Some Analogies between Life and Zorbing

Peter Wurmsdobler
5 min readMar 4, 2023
Zorbing at ZorbingWorld

A couple of years ago Zorbing, i.e. “the sport of rolling downhill inside an orb, typically made of transparent plastic,” was quite fashionable, for children’s birthday parties and other occasions alike. Ever since I kept thinking about possible analogies between the trajectory taken by such an orb and aspects of the path in one’s life. In order to better illustrate some of these analogies and help me getting my thoughts about life across, I would like to propose an augmented version of Zorbing: you are not allowed to chose your orb in advance and you are put into the plastic orb while still asleep; then you are positioned at a random place at the beginning of the game. Based on that assumption, the purpose of this story to to share some analogies to life, even though I would not like to stretch them to much.

Initial Conditions

The journey in this extreme form of Zorbing could possibly start on a mountain top surrounded by gentle slopes, or in contrast, in a muddy ditch with steep embankments all around, or in the middle of a lake. To make the experience more challenging, let’s assume that the qualities as well as the defects of the orb into which your are put into are beyond your influence, too, e.g you are put a very robust orb or one with a tiny puncture. As soon as you wake up inside you will discover the state of the orb and realise that these are the circumstances you have to make do with in order to succeed in this game. Most importantly, all initial conditions for your journey are determined by external entities and are beyond your control.

Analogy : You should be grateful for good equipment and advantageous initial conditions, i.e. innate, inherited and received qualities or assets, material or immaterial alike. They were given to you, focus on the good ones, make the best out of them, and earn them so you can own them, but never claim them as having been made by yourself. (Goethe’s Faust: “What you inherit from your father must first be earned before it’s yours.”)

Limited Observability

As you start spending more and more time in the orb, your awareness of the environment will gradually increase; you’ll try to find your bearings by looking through the transparent orb. However, the perception is distorted and the fidelity of your observations depends on the quality of your orb. At the beginning you have no idea where your journey started and where it is going; you start building a model of the world you have been put in. You realise other participants in the same game and observe what they are doing. You try to figure out what to do with the information you gather. You will need to gather secondary information through others about the nature of the entire environment and improve your model of the world, but most importantly, you will determine what you want to do and where to go.

Analogy: You will only have limited direct visibility of the world and hence observability from your point of view, be it on top of a hill or the trough of a valley. There is no hindsight for bird’s eye view. Therefore be aware that all you think you know can only be an ephemeral mental model of reality. (Plato’s allegory of the cave).

Limited Controllability

If you find yourself rolling downhill, or the orb is exposed to strong wind, there would be limited controllability with regards your direction of travel. At a lower hill gradient or wind speed your own forces would perhaps be sufficient to influence the direction the orb takes through your own effort. If you happen to be in your orb on a flat surface with no wind pushing, you would realise soon how to make the orb move into a desired direction; there you’ll have the feeling to be able to control your destiny. At other times things are happening fast and you are simply subject to external forces; they are always stronger and the orb takes on a trajectory of its own as you tumble along uncontrollably.

Analogy: The confluence of various external factors determines mostly the direction of your life’s journey; do not attribute the path entirely to your own efforts but give credit to those who help you on the way.

Inflection Points

At times your trajectory might reach a point where you have gained some limited control of your situation, for instance on a saddle point or a local plain. When then external forces are limited, too, you can assess your situation and direct your journey: you are at an inflection point with some degree of freedom. Conversely, at times of stagnation a lack of decisiveness results in external forces eventually making a decision for you. However, the further along in your trajectory, the more external constraints there will be and, consequently, there will be fewer inflection points. Once you went down a valley, by your own doing or as a result of external forces, it will be more difficult to move across a neighbouring, perhaps more desirable valleys. The decisions taken (or absence thereof) at all inflection points will result in your specific journey.

Analogy: There are only a few moments where the path can be significantly influenced; cease these moments and assume that path. Looking at alternative paths later with regret is appealing but futile.


At times, one can become obsessed with the idea of a certain path, possibly introduced by peers as you evolve in the orb. However, those paths may not be in alignment with one’s initial conditions nor appropriate for the equipment one was given. This can only lead to frustration because trying to realise an path suitable for somebody else becomes difficult. In addition, the obsession will cause not seeing the more suitable path that lies perhaps ahead, or has even been there all along.

Analogy: Accept a path using what one was given to you; do not try to imitate a different path, the path of somebody else who was given different equipment and initial conditions.



Peter Wurmsdobler

Works on the technological foundations of autonomous vehicles at Five, UK. Interested in sustainable mobility, renewable energy and regenerative agriculture.