Tag Archives: bubble

Life of the mind in a bubble

About four years ago I wrote about living in bubbles and rarely coming into contact with people outside of our bubble [see ‘You’re all weird‘ on February 8th, 2017]. This was in the context of our experience of the media and our surprise when electorates make apparently irrational decisions. Since early this year we have been encouraged to live in more literal bubbles in order to slow down the spread of COVID-19; so, for example, we have created bubbles of researchers using our research labs in shifts to avoid a total shutdown of research when someone tests positive for coronavirus.  For many people, the pandemic has isolated them in a bubble of one that has created concerns about the well-being and happiness of individuals living and working alone.  When asked about the place he is happiest, the artist Ai Weiwei responded ‘Every place is equal for me.  Even in detention I could still find joyful moments’.  He finds ways to connect to other people and their emotions by reflecting on who he is, which leads to moments of joy.  He believes that success in life is about finding yourself in way that ‘doesn’t need ambition or talent. It just needs a functioning mind, emotion and simple judgment.’  During lockdowns induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that it has become more important to maintain the life of mind through reading and discovering new ideas. As Jarvis Cocker said in a recent interview: ‘I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking the same thoughts and feeling the same things, rechewing the same thing. I find that really boring.’  I hope that these posts have brought you new ideas and ways of thinking during 2020; writing them has certainly kept my mind active and stimulated.  So, I plan to continue in 2021 and hope that you will continue to read them.  Best wishes for a happy New Year!


Inventory: Ai Weiwei, Artist interviewed by Lilah Raptopoulos in the FT Magazine, October 31/November 1, 2020.

Evolve or fade away, Jarvis Cocker interviewed by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the FT Weekend, 14 November/15 November 2020.

You’re all weird!

bubbleRecently, I attended a talk given by the journalist, Richard Black to a group of scientists and engineers. He used a show of hands to establish that none us read the tabloid newspapers and told us we were all weird.  He went on to discuss how we live in bubble and rarely come into contact with people outside of it.  In media terms, I live in a bubble that can be defined by BBC Radio 4 in the UK or NPR in USA.  And, I was surprised how easy it was to substitute NPR for BBC Radio 4 when we moved to the USA, so the bubble extends across national boundaries.  But, nevertheless we live in a relatively small bubble because the tabloid papers are read by millions of people whereas the serious papers I prefer have only hundreds of thousands of readers. That’s why we are weird – we’re unusual.  It’s also why we are surprised when electorates make apparently irrational decisions.  However, they are only irrational to weird people who have access to the information and analysis available in our bubble.

We should not blame the media because most are simply businesses whose bottom line is profit, which means they have to be attractive to as many people as possible and there aren’t many people in our bubble, so most of the media doesn’t target us.   The same logic applies to politicians who want to be elected.

Interestingly, ‘weird’ is a late middle-English word, originally meaning ‘having the power to control destiny’.  So maybe being weird is a good thing?