The Mindless Madness of an Empty Mind

Boredom is universal to all humans; every one of us has experienced, at some time in our lives, a monotony that produces an empty mind.  Yet, if we confess to being bored, fingers are pointed at us in accusation. It indicates an “empty mind”, a “lack of moral fibre” and an “ego-centricity”.  “There’s no excuse to being bored” Viggo Mortensen wrote, and the proverb ‘The best cure for boredom is hard work’ is universally known.

The psychologist John EastWood defined boredom as ‘’unfulfilled desire for satisfying activity’’. It is a relatively new phenomenon. In prehistoric time boredom was non-existent; people were too busy hunting and gathering to survive. The Industrial Revolution changed all this, as machines took over man’s work, and people had more leisure time.

The state of boredom has never been given a high profile and it is only recently that scientists have begun to investigate it. It might seem to you that it is not a very interesting subject; however it can have a very negative impact on our lives. Boredom can affect our performance unfavorably. Educationalists are always trying to find a way to combat ennui in the classroom and lower the number of failing students. ‘’ Anyone bored these days is not paying attention."  teachers might say, but, the number of underperforming students seems to be increasing.
Job performance can deteriorate because of dullness, which can put life at risk; imagine you are an air traffic controller or in control of a nuclear power plant. Monotony could end in misadventure!

People are constantly in search for external stimuli. When people are unengaged, they seek meaning wherever they can. Those that take up high risk sports often feel that the world is moving too slowly for them and not offering enough momentum. However stimuli become less effective the more it is experienced. Bungee jumpers feel the need to satiate their adrenaline rushes by more risky falls. There is scientific evidence that adrenaline has less effect the more frequently it is triggered. This leads to a constant search for greater thrills, which could be deadly. As you can see on the Vsauce video, the volunteer, placed in an isolated room with no stimuli present except for the electric shock machine, which he has previously experienced, chose to activate it twice and caused himself pain rather than suffering boredom. He chose torture rather than tedium.        

A destructive behaviour has been associated with a general boredom of life. People dissatisfied with their lives often turn to drugs, alcohol, vandalism and gambling, as they search for meaningful input into their existence. Tedium can lead people to become more introvert and focus on internal dilemmas in a never-ending, negative thought cycle; depression.

These examples show how boredom can impact our lives in a very markedly adverse way. However, it is not always like this, in fact, boredom can make a positive impact on us.  Artists, writers, poets, all give testimony that boredom at times has increased their creativity; to quote Robert M. Pirsig. ‘’Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity.’’. 

When external influences are reduced the human being automatically looks to their interior for inspiration. People who have been put into isolation have been known to start quoting poetry, Shakespeare’s plays or even the Bible.

Michael, in the Vsauce video, who spent 3 days in isolation, resorted to counting objects, the number of paces he did and undertook physical exercise to abate his lethargy. After 3 days his ability to count, his perception of time and his willingness to communicate with the camera started to diminish.  When he exited from his confinement he stated that contact with his family was what he most desired and that he valued his relationship with them more. Even though he is known to be a great communicator all he wished to do, on exiting from the enforced isolation, was to listen to others talk; that is receive external stimuli.

His period in isolation showed Michael’s interior resources which were called on to get him through the trial and rather than create ego-centricity it had made him more altruistic. However, if he had stayed longer in isolation it could have led to such a mental deterioration that he would have gone mad.

Boredom can lead to many things. Don’t let it take over your mind, for it will empty it of all else – and that way madness lies.