How Are We Doing?

Intellectual Roundtable has been in operation for nearly a year and a half. In that time, we have posted nearly a hundred questions, on topics that range from introspective to worldly, from serious to silly. You can see a full list of all the questions ever posted at our Past Questions page.

During this time, we have had ups and downs. Some questions have received more interest than others. Some weeks and months have seen more activity, others less. The question we often ask ourselves is: why?

As the end of the summer approaches, as people are finishing up their vacations and preparing to go back to school or back to work, we thought we would ask for some feedback.

How are we doing?

Do some questions resonate with you? Do they make you think? When you are in a social situation, do you ever ask some of the questions of other people? Feel free to share any stories of conversations you may have had at a party or other gathering.

If you do not respond to questions, why not? What are the obstacles to sharing your opinion? Posting is completely anonymous, should you wish.

Should there be more frequent questions? Less frequent?

One of the goals that Michael and I have for the blog is to encourage interaction between commenters. Have you ever responded to someone else’s comment? Would you do that?

If you find you like a particular question, have you ever shared it on social media? What do you think would get you to share one with your friends? Sharing on social media is the way that a blog like this attracts new readers and grows an audience.

What do you think about the look of the website, or about the navigation in place? What about the appearance of questions on Facebook?

Finally, for those who aren’t interested in providing feedback, there is an alternate interpretation of the question. As a species, how are we doing? Is there hope in our growing understanding of the world, or does our shortsightedness doom us?

Related questions: How can you help? How have we changed?

What Is Unknowable?

Knowledge is ever increasing, and often it seems to increase by leaps and bounds. We know more today than we have ever known, and we add to that store of information every day.

The universe, our own genetics, manipulation of materials, the building blocks of matter — all are areas where we are learning more all the time. Sometimes it seems that we will be able to keep on learning and growing what we know indefinitely.

But even if we continue to accumulate knowledge, some things may be beyond our grasp.

It may be that some problems are just too large. For example, the number of ways an ordinary deck of player cards can be arranged is greater than the number of atoms on the earth. Writing them all out can’t be done.

However, some things just might be impossible to know. What is it like to live in five-dimensional space?

What is unknowable? How might we classify unknowable things? Which Intellectual Roundtable questions have unknowable answers?

Related questions: How do we know what we don’t know? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? Why are we fascinated with the unknown? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned?

How Much Is Enough?

Does envy have you trying to “keep up with the Joneses?” Do you have a closet or segment of your home dedicated to barely-used items that now just take up space? Many Americans do a pretty good job at thinking of wants as needs. For instance, many sources note that while the United States holds less than 5% of the world’s population, we consume around a quarter of energy and other resources.

You’d think that with all the extra stuff and the money we use to buy it we must be happier, right? Not according to the World Economic Forum. According to a measure known as the Happiness Index (six significant factors which contribute to happiness), “although the US ranks highly for per capita income, it is only ranked 18th out of 156 countries, substantially below most comparably wealthy nations.”

Of course, per capita income stats are deceiving. Disparity runs deep in America. Millions of people live in deep poverty, not only lacking in material needs, but also the basics of adequate shelter and healthy food. While necessary, charitable responses can only go so far. Some would argue that structural changes are needed to reduce the suffering of the have-nots (e.g. changes to economic assistance, housing, and tax policy).  In other words, more must be asked of the rest of us.

So, how much is enough? This is not simply an economic question. It’s environmental as well.

Humanity is currently consuming resources at a pace faster than the Earth’s ecological systems can renew them. Collectively, we have significantly passed the planet’s regeneration line.

That brings up a couple of important questions for America and Americans: Should there be limits to how much a person, a community, or our country can have or consume? And, if so, should it be up to the individual, our government, or some independent standard to measure if we’ve reached the point of adequate consumption and/or possession?

How much is enough?

Related questions:  How Can We Appreciate Life More?What Material Possession Means The Most To You?What Makes You The Happiest?What Are Our Responsibilities To Others?

What Makes Something Memorable?

When you make a plan, the hope is that it turns out to be memorable. If, for example, you go on a vacation, you might plan a trip to a museum, or a zoo, or to go to a charming cafe. The hope is that you will make a memory that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

However, in reality, you can’t manufacture memorable moments. If you think back to those times in your life that mean the most to you, those moments you recall are often unexpected. They might be good or they might be bad, but the times that stick with you are things you didn’t expect.

For example, for many people a wedding day is a memorable time in their lives. And while the wedding itself is planned and organized, the instances that often are most memorable are unplanned: something that went wrong, or something someone said to you, or a funny spontaneous moment.

But being unplanned is not enough to make something memorable. I might stub my toe walking around my home, but that isn’t a memorable event even though it was unexpected. It also needs to be unusual or noteworthy in some way.

So what are the elements that make an occurrence memorable? While you can’t plan spontaneity, are there things you can do to make a memory more likely to happen? Can you discern a pattern from examining your most significant memories?

What makes something memorable?

Related questions: What is your favorite experience? Are memories more likely to be bad than good? What makes you the happiest? How many of your memories are false? What was the best time in your life?