As a tiny kid I’d start those post-Christmas thank-you letters with the simplest home address:
7 Greyfriars Road
As an older kid, I found it fascinating to add every possible layer to this:
7 Greyfriars Road
It was a first contact with orders of magnitude, as in Powers of 10: first, the family in my house, then the neighbours on my road, then the people in my village, town, county, country, and so on up. The transition to obsessing about space, mathematics, and science, linking to ever larger structures and ideas, seemed a big part of that.
There’s a key word in that sequence whose meaning has changed, for me, over the course of my life:
From just being a name for the continent on which I lived, to being an ever-changing and adapting community – half a billion people dreaming and working and squabbling to improve their lives. I only managed to live outside the UK for three years – a postdoc in Germany – but the way it broadened my thinking and brought me into contact with so many great people had to make it the best experience of my professional life.
At the end of June there will be a referendum on Britain in Europe. I’m instinctively pro-Europe, and will definitely vote to stay in. To me, none of the arguments for leaving make sense, and the economic and scientific arguments for staying in are obvious. But these arguments aren’t enough, or even the main reason why I’ll vote to stay in.
Europe is a fuzzy dream that is being built and argued over by a huge number of people. By being in – by engaging, and arguing, and pushing the agendas we want – we are helping and participating in that building process. A new, complex, imperfect but amazing community is coming alive. The more we get involved the broader our dreams will be, the better we’ll define our place in the world, and the wider and bigger the impact of our actions will be. We won’t get our way, or all of our dream, but why should we expect to in a community of half a billion? But we’ll get some of what we want, and it will make us more open, more engaged, and just better people for taking part.
Many current “out” arguments say we could do everything out as well as in, but with more freedom and money. It’s hard to argue with “could”. However, I think that if we vote to leave, we’ll fold inwards. A parochial, boring, irrelevant Britain would be the result. Any individual could make that leap, get those connections, and make their horizons bigger, broader and better. But as a country we’d be saying we just didn’t care.