Active Thinking Topic 53 Believe It Or Not - What is True Anymore?

Saturday 18 March 2022, 1:30 to 3:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: City Cross , 31-39 Rundle Mall, Adelaide CBD, South Australia

Talking Points:

1. Which Lies Can Your Brain Live With?

2. How can people's behaviour, even their entire lifestyle, be dramatically different from what they say they believe in? Think of examples. What about yourself?

3, Do some professions encourage greater hypocrisy than others? Think of examples. Would this be an issue for you?

4. Thinking beyond yourself, what are some inconvenient truths about the world, places, human beings? How do can we best fit this inconvenient knowledge into our own life aims and lifestyle?

5. Lies seem to be necessary. How necessary? Where do we draw the line between someone who tells necessary lies (e.g. a field commander who lies to a journalist about a pending military operation) and a pathological liar (like a politician who has built a career on deceit)?

6. There is a conversational convention (Grice's Maxim of Quality) that we assume people are telling the truth, unless there is a reason not to. By contrast, a police interrogator might assume you are lying unless there is evidence to the contrary. In other words, some level of trust is the social lubrication which allows us to live reasonable lives. For you, where is this kind of trust strongest, and where is it most fragile? Are there cultures where the balance of trust is quite different?

7. Propaganda, by definition, is a distortion of the truth. The distortion may be by outright lies, by not telling the whole truth, or by concealing the truth. It is often justified as necessary to help "your side" win - your country, your company, or even yourself (by a social media profile). When is propaganda really justified (if it is)? When does propaganda become self-defeating? Since propaganda is ubiquitous now, how can children (and adults) be taught to recognize it for what it is?

8. Conspiracies are private agreements to achieve some benefit by concealing or distorting information available to the world at large. There have always been conspiracies, but certain kinds of commercial conspiracy are restricted by law (e.g. oligopolies). A 'conspiracy theory' is a belief that other people or organizations are conspiring against your interests. A conspiracy theory might or might not be justified. What is a conspiracy theory which you think is justified? What is a conspiracy theory which you think is crazy? What is the best way to manage people who think they are victims of a conspiracy?

9. Religious believers (whatever the religion) and also believers in an ideology often argue that for them 'truth' is to be judged not by objective evidence (what actually happens in the world or nature) but by how closely facts and events fit their particular belief/faith. Very large numbers of people follow this faith principle of truth. How can a rational thinker driven by actual evidence cooperate with and trust people whose idea of truth is driven purely by faith/belief? Think of live examples.

10. What kinds of mental illness result in, or result from mental and emotional conflict about the nature of what is 'true' or 'not true'. Most mental illness shows a spectrum of severity in different people. At what point does some individual's perception of reality become so distorted from general social belief that they become dangerous? What can be done about this?


Extra Reading

Richard Sima (November 7, 2022) "Why do our brains believe lies even when we’ve been told the truth?" The Age @ [Quote: "It’s been election cycle after election cycle packed with misinformation and conspiracy theories. So why do so many people believe the lies? Blame the brain".]

Sissel McCarthy (October 30, 2019) "Q: Are there ways to treat cognitive dissonance?" News Literacy, Q & A @

Wikipedia (20230 "Cooperative Principle & Grice's Four Maxims of Conversation" @

John Donne (1572–1631) “On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and hee that will
Reach her, about must, and about must goe;
And what the hills suddenness resists, winne so; .. "

Thor May (2023) "How to Write a STEM paper, Illustrated with a Simple Experiment" @ and PDF @ . Also a Youtube delivery in PowerPoint (1 hr 23 min) @ [ Thor, comment: This Zoom presentation to Vietnamese tertiary students includes a section on 'What is Scientific Research?' - a concept which is central to this meetup topic ]

Ed Pilkington (1 March 2023) "Stunning Rupert Murdoch deposition leaves Fox News in a world of trouble - Media mogul’s admission in Dominion Systems election case that he let cable network broadcast falsehoods stuns observers". The Guardian @ [Quote: ".. It was against this seven-decade backdrop of seeming invincibility that news of Murdoch’s deposition in the $1.6bn Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News Networks and its parent company Fox Corp dropped like a bomb. Not only did he admit that he knew that Fox News hosts spread lies about the 2020 presidential election being stolen from Donald Trump, but he confessed that he had allowed them to keep on doing so on air to millions of viewers".]

