Sociology is a Science

Month: November, 2011

A Sociology of Curiosity

Why are children so curious and adults so disinterested? A lack of interest in life or in goal-setting implies a simple disorder: you’ve been stripped of your childishness.

See, I don’t think childishness is solely an insult. Children are more honest than adults and more curious. Children inspire us because we forget that they will lose many of their best qualities in their transition to adulthood.

It is an ignored question – why are children simultaneously moral barbarians and moral saints? What is the link between honesty, curiosity, morality and selfishness?

In other words, why is it that when children are socialized into group life they become, at the same time, more polite and more bored?

In exchange for courteousness and deference, we have sacrificed honesty and inquisitiveness at the altar of ‘maturity’. It’s simply more difficult to ‘get along’ with someone who has constantly shifting interests and a penchant for speaking their mind.

Curious people can be found in all walks of life. Curious religious people, for example, become bible study teachers, theologians or church workers. Curious people, in general, may be extreme sports fans, have some obsession with some hobby, be a scientist or be a consistently avid consumer of pop culture.

All that curiosity requires is a bizarre thirst for knowledge, articulable or not.

Curious people are qualitatively different than non-curious people, I’d say. But I don’t know what causes the one and not the other.

Curiosity is found among all races, both sexes, on every continent and in every school. Boredom and indifference are vastly more common, granted, but curious people, wherever they are found, are the movers and shakers of their generations.

Most unfortunate of all, curiosity can be lost. If children really are more curious than adults, on average (does anyone dispute this?), then the sociologist has the solemn burden of explaining how adults learn to be bored and uninterested.

There’s no doubt that poor schools, poor teachers, entertainment-oriented mass culture and ‘respect’ for religious explanations of reality all contribute to the anti-curious attitudes of many people.

Poor schools, though, are found more often in certain neighborhoods and not in others. So are churches. Poverty causes stress and anxiety, both of which decrease a child’s ability to sleep and learn. There are also plenty of middle-class kids, who, as well, just can’t seem to ‘get interested’ in anything.

Curiosity is the most valuable cognitive resource in this universe. If certain people are systematically made to feel bored, I want to know why.

I want to know why they lost their curiosity and I want to know who, or what, took it from them.

Holidays

One recurring activity in most cultures is the throwing of a festival. We do this all the time in the US and for different reasons.

Today, for example, people woke up, got ready, tried to look nice and traveled to a family member’s house to eat meat for a few hours and drink alcohol for Thanksgiving.

It is implicit in these gatherings that we are supposed to want to attend and to be eager to ‘catch up’ with other family members we barely know and otherwise never care to see.

Not only am I not very emotionally close with my family, but they aren’t emotionally close to me. They have their own lives. I get it. Emotional bonds, after all, are a two-way street.

I know the people in my family love me, and I love them. It is nevertheless uncomfortable to partake in ‘holidays’ that arbitrarily impose on us a burden to pretend that we are dying to catch up with one another (despite never talking on non-holidays – clear evidence that none of us, honestly, gives a shit about the life-details of the other).

Family members live separate lives. We have different jobs, we have different politics, we have different religions, we live in different areas and we’ve taken separate life paths.

This is family in mainstream 21st century American culture.

Yet, when a bunch of genetically related (or simply emotionally close) people gather in the same room with food and booze, it becomes easier to imagine that these people are your ‘tribe’, your ‘clan’ and that they ‘have your back’. It feels good.

I don’t get to feel that feeling a lot, so I suppose it’s worth experiencing once or twice a year, however artificial and contrived it may be in reality.

So, I indulge in such holidays. Regardless of how true or authentic any of the expressed feelings really are.

After today, we’ll all slip back into the daily grind and thankfully be free from the burden of having to take an interest in our (extended) families until the following year.

We know they are there and we know they love us, and if things ever got REAL bad, they might try and help us out.

So, what am I thankful for?

I’m thankful for that fleeting sense of belonging. Ethereal and hard to define (and, perhaps, mostly artificial), festivals with family are a beautiful, and uniquely human, dream that we aren’t alone in a very lonely world.

The Adventures of Certain Ideas

Most nights I sit by a window and smoke and try to feel the way ideas are rolling around in my head.

I am a graduate student at a research university in California. I never expected to be here, but I’m happy to have found myself in this mysterious and lonely environment.

It is, of course, naive to think a proper litmus test exists to determine who ought to be admitted and paid to learn in a University.

