ALS Topic 50 -  Question Everything - The Key to Creative Change

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 50
Saturday, December 21, 2019 11 am to 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: The Rose - 31 East Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000 (Upstairs. Maximum 12 people. Please buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the chairs in this small business)

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 kind of questioning are you personally most comfortable with? Explain yourself. (The question types below are not exhaustive. There are other possibilities).

a) The questioner and the questioned are both required to know the only acceptable answer, and other questions are censored - a seminary, a political theocracy (e.g. the Iranian leadership, the CPC)

b) The questioner is presumed to know the answer - a normal school with normally demotivated students

c) The questioner and the questioned both know that the question is fake - question time in a a British or Australian parliament

d) The questioner assumes that only one kind of answer is possible, regardless of evidence - the brainwashed

e) The questioner is actually curious about finding an answer - a healthy human being

f) The questioner tests evidence and is open to the answer overturning expectations - a scientist, a liberated mind

2. Why do you think that most people are so free with (unresearched) opinions, but reluctant or unable to ask complex questions? (You might wish to challenge the premise. However after 10 years of running meetups on 'active thinking' I'm pretty sure the premise is correct).

3. Cultures are often hostile to searching questions. For example, take the idiom, "Curiosity killed the cat". What are the sources of this cultural hostility?

4. How can we make questioning a positive experience? Asking a question is often associated with a negative attitude or a threat. A teacher asks a question and a child feels threatened. A policeman asks questions, or later a lawyer in court and someone feels threatened. A job applicant is asked questions and feels at risk. A person's ideas or beliefs are questioned and feel their identity is threatened.

5. How much species risk are we at by restricting creative questioning? Homo Sapiens ('sapien' means intelligent) have emerged ahead of other living species. The reason for this success has been intelligence. Intelligence is really the ability to adapt to environmental change by creative thinking. Creative thinking requires creative questioning.

6. Please explain what scientific method actually is. "Science says X" is a popular media byline to give authority to a piece of information. However, only a tiny part of the general population understands how scientific method works.

7. Is Google the answer to everything? To 'google' is a new verb in English. What are the risks and benefits in substituting impersonal online questioning for face to face questioning?

8. What is a complicated question that you would genuinely like to find an answer for? How would you go about finding that answer?

9. Do you agree with Einstein about learning? Relate it to your own experience: "Einstein believed that, “love is a better teacher than a sense of duty.” Love of learning and knowledge is, perhaps, a more important skill to cultivate than discipline".

10. Would you rather be right or wrong? Well, how often about either? Have a look at Mark Manson (November 21, 2013) "Why I’m Wrong About Everything (And So Are You) - somewhere along the way we all became so obsessed with being “right” about our lives that we never end up living it". GetPocket @


Extra Reading and Links

Scott Young (March 16 2017) "How Einstein Learned Physics - Einstein was a student long before he became a celebrity. There is a lot to glean from his education and unique approach to learning". GetPocket @

Mark Manson (November 21, 2013) "Why I’m Wrong About Everything (And So Are You) - somewhere along the way we all became so obsessed with being “right” about our lives that we never end up living it". GetPocket @

Thor May (1998-2019) "Unwise Ideas" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [.. an index of essays on mostly social & political topics. Most also contain links to other articles on those topics. ]

Douglas Adams (1995) "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Amazon (ebook, paperback) @  [also a film]

Thor May (2010) "The Journey of a Passionate Skeptic -
speech to graduating students at Holmes/ZRVTC, Zhengzhou, China". [video & transcript] @ _Holmes/zrvtcgraduation2010.htm [This speech/video is an argument for the value of doubting wisely]

Thor May (2017) - Discussion questions about confirmation bias [2017 meetup topic] @

Wikipedia (2017) "Confirmation Bias" @

Thor May (2016) "What is your understanding of 'Active Thinking'? [meetup discussion topic]" @

Thor May (2013) "What is creativity? How can it be taught? [meetup discussion topic]" @

