The Bureaucracy of Boredom

[Play this while you read]

“I think boredom is the beginning of every authentic act. (…) Boredom opens up the space, for new engagements. Without boredom, no creativity. If you are not bored, you just stupidly enjoy the situation in which you are.”

Says the Internet Pop-star, Slavoj Žižek.

Boredom has always had a negative connotation attached, while remaining a constant emotional state experienced by every single one of us (in varying levels). We find new ways to escape from it – Facebook (Snapchat for the young souls, I believe), video games, or even going out. But, who hasn’t scrolled through their feeds with absolute inattention and disinterest, or been bored in a party where the person next to you looks like he’s having the best day of his life.

Edward Hopper, in his painting Rooms by the Sea (c. 1951),  brings out the emotion with the visual cues of solitude and dullness. Simply staring at the painting can trigger the feelings of drowse.

Rooms by the Sea, Edward Hopper, 1951

Another beautiful portrayal through art of the same emotion is found in Der Kaktusliebhaber’s work, The Cactus Lover (c. 1850). The clock, which is the calculator of boredom, is touching the ceiling while The Cactus Lover bores his sight into the phallic, yet flaccid object. A dull afternoon and a droopy human body looking at something barely stimulating.

Der Kaktusliebhaber (The Cactus Lover), Carl Spitzweg, c. 1850

The advocates and researchers of Boredom (Bench SW et al.) propose that “boredom increases autonomic arousal to ready the pursuit of alternatives”.

By motivating desire for change from the current state, boredom increases opportunities to attain social, cognitive, emotional and experiential stimulation that could have been missed.

Eva Hoffman writes in her book How To Be Bored hoffman3

“True engagement – the ability to give ourselves deliberately and unreservedly to a task or a personal interaction – arises from a clear sense of our own desires, goals and intentions. It is when our energies and our perspective are replenished that we can return to our active lives with a renewed sense of pleasure and commitment. In other words, it is only if we periodically disengage, that we can become truly and effectively engaged.”


There are different theories trying to understand the different types of Boredom. The most popular Typology of Boredom has categorized it in 5 forms: i. Indifferent; ii. Apathetic; iii. Calibrating; iv. Reactant; v. Searching

Apathetic is a new member in the family, discovered in the year 2013 by Goetz et al. We have a little more nuanced understanding of our feelings of boredom. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman researched on the creative impacts of Boredom and found out that it boosts creativity.

Most of us tend to find the much needed recognition of potential while we’re in that state of tedium. It’s out of that pent-up energy do we move forward and make plans and get excited about future prospects. A wandering mind breaks the barriers of focus and attention, the idea of thinking straight (cross-culturally we have the same hand gesture for focus too – a straightening motion from the head towards the object that requires attention). If focus is a straight line, boredom is infinity, an abstract concept beyond any bounds.


The Case of the Disappearing Sleep

In the past few decades, sleep disorders have been on the rise. Most importantly, insomnia symptoms. We cannot seem to sleep.

1380220726_title-page-odysseyTaking into consideration even a broader span of time, say, from 800 B.C. Because, that’s the furthest we could go back to find any mention of sleep. In the epic Greek poem The Odyssey, Homer writes,  “In his first sleep, call up your hardiest cheer“.

It was common to have two sets of sleep back then. People would wake up in the middle of the night, spend some active hours and then go back to sleep. With the introduction of electricity and the 24 hour light exposure, things began to change. Mo’ light = Mo’ productivity. Thus, the rearrangement began and we shifted our sleep towards the end of the day and for lesser and lesser hours.

Some of us saw the culture of the afternoon nap even in our parents’ generation. In India, most of our working parents would come back in the afternoon, have lunch with the family, and take a short trip to snoozeville. But, not much later, our work began to demand mandatory 9-5 presence and our leisure to sleep was taken away.