So how is one to justify one’s presence among a group of people and in an institution dedicated to nothing other than the proper delineation of reality? It is simultaneously the most obvious and the most difficult goal to set for oneself.

I don’t know why I’m here (or why a lot of other people are). The universe, it seems, sometimes plays dice with itself.

And so most nights I sit by a window and smoke and try to let ideas roll around.

Why? Well, when I was a kid, I’d shoot on a crappy old basketball hoop in my front yard to fend off boredom. I knew coaches valued me because of my height. Besides, I was pretty sure I wasn’t good at anything else.

While shooting hoops by myself, I’d sometimes zone out and imagine that ideas I had about life, people or whatever were little hamster-ball sorta globe-things with lots of assumptions and sub-ideas rolling around inside.

These idea-globes I created in my mind were my little spaceships, they were my creation, my escape. Yet, they could roll only as far as they’re engineering and internal consistency allowed.

So, shooting on that crappy old hoop with no net, I’d zone out and set my particular idea-globe on a long, treacherous and uncertain track with (I assumed) plenty of loops and twists and turns to keep me interested. When an idea-globe fell through a hole on the track, I knew there was a hole in my argument, so to speak. I’d keep the hole in my mind until I was done playing, and then I’d look into it later so that a new idea-globe was ready, on a repaired track, the next time I decided to shoot hoops.

Or, if I was bored with that idea-globe, I’d just make up another one.

The only way to know how well, and with what speed, my idea-globe was progressing on its track in my mind, was to check MY ideas against the ideas of people my 12 year old brain thought were wise, old sages.

Being a kid, the thought of comparing my flabby, whimsical ideas to the ideas of grizzled philosophers,  weathered with wisdom, felt like a secret, forbidden privilege. Every single word they wrote was a further glimpse into the adventures of my idea-ball on an increasingly uncertain journey.

Idea-globes can be made for anything. I’ve had idea-globes about death and how to think about it (modified, of course, by what I’ve read about people who disagree with me), along with idea-globes on consciousness, science, emotion, depression, deception, culture, morality, sex and just about everything in between.

Idea-balls come in different sizes depending on my interest in the topic. Some tracks are real smooth, because the topic is easy. Other tracks (e.g., the track for morality) are insanely treacherous, with lots of potholes; these demand the constant, tiring construction of further assumptions to wedge into newly constructed idea-globes.

So, most nights I sit by a window and smoke and try to feel the way ideas are rolling around in my head.

Literally. Thinking is more fun in the context of imagination and imagery.

Sometimes I look back on my imaginative musings as a child from my perspective as an adult in graduate school.

I remember being maybe 10 or 11 and wanting this cool race-track thing for Christmas. You (and, presumably, your parents) put the track together and then raced each other via magnetic race cars. I think the track was like $ 150 which was safely beyond the budget of my family.

Looking back, I think the way I tend to visualize ideas today sometimes owes a lot to the frustrated sighs of a 10 year old on Christmas morning.

Things have a way of working themselves out.

 

Forget Gender, What About Sex?

Sociologists (and academics generally) are magnificently puritanical folk. We are, as a profession, scared to death of sex. If you ask a sociologist about sex, we will quickly change the subject to ‘gender’ and start screaming about how sexist society is until you tranquilize us.

When I use the word ‘sex’, I do not mean ‘gender’. Gender is an arbitrary word for cultural roles played by men and women.

I want to talk about sex.

Penises and butts and boobs and vaginas. Oh, yea.

You see, there isn’t a single sociologist on this planet (that I’m aware of, let me know if you’ve heard of someone) who can explain the psychological role sexual fetishes and sexual pre-occupations play in everyday, non-sexual public life (famed boxer Oscar De La Hoya, for example, endured a rough scandal when he admitted to pictures showing his fetish of dressing up in women’s clothes and wearing make-up).

There also is no sociologist who has explored the specific conditions under which (certain) men and (certain) women in public spaces will create secret sexual liaisons (even when either is married).

Sociologists also have no idea how repressed sexuality (i.e., gay and lesbian men/women pretending to be straight) impacts adult achievement or decision making over the life course (Republican Senator Larry Craig in the Minnesota airport bathroom anyone?).

Sociologists, as well, have no clue why industrialized, modern societies love to sexualize children (Justin Bieber) yet pretend to be horrified when citizens  molest them (Jerry Sandusky) while societies in antiquity (in Asia, the Middle East and pretty much everywhere) simply sexualized/molested pubescent children outright. Look at the ancient Greeks.

