ALS Topic 38 - What If .... (.. and what could possibly go wrong)?

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 6 July 2019
Venue: · Adelaide
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Note: About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions


1. What if everyone had an unlimited income in a country with unlimited energy, and with unlimited potential? ... What would you do yourself?

2. What if you could actually live forever ... How would that change your character?

3. What if everyone agreed about everything, their ideologies and religions, their preferences and hobbies, their love attractions, and even how to bring up children ... How would life work out?

4. What if all holders of public office, from council mayors to the leader of the country, were selected by random ballot every 3 years of everyone of voting age? What might actually change?

5. What if you were suddenly drafted to a be a front line soldier in a war you didn't believe in, run by a government you didn't trust?

6. What if you suddenly found that you were irresistible to others and unstoppable in everything you tried, from selling vacuum cleaners, to chasing love interests, to pursuing every ambition? How might your character alter?

7. What if you were given just a year to live? How would you use the time?

8. What if Australia were successfully invaded and occupied by a foreign power. You have become a third class citizen with no rights. How are you going to adapt your thinking and lifestyle?

9. What if there were no hope of anything in your life ever changing, no matter what you did? How would your character and attitudes adapt?

10. What if some random series of events suddenly had you convicted as a criminal? How might your opinions and survival stratagems adapt?

11. Think of some other 'what if' scenarios ...




Comments & Extra Reading

Rudyard Kipling (1895 ) "If".

Poetry Foundation website @ 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!


Thor, comment: It is easy (and a bit lazy) for us to dream up 'what-if' scenarios and gossip about possible outcomes. However, where the social and technical world around us is being actually changed to work better, those doing it might begin with 'what-if' but then put analytic tools to work to model what can be done and what cannot be done effectively. The use of those tools requires disciplined thinking, unswayed by the confirmation bias (prejudices, casual opinions) we are likely to start with. The actual tools often involve computer modelling and sophisticated data analysis. Here is a link to a company doing this sort of stuff. I have included it because they list a whole range of planning scenarios: Jacobs @

Deborah Rose (2006) "What If the Angel of History Were a Dog?" Cultural Studies Review @  [Thor, comment: This is a rather long, complex discussion about the strange relationship between life and death. Interesting though]

Jonny Inglis (November 2018) "Quit while you’re behind". Whatifinnovation website @  [Quote: "The problem is humans are hardwired to avoid loss, a condition that gives rise to the sunk cost fallacy. If you’ve ever forced your way through a dessert that you’ve paid for but didn’t want, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s the relentless urge to get your money’s worth, to see something through, to never admit defeat. Instead of making rational decisions based on satisfaction, we irrationally attempt to recoup our investment – something that the last spoonful of crème brûlée cannot do."]

Anonymous (n.d.) "What-if Machine". Futurama wiki @

Natasha Bertrand and Darren Samuelsohn (21 June 2019) "What if Trump won’t accept 2020 defeat? - The situations all seem far-fetched, but the president's comments have people chattering in the halls of Congress and throughout the Beltway." Politico @

Paul Pandey (May 3 2019) "Using the ‘What-If Tool’ to investigate Machine Learning models. - An open source tool from Google to easily analyze ML models without the need to code". Towards Data Science website @

Casey Ross (June 19, 2019) "What if AI in health care is the next asbestos?" Stat website @

Liam Mannix (March 23, 2018) "What if we have got it wrong on Alzheimer's? - Science is about getting it wrong, until you get it right. What if we're refusing to admit we're wrong about a horrifying disease? "The hard but just rule is that if the ideas don't work, you must throw them away," wrote astronomer Carl Sagan. But when your career and everything you’ve ever worked for is on the line, admitting you might be wrong is very hard to do." Sydney Morning Herald @

Daryl Chen (April 4, 2019) "Here’s a question to consider: What if there’s nothing wrong with you?" TED @

Daniel Kolitz (April 30, 2019) "What If The Asteroid Never Killed The Dinosaurs?" Gizmodo @

Tracey McNaughton (16 April, 2019) "What if monetary policy fails? - I came across a person in the street wearing a t-shirt that had printed on it “What if Google was wrong?” It was unnerving. Google is the answer to every question from the most mundane to the most complex. Comfort and certainty come from assuming Google is the definitive arbiter of what is right. It is with the same level of angst and trepidation that I ask: what if monetary policy fails?". Live Wire @

Wikipedia (2019) "Cosmology". @  [ Thor, comment: Cosmology is the study of & speculation about the origins of the universe and also it's fate. As one of the biggest "what-ifs", the origin of the universe has been subject to observation, speculation, and also religious prescription since the beginning of recorded time. This Wikipedia summary is recommended. Whatever the truth of particular theories, cosmological inquiry has much to reveal about our nature as thinking creatures. ]

Charles Chu (Dec 22, 2016 ) "Isaac Asimov: How to Never Run Out of Ideas Again" website @

Tim Dunlop (4 July 2019) "Power in Australia favours the elite, and that's a problem. Here's a solution". Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Matthew Shaer (July 2, 2019) "Scientists Are Giving Dead Brains New Life. What Could Go Wrong? - In experiments on pig organs, scientists at Yale made a discovery that could someday challenge our understanding of what it means to die". New York Times @


Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


What If .... (.. and what could possibly go wrong)? (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion