The Compleat Thunks Book :
A Book of Simple Questions - A Book of Complex Philosophy
This is a review of what must surely be one of the simplest books in the English language, yet one of the most thought provoking too - a book which is easy to pick up and read, yet difficult to put down.
It is a book which can be read in a few hours, but almost any of the 628 questions it poses could lead to serious or lighthearted debates which last long into the night.
And it is a book which could be dismissed by those with little imagination as just a bunch of silly questions, or it could be hailed as the latest chapter in its author's reasoned campaign to make philosophy accessible to all as an important educational tool.
The book is 'The Complete Thunks' and this review is a guide to what the book contains, the reasons behind its publication, and just why - far from dismissing it - all who are interested in creating a wiser, more inquisitive world, should embrace the ideas which lie at the heart of it.
What Are Thunks?
Thunks are defined by the author Ian Gilbert as:
'beguilingly simple-looking questions about everyday things that stop you in your tracks and help you start looking at the world in a whole new light.'
They are, in essence, philosophical questions, but there's nothing complicated about them and nothing that should put anyone off attempting to answer them. How you answer them however, may say a lot about your personality and your openness to lateral or abstract thinking. It may also reveal some uncomfortable truths about how tolerant you are, and how willing you are to consider and maybe embrace alternative viewpoints to your own.
'The Little Book of Thunks'
There have been previous volumes by the same author, and one of these - 'The Little Book of Thunks' - has been reviewed on this website. The Little Book of Thunks was very much an introduction to the concept of thunks and how they could be used to stimulate discussion and to draw out a person's thoughts and ideas. It was primarily aimed at teachers and children and extolled the virtues of this kind of philosophical questioning in encouraging children to think all around a subject and not necessarily accept the obvious answer as correct.
The Compleat Thunks - A New and Important Goal
If the original 'Little Book of Thunks' was intended to promote the virtues of thunks as an educational aid, particularly for children, then this new volume has a distinctly different emphasis. Indeed there isn't a single mention of 'children' in the introduction. It is, however, still about education. The goal of this volume is to educate ourselves - all ages - to critically evaluate everything we see that goes on around us, everything we hear on the news, and perhaps most pertinently today - everything we see and hear on social media. And the driving force behind this new goal is made evident in the very first sentence of the introduction.
The Introduction to the book is entitled ''Thunks - A User's Guide', and it opens with the sentence 'We live, so they tell us, in a post-fact world'. The Introduction goes on to list all the different euphemisms for 'lies' or 'deviations from absolute truth' - 'misremembering', 'mischaracterisation', 'alternative facts', 'not an accurate description', etc, etc. What we are talking about here - to use the current in vogue phrase - is 'fake news'.
The trouble is, of course, that it's no longer as simple as absolute truth on the one hand, and blatant lies intended to deceive on the other. There's satire - humour and exaggerations which some will nonetheless take at face value. There's non-sequitors - true facts, but with false conclusions drawn from those facts. And there's spin - selective manipulation of facts. 'Fake news' itself can even be fake - calling a story as such can be a way of dismissing uncomfortable truth. Just brand it as fake, and some will believe that it is.
It's clear therefore that it has become increasingly difficult to sort out what's real and what isn't, and increasingly dangerous to just accept what you see or hear. Recent events around the time of publication - Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in America have focused the public's collective mind on just how important it is for everyone needs to think carefully about what they see and hear. The goal of 'The Compleat Thunks' is to try to make readers do just that, and to be aware of the pitfalls along the way.
It does it by posing no fewer than 628 questions. As with 'The Little Book of Thunks' the questions are basically all simple
everyone to take their own independent and objective look at anything they are told, or that they read.
This new volume empasises even more the questions. Whereas 'The Little Book' incorporated 2 in its pages, this volume has 628 and those questions make up almost all of the pages of the book. Two pages of endorsements and just three pages of introduction complete 'The Compleat Thunks Book'. Nonetheless those five pages at the beginning are worthwhile reading for what they say about this book's motives, and how they have been received by others.But let's not be too serious about this - thunks can also just be fun topics for debate between friends!
I won't in this review enter into a discussion of any of the questions in the book. I did that in my reviews of its predecessor, 'The Little Book of Thunks', so check those out if you wish to understand just how complex the discussions and debates deriving from these thunks can be! But I'm sure that if you have an open mind (though not so open that your brains fall out) you will be able to see for yourself how many of the questions can be answered in a multitude of ways, all of which may be right or all of which may be wrong, or some of which may be partially right, or a few of which ... well, you get the idea.
With the best of thunks there is no one correct answer or wrong answer. The answer could be said to depend upon your point of view. But the REAL answer is to recognise that no one can give a categorical 'yes' or 'no'. When you can recognise that, then maybe you will be ready to listen to the speeches of politicians (both those you support and those you don't), or read the words of journalists, or watch advertisements, or listen to sermons, with a fresh awareness.
95) Are you responsible for the actions of your democratically elected leaders?
12) If I take a photo of a photo of you, do I have a photo of you rather than a photo of a photo of you?
31) If you punish someone and they reoffend, does that mean the punishment didn't work?
41) Do you control your emotions more than they control you?
75) Is everything an artist produces art?
81) Is it stealing if the waiter leaves an item off the bill and you say nothing?
94) Do we all grow old at the same rate?
221) Does who made it affect whether you like it?
234) Is it more the case that they behave like that because they own a BMW than they own a BMW because they behave like that?
241) Is anyone not dying?
243) Does a mirror stop working when you turn the lights off?
409) Do you have to respect the President?
433) If religion were banned would therebe more good in the world?
441) Is the silence between the notes music?
444) Can you be sure that someone is wrong, even though you don't know why?
453) If you shine a candle in a mirror do you get twice as much light.
493) Is a global water shortage caused by too many people, not by a shortage of water?
129) Are we taught what to be scared of?
139) Do you see what I see?
180) If you'e happy to have a cake but sad when it's all gone, does that mean the more you eat, the sadder you get?
190) If you give a beggar a pound are you paying him or her to beg?
321) Does swearing in a foreign language count as swearing?
323) If the teacher knows what's going to happen, is it still an experiement?
336) Is equality the same as fairness?
363) If you built a railway line that did converge on the horizon, could you tell?
367) Would it be wrong to have sex with a sheep in an online virtual world?
374) Can the best thing about a radio station be the music it doesn't play?
375) Is it better to die suddenly than be given a month to live?
401) In a multicultural society should different laws apply to different people?
518) Can you set out to fail?
562) Can you steal someon's rubbish?
572) Can you be an expert on unicorns?
577) Can you be truly happy if you are aspirational?
612) Is an inflated balloon lighter than a deflated balloon?
621) Is the park bench yours to share?
Many of the questions may at first glance appear to have only one sensible answer - perhaps until you think more deeply about the.