I have every intention of studying the sticky, dirty, underworld of sex, repressed sexuality, sexual fetishes/obsessions and the sexualization of young, in-between and old people.

Why do I care about this?

Because sex is the driving behavior of every mammal on Earth, including ourselves.

AND because sex is intrinsically SOCIAL.

Though sociologists have yet to seriously study sex and society (yes, the psychologists have tried and, as usual, with underwhelming results), I’ll bet my life that several of the MAJOR 21st century findings  regarding human society and social behavior will be found in the realm of sex and sexuality.

But we’ll never find out if we are too busy pointing and giggling at all the boobies.

The “Self”

Everyone has a ‘self’. This is the set of behaviors you show the world and the symbolic narrative connecting the behaviors. Every human culture on Earth has some notion of what a ‘self’ is.

Just to get some nonsense out of the way, the ‘self’ is NOT a thing or a soul or an essence. It is a combination of neural circuits. People do not LITERALLY ‘have’ selves anymore than New York state literally ‘has’ a Big Apple.

You see how talk of the self is absolutely soaked in metaphor? This is a HUGE problem, especially in sociology, psychology and philosophy.

You, that is, your ‘self’, is a set of patterned interactions in your brain. These patterns represent circuits and circuits create themselves after repeated chemical interactions along stable electro-chemical neuronal cell ‘networks’.

In other words, your “self” is composed of networks in the same way New York’s ‘Big Apple’ is composed of individual streets, back alleys and interactions…

Selves differ from on another, of course.

My ‘self’ is different than a lot of the other selves I see on a day-to-day basis.

Actually, that last statement isn’t entirely true. But I like to think it’s true and that there is the whole point of having a ‘self’.

You see, a ‘self’ is, literally speaking, an energy transduction system. That is, it represents the simultaneous caloric and metabolic demands of trillions of interactions of neurons (‘brain cells’). The specific patterns of interaction of these neurons is, of course, unique to your physiology and ecology (environment). In this sense, ‘you’ and ‘yourself’ are unique.

BUT, your conception of ‘me’ is almost always self-flattering because self-esteem helps energy transfer (i.e., social interaction). When energy transduction is consistently low, your ‘self’ experiences a ‘depression’:  a decrease in activity in areas of the brain (especially in areas that suppress negative emotion) which enables a subjective re-analysis of energy (and, thus, ‘self’) options.

The astute reader will notice that what I’ve just stated insinuates that ‘you’ are not in ‘control’ of your ‘self’ display – the neural networks are.

This would be right. Ultimately, this behavioral display of ‘self’ is contingent on the display’s effectiveness in garnering resources. Resources can be anything from obviously important materials (food, shelter, sex) to more second-order needs (status, prestige, power, support, comfort, control).

The specific neuronal networks most conducive to elevated levels of resource access are ‘selected for’  in the brain, calorically and metabolically. Animals (and the micro-organisms and cellular chemistry that help compose them) are, after all, built to consider their own welfare; they would not exist otherwise.

Selves, put simply, are mental depictions of environmentally effective transduction circuits in the brain.

In other words, what you show to the world, your prized, wonderful ‘self’ is ACTUALLY, if we must be literal, a subjectively experienced mental depiction of trillions of chemical and electrical neuronal interactions, optimized for maximum ‘resource’ consumption in a given (and ever-changing) environment. This maximization might be crummy, or miscalculated, but it is, nevertheless, your biologically calculated maximization.

Does this take the beauty out of life and out of each other? Maybe a little, but the most interesting and beautiful and mysterious part of it all is in the description itself…

Even in my rather descriptive explanation above, how much is still simply metaphor? And how much about “me” can ever truly be explained biologically?

Democracy in an Unequal Society is Immoral

In America today it is shockingly easy to find people in favor of democracy.

Now, I know we don’t have a pure democracy in the US, we have a republic and we elect representatives.

Nevertheless, I have to make this goddamn point because no one else ever does. A democracy in an unequal society is a hellish thing.

Look, democracy is a great thing in societies with more-or-less equal opportunities for all citizens. This way, a large segment of the population becomes educated and most people do alright financially. This sort of set-up is very common in Northern European countries.