This also took a hit on our dreams. In Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari emphasizes on that particular observation-

41R8ZhhNwHL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_In addition to smelling and paying attention, we have also been losing our ability to dream. Many cultures believed that what people see and do in their dreams is no less important than what they see and do while awake. Hence people actively developed their ability to dream, to remember dreams and even to control their actions in the dream world, which is known as ‘lucid dreaming’. Experts in lucid dreaming could move about the dream world at will, and claimed they could even travel to higher planes of existence or meet visitors from other worlds. The modern world, in contrast, dismisses dreams as subconscious messages at best, and mental garbage at worst. Consequently, dreams play a much smaller part in our lives, few people actively develop their dreaming skills, and many people claim that they don’t dream at all, or that they cannot remember any of their dreams.

Indeed, in our present world, with increased distractions and lack of time and focus, we are losing out on sleep, and in turn, dreams. The prevalence of Anxiety Disorders have also seen a surge in the past few years and most sleep disorders are seen to have been caused due to anxiety. Maybe our dreams provided us with a safer space to deal with our day-to-day stresses. With our bodies relaxed, we indulged in a simulation of our own psychic work – there is the safety of never dying, yet the adrenaline rush is not undermined when your car flies off the mountain cliff and crashes.

Most of us also grew up to believe that Hypnosis is a mystical concept. Defined by Wikipedia as ‘a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion’, it was an essential tool in the past. Hypnosis has definitely lost its game as a legitimate medical practice and dream interpretation is beginning to lose its appeal.

While it is assumed it doesn’t work, in actuality, it doesn’t work anymore. Both Hypnosis and Dream interpretation had shown some great therapeutic value earlier. But, with the evolution of our mental states, and our own shifts in consciousness, we see the death of the psychological frame which diminishes dreams, disallows hypnosis and disturbs our sleep.

The new mental space is rented out to technology, mathematics and logic, because of the demands of our economic as well as political environment. This is an interesting paradigm shift of the human mind happening right now, within the reach of formal recorded history. Which is better, who is to say?

What does our mind sound like?

Music makes us feel things. I am not introducing anything novel when I say that, but the ‘how’s and ‘why’s of that idea still remains to be fully understood. Albert Einstein once said-


If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

It is 0 percent necessary to be the genius of the century to be able to feel music and rhythm. We all instinctively groove, manipulate and create music to our own liking. The rhythm we maintain while we walk is music, the way we write, the way we move, everything is music if one tries to see it that way.

Another celebrated old white man, Nietzsche, once wrote “We listen to music with our muscles“, which simply means that our bodies involuntarily or voluntarily engages in a dialogue with the auditory signals we receive. That wasn’t very simply put, but the crux of the idea is – we shake that booty with that beat.

There are some music-specific neurological states which are endlessly fascinating, for example, Chromesthesia, a kind of sound-to-color synesthesia where when you hear a sound, it makes you experience a color with itself. Kinda like the ‘Blues’, but a little severe. What is interesting to notice here is that all the studies till date have shown that sounds which are on a higher pitch are associated with lighter and/or brighter colors, like yellow, by both synesthetes as well as the rest of us regular numb-nuts. Similarly, the lower pitched sounds are associated with more darker shades. There is an obvious commonality in how our brain perceives sound and color which you may philosophize over tonight.

Neil-harbisson-1Another direction adopted through technology saw Neil Harbisson, who is color-blind, attach a device on his head which translated the colors he saw into sounds. Considered to be the World’s First Cyborg, he describes it as an “extension of my senses” in his TED talk.

“Going to an art gallery, I can listen to a Picasso, for example. So it’s like I’m going to a concert hall, because I can listen to the paintings. And supermarkets, I find this is very shocking, it’s very, very attractive to walk along a supermarket. It’s like going to a nightclub. It’s full of different melodies.”

Synesthesia isn’t only associated with color and sound, but all other senses as well- vision, taste, touch, smell etc. Oliver Sacks believes Synesthesia “is an immediate, physiological coupling of two sorts of sensation.”, he also said “no two synesthetes will ever agree”. Thus, allowing for a role of subjectivity in this musical experience