After the AAP I went to Adelaide for the Festival of Ideas, held from Thursday July 7 to Sunday July 10. This biennial event brings together about thirty speakers from around Australia and the world for a series of talks and panels to anyone who's interested. (Some audio recordings of sessions, though not yet any of the sessions below, are available from the Radio Adelaide website.) It's a marvelous event with enormous participation from the people of Adelaide. Apart from catching up with family and old friends, I gave a talk on consciousness and was on three panels, each memorable in its way.
The first panel was on "mind games" and involved me, Germaine Greer (!), Susan Greenfield (the British neuroscientist), and Nigel Rapport (a British social anthropologist), with Ian Ravenscroft (the Flinders philosopher of mind) as chair. I talked about the mind and humor, Susan talked about the brain, but Germaine blew everyone offstage by talking about Clive James's mental confabulations and her experiences with friends' and relatives' mental illness. (Here's a photo taken just after the session.) Afterwards there was a very nice lunch where my sister-in-law Alison bonded with Germaine over poetry and English teaching.
The second panel was on the "brain drain", involving four social scientists with expertise on the subject (including John Quiggin, who it was nice to meet), and me, with no expertise, just personal experience. At least I was able to tell the story about U.T. Place devising the mind-brain identity theory while at Adelaide, then leaving for England, and then bequeathing his brain post-humously to the University of Adelaide, where it can now be found in the Anatomy Museum. One small reversal of the brain drain!
The third panel was on "designing the universe". Fortunately I had been designing a universe just the previous evening, when my five-year-old nephew Tom introduced me to the joys of SimCity 4. First he designed mountains, valleys, trees, farms, towns, roads, and so on. Then he got to the fun part, bringing in floods, fires, meteors, tornados, and volcanos to destroy everything he'd built up. Finally I understood the God of the Old Testament! This was a nice way in to the issue of designing virtual universes, possibly for ourselves to inhabit, and to the question of whether our own universe might have been designed -- if not by a deity with a white beard, then by a five-year-old playing SimUniverse. The session ended up degenerating into an entertaining bunfight over whether science is good or evil between Susan Greenfield and John Carroll (Latrobe sociologist), with me, Peter Doherty, and Robert Matthews caught somewhere in the middle.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable event. Congratulations to the organizers for putting it on. It would be nice if events like this caught on all over the place.