Thor May (2014) "Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest". The Passionate Skeptic website @
[Quote: "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?"]

Thor May (2008) "Corruption and Other Distortions as Variables in Language Education". @ AND
[Quote: "This paper examines some of the ways in which foreign language education has been affected by corrupt practices and various other distortions of best teaching practice. Particular attention is paid to South Korea. The nature of corruption and its social origins are identified. Pressures affecting students, teachers and institutions are all seen to play a part. It is noted that mass education is a simulation which leaves space for fraud, whereas actual live language performance is its own test. Perhaps as a consequence, the gradual insertion of a new language code like English into a speech community might succeed over the long term even where immediate educational practices suggest failure".]

Lloyd Green (5 March 2023) "Trust the Plan review: How QAnon – and Trump – unhinged America - Will Sommer of the Daily Beast paints a troubling picture of a conspiracy theory showing few signs of decline". The Guardian @ [Quote: "QAnon is the latest great American conspiracy theory. Its key beliefs: a secret cabal “controls global governments”, the 2020 election was stolen, Hollywood and liberal elites crave the blood of children in a bid to sustain their youth. You read that right. QAnon is rife with stories of “mole children”, stashed away in caves for the delectation of the rich and powerful ... QAnon followers are largely young and male, and lack a college degree. They are disaffected but not oblivious. For them, the Great Recession left its mark. Marriage and stability became luxury goods. Life expectancy and birth rates receded. Covid turned the world on its head. ... QAnon is sufficiently amorphous to adapt to changing facts and realities. It can muster the devotion and fanaticism of a religious group. The dream never dies".]

Vlad Vexler (13 Mar 2023) ) "Why Putin Miscalculated So Badly In Ukraine". Youtube @ [Thor, comment: Putin's delusions are a classic case of political self-delusion and the damage that it can do. You can find this phenomenon in every society, regardless of ideology or religion]

Stuart Jeffries (12 March 2023) "Review : Who Gets Believed? by Dina Nayeri – why asylum seekers struggle to be understood ". The Guardian @ [Quote: "Who gets believed, asks the Iranian-born American writer Dina Nayeri, author of two novels and an award-winning book of creative nonfiction, The Ungrateful Refugee (2019). Not those who can’t perform their pain to the satisfaction of those predisposed to be sceptical. Not the innocent African Americans who can’t escape being put in the frame for murder by racist law enforcers. Not the Ugandan lesbian refused asylum by British officials who disbelieved her claim that there is a practice of “reparative rape” (that is, raping women until they “turn straight”) to which she risked being subjected if sent home".]

Nick Bryant (March 13, 2023) "Is Australia’s democracy simply the best?" The Age @ [Quote: "Anyone who thinks Australia is immune from the forces that led to the January 6 insurrection in Washington, or its Brazilian copycat attack on January 8 this year, has not been paying attention. ... Any democratic audit should survey the good, the bad and the ugly, but let’s start with the positive. Confessedly, I have not always been a fan of compulsory voting, looking upon it as an offshoot of Australia’s punishment culture. Yet in the Trump years, its benefits have become obvious: as a bulwark against polarisation and extremism, and as a means of legitimising the electoral process. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is another vital piece of democratic infrastructure, the kind of impartial and independent national body that the United States should emulate to run its elections – not that it ever will."]

Moustafa Bayoumi (15 March 2022) "US politics - The Iraq war started the post-truth era. And America is to blame". The Guardian @ [Quote: "... it was all lies, lies and more lies. In the two years following 9/11, Bush and his top officials publicly uttered at least 935 lies about the threat that Saddam posed to the United States, according to the Center for Public Integrity. In the run-up to war, Bush & associates flooded the airwaves with the talking point “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” so often that it began to sound like a jingle from a cheap law firm commercial. Needless to say, no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Bush succeeded at the time because the public, primed to be afraid, was susceptible to his lies and the American media was pliable. Brown University’s Costs of War project notes that the number of people displaced by all of the US’s post-9/11 wars, at least 38 million people, “exceeds the total displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II”. The Iraq war ushered in a style of politics where truth is, at best, an inconvenience". ]


Believe It Or Not - What is True Anymore? (c) Thor May 2023

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