About 36.5% of Americans graduate from college in a typical fashion each year. Thus, 63.5% of people don’t. As far as how we stack up internationally, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Sweden and the United Kingdom all happily churn out more college graduates every year than we do.

So, as a population, we aren’t the brightest kid on the block.

We’re also fucking poor and desperate. In 2007, the United States logged a GINI Index score (an internationally used measure of income inequality developed by a sociologist) of 45, a sickeningly elevated score and much higher than other industrialized nations. In fact, our GINI income inequality score is even higher than Sri Lanka (40.3), Russia (42.2), China (41.5) and Iran (44.5).

How do I know we’re desperate? How else do you explain the highest imprisonment rate in the Western world? Less than 5% of the world’s population lives in the US (I think it’s like 3%), BUT the US is home to nearly 25% of all the prisoners in the world. I mean fuck me sideways that’s ridiculous.

And so we have measures passed, like the one in Arizona, which made the racial profiling of Hispanic citizens legal in an attempt to stop immigration from gang-torn Mexico.

We also have Republican presidential candidates fumbling on live TV like Rick Perry recently did (I’ll have a link below). He wants to cut at least three entire governmental departments (commerce, education and energy) if he were elected. And, in a national debate, he can’t even remember which three.

Herman Cain’s 999 plan has been seriously ripped by every legitimate economist. It’s not even serious.

I could go on.

And then you have the recent ‘personhood amendment’ in Mississippi. This clusterfuck (technically, ‘Initiative 26’) would have amended the state Constitution so as to define life, “to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”

This is just yet another evangelical Christian plan to oppress women with legal means. At least other denominations of Christianity (not you, Catholicism) are more subtle in their fear of women’s autonomy.

Shall I spend time here defending abortion? No, I don’t think so…

Ok, fine, I’ll allow myself only two sentences. Women sometimes are not educated or miseducated about or do not have access to contraceptive methods and therefore become saddled, through no fault of their own, with the socio-economic burden of child bearing and rearing. Also, an embryo is not a human being, it is a blastocyst, which is literally a very small clump of cells. Thus, abortion.

See also: https://sociologyisascience.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/whence-life/

Thankfully, ‘Initiative 26’ in Mississippi was NOT passed. The point I’m trying to make is a more basic one, though.

Rick Perry, Herman Cain and the rest of the Republican candidates for president have serious, alarming flaws that worry me. These flaws constitute the STRENGTHS of the candidates for supporters. This isn’t a matter of opinion. Rick Perry really doesn’t care enough about his own platform to remember it and Herman Cain’s economic plan really doesn’t work.

Oh, and the blatant racial profiling of Mexican people in Arizona is wildly retarded and obviously not going to solve the wider economic forces underlying this mass immigration.

And please, don’t get me going on Mississippi’s initiative. If Republicans are worried about life, why don’t they spend some money on the educational infrastructure of inner city schools. There’s a place where nobody disputes life is being wasted.

So is democracy a good thing in a country marked by problematic inequality?

Should the will of the people determine policy when most of the people are stupid, scared and desperate?

Quite obviously not.

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Graduation Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development:

http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/20755120-2010-table1/index.html?contentType=/ns/KeyTable,/ns/StatisticalPublication&itemId=/content/table/20755120-table1&containerItemId=/content/tablecollection/20755120&accessItemIds=&mimeType=text/html

GINI Index from the CIA World Factbook:

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2172.html

US Prison Population:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/americas/23iht-23prison.12253738.html?pagewanted=all

Rick Perry:

http://www.aoltv.com/2011/11/10/rick-perry-brain-freeze/

Hermain Cain:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/999-plan-herman-cain_n_1018462.html

Initiative 26 in Mississippi:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/10/us/politics/voters-defeat-many-gop-sponsored-measures.html?_r=4&hp

Fear of Death as a Variable

We’ll all die. Some of us are more aware of this than others. Some of us regret the fact more than others.

93% of all the people who have ever lived are now dead. The 7% who haven’t died are the 7% alive right now – us. Those numbers are convincing.

Death is more than an event that marks the conclusion of an organism’s life. Death has also a subjective character. We feel death, we fear death, we contemplate what it would be like to finally fade away.

As creatures with a concern for our own lives, such thoughts frighten us. The thought of non-existence is perhaps the first source of cognitive dissonance. It certainly is the most fundamental.

