Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Popping the Reality Bubble: An Interview with Ziya Tong

In The Reality Bubble Ziya Tong looks into the structures that govern our lives, from science to society, and on May 4th she will join us in Ottawa to talk about her book with host John Geddes. Ahead of her conversation on our stage, Nina Jane Drystek asked her a quick five questions to get some more insight why she wrote her book.


NJD: In the Reality Bubble you look at the ways in which we see the world and explore the things happening around us that we don't see - from the structure of matter to waste management systems. What was it that got you thinking about the reality bubble we live in?

ZT: I’m fascinated by the unseen systems that govern our lives, much in the way scientists are. If you think about it, it’s incredible because so many things that make our daily lives run smoothly — from the electrons in our cell phones to satellites in space — are things we don’t really see, and for many of us don’t really understand. As I started looking deeper, I began to realize that we are blind to many of the ways in which we survive as a species in the 21st century - and this, in effect, is the ‘reality bubble’ that the book aims to pierce through.  


NJD: It's amazing how much ground is covered in this book. You bring in anecdotes, research and facts from many different fields of study–physics, biology, ecology social sciences and more. The ideas flow really well from one to another and it makes each topic very approachable. How did you go about bringing your research and ideas together to tell the story of the reality bubble?

ZT: That’s very kind of you. It was a lot of thinking. Years of thinking. The book itself took just over a year to write, but creating a way to synthesize the different fields into a storyline took a lot longer. It actually took me 3 times longer to write the proposal than to write the book itself.

NJD: What is the most surprising thing you learned in writing this book?

ZT: That half of the nitrogen in our DNA comes from a factory.


NJD: You've been advocating for people to take action on climate change and environmental issues. How do you see your book fitting into this conversation?

ZT: Well, I wouldn’t call this an environmental book --in fact I think the word ‘environment’ is used only once or twice — and that’s because Chapter 2 suggests that the notion that there is any sort of environment at all, is an illusion. That said, this book does tackle how 7.7 billion human beings currently eke out a living on the planet - and makes it crystal clear that the system we have created to do so is about to implode.


NJD: What do you hope readers take away from your book?

ZT: If I’m lucky, and I’ve done my job properly - an epiphany. 


Get tickets for The Reality Buble with Ziya Tong.