After finishing her studies she moved to London where she started working as a news reporter, predominantly writing about climate change and chemicals in agriculture. Then followed the newspaper crisis, and she increasingly made a living organising different events at music festivals.
That was when it dawned on her that she could combine her background in science journalism with her experiences of sex, drugs and music.
‘Writing has always been my greatest passion and it was really exciting to write this book’, she says, recounting that muddy festivals in London were where she learnt to love such a variety of things, and began trying to connect them.
‘At music festivals you have a mishmash of most things. There’s sex and drugs as well as massage and yoga, and a whole lot more. The only thing not quite represented is ”science”.’
Why? According to Zoe, science is often trapped within a formalised template and presented in a rigid way.
‘Many seem to think that research is simply following a series of strict rules, despite the fact that the history of science provides so many examples of the opposite.’
Researching is just as much to do with being a rebel, being open to things that may surprise you rather than looking for confirmation of what we already know, Zoe stresses.
Sex, drugs and rock are three expressions strongly associated with each other, almost as if they were synonymous. Why is that?
To this question, Zoe refers to the ancient and famous words, ”wine, women and song”, a phrase used around the world in several different languages. These are three ingredients often seen as vital to anyone who wants to live a good life, even though we do not need them for our immediate survival.
‘There is much to enjoy in life – sport, travel, flowers, theatre – but these three things are especially enriching. Yet we also look down on them as “sinful”.’
The thing Zoe finds hardest to understand is when different societal forces attack music. She talks about the Pakistani rock singer Amjad Sabri who was shot dead by Taliban militants in June this year on a road in Karachi, and how Islamists are trying to ban music in Mali, a country known for its musical traditions.
‘There is much to suggest that we used music before language, and I do not think we would be who we are without music.’
It is not uncommon for people, even in humanist, intellectual circles, to express a patronising view of music. For instance, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker has compared music to intellectual ‘fast food’.