Wednesday 9 January 2013

Wrinkles and Boredom

If you've ever wondered why, after too long in the bath, your fingers and toes get wrinkly, our friends in the white coats have come up with an explanation. Stories like this (and they come up often enough, heaven knows)  begin from the assumption that whatever is, is - or has been at some past time - evolutionarily adaptive. The scientist's job, then, is simply to construct a plausible narrative that 'explains' how evolution brought it about. Isn't this all rather circular?
This story, on the other hand, doesn't invoke evolution, even though it plausibly could - surely human life was for the most part interminably boring until, in very recent times, we developed the means to distract ourselves around the clock. Maybe sheer tedium was the engine of human evolution? I remember my own childhood as a landscape containing great stagnant lagoons of boredom, and I think being bored for much of the time probably did me more good than harm, making me develop my 'inner resources'. We probably could all do with more empty space in our mental lives - but I hope employers don't take this story seriously and start inflicting more workplace tedium on us in the hope of reaping creative rewards. It certainly wouldn't work in my case - when I'm staring into the middle distance, the last thing I'm thinking about it work.

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