Steve Seager (Apr 18, 2017) "On Strategy, Decision Making & the Devil’s Advocate… ‘Yes, BUT!’". Storywise blog @  [Quote: "The best strategic decision making is not based on ‘dialogue’. And that’s not just semantics. Dialogue is a conversation among people with different points of view on issues of mutual concern. But dialogue doesn’t have the goal to complete a specific task or persuade others to accept their position. Dialectics is a different process. It privileges rationality as the proper means for the discovery of a ‘truthful’ strategy. A dialectic approach means equally judging both sides of any argument. And arguing rationally from both those points of view to arrive at a consensual ‘truth’. That’s a different kettle of fish. And, I believe, the best approach when formulating strategy. So you need Guardian Angels and Devil’s advocates."

Chunka Mui (Apr 23, 2014) "3 Key Design Factors For An Effective Devil's Advocate". Forbes magazine @  [Quote: "Our research into thousands of innovation efforts finds that having a devil’s advocate that is responsible for raising tough questions in a constructive way is critical for success. Every company attempting to innovate needs some version of a devil’s advocate—both to head off problems and to bring out the best efforts of the organization. Making it work, however, is tricky. The devil’s advocate is, if you will, in the details. We’ve found that there are three keys to success : 1. You have to commit to an explicit process rather than hope that tough questions will spontaneously emerge. And you need to do so at the beginning. .. 2. The goal of devil’s advocacy must be framed correctly. It can’t be about killing projects or even identifying flaws .. Instead, the devil’s advocate needs to be about reducing uncertainty, about learning—even if information that is unearthed discredits the idea. .. 3. The devil’s advocate needs to function constructively throughout the innovation process rather than be an inquisition at the end... "]

Michael Pompian (Feb 15, 2018) "The Value of Playing Devil's Advocate in Investing - Confirmation bias can lead investors to make bad decisions. Here's how to avoid it". Morningstar website @  [Quote: "Confirmation bias is a belief perseverance bias. It's a type of selective perception that emphasizes ideas that confirm our beliefs and de-emphasizes information that contradicts our beliefs. My advice for overcoming confirmation bias, as with many biases, is to learn to recognize it in action. I can't tell you how many times my colleagues and I say to each other, "Isn't that confirmation bias in action!" when trying to convince one another about an investment concept. Instead of immediately going with your instincts, try intentionally putting more weight on contradictory information than you typically do. Play devil's advocate with yourself, and make a case for how the contradictory information could be right. You may find that you change your mind based on the contradictory information. If, however, after this process, you can objectively say that your original view is still valid, then you should proceed with your course of action."]

Wikipedia (2019) "Scientific Method". @

Michael Marshall (3 May 2018) "The universe is an egg and the moon isn't real: notes from a Flat Earth conference - Michael Marshall attended the UK’s annual gathering of people who share the unshakeable belief that the Earth is flat". The Guardian @

