The Human Truth Foundation


By Vexen Crabtree 2023

#boredom #psychology

Boredom has a part to play in life. For such a mild emotion, many fear it, and react to it with a panicked attempt to find something to do. Kierkegaard imagined great endeavours such as the Tower of Babel resulting from attempts to avoid boredom1, whilst William R Inge listed boredom as a cause of revolution2. It's no good to maintain permanent directed mental activity: it is better to learn to accept boredom, to travel with it, on journeys with no end in sight. Boredom lets our brains run free, finding connections, solutions and inventions that it otherwise struggles to find.

The first part of massaging a problem is to consciously deliberate over the facts, the factors and the fiddly complications. Do so with concentration! But the second part is often the opposite: do something else, something simple, get bored, go for a walk; for there is a subconscious complex of spiders at work in our brains, and disturbing it with conscious thought brushes away its hidden meanderings. We should approach boredom more like we approach meditation; practice turns it from a threat to a comfortable friend.

1. Of Boredom

#boredom #psychology

Boredom allows us to ruminate, brood and reflect. It sometimes forces us to do those things. There is also the potential for us to moan, degrade and waste away. It's hard to figure out what causes one person sometimes to channel their boredom into energy, and sometimes to allow it to stagnate. Perhaps the difference in practice: if fear boredom, you need to sit still and embrace it. Being bored is a skill that comes with repetition, and being skilled at it turns it into something more similar meditation than pain.

Book Cover"The Gods were bored, so they created man. Adam was bored because he was alone, so Eve was created... Adam was bored alone, then Adam and Eve were bored together; then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored en famille, then the population of the world increased, and the people were bored en masse. To divert themselves, they conceived the idea of constructing a tower high enough to reach the heavens. This idea itself is as boring as the tower was high, and constitutes a terrible proof of how boredom had gained the upper hand."

Kierkegaard: Either/Or

This is penetrating commentary; but then it is only a reversal of Hesse's statement that every man has a residue of unfulfilment at the bottom of him: boredom, unfulfilment, they amount to the same thing.

"The Outsider" by Colin Wilson (1956)1

The effect of boredom on a large scale in history is underestimated. It is a main cause of revolutions, and would soon bring to an end all the static Utopias.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954)2
In Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations

2. New Ideas3

#boredom #psychology

Max Weber, the prolific sociologist, recognizes that second stage of deliberation, when our brains are drawing lines between dots, subconsciously, in the background, whilst we are not engaging it in mission-focused activity.

Ideas occur to us when they please, not when it pleases us. The best ideas do indeed occur to one's mind in the way in which Ihering describes it: when smoking a cigar on the sofa; or as Helmholtz states of himself with scientific exactitude: when taking a walk on a slowly ascending street; or in a similar way. In any case, ideas come when we do not expect them, and not when we are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion.

"Max Weber: Essays in sociology" by H. H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills (1948)4

Approaching boredom more like we approach meditation can be done to solve puzzles, problems, to produce artwork, to flex the imagination, and even to change one's own character and lifestyle.

The counter-cultural thinker Anton LaVey entertainingly imagined boredom playing its place in religious history:

The best place to meditate is on the pot. If you have a comfortable toilet seat and a stout lock on the door, there's no telling what great thoughts might emerge. Martin Luther dreamed up Protestantism while sitting on the toiled at Wittenburg monastery, and we know what a big movement that became.

"The Devil's Notebook" by Anton LaVey (1992)5

3. Redirected Energy

When people are bored their boredom can inspire great works to be done! Large scale, repetitive or pointless tasks become worthwhile because a task, any task, is better than boredom. Hobbies, skills and talents all appear to benefit, grow and develop especially when there is nothing else to do.

When we are bored, we can commit ourselves very heartily into intellectual tasks; science, logic, maths or into physical acts; exercise, sports such as football or emotional releases; anger, violence, religion and fighting for causes. The trick isn't to dive into the first distraction that you can think of, but to go through several long periods of boredom, and to do a kind of planning: the projects and ideas you return to frequently during bore-time fantasies, are the tasks you are most likely to repeatedly return to, attempt, and maybe finish. But you can't determine what is worthwhile if you cling to the first trivial thought as if it's the next Grand Design. Practice boredom!