , 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC 74. Learning “grit” is the best way to beat failure and succeed (proposed by Thor)

How have you managed your failures, and has failure made you a better person? 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” (  ).

For those who are unclear, here are a couple of definitions of "grit" from the Internet:

- "firmness of mind or spirit :  unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger"
- "perseverance and passion for long-term goals"


D25 22 March , 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC 54. Are diet and exercise really personal choices? (proposed by Thor)


A human epidemic of obesity / near-obesity has correlated worldwide with the spread of manufactured food & beverage, and motorized transport. Diet & exercise though seem to be intensely personal choices. How can this dilemma be solved?


D24 8 March , 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC 72. How Do We Judge Literary and Artistic Value? Are they entirely subjective? (proposed by Bill)


D23 22 February, 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC 42. Are we too wealthy? Do we demand an unsustainable and unrealistic quality of life? Does our desire to be wealthy place too much pressure on the economy and on the environment? Is it possible that we may have to think about accepting less (proposed by Bill)


D22 9 February, 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC 48. How Can We Treat Refugees Humanely (proposed by Stephen)


D21 25 January, 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC 50. People should require a licence to become parents (proposed by Dominicus)


D20 11 January, 2014 -  DEBATE TOPIC 70. What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century? (proposed by Bill [topic 12], modified by Thor)

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?


D19 14 December, 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 64. How far should we go in raising an indifferent public’s awareness of important social, moral or political issues? (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?


D18 November 30 , 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 65. Creating Meaning in Life

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?


D17 November 16 , 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 15. Abortion In the recent presidential debates in the USA the Republican party expressed their wish to make abortion illegal once more, with an exception for cases where pregnancy was the result of rape or abuse. Do you think this line of reasoning makes sense? Is it enforceable? Is this even an issue that warrants the government’s involvement?


D16 November 3 , 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 45. 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?


D15 October 19 , 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 46. Some people consider themselves to be “spiritual”. What does this really mean?


D14 October 5 , 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 29. It is OK to use animals in research if it benefits humans.


D13 September 22, 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 22. Democratic societies are less likely to make war than dictatorships. What is the evidence?


D12  September 8, 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 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 8 September 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?

D11 August 24, 2013   DEBATE TOPIC 34. Is English the most important language in the world?

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?

D10 August 10, 2013 DEBATE TOPIC 23: Economies need a high level of government interference. [.. expanded and posted on the Internet as "Economic Complexity and the Engine of Psychology ]

The most economically successful societies have always depended upon a high level of government collusion with commerce and industry, if not control. This argument is a way of saying that the “invisible hand” of the market is not enough to maintain an efficient market, at least beyond village level. There has to be an independent umpire, or forced control (dictator, mafia … )

D9  July 27, 2013  DEBATE TOPIC: 30. Ethical Behaviour is Harder for the Rich. [.. expanded and posted on the Internet]

D8  July 13, 2013  DEBATE TOPIC 33:  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? See The Democracy Problem [posted on the Internet]

D7  June 29, 2013 DEBATE TOPIC 6: What is the purpose of dreaming? (i.e. what evolutionary advantage would a dreaming creature have over one that does not dream?) There are many existing theories, such as emotional reboot, building neural networks for visual processing, etc., but there is no genuine consensus on the issue. For a personal perspective on nature of dreaming, see Comments on Dreaming [notes posted online]

D6  June 15, 2013  Debate topic 5: Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? Or was the development of life on earth a complete fluke, a once only event, which happened against all odds, and is never likely to occur again anywhere in the universe? Is the search for life elsewhere in the universe a waste of time, money and resources? Or is it an important endeavour? For reference, see my summary notes on a lecture by Stephen Hawking, online @ Life in the Universe .

D5  June 1, 2013   Debate topic 4: Are antidepressants overprescribed by doctors? Are they masking a person’s true problems? What about the serious side effects? Should they be given to children as young as 5 years old? Can we trust pharmaceutical companies to do their own trials? Why is it governments are not providing more money to relationship education, emotional intelligence, resilience, and counseling to help prevent depression.

D4  May 19, 2013   Debate topic 3: Western civilisation is often held up as an example of having achieved gender equality. Do you think we have reached that point as a nation? Is such an ambition even a real possibility? If it is, what does it look like?

D3  May 4, 2013   Debate topic 2: The line ‘No man is an island’ from a John Donne poem has become famous largely because so many recognise it to be true of the human experience. Why is it that we gravitate towards being in relationship with others? Why is ‘community’ so important to and for us? What would society look like (would there in fact be a notion we could call ‘society’) if each of us operated as ‘an island’? For some informal personal notes on this topic, see No Man is an Island [online].

D2  April 20, 2013      Debate topic 1: Are we responsible for our actions in all circumstances. Is there any time we are not. Do we have free will or is everything predetermined? Does anything happen randomly? Some personal notes on this topic are here. (However the notes barely skim the topic, and contain a summary of complexity theory which will not make much sense to anyone who did not participate in the debate).

D1  April 6, 2013   General discussion.  


Index of Discussion Topics (c) Thor May 2013


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