Did you ever hear the saying, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop?” The origin is in the book of proverbs. Literally, the proverb goes like this, A scoundrel plots evil, and on their lips it is like a scorching fire. A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. A violent person entices their neighbor and leads them down a path that is not good. (Pr 16, 27-29 NIV translation)
Is boredom always a bad thing? You would think so. Maybe not, though. Some scientists have been trying to understand the relationship between boredom and curiosity because they’re trying to make robots that learn. They’ve been working to figure out who learns the best, and whether boredom is always a negative thing. The answer is a little surprising at first glance. It turns out that people who are easily bored are the best learners.
Here’s the conclusion of the study: “We have provided a formal account on the emergence of boredom from an information-seeking perspective and addressed its constructive role in enabling curious behaviors. Boredom thus motivates an instrumental view of action selection, in which an action serves to disclose outcomes that have intrinsic meaningfulness to an agent itself. This is, a bored agent must seek out information worth assimilating into itself. This led to the central claim of this study—pertaining to the superior data-gathering efficiency and hence effective curiosity. We supported this claim with empirical evidence, showing that boredom-enabled agents consistently outperformed other curious agents in self-assisted forward model learning. Our results solicited the interpretation that the relationship between homeostatic and heterostatic intrinsic motivations can in fact be complementary; therefore, we have offered one unifying perspective for the intrinsic motivation landscape.” For the whole article, click here
What’s the meaning of this? And, more important, how can it make a difference in your life?
It turns out that our brains need stimulation, or we get bored. Some of us are more easily bored than others. That’s ok, since it makes you a better learner. Once you’re bored, you seek a way to occupy your mind. Here’s where your choices matter! Suppose you’re bored. Your mind is looking for something to latch onto. You choose to turn on the news. It’s a series of exciting images, and it engages your imagination. Or you choose to look at twitter or Instagram, or some other very engaging video stream. Or you play a video game. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter to your brain what you’re looking at, as long as you’re looking.
It matters to your spirit, though. The real world, that is to say, the world not on the flat screen, is not the same as the “virtual” world. Things move more slowly. People come in all different sizes and shapes. In comparison with the flat screen world, the real world can be boring. The temptation might be to dive back into the flat world, where things are more interesting. It’s the world where action happens, and happens right now.
The trouble is that making that choice can dehumanize you. This is one of the real dangers our children face today. The real world is not as engaging as the flat world, but it’s the place where you have to make a meal. Or wash your clothes. Or face up to disappointments and limitations. Human beings have to live in the real world. Well, at least we ought to! It’s better than disappearing into a flat screen or falling into opioids or alcohol or whatever other escape we can think up. If you’re bored, it’s not so bad. Maybe pick up a book or a hammer or a potato. As long as it’s real!