“This is going to become a bad meme.“ – Chuck Todd (NBC interview)
A bad meme, indeed. It’s bigger, way bigger than that. On the good side, the meme throws a spotlight on the fact that we really do live in a Bubble, and most people are clueless about it.
The Bubble idea has become more bothersome in the last few decades, so I invested what I hope is an adequate amount of time to dig into this and come up with a better understanding about what “Living in a Bubble” really means.
Hang on. This might not be pretty. It’s been a journey, and it’s revealed a number of things.
Then again, it might be pretty awesome, at least for some. You see, it’s not just A Bubble: fundamentally it’s many Bubbles. Many Bubbles for each of us, alone or in groups; it’s not just a “worldview.”
Where to begin? (This might not seem like a difficult question, but as you will see, it is. As a consequence, I’ve chosen once again to begin where I typically begin: in the Middle. And to keep it short. If you want any additional chatty details, they will follow on Pages 2 and 3.)
In the middle of what? As it turns out, the Middle is actually right here, right Now. The “What” is what we’re actually looking into. So, let us begin.
You and I got up this morning and stepped out into, or rather onto, good old Terra Firma, “dry, solid earth.” We take this rock solid foundation for granted, along with a number of other things that we sense and experience. In doing this, we take comfort in knowing that we are just joining a long line of people throughout history that have done the same thing.
The idea of “solid matter” gained through our sense of touch is one of the earliest concepts developed by man through both our “common sense” and common senses. This idea eventually led early in history to a definition of Substance (i.e., matter) as that which is extended in space and persistent in time.1
This working definition is so useful that it still forms the foundation of virtually every science course taught. It was (and still is) a very good starting point (and, for most of us, a finishing point). After all, if I drop it on my foot and it’s still there after I hop around in pain, it must be solid matter, generally speaking.
The problem is, it’s incomplete if not wrong. It works for the physical “Bubble” we live in, but does not describe All That There Is, the rest of Reality. Really.
Proof of Bubble
When the theories of Relativity (on the Mind-Boggling scale, Page 2) and Quantum Mechanics (on the Minuscule scale, Page 3) were proposed, most of us said, “Meh.” After all, please note carefully: we choose to ignore what we think doesn’t affect us. We throw up a Wall.
It doesn’t change Reality. Both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics invade our comfortable physical Bubble every day. The GPS systems we so heavily rely upon depend on Relativity and the variability of time and would not work otherwise (Page 2), and research uses Scanning Tunneling Microscopes daily, based upon the Quantum Mechanical phenomenon of electrons tunneling through barriers they should not tunnel through (Page 3).
We use these phenomena, we count on them, but we can’t explain them let alone understand them. It doesn’t change Reality; it just changes our “reality.” That reality is a Bubble. And that Bubble becomes a Fundamental Principle.
I am going to take a great liberty here and try, with a bit of irony and a lot of dependence upon Pages 2 and 3, to build on the shoulders of giants, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, and Ernst Mach, and propose the big Bubble of the world that we live in as The General Bubble Theory:
The world we live in, affecting us all together, is the physical General Bubble, consisting of an unimaginable number of wave-groups, manifesting themselves as perceived particles, people, places, and things, plus our overall perception of space as Euclidian and time as “absolute.” (Ok, you probably should glance through Pages 2 and 3).
On the other hand, the limitations in our individual senses, what we can experience directly and therefore process and interpret, leads to The Special Bubble Theory:
We each perceive and inhabit a unique cognitive Special Bubble, developed from our specific genes (from others), particular environment (including others), unique experiences (involving others), and choices (both ours and others). We are probably trying to stay comfortable within it, and potentially get uncomfortable outside of it.
In reaction to all the other Special Bubbles (people, groups, cultures) we experience, and depending upon our personality and temperament, we may seek to expand our Special Bubble, carefully maintain it as it is, or actively seek to shrink it for protection.
Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) describes the expansion of his own Bubble during his studies in another culture, India. We experienced the same when we lived in The Netherlands and in Romania. Recognition of stuff outside one’s own Bubble coupled with a discerning openness to experience it can lead to growth of self as well as one’s Bubble. A potentially growing Bubble has a strong but thin, flexible, transparent skin. It’s part and parcel of a continuous learning mindset, an attitude of seeking opportunities for creating added value: a Positive Sum mindset, something culturally reinforced.
The desire to carefully maintain one’s Bubble (a Conservation of Bubble?) manifests itself as an attitude that leads to a chosen behavior:
If I don’t know it, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t exist;
If I don’t understand it, it’s wrong.
This attitude is the unwillingness to deal with the possibility of Missing Information, or the direct rejection of it. It is the ageless choosing to ignore what we think doesn’t affect us. It is the attitude J. S. Mill addresses:
“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility (italics mine). Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)
This idea of the existence of Missing Information and Bubbles is not new, just forgotten or willfully ignored.
The predominance of people with this mindset is probably a major contributor to our current partisanship and our newfound Politics of Comfort. The world is perceived as being Zero Sum and every effort must be made to hold one’s ground. New stuff or understanding is uncomfortable because one’s Bubble skin has become thicker, stiffer, and clouded. Instead of a Bubble it has become more like a silo (the same process often identified in organizations).
Those who are actively attempting to shrink their Bubble probably perceive themselves in crisis mode and are primarily looking for survival, to eliminate threats. The world is Negative Sum, abounding with Takers. Defense is the primary action, and fortressing the norm by reinforcing the thick wall of the Bubble by putting Another Brick in the Wall.
The crisis very often leads to attempting to Fix the Blame by hurling missiles of their limited truth over the walls.
The attempt to claim that Truth Isn’t Truth (ignoring the Missing Information outside their Bubble and falling directly into the trap identified by J. S. Mill’s first point). They risk converting their Bubble into a coffin, or a sarcophagus.
Much conspiracy theory follows this path (Flat Earthers come to mind), as well as the thinking of many groups (people groups, special interest groups, political and religious organizations).
We live in Bubbles: one big one, the General Bubble for which we have no choice, and an unlimited number of Special Bubbles (ours and others), for which we can exercise some choice.
To boot, we each have multiple Special Microbubbles depending upon our interests and disinterests, strengths and weaknesses. We react differently to crises, either seeking to fix the blame or choosing to fix the problem through recognizing opportunities.
Our collection of Special Microbubbles isn’t necessarily a perfect sphere. We may seek to expand some of our Microbubbles in our strengths, and stabilize or shrink others in our weaknesses; some may even risk the opposite. Regardless, the whole thing probably looks more like Special Foam.
We assemble our personal little Special Microbubbles (interests) to create our Special Bubble, then engage within bigger special interest Bubbles (our Dunbar groups and social neighborhoods, collections of people, different for different interests), and then interact with (or try not to) all the other Special Bubbles (people) we come in contact with, or hear or read about.
Can we call those other Special Bubbles (partisans) we prefer not to care about, Special Froth? (Yes, but only if we live in a Negative Sum world (Bubble), and only care about withdrawing and defending.)
I think this whole concept, from which so many of the other Fundamental Principles evolve, deserves special status; it needs to be recognized as Fundamental Principle 0.
We can choose to withdraw, tread water, or grow, depending upon how we choose to hold ourselves accountable: to self, to group, or to a greater good, higher values, or even a higher authority.
Your health, and that of others, society, cultures, and nations depend upon stretching our Special Bubbles to make them larger.
1History of Science, W. C. Dampier, p295.