Madness and SF
I looked after this panel with Lucy, an Australian psychologist. We reviewed some of the ways in which madness is used as a literary device - for example as a negative opposite to 'reason' (Golden age SF, Trek etc.), as a reflection of 'a world gone mad' (Slaughterhouse 5, new age SF), as a marker for special insight and ability (River, and assorted geniuses and precogs), as a political label for deviants (Blake). Lots of people got quite excited, which is good. We also talked about the way 'demon', 'alien' and 'monster' are used like 'madness' to deal with human attributes which it is painful or difficult to integrate into the concept of 'normal' humanity.
Could telepathy be possible?
I sat on this panel with kerravonsen who is an evangelical Christian, and a biologist who I don't think is on livejournal. It's the second time I've been involved in such a panel. Two years ago the consensus was that telepathy was a reality, and many people at the panel felt they were telepaths, who were oppressed by society. I was sceptical. This year most people were somewhat sceptical, so I felt perversely drawn to credulity. I repeated my telepathy experiment, which again failed spectacularly, proving nothing. Annoyingly, once again, the SF crowd proved resolutely open-minded, refusing to condemn the notion of telepathy out of hand, and considering possible mechanisms, technical and biological, which could not be ruled out. A very grown-up debate I thought.
Can a society function without currency
I was very tired by this last panel, and I went home immediately afterwards feeling a bit rough. The discussion was rowdy, because economics seems to bring out the rough house. I thought people were excited rather than aggressive, though some of my co-panellists thought that the guys were being a bit selfish. I think the problem is combining people who are confident and loud with people who may have just as much to say but may be less assertive. I hope I managed to rein in the talkative ones enough to let some of the quieter people have their say. Unfortunately I was tempted to start expressing my own opinions, and I probably should have been more of a moderator, but never mind.
My personal feeling is that a society can function without currency, in that exchange, reward and ownership could be mediated in some other way. I also think that currency can function in many different ways within society (just as, say, marriage can). I agree with those who argued that currency is a symbol of a social relationship, rather than an absolute one.
Another interesting distinction is between neutral, transferable currency (like we have) and some alternative possible currency which could mediate non-transferable social values of affection, status or reputation. However there was hardly time to cover the massive range of interesting ideas that came flying from all directions.