A Short Piece

Boredom Threatens Rationality

Boredom is not only a problem for leisure but also a problem for thinking.

Photo by Niklas Hamann

A society that is bored is a society that will struggle to think well. Boredom is not so much a state of having nothing to do — a person who lives in New York, for example, which is full of activities, can easily be bored — but rather boredom is a state where an individual doesn’t see significance in what he or she could do (it is a state in which a person “doesn’t see any point” in doing one thing versus another). A bored person, therefore, is someone who will struggle to be rational and thoughtful, for rationality and thoughtfulness require a capacity to give significance to certain ends and issues which motivates thoughtfulness and rationality. If nothing is significant, nothing is worth thinking about.

If I think about x versus y, it is likely because I, for some reason, see more significance in x (relative to “now,” at least). If I can’t “give significance,” I will struggle to focus and choose. Yes, I could still choose, but I’ll lack a meaningful standard for that choice. Perhaps regarding a single choice, that could work out well enough, but over time and over many decisions, I’ll likely encounter problems.

Bored and lacking the capacity to generate significance, I will struggle to organize my focus and thoughts. When this occurs, the likelihood that my thinking and corresponding choices are optimal will wane (increasingly so with time). Where there is boredom, thinking suffers.

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Without the capacity to see and grant meaning, we will lack motivation to be rational and thoughtful, which means boredom threatens rationality. Boredom erases the distinction between “the meaningful” and “the not meaningful,” and with this distinction goes the motivation to focus critically thinking.

Significance creates reason. When I think of my mother as significant, I have reason and/or motivation to speak to her: it becomes “rational” to talk. Bored, I lack the capacity to accept premises from which to reason and be thoughtful, for I lack the ability to see reason for accepting anything (over other choices). Boredom threatens my ability to provide myself a “ground” for rationality.

As discussed in “Death Is the Event Horizon of Reason” by O.G. Rose, perhaps boredom is worse than “apocalyptic thinking,” for while “apocalyptic thinking” changes the “rules” of rationality, at least there are still “rules.” In boredom, there is easily nothing — no “rules” for or against — and so if there are real issues that threaten a society, there will be little motivation to address those issues and/or to consider them significant. As a result, the issues will likely not be addressed; threats will not be stopped.

How is boredom overcome? Purpose and intrinsic motivation, which hence seem necessary for rationality and thinking well. How are these obtained? That is a question for another time, but beauty may play a role.

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