We must reconcile the fact of death with what we think we know about existence. Death is subjectively un-interpretable, yet we have no choice but to cognize it – we are creatures that survive by interpreting. This painful paradox forever remains the spark of our aspiration for explanations, interpretations and intuitions about death.

But there are tragic consequences for those who fear death.

Those who fear death are at greater risk of believing in wish-fulfillment fantasies. Belief in heaven and hell (whatever the religious tradition) is truly a belief in (1) continuance of the subjective self after brain death and (2) righteous judgment after death that will appropriately punish every possible wrongdoing.

Neither (1) nor (2) is possible in the natural world. All of our demonstrable evidence about reality suggests that we appear to live in a natural – and not a supernatural –  world, therefore (1) and (2) are not possible. Despite being impossible, people still believe them. If the very thought of death invokes immediate and intense cognitive dissonance, than believing in the laugh-out-loud preposterousness of heaven and hell ain’t so bad if it makes you feel a little better.

Related to the wish fulfillment of heaven and hell are the unnecessary fears some people have about ghosts, haunted houses and other ‘spirits’, ‘lost souls’ or whatever. This is all make-believe. For those of you who believe in these magical entities: they result from your brain healthily and naturally extrapolating logically (to other people) what you currently believe about yourself (that your soul continues after death).

Such beliefs in ghosts and hauntings are common and cause a lot of fear in both adults and children. About 50% of the American population believes in or is on the fence about the existence of ghosts and spirits. Consequently, ‘haunted’ houses sell for much less on the market, police departments literally throw money away on ‘psychics’ who claim to ‘speak’ with the dead, and people every day thank ‘guardian angels’ for being saved from a dangerous situation by real, flesh-and-blood caring human beings.

Fear of death also causes some people to be excessively timid and fearful. If we have only one life and all the status, power and prestige I have in this life is all I will ever have, I want to protect it, safeguard it. The best way to do this is to cower and hide through life, saying only what one must in order to improve one’s self image. This is the core of selfishness.

Relatedly, since we only have one life, some people find themselves afraid of disowning and abandoning other people. Ah, what the hell, right? We only live once? Why not be a lover and not a fighter? The fact remains that some people are consistently hurtful, unkind, disagreeable and greedy. They deserve to be abandoned in this life, and in any life. Doing the opposite is cowardice and fear of retaliation and that’s all it is.

Luckily, some unexpectedly good things may come from not fearing death (besides being free of nonsense beliefs about heaven and hell, souls, ghosts and ‘secret’, ancient herbal remedies for liver cancer).

The transcendental temptation won’t go away. The desire, the lust, to belong to something greater than ourselves will probably never go away. In essence, even if we disavow supernatural childishness, we still stand to lose everything upon death unless we attach ourselves to a cause greater than ourselves, more significant than our lives, and deeper than our single existence.

Finding oneself attached to a cause (and this can be anything so long as you are 10 fingers and 10 toes devoted) is subjectively equivalent to living forever and enjoyable in and of itself. Once we’re dead, we won’t care that our individual importance is not very significant – we’ll be dead. While we’re alive, though, we can glance and see our mark on some seemingly eternal human project, and glimpse, for a moment, what eternal life might look like.

Death is also, in some ways, a good thing. Bad ideas often die with bad people. Why would anyone want to imagine a reality where the souls of Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan, and Osama Bin Laden continue on forever? Also, if all of us will be dead in several decades, doesn’t that mean that our relationships are that much more valuable? If existence endured forever, no sense of immediacy, of passion, of urgency would vitalize our dreams and our affections.

Death is also a reminder of the long quiet that is to come. All the more reason to speak up now, while our lungs still have air.

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Rates of belief in nonsense:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/17275/onethird-americans-believe-dearly-may-departed.aspx

The Various Forms of Idol Worship

It seems almost incredible to say so, but there are people who actually idolize imaginary cultural creations. This post will not be about people who claim Jesus as their best friend, though.

The idol worship I am more interested in is that which occurs for living, breathing human beings.

This last Sunday, I heard Daniel Kahneman speak at Cal Tech in Pasadena. Kahneman is a sort of idol of mine, not least because he is simply an interesting fellow with an interesting story. Most importantly, however, he has used his mind to create new questions and new avenues for human exploration. He won the Nobel Prize for essentially up-ending the field of economics and inconveniently demonstrating to stock pickers and every other ‘rational’ actor that they often had no clue why they were doing what they were doing.

