We asked research scientist and writer, Brooke Magnanti, to comment on her current work and ideas that have influenced her…

Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
The moment at which a hunch becomes a hypothesis. In science, it can be difficult to stray from ingrained ways of thinking because the way we work is very iterative. In life many things are also this way, though through habit and not design: but by looking at situations afresh, rather than asking what ‘someone like me thinks’ and ‘someone like me does’, it’s sometimes possible to forge a new direction. There’s a particular notion about disease aetiology I’ve been turning over for some time which is starting to take shape. We’ll see where it goes.

Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
The pointlessness of critics, as discussed by Dave Eggers. There seems to be a rich seam of resentment when someone’s work moves from being a niche interest to a more mainstream one, and certain aspects of the way we live now – enforced long adolescence, for instance – makes far too many people obsessed with ‘keeping it real’ and curating good taste rather than creating anything. Interpretation is not everything and is not even very much. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
Body Ritual Among the Nacirema by Horace Miner. The article satirises the way in which cultural anthropology reports on habits in other societies, which of course in this piece turns out to be our own. It’s a simple thing, really, but reminds us to always remain aware of the cultural matrix through which everything is reported.

And finally, each year we ask everyone involved – audiences as well as speakers – one question. Charles Masterman, Liberal Party politician and journalist, asked in his book The Condition of England 100 Years Ago: “What will the future make of the present?” What is your answer to this?
Not a lot. We’ve taken anecdotalism and made it high art. We’re not so much deep as many layers of shallow.