Being bored

I was talking to a member of the Freethinkers group I have recently started and I was listing all the ideas I currently had on the go, when she said ‘You just don’t want to be bored, do you.’ And my immediate thought was ‘who does?

This got me thinking; what is boredom? My best guess is a lack of stimulation. Presumably the brain requires a certain amount of data input otherwise.. what? We cease functioning? And also what sends a signal to the brain that we need this stimulation? When we are hungry for example, there must be some sensor in the stomach or other organ that processes food, that sends a signal to the brain to say ‘I need more food, go and find some.’ But which organ(s) sends a signal to our brain that we are bored – is it our brain? I can’t think what else it could be; if all is well with our physical selves, where is the problem?

It is also puzzling why that feature is there. Going back thousands of years, when would the opportunity have arisen for someone to get bored. I can’t imagine there would have been much respite from simply surviving, and again, what is its evolutionary function? If we go hungry for long enough we die. If we are bored for long enough what could happen – we get totally confused and wander into the path of a predator?

Unless, in the past our lives were so full of incident, danger and jeopardy that today, the lack of such things is causing our brains to ask what has happened. After millions of years of having to constantly monitor our surroundings and react at once, our brains have evolved to expect and handle a certain amount of data. If it doesn’t get a sufficient amount, maybe it has to make up its own.

Is boredom a modern phenomenon? Are we the leopard in the zoo pacing up and down its cage in a repetitive circle of boredom? And why is the brain different to a muscle say? If we stop using a muscle it atrophies, it doesn’t ache with underuse. Perhaps consciousness has forced us into a loop and there is now no way back; it’s stimulation or madness, take your pick.

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