I got sweaty palms seeing him and I was certainly nervous when asking a question. I’ve felt similar ways in the presence of other ‘famous’ academics. But why?

I suppose I am nervous in front these men (and why are they all men?), because I am impressed with their lives and because I feel indebted to their minds. Without the work of these men, I wouldn’t have a job. If their minds had not existed, mine would have nothing to read about.

The weird thing, though, is that sweaty palms and nervous voices are also reliably found at Britney Spears concerts,  Justin Bieber interviews, Kobe Bryant autograph signings, and Brad Pitt’s movie premiers.

I’m left to suppose that fans of popular culture become nervous in front of their idols for the same reason that I become nervous in front of mine. But what does it mean to be impressed with the life of 15(or whatever) year old Justin Bieber? What does it mean to be indebted to the minds of Kim Kardashian, Glenn Beck, or Brad Pitt?

Stars of modern popular culture are made and re-made in familiar and highly predictable ways. Plastic surgery along with a good movie script (which the actor had no hand in writing, of course), a hit song (which the singer had no hand in writing, of course) or simply a spot on a hit show (which the star had no hand in writing or creating, of course) are usually great ways for a man or woman in America to become pop cultural millionaires many times over.

By contrast, there is no proven formula for creating a Carl Sagan or an Einstein or a Camus or a Hubert Selby, Jr., or a Herbert Spencer or a Karl Marx or a David Hume or a Karl Popper or a Randall Collins or a Newton or a Daniel Kahneman or a Jonathan Turner or a Robert Trivers or a Charles Darwin. They just happen, every once in a while, for eternally intriguing and inexplicable reasons.

Great minds live in the habitat of their era, and watching them wax philosophical or theoretical is a bit like being invited to stand on their shoulders, and in their shoes, for a moment. It isn’t only romantic to say that one almost glimpses the future in such moments.

I don’t get this feeling from the thought of being near the Twilight cast or Herman Cain. Twilight is a great cinematic achievement (I’m sure) but it is, alas, a movie about teen vampires.  And Herman Cain is a great idiot, but he is, alas, an idiot.

Is it wrong to think that idol worship is only good when people are worshipped not because of what they are, or what they’ve done but because of how they think?  Indeed, even with the painter or the dancer, isn’t their vision and their intended meaning at least as relevant as the enjoyment of the painting or dance itself?

What does it mean when a society worships only two kinds of idols, the make-believe and the empty-headed?

Whence Life?

I’ll post something tonight, but I had to borrow and share this. It comes from the always-stimulating blog of Jerry Coyne , http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/mississippi/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Social Bubble

Expectations are not unlike invisible social/cognitive bubbles that search life looking for other people to attach to.

Once we befriend someone, or become familiar with someone (and usually even before we actually meet them), we begin to develop expectations about their behavior. This is our little bubble enveloping them. Once in our bubble, they begin to feel expectations about how we want them to look, act, and feel (display emotion).

The further into someone else’s bubble we go, the more our voices may soften, the more our opinions lose their stridency. The further into someone’s bubble we go, the more fearful we become of saying something different, doing something different, being someone different.

It is also possible to get swallowed up into several different peoples’ social bubbles. These bubbles might have different content, different expectations. As long as they are somewhat compatible, a person can live in two or more bubbles. This amounts to ‘being a different person for different people’. The bubbles exert forces on your behavior, shifting and stretching your attention at their whim.

Probably the way to be happiest is to live within only a few comfortable, permeable social bubbles. Permeable social bubbles are bubbles that can be exited if expectations become two intense. Exiting some social bubbles causes them to pop, but some social bubbles need to popped. Bubbles that need to be popped are bubbles that have grown too large, preventing the bubbles of others from growing at all.

The worst form of mental anguish a person can experience occurs under the tyranny of numerous, incompatible bubbles. Even this is worse than complete isolation from all other social bubbles but one’s own – at least, solitary, lonely, freedom and the escape of suicide remains. Neither situation, of course, is preferable.

If only we could begin to measure the size, shape, velocity and density of different social bubbles…this would represent a mathematical formulation of micro-sociological/social psychological theory.

These social ‘bubbles’ are, of course, conceptual, and simply one of many possible conceptualizations of social life. Yet, if science grows by framing the world in a metaphorically comprehensible and measurable way, how might one begin to conceptualize the movement of bodies, ideas and expectations?

In other words, if perhaps not like bubbles, what are the movements of bodies, ideas and expectations “like”?