About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

In which my past comes back to haunt me

I recently joined, then rather shortly afterwards took over leading, a pub philosophy group. We don't meet in a pub - indeed the venue is alcohol free - but the idea is to exercise our brains discussing philosophical questions in a relaxed environment. I offered to take the lead when the founder left as I've studied philosophy and even taught a bit, though that was all rather a long time ago.

This week's topic was, Mind and brain: One kind of stuff or two? I was asked if I could provide a bit more structure than the somewhat freewheeling discussions we've had so far, which I agreed to do. This meant homework. I dug out my old teaching notes and found a file marked, Mind Brain notes. That should do. I looked at my old notes and was dismayed to find how much I'd forgotten. What did Ryle say again? Who the hell was Place?* This was stuff I used to know really well and now I couldn't drag it out of my memory at all.

At about the same time, my friend Gill mentioned a Horizon programme she thought I'd be interested in, The Creative Brain: How Insight Works.** Um, yes, I'd be very interested. That was the area I used to research.

Watching Horizon was an unexpectedly emotional experience. It wasn't just a programme about a topic I used to study, it was all about my work. I'm not trying to claim anyone pinched my ideas, but I'd been doing just those experiments. The scientists featured were my peers. But I left that world six years ago. When I tried to remember the results of a study that was particularly similar to one featured in the programme, I couldn't. The feeling was rather like visiting the town where I grew up: a mixture of familiarity and strangeness; a peculiar kind of homesickness.

I don't really want to go back to that world. Every time I talk to someone who works in a university I'm reminded of all the bad things about institutional life, things that I put up with at the time but I'm very glad to be rid of now. At the same time, it wasn't just a job to me. My work was very central to my self-image, and to a large extent still is: I think of myself as a scientist.

When we moved here I wondered whether I'd miss the intellectual stimulation. I don't, but what I do miss is talking to people who have the same education as me; people who live in the same intellectual environment; people I can make assumptions about. There are lots of interesting people here and it's challenging to discuss ideas with someone who has a completely different viewpoint, but I don't want to be challenged all the time.

I spent too much of yesterday investigating whether I could afford to go to a particular conference that I've been to a few times before. I'd really love to go, but not sure whether I can justify the £500 or so that it would cost, and also not sure whether it's really a good idea. Would it just make me miss that world even more? The thing is, I feel at home there in a way that I just don't here.


* We don't refer to philosophers' ideas much in the discussions, but I'd used these names in my notes as shorthand for fairly lengthy arguments.

** If you watch this programme, please ignore almost all uses of the word, Creativity. The links between the insight experience and creativity are tenuous, to say the least.


  1. Oooh - tricky! I can relate, because although I was desperate to leave my job, I have found continuing to work sporadically for my ex-employer to be a sanity saver. I'd find it hard to say exactly why (at least, without revealing more of my shortcomings than I am comfortable with), but I now know that for the time being at least, complete retirement is not something that would be good for me.
    Could you perhaps investigate the possibility of some freelance work? I know that's not what you planned, but your life is yours to do what makes you happiest, and if some continued involvement in academia or research would do that, then I don't see any reason to be purist about your lifestyle.
    Good luck - this is a difficult one!

    1. It's nice to know I'm not alone in this. I'm not being purist, I'm just not at all sure what I want.

  2. I completely understand! It's not snobbishness, it's just that you have a style and genre of study that not enough people in your immediate geopraphical area share with you.
    I found my solution was participating in subject-specific message boards. This allowed me to not only meet others with similar education and interests, but (since the pool of potential members is so large) frequently those whose intelligence and thought processes I could truly look up to and learn from. I don't participate as much as I did for the last decade (life suddenly got overwhelmingly busy), but I'd be happy to point you in the direction of the ones I used to visit, if you're interested in trying it.

    1. Thanks for your comment and sorry I didn't reply more quickly. I thought about this for a while and decided that online interaction probably isn't the answer for me. I'm not sure I can put my finger on why, because I spend a lot of time in cyberspace and I'm quite comfortable there, but it's just not the same as spending time with people in real life.

      And you're absolutely right - it's not snobbishness at all! I'm not making comments about anyone's intelligence here, it's just a difference in background. To clarify (not to you, but generally, because the way I wrote it wasn't very clear): The reason I don't miss intellectual stimulation is that I get plenty of it.


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