Dan Kahan (July 15, 2014) ""Bounded rationality": the Grigori Rasputin of explanations for public perceptions of climate change risk". CulturalCognition website @  [Thor, comment: this is quite dense to read, but interesting. Quote: " the “bounded rationality thesis” (BRT) is probably the most popular explanation for public controversy over climate change. Members of the public, BRT stresses, rely on “simplifying heuristics” that reflect the emotional vividness or intensity of their reactions to putative risk sources (Marx, Weber, Orlove, Leiserowitz, Krantz, Roncoli & Phillips 2007) but that often have “little correspondence to more objective measures of risk” (Weber 2006). Those more objective measures, which “quantify either the statistical unpredictability of outcomes or the magnitude or likelihood of adverse consequences” (id.), are the ones that scientists employ. Using them demands an alternative “analytical processing” style that is acquired through scientific training and that “counteract[s] the emotionally comforting desire for confirmation of one’s beliefs” (Weber & Stern 2011). ... BRT generates a straightforward hypothesis about perception of climate change risks. If the reason ordinary citizens are less concerned about climate change than they should be is that that they over-rely on heuristic, System 1 forms of reasoning ... one would also predict that polarization ought to dissipate among culturally diverse individuals whose proficiency in System 2 reasoning is comparably high ... those who are culturally predisposed to be worried about climate change do become more alarmed as they become more proficient in analytical reasoning—polarization is in fact higher among individuals who are disposed to make use of System 2, analytic reasoning than it is among those disposed to rely on System 1, heuristic reasoning ... because positions on climate change have become such a readily identifiable indicator of ones’ cultural commitments, adopting a stance toward climate change that deviates from the one that prevails among her closest associates could have devastating consequences, psychic and material. Thus, it is perfectly rational—perfectly in line with using information appropriately to achieve an important personal end—for that individual to attend to information on in a manner that more reliably connects her beliefs about climate change to the ones that predominate among her peers than to the best available scientific evidence ... When “what do you believe” about a societal risk validly measures “who are you?,” or “whose side are you on?,” identity-protective cognition is not a breakdown in individual reason but a form of it. Without question, this style of reasoning is collectively disastrous ..."]

R. William (n.d.) "Conformity". Lecture on social psychology, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA @  [Thor, comment: lots of definitions of terms in psychology, which are useful to clarify the questions & ideas we discuss]

Martin Weigert (Mar 29, 2018) "Not having an opinion… is one of the hardest tasks that exist". Blog on @  [Quote: "Removing all opinions is an impossible undertaking and likely the wrong answer anyway. But adding an additional check in one’s mental process which evaluates whether the opinion one is about to share actually is worth anyone’s attention, could be a good approach. Sometimes, when someone asks you “What do you think about this intensively discussed topic?”, responding with “I don’t have an opinion at the moment because I lack the necessary facts” is quite a pleasant experience."]

>> Thor: comment on the political dimension of questioning : A cult is a group whose members judge all truth by the standard of their cult beliefs. They can be religious or ideological. Where there are questions in the cult universe, the only answers allowed are those which confirm the cult. Political movements can often veer into cult status. This happened with Germany's 3rd Reich, the Nazis. It has clearly happened with the core followers of Trumpism in USA (enthusiastically abetted by opportunistic politicians, as well as some predatory media & business interests). The core of the Communist Party of China also has cult status, and appears to be getting worse ("Changes to the charter of one of China’s top universities, including dropping the phrase “freedom of thought” and the inclusion of a pledge to follow the Communist party’s leadership" @ ). "Question everything" as an act or idea is anathema to cults, and where they have power questioners are persecuted, jailed, murdered. Yet every society is a very big tent with all kinds of personalities, beliefs and potentials. Our challenge and hope is to provide space for all of those. Anti-questioning cults are our worst threat to peace and progress.

>> Thor, comment on the meaning of questions and answers : When you ask another human being a question (let alone a god), the answer you get might often seem confusing or irrational. That's likely to be because the other guy has a different frame of reference. There is such a thing as 'bounded rationality'. Here's a true story: I once taught a university distance education course on critical and logical thinking. The course itself ticked all the boxes - it was prepared in the philosophy department of a New Zealand University. The person I took the program over from was a retiring American psychologist. She had long hinted at a major book she'd been writing for years. Her valedictory lecture revealed all about her grand project. It was, she explained, in praise of the biblical Book of Job. You know Job, the guy who believed in his god, followed the rules, but lost everything through bad luck (or God's malice, take your pick).. So of course Job complained to God: Why me? Suck it up, said God, it was a test of your faith. I, God, am the greatest, and you are a cockroach. Don't question me and my ways. And that, the lady psychologist explained, was the great life lesson she had learned and wished to promote. I'm sure she votes for Trump.


Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar

Index of past discussion topics & questions:

Convenor : Thor May Personal website (legacy)
Articles  (.. about 147 articles by Thor)


Question Everything - The Key to Creative Change (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion