Chapter 4: Boredom and excitement

The states of boredom and excitement seem to have received far less attention than they deserve, as he believes them to be significant factors in human emotion, and significant motivations to human action.

He reckons that this is a distinctly human emotion. Boredom is unknown to animals: in their habitat they are constantly seeking for food, fleeing from enemies, or seeking to mate. When they are not so engaged, and especially when in captivity, they seem listless - but this inactivity does not seem to cause them distress.

He likewise imagines that human beings in a primitive state do not experience boredom in a negative manner - the periods of time when they are not struggling for survival are not at all unpleasant. But with agriculture and herding, the means to sustain life became effortless, and man was faced with long periods of time for which he had little use, and boredom developed as a consequence.

The present age is one of greater stimulation, and life in the industrial city offers many opportunities for diversion of great variety. But imagine the monotony of winder in the medieval village - when there was nothing to be done, when people could not read or write and there was nothing to pass the days and months until the spring thaw. "It must have been boredom as much as anything that led to the practice of witch-hunts as the sole sport by which winter evenings could be enlivened."

Thus considered, we are less bored than our distant ancestors, but seemingly less equipped to deal with boredom, and vigorously pursue excitement. Those who can afford it, and even some who cannot, are constantly in seek of gaiety - and it can be observed that much trouble comes from seeking an escape from boredom, as can be witnessed in any group of drunken laborers, or the wars waged out of boredom by idle nobles. "Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it."

But at the same time, boredom cannot be regarded as wholly evil as the pursuit of excitement can also become troublesome when taken to excess - and at the very least a life too full of excitement is exhausting. For what we find is that men develop a tolerance for excitement, and require it in ever-increasing doses: the mild stimulation that excites us for a time becomes insufficient to arouse our senses, and more is craved.

He makes some example of books that are popular in his time - which are imaginative and sensational but have little merit. Publishers have whipped up a readership for whom a pleasant tale is of little interest and seek manuscripts that are ever increasingly dazzling and lurid.

He expresses concern that children are over stimulated and lose their ability to endure life's more placid moments and the utter monotony of adult life. In particular the "passive amusements" that provide little intellectual challenge stunt the growth of imagination and intelligence itself.

"A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life." The rhythm of life on Earth is slow, and there are long periods of monotony between the festivals. There is nothing for it. To overindulge in artificial stimulation dulls our appreciation of that which arises naturally.